Spider punks from Long Beach

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Photo: David Vchi

One of my favorite parts of making GR was reviewing music. I hear you can check out new songs really easily online these days, but plowing through a stack of brand-new or yet-to-be-released CDs and flipping through their booklets in front of a hi-fi was so much better.

I was pretty stoked when, out of the blue, a friend of a friend offered to send me an advance CD from his band that I’ve been interested in. Old school punk with ties to Channel Three? I’m down!

After cranking Spider’s Best Of EP about a dozen times–not hard to do partially because it’s no-BS punk ‘n’ roll but also due to the fact that it’s only six songs–I had some questions for singer Hector Martinez and he had answers.

That’s so badass to have a “best of” release with only six songs. How did it come to be?

Haha! Thanks, man. Our original CD which came out in 2001 is out of print and we wanted to release something. So we figured, what the hell! We’ll do an EP that features the best of Youth Insurance. I don’t think anyone really heard it back when it came out, the band broke up soon thereafter, and it really never had the push it deserved. Plus the Internet was really at its infancy at the time, so it kinda came out and disappeared without much fanfare.

Why six songs? Well, I read somewhere that the focused attention span of an audience for a live performance of a band is around 20 minutes. After that, it gets a little monotonous. I tend to agree with this sentiment.

Some of the greatest punk albums have clocked in at 30 minutes or less. One of our all-time faves, Group Sex by Circle Jerks, is only 15:25 long. Less is more, indeed! So we decided to keep it quick and dirty, and pare it down to our personal favorite Spider songs. The total time for the release is around 18 minutes, so we’re right on the mark.

I really dig the creepy crawl of “Shooting Stars” (is it about astronomy or junkie celebrities?) shifting into the trashy riffs of “Get Caught” (with its got loose Johnny Thunders, Stiv Bators vibe) but what’s the one song out of the six that you think new ears should listen to first?
“Shooting Stars/Get Caught” is a stream-of-consciousness tune written in a lockout studio in Whittier when the band first started solidifying. At the time, I was reading a lot of Bukowski and living in the studio with our bass player. We had no kitchen and one small window in the bathroom. Absolutely no sunlight ever came into the place. (Maybe that’s where the Johnny Thunders/Stiv Bators vibe comes from?) It was no kind of living environment that you’d want to spend any sort of extended time in. We lasted for six months under those conditions, but we came up with some good songs. Eventually, I had to get the fuck out of there. I was going crazy.

Folks really like “Shooting Stars/Get Caught,” but if I were to pick, I’d start with “PCE.” It has a dark, rhythmic creep factor vibe all its own.

How long have you been playing together? Where do the guys come from?
I was born and raised in Compton. Karl Izumi (guitar) and founding member and original drummer Al Silva (who appears on the recordings) are from Cerritos, and Steve Westerkamp (bass) is from Long Beach. Our current drummer is longtime friend Mikki Crash, who’s from Corona. Our home base now is pretty much Long Beach.

Spider formed around 1997, broke up in 2001. Regrouped for a few shows between 2005 and 2006, disappeared, then regrouped in 2015, when our good friend Mike Magrann (CH3) was putting together a show featuring bands from the Cerritos area. Members of Spider and CH3 go way back. We (me, Karl, Steve) were the kids attending all the backyard parties CH3 played at in the early early ’80s. They were about 5 years older than us, and we always looked up to them. As the years went by, we became good friends and are still very tight to this day.

Spider is very much a band built on friendships. I’ve known Steve since 6th grade and Karl since 9th grade. I’m fortunate to be able to be in a band today with my best friends. It really is the best thing in the world. I recommend it to everyone. Fuck it, just do it everybody: Start a band with your friends!

This incarnation of the band has been our most focused and successful effort. Our chops are better, our shows are better, and we’re getting legit love from promoters, booking agents, the press, new fans, etc. We’re playing some great shows, too. We played the Music Tastes Good festival in Long Beach last year, we’re doing Punk Rock Bowling this year, and we just secured a spot playing with GBH in August, so, yes, things are going great! We’re working on new songs and are just gonna keep going. I don’t see any end in sight. We’re in such a good place right now, and we’re just enjoying each moment.

I love the dark-tinged punk that recalls The Damned, T.S.O.L., Mad Parade… Did it take a while to arrive at your style or was it something you’ve had since the beginning?
Thanks. You know, I really love that tinge too. We love The Damned and T.S.O.L!  I think our earlier material when we first first started writing was  more melodic, then we found our edge when Karl joined the band.

Is it hard to work at a punk label and be in a punk band?
Not at all! You know my first love was punk rock, we (me, Karl, Steve) are part of that second wave of So. Cal punk that took shape around 1980. I’m very fortunate that today I get to work with bands like Bad Religion, Descendents, and Social Distortion on a professional level. These are bands I used to go see at Godzillas, Cathay De Grand, and Dancing Waters as kid in search of the truth! These bands were the essential DNA of the early California punk rock days. I later went to law school and fed my left brain and, now, to be able use my visceral punk rock ethos right brain in connection with my job (licensing sound recording copyrights for use in film, TV, and video games) has been a blessing. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.

I’m always stoked by highly educated people who stay punk: Graffin, Aukerman, Escalante… Are the sides complementary? Do you have to turn off the logical or legal side of your brain when working on songs or lyrics?
You know what, man? I’ve been fortunate. My parents have always extolled the virtues of going to school in me since I was a kid. I kinda didn’t have a choice. My parents were migrant farm workers picking crops in their early years and also worked the sweatshops of the Dickies factories in the early ’50s. They know backbreaking, soul-sucking labor firsthand and wanted more for their kids. To them school was the way out to break the cycle of poverty. I’m indebted to them immensely for their guidance and advice.

As far as punk rock goes, I found the same vibe in punk as I did when I studied philosophy and the Socratic method. Whether it was Keith Morris or Socrates, I always connected with the concept of questioning authority and getting down to the essence of the truth. So, yes, they are definitely complementary. When Spider took its last hiatus, I double downed on my legal studies and got a second law degree (LLM) in intellectual property law. As part of that work, I wrote a law review article about Section 203 of the Copyright Act and the termination of grant of sound recording copyrights which very much has punk rock as the backdrop.

I’ve noticed I do have to turn the volume down on the logical/legal side of my brain as we write new material. I need to stay visceral with the band.  My legal/logical brain goes back online when I check into work and have to negotiate/review a contract. Right now, it’s about navigating the paradox.

How has punk rock informed you in ways other than art or aesthetics? Also, was there ever a time when you stopped being in a band, going to shows, or listening to punk?
There’s a lot of the same ethos in punk and philosophy; questioning things and getting to the truth are very important to me.

There was a time when I took a break from the band and going to shows. It was about 10 years ago, when I stopped drinking, smoking, and doing drugs. I completely stopped polluting my body and stopped going out for years. I really didn’t want to be distracted from being clean.  I eventually started working out and reconnected with my friends, and now I guess fitness is my biggest vice. I’m a work in progress, I’ll have a drink now and then, but no drugs and no smoking at all anymore. That shit is so bad for you. It’s behind me now.

Getting into shape physically has really helped me mentally, and now that I look back it was integral to reforming Spider. We are putting on the best shows now and firing on all cylinders. I’d hate to half-ass it. I’d rather not do the band if I couldn’t give it my all physically.

What’s driving Spider? Doing rad stuff with friends? Writing cool songs? Getting on cool bills? Hitting the road and going to new places?
Spider is really an expression of our collective DNA. Doing rad stuff with friends definitely fuels the fire: being creative with your friends and creating something out of nothing… Holy shit, how cool is that!?

Getting on cool bills is the best too. Playing with our idols, getting their positive feedback–this is all good stuff. Life is good.

Our goal is to start doing targeted touring: going up north hitting the East Coast, and hitting Europe in short, effective blasts. All roads are open as far as we’re concerned.
Also, release of the S/T EP will coincide with our performance at our Punk Rock Bowling show at The Bunk House. We thought that’d be a really cool event to premiere it at. So here we are!

So do you play all-ages matinees for kids or what?
Yes, yes, and yes.

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See Spider with Alice Bag, The Avengers, and Weirdos at PBR in Las Vegas and then stalk them on Bandcamp and Facebook.

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Save Music in Chinatown 8, before and after

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Save Music in Chinatown 8 took place a couple of weeks ago at the Grand Star, but it feels like just happened.  Seeing The Crowd at Fitzgerald’s in Huntington Beach (above) and Bad Cop/Bad Cop in Pomona (below) last weekend might have something to do with that. Bands take note: If you thought I went to a lot of your shows before you played one of our benefits, you won’t be getting rid of me afterward.

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But back to Save Music in Chinatown 8. Placing flyers at record stores and on friends’ refrigerators all over town and posting about the shows incessantly on Facebook–you never know when one thing will actually lead to another. After writing about our gig with the Adolescents, Gears, and Watt, Dennis Walsh commented, “Why haven’t The Crowd played one of these shows?” I asked him to introduce me and he replied, “I’m the drummer!”

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I’d already been stalking The Crowd for years and started saying hi to Dennis whenever they’d play Alex’s Bar. But then last summer, I saw him hanging out with Channel Three (above) and BC/BC (blurry and below) who just played with the Adolescents and Weirdos at the Roxy. The right place, the right time, just like the song goes. We agreed that it would be rad if The Crowd, FourEyedFour (another one of Dennis’s bands), and BC/BC played for us.

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All the bands were as awesome as they were nice. Bombón (who I immediately contacted after seeing them play a RazorCake show at Pehrspace) pulled aside their last kid-sized cat shirt for Eloise and made everyone smile and dance with their DIY surf sounds. FourEyedFour sounded as amazing as their self-released CD, really smart and slightly psychedelic pop with a ton of punch.

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Bad Cop/Bad Cop are a dynamite live band with massive hooks, killer harmonies, and so much upside. It’s a good thing we got them right before they took off for Europe to tour with Snuff… (Aaron Brown, a member of the BC/BC gang as well as an old friend, made an animalistic rock ‘n’ roll flyer for us, too.)

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The Crowd’s set was raging and full of angst and slurred lyrics and banter, and could have taken place at a dive bar instead of an afternoon matinee. And I thought it was great. Our idea has always been to have all-ages shows that kids attend but never to have kiddie shows. How great were the legendary Beach Blvd. and ROTR Vol. 1 comp contributors and how cool was it to have Tony Cadena sing “Liberty” with them? Yet another great Tony moment at Save Music in Chinatown to file away…

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When Eloise started attending Castelar Elementary as a kindergartner, Wendy and I had no idea we would start organizing benefit concerts or that we would be doing it this long. But with help from parents who run the bake sale, friends who donate to the raffle, and all the selfless bands who volunteer to play for us, we can not only help keep the defunded music program going but start a scene. How cool is it to build on the legacy of the old Hong Kong Café and Madame Wong’s? How great it it for kids to be included?

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And now that Eloise is a big second grader, she has become more involved in our shows than ever. In addition to making a flyer, she introduced all the bands, danced in the front row for all of them, and even chose records to play on our friend Daryl’s KCHUNG radio program to promote the show.

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Sometimes I stress about our shows not getting enough attention (what part of punk matinees with a bake sale to help kids in Chinatown isn’t awesome?) or big enough crowds for the bands (the lineups are way too good for our humble venue). But in the end they’re always perfect: nothing but old and new friends and family. Hope to see you at the next one in the spring.

Save Music in Chinatown 6 on KCHUNG’s Crystalline Morphologies

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Thanks to my longtime friend and Save Music in Chinatown supporter from the beginning Gabie Strong. She invited Nate Pottker and me onto her Crystalline Morphologies radio show on KCHUNG to talk about the cause, play some music related to the shows, and get the word out about our May 31 lineup.

For the first time, I actually tried to scribble down mini sets to play. Here’s how they went:

Anarchy Jerks – Oi! Oi! Oi!
Adolescents – Monolith of Mountlake Terrace, A Dish Best Served Cold
Mike Watt & The Black Gang – Rebel Girl
Brain Failure – Living in the City
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Dengue Fever – Glass of Wine (demo)
The Zeros – Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White
The Gears – Let’s Go To The Beach
Channel Three – Indian Summer
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Birdstriking – TV at 7PM
Carsick Cars – Ono
P.K. 14 – Voyagers (I think)
Dear Eloise – Castle
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The Bicycle Thief – Max, Jill Called (Live at Save Music In Chinatown 4)

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I tried to play a Chui Wan song after Dear Eloise, but the CDR didn’t work. Bummer. Maybe you heard them on NPR lately anyway? I’ll try again on KXLU’s Molotov Cocktail Hour next week…

In the meantime, stream or even download the show at http://archive.kchungradio.org/2015-05-21/Save_Music_In_Chinatown_6-05.21.2015.mp3.

Thanks, Gabie! Thanks, KCHUNG! Seeya May 31!

Never Forget: Kevin Seconds of 7Seconds

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7Seconds at The Roxy (June 14, 2014)

Here’s another post that vanished like a fart in the wind when the old GR site was taken down. I’m reposting my May 2015 interview with Kevin Seconds because 7Seconds is about to hit SoCal once again to support the excellent recent LP, Leave A Light On.

The new 7Seconds album is awesome. It’s one thing to hear kids singing exuberant, straight-from-the-heart punk songs about walking together and rocking together. It’s another to hear adults who not only cling to the idealism and activism but rip at the art of hardcore after 30 years. Songs like “Exceptional” and “Slogan on a Shirt” are at once tangible and humble yet experienced and intelligent. And while certain lyrics hint at being weary (“Who wants to be sequestered in Another State of Mind?” ), there are no signs of being jaded. I love the dream sequence in “Heads Are Bound To Roll” in which The Clash plays one last show and Kevin gets to sing “Death or Glory” with them. Meanwhile, the hyper melodic title song “Leave a Light On” can be as literal or poetic as you want–perhaps a side effect of Kevin Seconds’ acoustic gigs between 7Seconds releases and shows.

Needless to say, I was all over a chance to ask Kevin about the new 7Seconds LP, his most recent acoustic work, and just plain making passionate, powerful music for 34 years and counting. Maybe next time I’ll ask him about his painting…

MW: I feel like you’ve answered a lot of the obvious questions in “30 Years (And Still Going Wrong)” but are the lyrics that you sing indeed that close to your feelings, opinions, and experiences? Are you still that confident about and stoked on about the hardcore band that you, your brother, and your childhood friends started in 1980?
KS: Absolutely. No one is as surprised–and pleasantly so–as I am at us still loving and being passionate about playing together as 7Seconds. It feels both amazing and ridiculous.

MW: After playing together for so many decades, and growing up and having families, is it still possible for you and the dudes to still feel like kids when you’re playing music?
KS: For about 30 to 50 minutes every time we get onstage, we feel like kids. Then we get in the van or on a plane or try standing upright in the shower without pain and that’s when we are cruelly reminded of our decrepitude.

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7Seconds at The Roxy (June 14, 2014)

MW: You and the band have hardcore chops from here to the moon. But I’m wondering if you listen to new hardcore bands, keep up with the scene, and all that?
KS: Honestly, I don’t listen to or go out and buy new music as much as I would like to. I try to keep my ears and eyes open because I still tour quite a bit on my own and I’m always hearing new stuff.  But it’s hard. The last couple of hardcore and punk bands I remember being super excited about were bands like Paint It Black, Champion, The Copyrights, and Off With Their Heads. Lately, it’s been a lot of singer-songwriter type stuff like John Moreland and Louise Distras.

MW: As a guy who travels the world, tell me why you’ve chosen to reside in smaller towns like Reno and Sacto instead of a big city. Does that philosophy inform your music in some way?
KS: I prefer living in cities that aren’t too big. I’ve spent enough time in places like New York and L.A. and, while I love both, I think I would just get too overwhelmed by everything going on there. I’d probably hunker down like a lunatic and never come out of my house! Plus, in a town the size of Sacramento, you still have opportunities to make waves and make cool things happen.

MW: I loved your acoustic show at Amoeba, and thought it was cool how your short, fast punk blasts really informed your folky efforts. In the other direction, have your acoustic experiences affected your work with 7Seconds?
KS: Definitely. I’d say that 5 or 6 of the songs on the new 7Seconds album were written on an acoustic guitar and were initially planned to be quieter, folkier tunes. Then again, I’ve written some of the best 7Seconds tunes on acoustic guitar so, it’s not all that new.

I would say that it has definitely affected my voice. I look to try and sing much more than I have in the past because I have more confidence now, as a solo singer-songwriter. It’s pretty fucking fun.

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Kevin Seconds at Amoeba Hollywood (February 13, 2014)

MW:  “Leave a Light On” is a great song, and I’m pretty sure you previewed it at Amoeba. Why did you decide to choose it for the title cut?
KS: Right from the start, that song resonated with me more than all the others. It was a lot faster when I first wrote it and I demo’ed it for the boys and would listen to it while jogging around the park or driving to the post office. It is really the only song on the new album that is somewhat of a project into itself. I can’t explain how or why. It just has great meaning to me at this point in my life and I wanted it to be the centerpiece on this new album. Luckily, the guys agreed with that.

MW: You’ve played some pretty great covers over the years, from Nena to Sham 69. What are some other ones that you’ve considered taking on but didn’t make the cut?
KS: Back in the ’80s and ’90s, we covered “Roam” by The B-52’s and “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield. We almost covered Madonna’s “Borderline.” Thank God we didn’t!

MW: You were just in Europe with solo gigs but are going back with the band.  What’s going on over there? Any surprises?
KS: It’s going. We’re there the first week and a half of July and we’re very excited to be getting back there. There’s nothing like what’s going on for hardcore and punk bands in Europe right now. It’s very strong and passionate. We love it over there. As far as surprises go, about the only thing I can think of is that I’m playing second guitar on a few songs, live. Oh, and I may get my haircut before then.

MW: You’ve got a couple of California shows lined up with Channel Three! Got any stories about those guys?
KS: I was once taken out into a dark alley in San Diego and beaten up by three members of Channel Three. It’s amazing that I still like them as people and as a band!

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7Seconds at The Roxy (June 14, 2014)

Follow 7Seconds on Facebook for the band’s latest dates, news, and thoughts, and then buy the great new record from the merch table at a gig or your local record shop. Kevin Seconds is active on Instagram, too.

And Mike Magrann from Channel Three says, “As I recall it was Kevin who beat the three of us up–bully!”

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Adolescents and friends at the Observatory, Steve Soto and friends at the Slidebar

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Can there really be too much of a good thing? That’s what I pondered while driving down to the Adolescents show behind the Orange Curtain on Saturday night. Love the Adolescents, Weirdos, and Channel Three. Have been wanting to see The Stitches and The Widows. So how could I not go or not see them all?

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I didn’t know much about The Widows except that they are opening for the Adolescents at The Casbah after Christmas. Invited by the headliners to drive up from San Diego to join them in O.C., too? Good enough for me. Dug their garage punk melodies with a surf vibe mixed in, Beach Boulevard style, and they get bonus points because one of the members had his family including a bunch of kids right in front.

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I’m still not totally used to seeing Channel Three play bigger stages like this. More channeling of The Clash, less fucking around. They have a seriously great set list with “I Wanna Know Why,” “I Got a Gun,” and “Indian Summer,” mixing fun and riffs like no other band–and tighter from a lot of touring this year. They not only brought along Maria Montoya for “You Make Me Feel Cheap” but Santa Claus for “Blue Christmas.” Some of my favorite dudes ever and one of my favorite bands ever, too. And that was before they played a benefit for my daughter’s school last year…

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Can’t believe it took me this long to see The Stitches. The Spirit of ’77 punk band from Orange Country really brings it live, just like they do on 7″ singles, comps, EPs, and albums. Mike Lohrman and Johnny Witmer have a cool wild frontman/stoic axe player dialog that’s up there with Mick and Keef, Johansen and Thunders, and Iggy and anyone…

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It says a lot that the first-generation L.A. punks are still weird in comparison to any other band on the planet. The Weirdos’ extra bass-heavy set started off like Wilson Pickett but derailed into darkness right away. “Destroy All Music,” “Life of Crime,” “We Got The Neutron Bomb,” and all the hits never get old because their cool mix of art, noise, and fun will always be always be ahead of everyone else.

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Before the headliners went on, the punk’s greatest hits played over the house sound system shifted into songs about the law: Black Flag, NWA, The Clash, Junior Murvin, KRS-One. The playlist put the music of the Adolescents in a completely current political context instead of a hardcore oldies one. Perfect since the band’s most recent album was largely a reaction to the unpunished killing of homeless man Kelly Thomas by the Fullerton police. Singer Tony Adolescent dedicated “Kids of the Black Hole” to Utah cosplayer Darrien Hunt who was shot by cops for carrying a toy sword as a Samurai Champloo character. Awesome.

I found out a couple of days later that the band’s message of solidarity amongst underdogs was totally lost on a meathead between the barricade and stage who socked a fellow photographer that was shooting as a favor for the band. WTF? Now there are predatory jocks in the photo pit as well as the slam pit? What a sad statement about any sort of scene or humans in general.ssbw1-o

So it was a welcome change of atmosphere to catch an evening of acoustic and roots music by punks at the Slidebar arranged by Adolescents co-founder Steve Soto. First up was Otisserie, a.k.a. O., a.k.a. the beloved sound guy, principal member of Olive Lawn and fluf, legendary skateboard and music designer photographer, and namesake of an off-the-menu juice and soda drink at the World Famous Casbah. The San Diego institution played songs from his old bands as well as ultra sad, ultra heavy acoustic numbers that will be released one of these days.

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Johnny and Jay from Old Man Markley, played a fired-up set of bluegrass originals and covers that included loving takes on Descendents, Ronnie Spector, and even Sublime. These guys have chops that go on forever and their possibly drunken banter is next-level, too.

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Steve Soto and Allison June make a sick combination with his heartbreaking songs about the devil (an ex) and personal ones about his mom (who was present) and her killer pipes. Mitch Townsend provided otherworldly atmosphere with his slide guitar and gang of effects pedals. Lovely and bold, and a nice counterpoint to seeing Steve with the Adolescents just nights before. So different to be hanging on every word instead of singing along…

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I’ve seen Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss with their bands (Sean is from Throw Rag, Zander is associated with Joe Strummer, Circle Jerks, Thelonious Monster, and, yes, The Weirdos) but never as a duo. They complement shamelessly raw emotion with ungodly talent and sound sort of like gospel arrived at through hard living and AA meetings. It’s at once heartfelt and sad and beautiful: a slow-motion train wreck gorgeously framed from a perfect angle.

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Afterward, I thanked Steve for arranging such a great evening of music and told him how much I look forward to seeing him play our next Save Music in Chinatown benefit. He’s as generous as he is talented as he is ripping, the show happens exactly one month from today, and I hope to see you there as well….