THE SMELL’S 20TH ANNIVERSARY
Photos by Marcos Manrique Words by Ron Garmon
Since the place itself needs no introduction, I’ll dispense with the deep-dish significance of this fabled DTLA hole-in-the-wall. Suffice to say, it is still standing after dispossess threats and a radically overhauled downtown music scene. When The Smell moved in 1999 from NoHo to its iconic digs in an alleyway near the Times building, Al’s Bar was writhing in its death throes and EDM had not yet begun to throb from rat-ridden warehouses further south and east. By 2017, fans were attesting on social media and tee shirts that The Smell had raised them, loved them, and saved their lives.
I’ve been there hundreds of times myself and the place never seems to change. Yes, fashions come and go and the music the venue’s cossetted has mutated astoundingly in two decades, but the clientele always seems to hover on the Peter Pan edge of adulthood. No matter what the median age, the crowd there always seems to be perpetual mildly punky Monkees, happily toiling away at music most music journalists are paid to ignore or underrate. So it was last Friday night, as this lumpy, color-splashed brick hole hosted yet another old-school underground blowout.
Over the course of the evening, the audience swelled from a mere three-dozen on hand for a too-brief exploration of Small Forward’s delicately diminutive psychedelic virtues to a couple of hundred packed clear out the door as Reno hodad-punks Surf Curse began to uncoil near the midnight hour. Along the way, Moaning took honors for sheer punchy volume, Wild Wing for fidelity to rockist virtues, and the stupendous French Vanilla handed in the best set I’ve ever seen out of them; a sax-blasted punk vaudeville tour de force I wouldn’t have missed for anything else playing in town.
Nights at The Smell seem to end either in a general aura of spaced-out sonic bliss or like a episode of Romper Room for children in their mid-20s. Opening night of this long celebratory weekend climaxed like the latter, with friendly moshing, congenial hugging, enthusiastic necking, riotous hooting, soulful cheering, and at least twenty pairs of Converse in the air, occupants still attached. I backed out the door slowly head of the mob, the way I always do.