Stage 5212

martin wong * official artist

Save Music in Chinatown 3 (My Perfect Day)

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Back in the stone age/print era, we used to have a section of Giant Robot mag where we would invite friends and family to share My Perfect Day. Sometimes they were were artists, musicians, or filmmakers providing a glimpse into their awesome lives. More often they were regular dudes like you or me, simply enjoying and showing off their beloved hometowns.

I’ve been blogging a lot about the rad bands that are playing our next DIY punk matinee ( The Chuck Dukowski Sextet, California) as well as how it’s going to benefit public schoolkids in Chinatown by paying for their music education. So you already know about it being a killer show for a great cause. But it’s also important to me is that people come to the neighborhood where my grandparents, in-laws, and now my daughter have spend time and have a rad day.

The gigs are always on Sunday afternoons to ensure plenty of  meters left open by the dispersed church and dim sum crowds. How good does it feel to roll up to your destination and find free parking? Or take the train if you’re one of the Adolescents. Maybe you’ll arrive so early that you decide to get a bowl of noodles at Pho 87 or Via Cafe before the show starts.

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Matinees also mean little kids can attend. Not all children can handle loud, live music but my kindergartener loves it (with headphones on). And if it’s benefiting Eloise and her classmates, why shouldn’t they be able to attend and enjoy?

I can’t help but mention how cool the lineup will be on May 18 . This time around it’s the the hard jazz sounds of The Chuck Dukowski Sextet (featuring the legendary bass player from Black Flag/FLAG) and brand-new rock from the brand-new band California (featuring Adam from Jawbreaker and J Church, Jason from Monsula and Green Day, and Dustin from The Insides). Plus post-colonial sounds from Bitter Party, the debut of The Bear and Little Nun, and DJs from KCHUNG.

If you buy raffle tickets, you’ll probably walk away with goods from Keep Shoes, Ooga Booga, Poketo, and more. No one will puke or spill beer on you, but you might have cookie crumbs on your shirt or a coffee cup in your hand from the bake sale.

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By the time you’re done hanging out and taking pictures with friends (the ones with great taste in music and who give a crap about the world) and the bands (who turn out to be the nicest people ever) it’ll only be six o’clock. So you walk down Broadway to have supper at a new-school joint like Starry Kitchen, Chego, or Cafe Via. Or if you’re in Channel Three, you’ll probably eat and drink at an O.G. spot like Golden Dragon with that cool bar in front covered in gold wallpaper. Wherever you go, dessert at Scoops is a great way to end the evening.

I think it’s important not only that we’re helping to pay for music education at the public school that my daughter attends, but it’s also cool just to have rad bands play in Chinatown again, attract people from outside the neighborhood, and remind everyone of the cool old shops and noodle joints as well as expose them to the new-school restaurants and galleries as well. That helps the neighborhood, too. And it’s fun.

Then you’re back home by 8 or 9, ready to put your kid or yourself in bed at a decent time and take on the week. Sounds like a perfect day to me. Save some money by buying your ticket in advance and I’ll see you at Save Music in Chinatown 3!

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Adam Pfahler of California (and Jawbreaker) on Save Music in Chinatown 3

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As soon as I found out that my pal Adam Pfahler was in a new band that was starting to play shows, I asked him if they would play our next Save Music in Chinatown benefit. And then they said yes. Wow. The group not only features Adam (who was in Jawbreaker, J Church, Whysall Lane, all among my favorite bands) but Jason White (from Monsula, Pinhead Gunpowder, Green Day, and a bunch of other favorite bands) and Dustin Clark (The Insides, who I’m guessing that I’ll love). So cool of them to book their first SoCal tour around our punk matinee/benefit show for music education at Castelar Elementary that will take place on Sunday, May 18.

How could I not ask him some questions about playing in Chinatown, the new band, some old bands, and an old friend…

Most people think of you as a Bay Area guy but you grew up in L.A. Did you ever get to see any punk shows in Chinatown? I remember going to the Hong Kong Cafe after shows to drink coffee and listen to the jukebox but never saw a show there. Maybe it was a bit before my time. I’m sure I’ve been to shows at Madame Wong’s in the mid-eighties but I couldn’t tell you who I saw!

Jawbreaker had a band meeting there once around the time we were practicing in Highland Park before recording our first album. It wasn’t a venue at that point and was just a bar and restaurant. So we’re having a beer and bao there one afternoon and out of nowhere a fight breaks out between these two really tough Chinese girls. They’re full-on punching each other in the face. Like, shit’s falling off tables and everything. It’s so gnarly that everyone in the restaurant pretends that it isn’t happening. One of the girls screams, “Fuck you, you two-bit Jawbreaker!” Blake says, “Hey, that’s our band!” I say, “That’s it–the name stays.”

Do you remember the last time you played in Chinatown? Was it for my wedding banquet?

Okay, let’s set the record straight. Whysall Lane was the SECOND CHOICE to play your wedding. Apparently, the great No Pants Lance Hahn of the J Church couldn’t make the gig. But we were a pretty damn fine replacement, if I do say so myself. Your wedding was awesome! Jenny Choi was cracking me up all night. But to answer your question, I played Human Resources a couple years ago with the amazing Rachel Haden. Here’s proof:

Tell me about California and how you started playing with Jason and Dustin. What do each of you guys bring to the band’s sound?

It just happened. Those guys knew each other from Little Rock, Arkansas. I knew Jason from Bay Area bands from way back like Chino Horde, Pinhead Gunpowder, Monsula, and Green Day, obviously. I met Dustin through my friend Bianca Sparta. The three of us used to play together in the basement of my video store. This was an organic thing. I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. We’re a three piece, so if this band was a KFC/Taco Bell, Dustin would be the wing, Jason, the breast, and I’m the drumstick. But we each bring enough to the table that we sound more like a 7-layer burrito. With a Diet Pepsi. And hot sauce. Does that make sense? Are you hungry?ca2

What has it been like playing out? Any surprises in how certain songs are received?

I’m having such a great time playing in this band I honestly don’t care what people make of us! I have heard from a few different people that they like the song where I play the mallets. It’s the weirdest, darkest song in our set, which I find really encouraging.

Is there anything cool about being in a band now that your girls are old enough to go to shows?

We’re playing an all-ages show with the Avengers next month. I think they’ll get a kick out of that. But they don’t really listen to my bands and I’m okay with that. They’re into their own thing.

Have you considered singing from behind the drum kit this time around, like Blackie from The Hard-Ons or El Duce from The Mentors?

The only person who ever sounded great and looked cool playing the drums and singing is Levon Helm. Period.What’s going on with the Blackball re-issue of Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy? Will Whysall Lane follow?

I just got the art proofs from 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. It’ll be out this year in time for the 20th anniversary and have six extra songs on the CD and digital (the two outtakes from ETC. and four alternates recorded with Albini from that same session). I reshot the artwork and threw in more photos shot by Don Lewis from that same Jabberjaw show. I still have a bunch of unsold copies of Whysall Lane if anyone wants to hit me up. I never did press that one on vinyl, but maybe I will. It’s a great record.

Back to California, how’s the bidding war between Adeline and Blackball heating up? Is the band being wined and dined by its suitors?

California will sell out immediately, let me just lead with that. But no one has thrown their name in the hat just yet–including me. We do have a pre-practice ritual, which might count as being wined and dined. It involves a sit-down at either The Old Clam House or Silver Crest Donuts on Bayshore Boulevard. The former has complimentary hot clam juice as a starter. The latter specializes in square donuts without holes and the distinct possibility that you’ll be murdered. In either case, I rarely pick up the check.

While California is up-and-coming and everyone loves Jawbreaker, you know there’s a special place in my heart for J Church. What’s your favorite J Church song that you played on and do you have one good Lance story for me?

My favorite was the first one : “The Sound Of Mariachi Bands” from the Mission District box set. I love that song. I stole the drum fill from it and used it on Jawbreaker’s “Do You Still Hate Me?” Lance gave me endless shit about that. I have a lot of Lance stories….You remember when the Rodney King verdict came down, L.A. went up in flames. You’ve seen the footage. Well, that happened up here in SF, to a lesser extent. Lance was out there rioting with other punks from the Mission. People were smashing jewelry store windows and snatching gold chains and diamond rings, running down the street with radios and televisions. What did Lance get? He grabbed the only thing he could get his hands on–a remote control car from a ransacked Radio Shack on Market Street. It’s like he just just wanted a souvenir of the day. And he didn’t even get the remote! That was his favorite part of the story, actually, that it never even worked. He’s sad, “I should have at least stolen 9-volt batteries for my effects pedals!”  Maximum covered the riots and published a photo of people coming out of that Radio Shack with their eyes blacked out for anonymity. But it’s so obviously Lance in the picture: ponytail, band shirt with hoodie, long underwear under black jean cutoff shorts. And he’s laughing. You can almost hear him.

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For more information about California, check out the trio’s brand-new Facebook page. For the benefit, which happens on Sunday, May 18 at Human Resources, there’s the  Save Music in Chinatown 3 Facebook event page. For ticketing, an Eventbrite page. Spread the word and hope to see you there!

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The Chuck Dukowski Sextet on Save Music in Chinatown 3

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Holy crap! I still can’t believe Chuck Dukowski Sextet is going to play our next Save Music in Chinatown punk rock matinee/benefit show. I’ve never met the original bass player for Black Flag in person–although I’ve talked to him on the phone and seen him play a few times (pics below)–so it was a long shot when I asked. But not only were he and his wife/partner/collaborator/inspiration Lora Norton down but he added that they were fans of GR magazine and loved Chinatown, too. Yes, I have been stoked ever since.

To get all of you as amped up for the show as I am, here’s a quick Q&A with Chuck and Lora about their post-punk jazz combo, family, art, and Chinatown.

MW: So amped that your combo will be playing our benefit for kids in Chinatown. Can you tell me about the Sextet’s impressions on the neighborhood? Memories of music or otherwise?

CD: I’ll always remember playing The Hong Kong Cafe with Black Flag. It was an important rite of passage. At the time The Hong Kong was the place that you really strived to play. I remember seeing The Germs, X, The Plugz, and so many great bands in Chinatown. The whole plaza became a punk rock mecca. If people couldn’t afford to get inside, they would hang out outside where they could still hear the music. I always made of point of paying to see bands because I wanted to support everyone’s efforts. Back then almost every band you saw was really good.

LN: Chinatown is one of the best places in Los Angeles. Just recently, Chuck and I went to an opening at Shepard Fairey’s gallery on Sunset and we went to eat at Ocean Seafood on Hill. We often have Dim Sum there, too. I bought a beautiful and weird sculpture of rats and peaches at Wing Hop Fung on Broadway. That is the best store! I love the architectural aesthetic of Chinatown; it’s so over the top. I am glad to see all the art galleries but I wish they still had venues for bands!

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MW: I saw that the CD6 played Historical Monument #157 recently, which is just north of Chinatown on Broadway. How was that spot? That gig?

LN: We had a great time at HM157! It is a beautiful old Victorian mansion with colored glass windows and a lovely big porch. I am an architecture nerd so it was a real joy to play the spot. When I was a teenager no one dared to have shows somewhere so pretty and fragile. The audience would just destroy things. It is life affirming that young audiences can dig heavy music yet not thrash their environment. And I have the best time playing with young bands. I feel very lucky to play in a band with my oldest son and that his generation embraces us.

MW: It seems like the CD6 just starting to play out a bunch of shows. Do you get into music mode sometimes or do shows just happen in clusters naturally and you roll with it?

LN: Chuck always wants to play every gig! I used to be more critical and choosy about shows but ultimately I realized that it’s hard to tell if a show will be great or not! Big size does not always make the funnest gig. It is amazing to play for a large crowd but sometimes a small gig with the right audience is even better!

CD: We will be playing San Francisco in June. We are going to see our son Isaac graduate from UCSC and then do a SF gig with the band Frightwig.

MW: I have to admit that after I totally gushed about the Eat Your Life CD in Giant Robot way back when, I have been out of the loop regarding CD6. Can you tell me a little bit about how the band has evolved since then?

LN: I think the biggest difference from our first album is the evolution of our son Milo’s musicianship. When we started he was only 16, but now his songwriting and playing have just exploded. He reads and writes music and he practices for hours everyday. He makes me proud–especially since I have not been the kind of parent that forces his or her children to practice their instruments! Milo is a world-class guitar player and when you add the fact that he is a professional contortionist/acrobat, we can put on quite a family show!

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MW: Lora, your visual art has always been a big part of the band’s releases and flyers. Can you tell me what you’re up to in these days as far as illustration and design go?

LN: Chuck has always encouraged me to make the covers and fliers for the CD6. He is very generous with encouragement. I don’t make “punk” art like Raymond Pettibon or even Shepard Fairey. I don’t fit with hardcore purists. I just have to make what is beautiful to me. I am working on illustrations for our new release, which has a sort of dark fairy tale theme. I also wrote and illustrated a children’s book. I keep thinking about doing a more adult-illustrated story but I need to work a bit harder! That last year has been pretty crazy with the FLAG lawsuit and everything…

MW: I’m not going to get into the Black Flag lawsuit because the only real thing that we need to know is that it’s over. Chuck, what are some other things that you’re gonna catch up/dig in on now that large amounts of your time and energy are yours again?

CD: We are going to release the new CD6 album and I hope that we will be performing more. I want to play music with new people and see where that leads, too. I am excited about all the projects by the kids in our family. Mira has another new book coming out and Milo has a fucking great solo project as well as music with Insects Vs. Robots.

MW: I love how you play with FLAG (FYF was super fun and I was at the GV30 show at the Santa Monica Civic, too) but also hang with young bands like No Age and The Shrine. How do you stay in touch with new sounds? Do you approach the bands? Do they hit you up?

CD: I genuinely love new music and to be around people who are engaged in making something fresh. The guys from The Shrine and No Age are stellar people. I like to be open to people and not be elitist or jaded. The CD6 is a family band and an intergenerational band. I consciously try to share information and experiences with younger bands. The divide between generations of artists is negative. There are so many ways we can all help each other.

MW: Anything else that you just gotta share?

LN: A photo of me and my oldest daughter Mira was in one of the earliest issues of Giant Robot. We went to go see Ultraman fight Baltan at a convention and someone from your magazine took our picture! I have learned about some of my favorite artists, like Junko Mizuno, through Giant Robot magazine. I’m a big fan!

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For more information about the benefit, which happens on Sunday, May 18 at Human Resources, check out the Save Music in Chinatown 3 Facebook event page. For ticketing, there’s the Eventbrite page, too.

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Welcome to the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival 2014

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Tomorrow night, Visual Communications will kick off its 30th annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. That’s a real milestone and I’m happy to volunteer as one of the programming committee for my second year. So I’ll get to attend the gala opening screening of To Be Takei (I hope I see some Starfleet members) and then get ready to watch some import, indie, and arty movies…

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On Friday night, I have the pleasure of introducing Lisa Takeba’s The Pinkie. Combining crime, gore, and other genres that I love, it’s as colorful as it is energetic. It’s going to be a kick to watch on a big screen with a hopefully boisterous audience.

Yes, Lisa will be in attendance for a Q&A afterward and so will representatives from “Unusual Targets,” a short that will accompany it. That will be cool and that doesn’t happen when you stay home and watch movies on your computer.

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On Sunday at noon, I’ll get to introduce another indie import. Miko Livelo’s Blue Bustamante addresses the series topic of Overseas Filipino Workers and mashes it up with vintage Japanese sentai shows. You know, masked Power Rangers.

There’s no Q&A afterward, but when will you ever get to see a movie like this on the big screen? Of course, this movie and The Pinkie are perfect movies to be presented by Giant Robot.

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On Sunday night, I present one more movie. Lordville is the latest documentary by the hugely respected arthouse director Rea Tajiri. It’s a spooky and beautiful and real study of her adopted hometown, which happens to be a ghost town.

Yes, Rea will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A to answer the many questions that will arise. Won’t you attend, too? Support indie, imported, and Asian cinema! See you there!

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Show Reviews: OFF! at The Roxy, Bryan Ferry at Club NOKIA, JSBX at The Echo, CH3 at Left of the Dial

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Is OFF! the gnarliest band in the universe? The members’ chops came out of heavy bands like Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Redd Kross, and Rocket from the Crypt and they are complemented and pushed by each other’s unique badassness. That’s why they can tour with young, up-and-coming, and hungry punks like NASA Space Universe and Cerebral Ballzy without seeming like fossils. Instead, they’re the badass godfathers.

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The vocals of Keith Morris are the blueprint for angry, pissed-off hardcore but they come off as brand new with the ripping guitar of Dimitri Coats, percolating bass of Steve McDonald, and massive drums of Mario Rubalcaba. The raging set was drawn pretty evenly from the essential first four EPs, bitchin’ self-titled debut, and the darker-than-crap follow-up. I loved it when Keith chided a girl for trying to take the playlist mid-set without asking by saying, “Don’t be a Republican.” And then followed, “Don’t be a Democrat, either.”

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I’ve never been to Coachella but I’ve become a fan because I like the club shows that the bands play in L.A. in-between. A couple of weeks ago I got to see Bryan Ferry at Club NOKIA. That’s a pretty small place to see a rock god play a killer survey of mostly Roxy Music songs with choice solo material. From “Re-Make/Re-Model” and “Ladytron” to “More Than This/Avalon” and “Jealous Guy,” he put on a clinic of how to be cool.

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Getting to see Jon Spencer Blues Explosion at a small club like The Echo was rad, too. Opening was Shockwave Riderz, which countered a buttery electro vibe with real drums was hot and cool at once without ever becoming tepid.

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JSBX are masters at what they do, jamming out a stripped-down, cranked-up, and unironic garage-rock take on the blues. More like musical mutants than Coelocanths, “Bell Bottoms” weren’t exactly trendy when they sang about them in the first place. And because the genre that they wreak havoc on has nothing to do with youth and everything to do with emotion, they can truly be better than ever each time you see them. Soulful, bulletproof jams with heart, brains, and sentimentality. You’ve heard their mashup of “She’s On It” dedicated to Adam Yauch, right?

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And yet another Channel Three gig. Couldn’t miss their Record Store Day invasion of Left Of The Dial Records in Santa Ana. I’d be a lousy parent if I didn’t take Eloise to the dudes' free matinee, and if I could build up uncle points by taking her cousins--and then meet my brother and another niece--even better. Yes, they played a full set, from Posh Boy punker days to Enigma rockers to the great new 7″ single on Hostage Records, which is great: punk business in the front and party in the back with an AC/DC cover. Yes!

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No shows coming up for a while. Hopefully, Survival Knife. Perhaps that big Scion metal fest with High on Fire, Coffins, etc. And then it’s time for Save Music in Chinatown 3 with Chuck Dukowski, California, and Bitter Party. You know I’ll be writing about that one and hoping you’ll be there…

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Show reviews: OFF! at Amoeba; howardAmb, Bobb Bruno, Sandy Yang, and DSS at The Smell; Ray Barbee and Paul Kwon at Pacific Standard 2; RFTC and Dan Sartain at The Echoplex

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Whoa, the new OFF! album is a beast and Tuesday’s record release in-store at Amoeba Hollywood kicked ass. Not some lukewarm sampler but a full-on, raging 16-song set! Of course for this particular band that adds up to about 30 minutes but damn. Quality minutes of world-class hardcore punk from the originals, measured with Sabbathian darkness and riffs.

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Keith bantered less between songs than usual–maybe because he was comfortably at home on the eve of a big tour and not stuck in a van where his observations and thoughts build up and explode all over the crowd. Dmitri said the band only practiced about 45 minutes for this warm-up set, but they’re already at ramming speed and ready to blow minds and wreak havoc in the pit. Can’t wait to see them at The Roxy in a couple of weeks. Sadly, it will be past Eloise’s bedtime on a school night, which is too bad because she loves watching Mario rip it up on the drums (with RFTC, too) and was already a big fan of Steven McDonald’s work with Redd Kross, as well (especially the last album).

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A couple of weeks ago, I made a pilgrimage to The Smell to see a killer lineup of howardAmb and friends, including old-school GR contributor and my longtime pal Sandy Yang.

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Opening the show was David Scott Stone, who has played with The Melvins, Unwound, The Locust, Big Business, No Age… For this set he played some sort of modular synthesizer, connecting plugs and turning knobs to make heavy sounds and grooves. I don’t understand how this sort of musical science works at all, but was both fascinated and totally drawn into it. Head bobbing, head scratching, bitchin’.

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Sandy was next, playing her deconstructed blues with the guys from howardAmb. No frills or filler, she channels the arty, noisy, New York side of punk with a modern DIY feel. Her songs always sound different–and just as rad–each time I see her, and hope they get a proper release one of these days so I can figure out what’s being tweaked, turned inside out, and cranked up in her great live sets.

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Bobb Bruno is best known as the architect of Best Coast’s sound (which I adore) but his solo catalog would be just as famous in a more awesome world. It’s experimental and noisy but fun–as evidenced by his bear outfit. I love how his entire setup fits into a duffel bag and the leanest of gear can crank out the most brutal of metal sounds. So rad, so fun, and Best Coast fans need to see Bobb solo to fully appreciate the full range of his radness and undying commitment to rock.

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howardAmb has been fine-tuning its live set for at least a year now, and all that work showed in their deliberate, challenging set. How much of it was planned? How much of it was improvisational? Were they not totally happy with the mix? As a first-time listener of the latest sounds, I was sucked into it and can’t wait to hear it again. Fans of Krautrock, Psychic TV, and the Residents take note.

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More friends playing music. To celebrate the release of the brand-new Pacific Standard 2 skate zine, Derec Patrick asked some of his pals to jam. Ray Barbee played new takes on his old solo EPs. Still loopy and dreamy but with more of the fire that playing with the Mattsons has instilled him him. Seeing Ray and hearing is music is always great, but this set was especially meaningful for me because he revisited some of the cuts he played at the ceremony when Wendy and I got married. I was going to cry.

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Finally got to see my buddy Paul Kwon play some tunes, too. I was expecting a singer/songwriter solo sound like Elliott Smith or Bob Dylan but it turned out to have a totally fleshed-out Americana vibe more like Wilco. Yes, that’s Ray Barbee with the combo. Paul’s been playing out often so check him out if you can. I need to see him play somewhere where I can hear the lyrics better, or maybe just corner him over tea and make him spill the beans about what he’s singing one day.

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Mario sandwich. Did I mention that I caught Rocket From The Crypt when they busted through Los Angeles?

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Opening up was Dan Sartain, who played a stripped-down and sardonic (yet pure) mutation of rockabilly. His freakish demeanor isn’t for everyone but I was pretty sucked into his dark vibe. Kinda like the missing link between Speedo and Lux Interior, which is saying a load.

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Rocket From The Crypt have always been one of the best live bands around, mashing up hardcore energy with vintage R&B showmanship. And they might be more driven than ever after their nine-year (or so) break. All the hits and chops are present, but they play with a desperation as if every show might be the last that their rabid fans will ever see. It’s not just about them having fun but giving their audience maximum entertainment value as well. And that’s pretty much how it went at The Echoplex.

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Seeya at some in-between Coachella shows next week!

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New Music Reviews: RFTC, Bad Cop/Bad Cop, Bongoloidz, California

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New music. Not from publicists (although I appreciate their good looks) but friends! Mario, Fredo, and Adam are not only rad drummers but the raddest dudes. And my new pals in BC/BC are the best, too. But I actually bought all of the official releases because music is worth paying for–especially from homies.

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Rocket From The Crypt – Hits 6 x 7″

While not as coveted as the “He’s a Chef” split-single with Wayne Coyne and Biz Markie, these one-sided city-specific 7″ singles are quite rad for any RFTC fan. And while the series of covers originally sold at European tourstops is called Hits, the songs aren’t exactly household names–except for maybe Venom’s “In League with Satan.” Somehow, RFTC’s version channels both a conga line and “Sympathy for the Devil”! Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” is probably the most-played song of the originals, although I know it better from the episode of The Simpsons where Lisa meets Bleeding Gums. Rocket’s version is unironic, epically long, and especially cool. The Buzzcocks are probably my favorite band to get the treatment, but “Love Is Lies” is not a single going steady but a cut from Love Bites. The way it starts off mellow and become epic reminds me of a Tom Jones or Neil Diamond anthem. Wow. The San Diego band’s take on Red Lorry Yellow Lorry’s “Spinning Round” nicely contrasts a dark, plucky goth bassline with its trademark heavy horns sound. Covering the Boomtown Rats’ “My Blues Away” is definitely more interesting than taking on that other band from Dublin. More garage rockin’, for sure. Out of all of the bands from London, Status Quo is similarly bold choice but the take on “Shy Fly” cements the band’s links to the tradition of pub rock. The Casbah counts as a pub, right? Buy your set of singles from the merch table like I did at The Echoplex (pictured above) and help fill the Swami van’s tank on the road! [Swami Records]

Bongoloidz – S/T CD

Although Fredo Ortiz is best known for his percussion work for the Beastie Boys, his Kickstarter-funded solo project starts off more like Fluf or late Jawbreaker than the Atwater-based (at the time) rappers. Songs like “Subtle Breeze” and “Sompniphobia” are guitar-powered cruisers straight out of the early ’90s and totally rule, but other songs show other facets of the multi-instrumentalist’s abilities, sounds, and tastes. “Japon” has an electro groove complete with processed vocals, “Sk8 Dance” has a cool dark wave feel, and “Facky Freak” has a cumbia vibe (my favorite live song). There’s even some Taiko action! If it sounds like the songs are all over the place, that’s because they are. Yet they all sound great together because Fredo is no dabbler: The multitude of styles comes straight from Fredo’s huge heart and talented fingertips. Very cool cover art by Mackie Osborne, too. [El Bomber Records]

California – Live Recordings

Recently, I received a mysterious package of live recordings (not demos) of a new band featuring Adam from Jawbreaker and J Church, Dustin from The Insides, and Jason from Monsula, Pinhead Gunpowder, and Green Day. Who else is on the songs, where they were recorded, and how far the band will go is unclear but I’m digging the music. “More like Big Star than Big Drill Car,” I was warned and I have no problem with that. “Woodson Lateral” could be an allusion to the much-loved Oakland Raider but its patient groove goes better with driving down the I-5 than driving to the end zone. It’s rootsy but not dusty, with cool breakdowns. “Almost Home” has a little more twang and bashing and is mostly smooth with Tom Petty-like asides. Bitchin’. “Hate The Pilot” is the probably heaviest, punchiest song of the batch, and contemplates what happens after not killing the messenger. I swear there’s some Mick Jones-style riffing at the end. So good, so what’s next for this un-Googleable band? [Blackball, Adeline, or the highest bidder]

Bad Cop/Bad Cop – Boss Lady 7″

My pal Aaron told me that his girlfriend was in a punk band that just signed to Fat so I had to check them out. In only took a few seconds of listening to the band’s debut 7″ for Fat to realize that the title of this single doesn’t refer to The Man but the badass women of the band itself. They are bosses and their songs are as personal as they are tight as they are rocking–proof that aggro and melodic aren’t mutually exclusive. With killer drums that recall Bad Religion, buzzsaw guitars, and supremely confident gang vocals that are harmonized as they are pissed off, the San Pedro band attacks crappy exes, stupid dudes in the pit, squares on the street, and anyone else who might be uncomfortable with their unapologetic punk rockness circa the early ’90s. “Asshole” is a killer song that you’ll never get to hear on the radio, so you better catch ‘em live or buy the record. [Fat Wreck Chords]

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Kowloon Walled City/City of Darkness Revisited

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Perhaps you remember the Q&A with photographer Greg Girard way back in Giant Robot 22. It delved into City of Darkness, the amazing coffee table book he made with fellow photographer Ian Lambot exposing the interconnected maze of adjacent buildings and connecting alleys that made up Kowloon Walled City. The ultra-dense city block was notorious among Hong Kongers for being separate from building codes and law enforcement alike, and was made famous in movies such as Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express and Johnny Mak’s Long Arm of the Law. So I was stoked when Greg recently informed me that a redesigned edition of the book is in the works.

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While locals didn’t seem to care much when when Kowloon Walled City was leveled in 1993 to make space for a shiny new airport, Greg says that he and Lambot have been impressed by “the unexpected ways in which it was turning up as an obvious inspiration in popular culture, and also being referenced in architecture, urban theory and other areas.” So on 20th anniversary of the demolition they decided to update and expand City of Darkness. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lby9P3ms11w

The revised edition will be 50 percent bigger than the original one (which was already a brick) and include never-before-seen photos as well as extra text derived from interviews with ex-cops who patrolled the area in the ’60s and ’70s as well as a government survey from the period which lists the exact number of brothels, opium dens, strip clubs, pornography theatres, and dog meat restaurants. Sounds amazing, right? Find out how to support the book–and perhaps get signed copy as well as an archival quality print–at the City of Darkness Revisited Kickstarter page.

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Mike Kelley retrospective at MOCA

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Last Friday, I attended the media preview for the Mike Kelley retrospective at MOCA and it’s amazing–the biggest showing of the much-loved L.A.-based artist’s work ever. It started with an assortment of short speeches, starting off with new MOCA director Philippe Vergne calling it a homecoming after debuting at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and making stops in Paris and New York. Mary Clare Stevens, Executive Director of the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts described the artist’s personal involvement in the show’s evolution and Ann Goldstein, the former director of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and exhibition curator, added that the show began as related to theme but shifted to chronology upon the artist’s death in 2012.

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MOCA Curator Bennett Simpson emphasized MOCA’s history of supporting the artist (who was part of the museum’s “First Show” and has been in almost 30 more including one that he curated) and added that the current stop includes a Chinatown-related piece that has never been shown in Los Angeles before. Framed and Frame (1999) is located on the upper floor, and challenges the audience with concepts of context but also alludes to the Downtown L.A. area’s punk rock history via sex and drugs paraphernalia mixed in with the traditional wishing well icons.

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Another large piece is Kandors (2007-2011), a collection of sculptures of Superman’s hometown reimagined from various comic book pages. The reference to the alien city, shrunken by the iconic hero’s arch-enemy Braniac and kept under glass, is esoteric to many but is folklore to hardcore comic book readers. Kelley created a video installation mashing up the four-color hero with the goth poetry of Sylva Plath, but never realized his plan to introduce the Art Forum scene to the Comic-Con crowd online.

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In contrast to the perfectly made installations are Kelley’s raw paintings. While they are often in gloriously simple black and white, the ideas are typically given levels upon levels of depth with text. It is easy to imagine the Detroit-born artist moving to Los Angeles in the mid ’70s and going out of his mind in the same scene that spawned equally subversive and literate artists such as Raymond Pettibon and Manuel Ocampo.

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I rather enjoyed the installation of Pay for Your Pleasure (1988), a colorful group of portraits and quotes that link art and crime. I was too hung up looking at the tributes to Dostoyevsky, Genet, Lord Byron, and other heroes from my English major youth to notice if there was a Manson painting at the end… Painting, illustration, sculpture, photography–Kelley not only tried every medium possible to critique social norms and artistic boundaries but have fun with them.

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Perhaps Kelley’s best-known work among casual art fans like me involves thrift-shop quality stuffed animals accompanied by recorded voices sharing existential, psychological, and paranoid monologues and conversations. These are represented well in the side room, along with the legendary 26-minute Kappa (1986) video made in conjunction with Bruce and Norman Yonemoto, featuring Mary Woronov and mashing up Japanese folklore, Greek mythology, and Southern California apathy.

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Educational Complex (1995) is another monumental piece, sprawling white architectural plastic that recalls every school that Kelley has attended and looking sterile, institutional, and military. MOCA curator Bennett Simpson wasn’t kidding when he said that Kelley’s art would envelope the visitor, and the overwhelming and even numbing piece is especially powerful when noting that Kelley was a teacher as well as student of art.

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Mike Kelley opens to the public on March 31 and closes on July 28. It is located at the Geffen Contemporary (next to JANM in Little Tokyo) and is worth every penny of the $12 admission but can be visited for free on Thursday evenings. Check MOCA’s site for special talks and symposiums.

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Ahh… Youth (1991)

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Show reviews: Vandals and Descendents at Musink, Channel Three at The Redwood

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It was just a couple of weeks ago that I was having lunch with my friend Joe, telling him that I bought a ticket to his band’s upcoming show with the Descendents. He asked if I was bringing my daughter Eloise and I said no way! I’d want to be in front where it’s packed with all these big sweaty gross guys. And then he said something like, “No, I’ll get you onstage where all the families and friends of the bands hang out. Wendy can come, too! I’ll put them on the list.”

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Usually I buy tickets to support my friends’ bands. But how could I say no? When would Eloise have that chance again? When would I have that chance again? Sure enough, when the band came out of the dressing room and headed up the stairs to the stage, Joe said, “The baby comes onstage with us.” How freakishly nice is he?

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There were sound issues during the older songs-leaning set, prompting the singer Dave to reprise “Anarchy Burger” during the set because he wasn’t feeling it as the opener. But Eloise didn’t care. I thought she’d dance around but instead she had a stunned look of awe and happiness the entire time. The Bad Religion-inspired breakdown of “Supercalifragilisticespialidocious” and Warren’s so-you-think-you-can-dance moved during “I Have a Date” really made an impression on her. Me, too. Thanks, Joe! Every show will be a letdown for Eloise from now on…

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I’ve been lucky enough to catch The Descendents before Milo Went Back To College and multiple times during the first reunion (with Epitaph) as well as the second one (on Fat). This was the first time seeing The Descendents since the documentary came out, and it seems as if they appreciate being onstage like no other time. Survivors of multiple false starts and various life-threatening conditions, the South Bay band plays every punk classic from “Hope” to “Suburban Home” as if it might be the last time. No mailing it in. Going for ALL. Some kids are obsessed with One Direction and Katy Perry songs, but I’m stoked Eloise is singing “Get The Time” and “I Have a Date.”

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The next evening’s show was too old for Eloise (even a fake ID wouldn’t work for her at The Redwood) and too late for Wendy (I was struggling to stay up until the set started at 1:00 a.m.). But I couldn’t miss Channel Three playing an $8 show just five minutes from my house. Besides my being a massive fan of their Posh Boy-era punk–as well as their Enigma-era rock ‘n’ roll and their latest songs and singles–they just played a Save Music in Chinatown benefit for Wendy, Eloise, and me!

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After much screwing around with borrowed amps, the crew from Cerritos blasted into a blown-out set filled with original members, guest appearances, and cool covers–sometimes all at once, as in the case of “Brand New Cadillac.” I love how they always bring their spouses, childhood friends, and co-conspirators like a big family. Who cares if the vocals are totally lost when everyone is singing along? “Manzanar,” “I Got a Gun,” “Indian Summer”–it was all there. Nothing like waking up a late after a great show, but then to get messages like “Dude, sorry we didn’t get to talk much” and “Thanks for coming”? Seriously, the raddest guys ever.

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Channel Three is playing every chance they get, and I can’t wait to see them (and get their new release) at Left of The Dial on Record Store Day. Vegas and the Midwest are lined up, too. The Vandals? They also have a new LP in the works and are hitting Canada and the East Coast soon. The few, the pround, the Descendents will be at Punk Rock Bowling with another new show-specific shirt by Chris Shary. Maybe the bandana that I slept on at the merch booth, too. Someone get one for me!

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