Should Auld Acquaintance: We Be XuXa might get my vote as best L.A. rock album of 2009 [It rips—ed.], but the crowd at the Smell on New Year’s Eve seemed just as happy to leave them there. We might’ve been losing a great band in Mika Miko (for a while, at any rate) (in the rock biz, not even the Davies brothers say never), but we were most assuredly bidding a Year From Hell a gladsome adieu. At 10 p.m. the place was already filled to near-capacity with stylishly bundled kids and blinking geezers, the latter obviously taking their first wobblefooted steps into what had been nothing more than rumor before they’d started down the alley. Outside, LAPD had already popped the Good Hard Times art party up the block, with bitterly cursing ticketholders, DJs and performers clotting the pavement and damning their luck. Inside the Smell, fans were rocking out to Charlie & the Moonhearts, an OC thrash-surf act just then crashing into a cover of Del Shannon’s “Runaway” like an overamped and understaffed Ruben & the Jets. Up next was Staring Problem, their bad lot of Jerseyite punk-lite howl ‘n’ squall something Angelenos can impassively accept and these did. This being the last night of a universally reviled year, acceptance extended to a couple of pro forma flings at moshing, but that seldom gets far anymore and this didn’t. Eventually, the band shut down and I was sitting in one of the busted theater seats scribbling notes and harfing shrooms when the P.A. struck into “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealer’s Wheel. Hearing Mr. Blonde’s Reservoir Dogs whipsong on NYE is as clear an exit cue as anyone is likely to get, so I legged to the pavement as the speakers warbled “And your family all come crawlin’, slap you on the back and say. ‘Plea-e-e-eese.’” Before long, I happened onto a fellow Burner confused at directions given for the far-underground NeXuS party, so he gave me a ride since I knew the place—a huge warehouse nestled under the Boyle Heights side of the Sixth Street Bridge; an otherwise deserted precinct already jumping with two other parties. Detonations from the massed speakers inside the buildings were enough to make sure neighborhood rats would get no sleep tonight and the gritty streets swarmed with revelers hooting and weaving as I cleared the door forty minutes before midnight. Inside were dozens of old pals with whom I’d heard many a chime at midnight, so I squeezed and hugged and danced and toked and exchanged giddy texts with the Playmate (her sexy self aloft on a scatter of champagne bubbles inside some hippie party bus up in the Bay) as the minutes ticked away and the shrooms went off like psychedelic mortar rounds in my head. All was merriment as the countdown began and the party stomped into high gear when it was over and that Decade the Locust Ate went down the chute, never to return. DJs from Ninja Skillz, Project Alma, Pocket and Blue Insomnia spread the beats over a hard-churning throng, with Wolfie, Fatfinger, Porter Tinsley and Jesse Wright turning in standout sets as the hour advanced and temperatures inside and out dropped to knee-knocking levels. One last round of jumping and embracing and kissing and I tottered out the door like a psylocibe-soaked Foster Brooks sometime after 4 AM—one more merry American sot of indeterminate poisoning rising to meet a new decade in the manner immemorial.
NYE II: The Next Day: Despite brain-blown lassitude worthy of Dude Lebowski, I managed to swing by the lovely Elaine Layabout’s party at Echo Curio the following eve. The underground impresario greeted me with an expansive “Four bands and not a douchebag in the bunch!” I caught most of most of Andy Clockwise’s set, coming away as much impressed by the fellow’s playful Aussie Iggyisms as much as the stylistic range of his songs or the bite of their satire. Bug-eyed and bearded, the man called Clockwise stalked the tiny space like mad Nero, laying down strophes of punk, pop, and wonky soul that sound like nothing you’ve ever really heard out of those or any other genre. Music as fresh and original as this is what starts the wheels of cult bandwagons turning and Clockwise tears through his own material with the righteous force of one of those Ideas Whose Time has Come you used to hear so much about. Next up was the Ignorant, four local punx who went at their tried-and-true stuff with a stylish will, with angular frontman Django razor-shredding lyrics and whipping the crowd up just like in the days when the worst we had to endure was only Jimmy Carter and The Gong Show.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Ciggie Bums: Most of the next ten days found me locked in L.A RECORD and fiction deadlines, with little time for clubsmanship left over after the Playmate’s mid-month visit and our romps at the Hotel Roosevelt. All we managed was a midnight stroll to the Frolic Room, far down Hollywood Boulevard, where I bought and watched her drink a Lemon Drop, which she declared too sour. I hadn’t been in the place since I quit boozing seven long years ago (thus balking any outstanding bets in the Hollywood Death Pool of that dreadful era) and the place had scarcely changed, right down to the impassive drunks at the bar. This is a perfect town to quit drinking and take up hallucinogens in, and that’s one reason why such a constitutional Grasshopper gets as much Ant work done as I do, but there comes a time when even the longest loudest computer playlist will feed my feedback jones no longer. You can stack up gigs of Dutch proto-prog, London art-rock, Detroit fuzz, Midwestern funk, and weird skronk out of bands known only to you, Kim Cooper, Mike Stax and some guy in Berlin with a USB port hub plugged into his skull and rig the whole wad for a Marne-like assault on your own ears for aught it will do you. Go ahead, Bucky, I’ve tried it—all you get is intensified desire to hear the Living Thing birth itself before your ears. I did get to see Ruby Friedman Orchestra doing their best-ever show at the Hotel Café on the 12th. Herself was more intense and in-command than ever, having fun with the audience and belting out the set with Bessie-like looseness and conviction, especially on “Go About Your Day”—a song containing all the sweated anomie of our curious heart-shorn town compressed into a diamond as big as, well, if not the Ritz, then Ruby’s capacious heart. And that was me slumping indica-baked on Grindhouse night at the New Beverly on the 19th, mesmerized at the vintage Italo-undead double bill of City of the Walking Dead and Night of the Zombies, both from the truly screwhead year of 1980. The first is a prime Umberto Lenzi joint starring the one-and-only Hugo Stiglitz in a downbeat Eastmancolor version of a 1950s Universal sci-fi thriller, with the right-wing Americanisms swapped out for Euro-left paranoia and the whole smeared with blood and greased entrails like an East St. Louis abattoir. The second, helmed by the dread Bruno Mattei (some rank his 1977 opus S.S. Extermination Camp among the unsung masterpieces, but then again, some still love Conway Twitty) rivals anything Ed Wood ever cobbled together in the way of Weird Personal Statements—a hilarious, foot-stomping, stock-footage-ridden welter of unartful clichés and expertly applied ultraviolence that had the sold-out crowd hooting and roaring like teenagers. That was good old-fashioned hillbilly fun, cuzzin, but still only half the scary-movie-and-rockin’-band symmetry of the sainted Elvis. Still, the short blast I got of Manhattan Murder Mystery at L’Keg on the 14th was enough to make up the deficit. My temples were throbbing with the low-grade migraine I always get after too-great a time away from amplified blare. As I approached the venue, there were K-CAL newsvans parked outside in the rain on Glendale Ave., out in the rain at Ti-George’s Chicken doing a story on a fundraiser for Haiti. Around the corner and downstairs, Triple-M was going off in the tiny space like a pocket edition of Burdon’s first Animals—great gusts of electrified blooz-blizzard with Matthew Teardrop singing with peak conviction. He has one of the L.A. rock scene’s great voices—a compound of woe and eloquence that slugs through our accumulated years of affected flat-affect like a gravedigger’s maul. Skull is the new EP and I know that because eminently squeezable fellow Virginian Elaine Layabout sidled up and pressed one into my geek-gloved mitt. The Cigarette Bums were next and here the floor must yield to full disclosure. I have a longstanding policy of not reviewing the art of people I know and break it only when the individual interests me enough to let curiosity take over. Ruby Friedman is one outstanding example of the rewards of this approach and this band is certainly another. Witty soft-spoken Steven “Slaughter” Carrera is a fellow L.A. RECORD scribe and we hang at shows and he pays me my golden-geezer due, but that’s scarcely adequate prep for the hyper-aggro blues ballistics of the Ciggie Bums. My eyebrows shot up and stayed there as they laid down their wares—being several wide-boy raveups, each a variation on the classic pattern laid down by the Yardbirds and picked up by every brat with a six-string and taste since. Eamon McGinniss thumps a melodic bass, Steve’s guitar runs are manic and tightly coiled and both swap out the snarky vocals. Ah, yes, I thought. Gimme the ole fundamentals, with their infinite and pleasing variety, every time and twice on this soggy Thursday night. The Bums’ music is rootsy-expressive, postpunk quirky and as solidly diverting as anything squalling in Silverlake at the present moment. By the time they shut down, my migraine had magically closed in on itself and I felt sated and happy as any lucky junkie.