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martin wong
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Show reviews: X live at the Whisky a Go-Go on the Fabulous Sunset Strip, It’s Casual and Bongoloidz at The Troubadour, Chain and the Gang at The Smell’s 16th birthday celebration

I’d forgotten what a great venue The Whisky is. Big stage but small room with decent sound and a balcony means that pretty much every spot is good. So it’s cool the once proud venue (I saw the Ramones, Sonic Youth, Descendents, Scratch Acid, SNFU, Guns ‘n’ Roses, and so many other awesome shows there in the ’80s and ’90s, but before that the likes of The Doors, Love, and Jimi Hendrix would play there) is booking some of its most loved bands to celebrate its 50th anniversary. With a storied headliner like X on the marquee, I don’t know why anyone would feel the need to hire tatted up go-go dancers to entertain us, though.

First up was The Crowd. Who knew that one of the earliest and best HB punk bands was opening? I had no idea but as soon as they started off their set with “ Living in Madrid” (off the essential Beach Blvd. compilation) it all came back. Geography and perhaps a last-second booking meant the five-piece was cut to four but the band had no problems going for the gusto. Great set, and yes they played “ Modern Machine.”

X is one of my favorite bands, and I’ve seen them a lot since their New World Tour stop at Magic Mountain. Over the last few years, I’ve seen them more than ever and it seems like they keep getting darker, from the extra combative vocals to the dueling axes. I was trying to figure out if Exene was struggling since she was nursing a plastic cup for the first few songs and rested on the stairs during the drum solo of “Hungry Wolf,” but she powered through the set as otherworldly and awesomely as always. John Doe did most of the rocking and the talking, saying that if it were a few years ago the band would invite everyone over for a house party. Later on, Exene said that she thinks of Johnny Rivers, and not X, when she thinks of the Whisky. (Of course, Billy Zoom just smiled.) Cool to have people talking about excellent shows at the Whisky (and playing them) instead of lame pay-to-play shows, and I hope it stays that way after the 50th anniversary run is over.

The Troubadour is another legendary West Hollywood venue that I rarely visit. The woodwork provides an authentic folkie and ’70s vibe that is backed up with photos of The Byrds and Elton John in the bar. Unlike The Whisky (or Roxy, for that matter) the stage has had pretty good bands come through every now and then for as long as I can remember. So how cool was it to see two friends’ bands play there? I arrived just in time to see Bongoloidz. I’ve seen Fredo Ortiz drum with everyone from The Beastie Boys to Los Lobos, and his solo work is all over the map, too: rock, punk, rap, cumbia. The cumbia is so good I can’t remember how any of the other songs go! Fredo moved to the Bay Area recently, so this was almost like a homecoming.

Headlining the show (which was FREE so why weren’t you there?) was It’s Casual. I love the skate rock duo and this was the first time for me to see them in a proper club. Of course, my friend, lefty shredder, and lead barker Eddie Solis used the entire stage and roused the crowd as you’d expect a student of KISS to do. And his drummer is a machine. Money Mark told me that he should have been wearing a cape. The next It’s Casual show is another free one at the Programme skateshop in Fullerton on February 1 with Skatemaster Tate opening. Check it out and say hi to my homie Eddie Solis when you do.

A couple of days before that, I went to The Smell’s 16th birthday celebration to see Chain and the Gang. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the same lineup twice and this one is possibly the hottest and heaviest. Of course, Ian Svenonious is the band’s constant with dance moves cultivated from his days in Nation of Ulysses, Cupid Car Club, and The Make-Up (and maybe Hairspray), as well as between song extemporizing stemming from hosting a talk show and writing books. “What do you want to talk about?” he asked before playing “ Reparations.” After the evening’s guest DJ Allison Wolfe said, “Me!,” and an audience member in the front row said, “Drugs,” Ian deadpanned, “Huey Lewis dreampt of having a new one once…” Brilliant, just like the band’s reconstructed, politicized take on pop music.

Chain and the Gang are still on the road with The Shivas. Don’t miss the openers like I did. I bought the indie surf-garage band’s 2014 tour cassette and it’s great!

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