Save Music in Chinatown 16 recap with Phranc, Ford Madox Ford, LP3 & The Tragedy, The Horseheads, and The Linda Lindas plus Gabba Gabba Cake

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After five years and 15 shows, you’d think organizing Save Music in Chinatown benefit shows wouldn’t be a big deal anymore. Yet another matinee with old music and young kids–don’t they all blend together and are there even show-goers who like either? Maybe they would come for cookies. Or cake!

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My wife Wendy and friend Nate, who also obsess over our series of all-ages matinees year-round, were right on board when I decided to made our 16th show my 50th birthday party, hoping that  maybe a couple more people would come out to help raise money for music education at Castelar, Chinatown’s public elementary school, by carrying on the punk rock tradition of the historic neighborhood’s old Hong Kong Cafe.

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As usual, the lineup came together perfectly but from totally different directions. Phranc has been playing at punk rock shows and benefit gigs for decades, and we had been in touch with the All-American Jewish Lesbian folk singer since she and our mutual friend Alice Bag teamed up to play our 14th show as PHAG. I loved the Smothers Brothers-inspired duo’s topical songs, which were as progressive as they were current, and two-of-a-kind banter, but wanted our audience to get a rare taste of Phranc as a solo artist as well. Is there anyone cooler or more calming, more sensible or funny, in a state of chaos? She was doing it way before “Life’s a Beach” and the Reagan and Bush years and she’ll be around long after 45 and “YOLO.” Phranc was and will always be the original Life Lover that reassures all of us underdogs to not give in or give up.

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We’ve been shocked a few times when a friend, whose cool band had no business playing a rinky dink show like ours to begin with, has asked to play for our cause a second time. Mike from Channel Three and Tony Adolescent approached us about a record-release show and secret gig last year, and this time it was Chip from Ford Madox Ford. What an honor to have lifers and veterans of the first wave of punk in Chinatown come back to play for the kids who go to school there now. What a relief not to grovel to potential headliners and co-headliners! And I don’t even know what the blues are, but I love the combo’s rock-solid groove mixed with Chip’s original punk energy and nonstop layer of noise provided by his guitar shredding son Dewey.

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I lined up LP3 & The Tragedy and The Horseheads during a bittersweet afternoon at Alex’s Bar in way back in July. Nate and I were commiserating with Louie Perez III and Mike Martt at Steve Soto’s memorial, and one of the beloved bass player’s last shows with the Adolescents in SoCal was actually at our May benefit. Louie had been working closely with Steve and was devastated. He only came to the gathering because Mike asked him to bring some gear so CJ Ramone and a few Adolescents could play a short set (which they joked Steve would have hated, but made everyone feel better). Somehow, I built up the courage to ask them if their bands would be interested in playing our show and, perhaps partly in tribute to Steve’s memory and the legacy of his great music and big heart, they said yes.

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Having LP3 & The Tragedy and The Horseheads was a very cool pairing of cowpunk legends, lifers, and torch carriers–perfect since Chip and his brother Tony formed the genre’s instigators Rank & File–and how about Chip coming up to sing “Class War,” a Dangerhouse single released by the brother’s previous band, The Dils, with LP3? The famously unruly Horseheads covering “What’s so Funny about Peace, Love, and Understanding?” for a crowd with as many children in the audience as survivors of the Hong Kong Cafe days? “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” provided a gritty balance that pleased the blues purists and fans of Mike’s other old band Thelonious Monster

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Bolstered by a kickass bake sale and cool raffle as usual, the show would have been amazing enough right there–way above and beyond what we should expect from our humble project, cause, and efforts. But it gets better and I actually get emotional when I look back at it, largely because The Linda Lindas played. Eloise has gone from mascot to flyer artist to member of a band with her cousins and their friend. While we hoped to raise money for our daughter’s school all along, having a scene grow around it was a total surprise, and who knew that it would be a place where kids that can handle it could thrive? They play covers now (Go-Go’s, X-Ray Spex, Ramones, Bikini Kill, Joy Division) but who knows how far they will take it?

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And on top of all that, it was my birthday! What a cool present for so many friends, family, and supporters come out and eat a Ramones-themed cake for my twin brother Greg and me? Or hear Phranc sing “It’s Cool to Grow Old in L.A.” name-checking Save Music in Chinatown, The Linda Lindas, and The Hong Kong Cafe?

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I’m grateful not only that so many people come out to support public school and music education in the historic neighborhood for my immigrant grandparents and in-laws, and now my daughter, has found community, but also that they contribute to my most fun, amazing birthday ever. And I never make a big deal out of my birthday but this was a big deal.

 

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Thank you to everyone who played, contributed, attended, and had fun at #savemusicinchinatown 16 at @thegrandstarjazzclub this afternoon! It's unbelievable to me that our all-ages matinee fund raising concerts for Castelar's music program has not only survived into its sixth year but that we can get a lineup like @horseheadsmusic, @lp3andthetragedy, @fdmdxfd, and @phranc.la to play for our humble cause. Or that my daughter would go from being a kindergartener dancing around in front to flyer artist to guest singer to member of a band on the show, @the_linda_lindas! Why not make this show my 50th birthday party, celebrating not only a birthday but Eloise's awesome school and my favorite neighborhood's punk rock past at the Hong Kong Cafe. And cookies! Is there a cooler way to grow old in L.A. or anywhere else? If you were there and loved it, please share your pictures and spread the word! And if not but it sounds right up your alley, I'll be blabbing about our next show sooner than you think! Who wants in?

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Hugs, high fives, and thanks to everyone who played, worked the bake sale, contributed to the raffle, helped get the word out, and came and had fun. Reaching 50 could have been a somber event, but I’ve never felt more excited, engaged, joyful about uniting my favorite subcultures of punk rock and immigrant kids and trying to make a difference in my favorite neighborhood, Chinatown. And to do it with my family and so many old and new friends is simply the best. We hope to see you at our next shows in January and June… I wonder who we can get to play?

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Left to right, top to bottom: Artist Vicki Berndt; Dewey Peak from Ford Madox Ford and too many other bands to list; Phranc, Horseheads, and Bela from The Linda Lindas; Castelar alum and one of the flyer models, Tatawan; Alpine Decline; Gabba Gabba Cake from KG Bakery; Tsubasa from Rough Kids and family; Chip from Ford Madox Ford, Rank & File, Dils, etc. with Alice Bag and The Linda Lindas; Zen and Atomic Nancy; RazorCake crew; Chris from Scoops, who brought custom ice cream, and Mamie, whose family ran the Hong Kong Cafe; post-show birthday dinner crew at Golden Dragon.

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For news on the next shows, keep an eye on this blog or follow the Save Music in Chinatown page on Facebook!

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Save Music in Chinatown 12 preview with The Alley Cats

The other day, someone asked me how we have persuaded so many legends of L.A. punk to play our humble little Save Music in Chinatown benefits: Chuck Dukowski Sextet, Mike Watt & The Missingmen, The Gears, Adolescents, Channel Three, FourEyedFour with members of the Flyboys, The Crowd, Ford Madox Ford with Chip from the Dils, Rikk Agnew Band… I still can’t believe my nine-year-old daughter gets to see bands like that.

In this case of our upcoming show on May 7, how did we get the original Dangerhouse punk band the Alley Cats to volunteer their time? Well, I’ve attended all of their shows at Cafe NELA over the last year like a groupie, had mutual friend Laurie Steelink introduce me to surviving/lifer member Randy Stodola while buying a T-shirt at a solo show in San Pedro, shared zines and flyers at other shows, and invited them to previous Save Music in Chinatown gigs. But it probably didn’t hurt when Tony Adolescent re-introduced me to Randy online, saying that The Alley Cats would be a perfect fit for one of our shows. I agreed.

So there you have it: Shameless, endless groveling and friends with big hearts.

Here’s a short Q&A with Randy, April Cady, and Matt Laskey to get you excited about the twelfth Save Music in Chinatown show (with Tabitha, Schizophonics, and My Revenge featuring Hector from The Zeros, as well as a reading by Alice Bag), going over The Alley Cats’ history in Chinatown and L.A. punk as well as its current lineup and new music…

MW: Got any thoughts about coming back to play in Chinatown, right across the plaza from the old Hong Kong Cafe and Madame Wong’s?
RS: Kinda funny but we did our first show at Madame Wong’s with The Zeros and our first show at the Hong Kong with The Bags… I’m excited for Matt and Apryl to be able to play there. It’s a cool part of town and it’ll be a new experience for them. I think it will be fun.

MW: Was the Alley Cats’ first show really with The Zeros in Chinatown?
RS: No, it wasn’t the Alley Cats’ first show. It was the first punk show in Chinatown. We played the first punk show at Madame Wong’s and later the first punk show at the Hong Kong. Actually, we were the first punk band to play a lotta places.

MW: You also played the infamous Elk’s Club Riot show with The Zeros. Was it as intense as people say?
RS: Yes. As the band before us was finishing, Dianne and I were sitting on the wide stairway that was packed with people and lead from the lobby up to the theater. Suddenly, a phalanx of police in full riot squad gear lined up in the lobby and, on signal without warning or provocation, suddenly charged up the stairway slamming people with batons and heavy flashlights. Dianne and I started running up the stairs as soon as we saw the police show up, so we were able to escape ahead of the onslaught, unharmed. But some people had broken bones and many were bloody.

I have never seen a group of peaceful people who weren’t protesting or doing anything at all suddenly be attacked in that way, without even a hint of warning. And since they did not warn the promoter or anybody else that they were closing down the show, the security thought that all these people suddenly running up the stairs were trying to crash the show and tried to hold them back. So people were trying to escape being attacked by cops on one side and were being stopped the hired security on the other.

The cops’ excuse was a claim that an drug undercover agent at the show had been verbally threatened by someone. I guess they needed an army of police to beat and attack everybody who happened to be there to rescue him, but the kids (there were something like a thousand people at the show) quickly reassembled in MacArthur Park and started throwing bottles and rocks at the cops (who, according to the media, eventually numbered 500) who were chasing them around. Helicopters flying overhead, cop car windows breaking, people yelling and screaming, loud bullhorn announcements over and over declaring that everyone had to leave the park or be arrested—it went on for hours.

MW: I love that you have not only regrouped the Alley Cats, but have such great chemistry and play often. Can you tell me how long this combo has been playing together?
RS: We have been playing together a little less then three years, I think. Both Matt and Apryl are wonderful talented people, and I am blessed to know and play music with them.

MW: Matt and Apryl, what’s the best thing about being an Alley Cat?
ML: Best thing is playing in a band I absolutely love; it’s all I ever wanted to do.

AC: I guess my favorite part of joining the Alley Cats would be playing music with good friends that come with meeting Randy and Matt, and all of the other people we play with and all of the adventures we have been through. There have been many adventures.

MW: Is it true that you are both transplants from the same hometown in Pedro?
AC: That is not entirely accurate. Randy and I both lived in Fargo for a part of our lives. Neither of us were born there, but it is a pretty cool coincidence.

MW: It seems to me like you sing in your own, cool style. Do you get some direction from Randy or do you just go for it?
AC: Alley Cats style singing is not very natural for me but I just try to go for it.

MW: Matt, do you try to stay true to the recordings or do you just go for it?
ML: I try to stick to the recordings, I love the songs, so why try and change anything? They’re awesome how they are.

MW: There are so many Alley Cats and Zarkons songs to choose from, and I love the sets you’ve been playing. How did the Avengers cover get in there?
RS: Always liked “We Are the One,” and it seemed appropriate to come after “House of Cards,” which is a new song. Actually 40-50 percent of our set are songs that were never recorded by the Alley Cats.

MW: Does that mean you have new songs ready to record?
RS: Yes…

MW: Our show is raising funds for music education at the elementary school in Chinatown. Can you share how you started to play an instrument and what it’s meant to you?
AC: Music is the most inspirational part of my life. I played in the high school marching band and I enjoyed that. I started playing guitar and bass when I was in high school, too, and it has always been something for me to relieve anxiet. I wish I could do it all the time. I love seeing young people getting excited about music and am looking forward to our show to raise funds for music education in Chinatown.

RS: When I was about 5, my sisters who were 7 and 9 years older then me, both got guitars and a book with first-position chords. But they never played them, so I borrowed them and learned the chords from the book. Not having any songs to play, I wrote my own. No record player, no song books, no one else to play music with or teach me—I didn’t have much choice isolated out in the country in North Dakota and then Upper Michigan. But I think that maybe that made it funner for me, just playing for myself many hours a day, alone just for fun. And it is still fun. It’s hard to quantify what it has meant to me, but I was lucky to have an instrument available to play at such a young age. Can’t play music unless you got something to play it on.

Follow the band at facebook.com/AlleyCatsSOB and get tickets for Save Music in Chinatown 12 at eventbrite.com.

Thank you for Save Music in Chinatown 11: Rikk Agnew Band, Ford Madox Ford, Rough Kids, Florida Mistakes

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My friend Daryl said that our eleventh Save Music in Chinatown show might have been his favorite one so far. And who am I to argue with a guy who holds down the fort at RazorCake magazine and KCHUNG?

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Of course Daryl and Gabie at KCHUNG are two friends who always carve out time from their radio shows to help us get the word out. I think it’s really cool that Gabie’s Crystalline Morphologies program is not only scheduled early enough that Eloise can go on the air, but is also archived for streaming and downloading.

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We get help from so many friends. There’s also Cyrano and Lotus (a.k.a. Steve and Max) at KXLU’s Molotov Cocktail Hour. On their show, we had Rikk Agnew on the air to pick songs from the great new Rikk Agnew Band LP, and vintage solo stuff, Adolescents, and Christian Death, and share Hong Kong Cafe anecdotes from his storied punk rock life, too. Super cool!

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At the show it itself, we saw a lot of old friends coming out to support the cause. There was LP3 and Carrie. Louie played for us with Evil Hearted You way back when and will return with LP3 & The Tragedy sooner than later.

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Bob Forrest has played for us twice, solo at our first show ever and then with The Bicycle Thief. Holy cow, I can’t believe that reunion happened at one of our little shows. Were you there?

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And how about longtime supporters Lisa Fancher from Frontier Records and David O. Jones from Alice Bag Band, Carnage Asada, Deadbeats, and a bunch of other cool projects coming out early enough to see Rough Kids?smic11-rough2

More old and new friends: Paul from Rough Kids with Paul and Nick from Escape Artist. Nick played for us in FourEyedFour and will come back with 16 Again one of these days!smic11-roughflyboys

There was an Alice Bag sighting, too. How rad was it for her to come out to Chinatown and say hi to Chip, who was co-headlining our show with Ford Madox Ford. Decades ago, they used to play in the Bags and Dils, respectively, right across the courtyard at the Hong Kong Cafe!

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I was especially happy to see my friend Jaime not only get time off from work to attend the show but jump on stage to sing with the Rikk Agnew Band. When I was in college, I used to go to the Anti-Club almost every weekend to see him play with the Chemical People on bills with ALL and Big Drill Car.

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After seeing him so often at shows and then Hollywood Book and Poster we became friends, breaking the barrier between stage (even ones a foot tall) and crowd. One small step on the way to putting on these benefit shows…

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Of course, there was my good friend Nate who helps behind the scenes of every single show. Although he’s elusive like Bigfoot, this time I got a blurry picture of him with Chip and Scott from Ford Madox Ford. But how did I miss photos of Vicki, Horace, and Clare–the latter two all the way from London?smic11-chipnatecrew

Besides being excited and grateful to the Florida Mistakes, Rough Kids, Ford Madox Ford, and Rikk Agnew Band and everyone who showed up, I don’t have a real story to tell except that a lot of people out there want to make a difference and help out in some way.

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I don’t have a radio show, play in a band, release records, or make awesome cookies. But if I can help those people get together to help kids in Chinatown receive music education at their public school, what can you do? What difference can you make?

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Thanks again to the Grand Star, the bands, the bake sale crew, raffle donors, everyone who came, and everyone who spread the word. We’ll do it again at the Grand Star on Sunday, May 7 and be ready for some top-shelf garage punk rock ‘n’ roll…

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Best blurry picture ^ v Gung hay fat choy!

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