Brick Quinceañera: The Smell’s fifteen years as the west coast’s number one art-rock hangout began ticking off back when DTLA was more DMZ than some rube’s idea of Life in a Big City Shoebox Loft. After a year in NoHo, the venue moved to its present site near the Times building, making tiny, grimy Harvard Place the happiest little alleyway in the city.
We missed Friday’s birthday festivities but arrived just in time Saturday for a long preset by The Pope. The experimental duo unlimbered and began firing dense salvos at the early arrivals. They sounded better in the lobby through several hundredweight of brick and even downright impressive out in the alleyway, where I could finally take my earplugs out. Others were of like mind and this appreciation society quickly swelled to include dozens of familiar faces in a general deluge. The impromptu society lasted well into the opening of Jesus Makes the Shotgun Sound, who made dramatic proggy pop sounds for the younger folks while various underground rock elders embraced or avoided each other in the January chill.
New arrivals swelled turnout for The Centimeters, crowd favorites with a local fanbase long predating the venue. Spacey and rollicking, their set drew heavy applause, especially the 9/11 satire tune, with lyrics bringing to mind some editorial by a well-hammered Charles Krauthammer, urging America to saddle up and go get them WMD. Likewise strange and memorable was Godzik Pink, another avant-prog horde long on the local scene. Saxman Jonathan Silberman took big Beefhearty bites out of the warm air while the rest of the band set up a pulverizing rhythm.
While I stood enchanted, the three hundred or so people milling behind me decided to have a party. Old pals embraced like heroes as mutual attraction did its immemorial thing among the young. Portland cult skronkers Get Hustle cranked to furious life just after midnight, leading into the long-awaited return of scene legends The Sharp Ease just after. We seriously need to get together like this more often…
And So We Did: After such bravura pyrotechnics, the Centimeters wasted little time before making a fretlong plunge into the fool new rockist world of occasional venues and five-buck cover. Don Bolles’ Club Ding-A-Ling booked the reunited band two weeks later into Thee Krishna Temple (aka Krishna Kumar Gallery), a tiny gallery space wedged along a battered span of Temple Street near downtown. Don was there early as were thirty or so others, many mere shadows in the half-light offered by two clattering film projectors, plunging all present into artist Colin Manning’s fractured and sumptuously blotchy Eastmancolor universe, with the whole effect being an elegant psychedelic Happening out of some late Sixties movie compressed to mailslot size. DJ Jimi Hey spun preliminary tuneage- well selected, but nearly totally inaudible curbside once the door’s thunked shut. Nice.
Nicer still once PnP (A Fullpsycho Production) cranked up. Giant Drag’s Annie Hardy yowled several cantos of “free-form offensive poetry” over a fusillade of skull-denting freestyle rock. Mother fucking Machree. Over half a hundred fans stuffed the place to the wainscoting, with another fifty or so pondered this aggressive aesthetic phenom from the sidewalk. The crowd– a cradle-to-geezer assortment of art hoodlums, post-rockers, goateed sonic cultists, Hollywood swingers, spooning couples, twitchy singles, blinking locals, plus a sizable contingent from the Pajama League of South Silverlake – nearly doubled in size for the Centimeters. By then, the street was a delightful little Fat Friday celebration of the first bearable nighttime weather in weeks, so the band had all the incentive needed to kill it and so they went and did. The C-meters laced into yet another loud and exciting deconstruction of engaging pop tunes their component bleats, shimmers, wallops, choruses and ethereal hums. All was civic peace and festivity in that itty bitty span of Old Filipinotown and a couple of locals did my girl the honor of howling like Tex Avery wolves at her wiggling frame as we made for her Jeep. It’s like going everywhere with a combination of Mae and Honey West.
FMLY Fest 2012- Bigger, Louder, Cuddlier: Instead of two widely scattered venues on successive days, L.A.’s 2012 FMLY Fest went off firmly planted at three downtown sites all within a mile or so of each other downtown. This arrangement didn’t do one knock-kneed thing for the evilly cold weather but offered plenty of excuse to move vigorously around. Bicycles were encouraged, but many of the Saturday early arrivals preferred to leg it in groups across some of downtown’s more scenic stretches of blight.
To be fair, Hewitt Street these days is rather spiffier than back in the Al’s Bar era, but generalized austerity may yet take the Arts district back to some more genteel permutation of the old familiar squalor. Art Share L.A.’s two stages were slow to heat up, but the event was already showing signs of being bigger and cuddlier than last year amid the pre-festival pulling and hauling still in progress. My girl and I made the long, ill-lit toddle to the L.A. Fort about a mile away on Ceres Avenue, once a busy Industrial district street, now one more artery to Skid Row. The Fort – an oblong two-story warehouse beside a fenced parking lot– had been running rock shows and other oddball events and looked to have door routine and crowd control knocked. Outside, Food Not Bombs made my girl “a lovely dish with beans and rice and soyrizo, a spicy soy mash flavored like chorizo,” as spray-painters gave the north wall a good going over, imparting much visual blaze if no literal heat.
We missed the mighty Vex Ruffin, but caught most of LA Font’s teen angst squall-o-thon, which had this small crowd jerking around wildly. “Last song,” croaked lead singer Danny Bobbe, and that was the cue for a briefly anarchic sock hop, with some addled fool riding a bike onto the floor. The p.a. fetched up “Little Black Egg” by The Nightcrawlers and that played us out into the kitten-infested neighborhood, all the way around the corner to stage number three at Towne Hall, which turned out to be deep inside the elderly Towne Building on the Wholesale district street of the same name. Habits held forth explosively as we arrived. We stayed on for Alpha MC‘s belated entrance and the place began to jump that much higher. We faded back outside, where I medicated a considerable buzz on the way back to the Fort as the pale sunlight leached away entirely. Bike traffic even at this far spur of the festival was just short of swarm intensity. Back at the Fort, Manhattan Murder Mystery did their customary audience churn, with mainman Matthew Teardrop well up to his usual zany conniptions. Meanwhile, rumors of a nearby chemical spill were floated in an effort to account for the overpowering stench of cheap paint in the neighborhood.
We got an early start Sunday afternoon, the better to catch the brainstem boogie of personal-faves Mr. Elevator & the Brain Hotel. A power outage temporarily wrecked the Fort’s end of the program, but a loudly humming generator got the juice back on for Spaceships, who killed it as usual. Recipients of all kinds of writerly respect these days, this winsome duet collected a great deal of audience love as the room built to capacity.
Beneficiaries of the schedule shakeup, Habits did another set in this bigger room; a round of energetic space rock that sounded from the pavement outside like half an old Emerson, Lake & Jackhammer album. This fine stuff faded into Stax-like r&b that followed us up and out to Towne Hall for The Cigarette Bums. Though I did a joint along the way, the Bums’ full-out psychoholic mutation into The Blues Magoos before my very ears wasn’t entirely due to the chemical mix in between. The crowd, now some fifty strong and packed to the narrow walls, yelled for more and got it, settling in after to shiver and sniffle until advent of Thee Commons. Their hardass bluesy tunes easily outwailed some frantic hammering going on behind a nearby partition.
After this rousing display, we piled into the Jeep only to abandon it five frigid blocks away from ArtSpace. We hadn’t seen the main festival venue since the Fest’s opening moments and the amount of creature comforts was surprising, along with the art on the walls and the neatly arranged rows of zines with enchanting titles like Girly Show and Fuck the Sun. I dallied pleasantly before the vocal stylings of Emily Reo before we nicked back outside and careened over to the Fort just in time for the Lucky Dragons set.
Most of what remained of the festival – almost two hundred fans – stuffed itself into the main warehouse bay for yet another solid wall of sound from these local noise-pop heroes. I quelled the only disturbance in the audience by looking at it slantwise until it shut up and went away. Most of the house emptied out after the Dragons, but we stayed for Messy Sparkles, a last-second addition that turned out to be one JD Paul from Fayetteville, Arkansas on keys, laptop and vox. I leaned on a post next to a swaying landshark and churned with the vibe. About sixty people, the cool, the dorky, the unsmiling, the spastic, the silent, the pimpled and the suave all rocked out with as much self-consciousness as preschoolers. No one took their pants off, yet the rafters knocked.
Verdict? Better even than last year.
Reindeer Games: If the Xmas party at Echo Country Outpost offered any clue, Yuletide 2012 found most of the surviving Silverlake rock scene huddling for warmth. People who usually observe a finely calibrated social distance clung together during the evening portion like sworn kin. There was lots of such clammy camaraderie scattered throughout the Outpost’s three rooms and two stages. Just as the lamented McWorld resembled a heavily tagged auto body shop and Pehrspace a repurposed dentist’s office, the Outpost looks like a onetime mom-and-pop feedlot for parakeets, indicating retail Los Angeles could well evolve into a gigantic low-cover chamber-rock hangout, a fate foretold by neither Mike Davis nor Philip K. Dick. Yes, by 2023, all shops in the city will be closed, and ex-employees will play their funky music at their old jobsites for anywhere from ten to zero percent of what they used to get, with the only health insurance on offer a promise by house security to see you and your shit to the curb ahead of cops and looters.
As Scotty “Top Ten” Kemperer asked in a classic Del-Lords cover of an old blues joint “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?” why, you bring some records and beer and hang out wherever your tribe happens to be. Only in this case it was more like hanging out with 20+ rock bands of quality varying from serious up-and-comers (The Janks) to cleverly repackaged pop-punk (Criminal Hygiene reminds me of half the demos I used to get c. 2004) to the nicely psychedelic (Owls) to post-surfpunk (Oakland’s Twin Steps) to Hooterville gothic (Bloody Death Skull) in two front rooms chock with weird art and amusing people. Daiana of BDS is on her way to becoming the Shuggie Otis of the ukulele and how can you not adore anything named Hobart W. Fink?
– Ron Garmon