all photos by romana machado
(L.A. RECORD is excited to welcome back Ron Garmon and his L.A.-by-night column! Read it and freak! — ed.)
Welcome (Back) to the Jungle: I’d tell you I missed you, L.A., but it would only go to your head. A year’s interlude in the Bay Area wound up heavily documented in SF Weekly’s “All Shook Down” blog and I gotta say that live music and club-hopping in general is a far different experience up there. The City of Angels is much the worse off for not having a Fillmore of its own and you gotta admire a town where you can go to a warehouse party without the expectation of wading thorax-deep in cops ere the night’s half done. Speaking of minions of J.Q. Law, those in San Francisco look to have better things to do than inflict themselves on inoffensive tokers of legal weed and not one ever stopped me on the street to declare my person too Teutonic-looking for the neighborhood it was legging through. Questions whether police are there to create paranoia or merely preserve it bulk tiny next to what the ongoing economic disaster is doing to nightlife in this town generally. The Bay’s indie rock scene is as fascinating and multilayered as L.A.’s, but the atmosphere up north is as throwdown chummy as the one here cool and detached—but a spirit of cheery excess inhabits both and a fellow can get used to that kind of thing in these lean times.
bleak end at bernie’s
Moon Over Melrose Hill: It was only a few days after our failure to get arrested at Occupy L.A. that the Playmate and I began to weary of collapsed exhaustion, resuming the giddy, overamplified ways we’d cultivated up north. She takes much better pics than I do, with some of her more Antiononi-esque shots of oncoming police deriving from prolonged periods meditating on the faces of Ian Hunter, Bootsy Collins, and Robin Trower. Long years in the trenches and far outposts of L.A. music told me she’d little want for bizarre subjects, but I’d reckoned without Bleak End at Bernie’s. Billy Burgess, underground rock entrepreneur was holding shivering court at Vlad the Impaler’s Gallows Gallery—a ramshackle Melrose storefront near City College crammed with designer gas masks and other oddments from the EC Comix school of design—and we huddled within an ad-hoc and natty assortment of hipsters for warmth. Anon, Billy—a bearded and jolly young elf—intro’d the aforementioned opening act, which turned out to consist of two drum machines, various daft audio-visual impedimenta, and a single male individual in bibbed-overalls bellowing of blood and murder and rotting fruit. Between these cantos of wack-Kerouac verse, the performer lit candles which his gale-force rhetoric then blew out and we were all grateful for the blasts of hot air. A satiric gloomhog with a voice that sounds like Dave Thomas being waterboarded, the fellow presided regally over this splendidly splintered cacophony until stepping off for acts marginally less weird. For a finale, he helped Billy pants himself with all the casual helpfulness you see at Jumbo’s Clown Room. The Playmate’s camera hovered over this scene a moment before declining to record it.
Clubland Capers: An invitation to the late-nite scandals at the Music Box whipped up by Borgore a few weekends back afforded a chance to show my girlie another of favorite Hollywood playground. It was well after 1 AM by the time we tottered up to the box office and the party already raged hard inside the walls. The Israeli dubstep producer drops what he modestly calls unorthodox and “explicit” music, but this is merely polite euphemism for the kind of dirty-ass sweathog raunch as laid ‘em on the sawdust floor doin’ the Gator back during Truman’s first term. The floor was overrun with ladies, most of them peeling off layers of winter clothes and wriggling baitlike on formidable hooks and sexy beats. Hours later and in less fashionable precincts miles south, the same wild scene prevailed inside some long-abandoned corner market courtesy of a shadowy citywide party org I’ll leave nameless for now. A grinning fellow in a fur hat with ears waved us in from the street and we were soon within a favored and delirious inner circle. One bleary reveler stopped us by the door to proudly gesture at the brightly slathered canvases on the walls, announcing over the thudding noise that each was stolen by his very own hands. It was late indeed when they bade us goodnight.
In the Bosom of FMLY: I could go on at length about other December adventures—Human Resources in Chinatown is a serious contender in the art rock underground and a new favorite venue, as are the Bootleg and L.A. Stock Exchange. George Glass killed it at the Satellite on the last night of Manhattan Murder Mystery’s December residency and Kim Fowley is on the mend after a heavily Facebooked hospital scare last month. But the two-day hijinx of the third annual FMLY Fest summed what is merely good and completely wonderful about the local music scene. Day One, was a two-stage phantasmagoria staged on chilly Thursday the 29th at Catnap, a block-wide multi-building art compound just off Spring Street near the Cornfield. Food Not Bombs handed out eats and vendors hawked zines and other oddments, as a series of oms and screeches emitted from successive waves of DJs in the chill space.
Successive waves of mostly young patrons ambled between performances by So Many Wizards, Pangea, Truman Peyote, and Steffaloo, whose heartfelt musings as the afternoon Metrolink roared by was one of the highlights of the festival. Gothic Tropic killed it, as did Oakland’s Twin Steps, whose frontman Drew Pearson repeatedly plunged into the crowd like a laid back Iggy. The firepit and Xmas tree forest drew large numbers away from the stages and Venice psychedelic rockers Ahkiyynini whipped up an unlikely pogo frenzy that sent some mug plowing right into the Playmate as she peered through her lens at lead singer Ali Kellog. The festival reconvened Friday afternoon at Chuco’s Justice Center, a roomy and populist art squat in nearby Inglewood.
Ana Caravelle played the harp prettily in the main room, despite ambient chatter and her own dog restlessly yipping at intervals, and her voice is a thing of impressive purity and range, with a decorative Lauro Nyro-like catch on the high notes. Gibbons and the Sluts cranked a creditable hoedown in a cardboard-festooned inner room where Li Daiguo would enchant with solos on a series of Asian instruments. Salvador was going over medium-big as we left, piling out the doors and into a thickly settling fog that seemed to isolate the building as a fragment of another, better L.A.
In the Year of the Big Weird: The haze persisted through the little left of 2011, dipping the Westside in a vast cottony billow as if the old year had already rung down the curtain, fired the cast, and auctioned off all the scenery. Friday night’s wave of arsons in Hollywood and environs continued into New Year’s Eve, putting a goodish chunk of the city in little mood to party. It’s difficult to throw down with the requisite carefree abandon while you’re worried some random rachethead nursing any imaginable grudge might be chucking a Molotov ‘neath your four-payments-late Prius and peeling away laughing like buggery. Cops soon laid a suspect by the heels, but the few motorists we encountered on our NYE chug eastward drove warily and sober as so many deacons. The Burner-friendly Nexus party was already surging by the time we parked the car under the Sixth Street bridge in dear old Boyle Heights. The site this time was a roomy warehouse familiar to me from many other revels and for a long and gorgeous interval it was just like Old Times, as Bunny, Skatie, Hippiechick, Datig, Paynie, and many, many more flashed past, each jolly mug bearing a formidable rep of its own in this Nova Mob of the L.A. night. There were lots of new faces too and the spatial limitations of even three big rooms jammed them all ever closer together as midnight approached us wobbling. The Playmate scored a single glass of excellent champagne and about seventy minutes after FatFinger struck up a synth disco version of “Auld Lang Syne,” we were in the parking lot on the way to another party. I took a few deep restorative hits of fine hashish on the way to the car as we both dug on the massive bursts of gunfire slicing up the sky over the Eastside as we slipped away crosstown. On our way through MacArthur Park, I warned my companion at the wheel the Hot Biscuit/L.A. Record NYE blast could well be in a state of advanced decay by the time we arrived. We’d done the Skinny Party –another Burner-heavy shindig- a couple of weeks earlier at this same elegant little multistory midcity venue and the place was surprisingly vibrant if sloshy for two a.m. I saw none of my fellow scribes but the upstairs DJ spun mid-Sixties soul and freakbeat loud enough to prick my ears from the lobby and soon we were both dancing on the fire escape, enjoying another long moment of perfectly blissful revel until some cat inside the building howled “Don’t TOUCH the turntable!” Scuffling and cuffing sounds came from within and a moment later, two combatants and a pile of volunteer buffers came bulging out the fire escape door, each clumsily grappling with some half-sodden bystander. “He touched the turntable TWICE!,” shrieked the plaintiff as further blows were struck and girlish voices cried for peace and there eventually was peace. One guy mumbled something about it being the drugs, man, and soon we were down the stairs and out, as my photographer has a most un-Angeleno distaste for ruffianism.
flooded dance floor
Back we went to Nexus, where we found an empty parking lot and a flooded street. We swapped yarns with friends among the last stragglers and learned a cracked water main predicated a general out-migration to the afterparty, a secret but scarcely ad-hoc affair then in progress across the river. We waved at the last taillights out and then waded into the now-abandoned gala to get photos of the flooded main dancefloor. It was three in the morning, the music had long since stopped, but the night was deliciously warm and even the automatic weapons fire up in the Heights had dwindled to sporadic. Here and there, a thinly clad single or couple capered in the empty streets, dancing madly a few hours before the dawn of yet another apocalyptic year.