Save Music in Chinatown 17 recap with Alley Cats, The Dils, Rhino 39, and Neko Neko with DJ Lisa Fancher


It got a pretty intense when The Dils played Save Music in Chinatown 17 last weekend. Over the years, our series of all-ages benefit matinees has maintained a fairly low profile and no show ever got so big that we’ve had to worry about children getting crushed. But of course the unexpected return of The Dils attracted wall-to-wall crowds and a line of punks of all shapes, sizes, and ages snaked down the stairs hoping to just hear, feel, and smell, the gig. I was seriously worried about us getting busted by the fire marshall, fights breaking out, or middle-aged skins or mohawks trampling kids for selfies with the band or to shoot it on their iPads.

But none of that happened, and the afternoon was as fun as it was exciting. I’m pretty sure none of us in the room (including singer, guitar player, and co-founder Chip Kinman) thought we’d ever see The Dils play their first show in 40 years right across the plaza from the old Hong Kong Cafe. And how many people can say The Dils played a benefit for the music program at their daughter’s elementary school? Or that their daughter sang “Class War” with them?  (The answer is two: me and my wife.)

I’m all for friends’ old bands getting back together to play festivals and big shows, receive the attention and love they deserve, and have a blast in front of huge audiences. And that made it even more unreal that this would happen at one of our humble benefit shows. The afternoon felt less like a star-studded, invite-only event that you read about in a magazine than a gathering of old friends who just happened to play together at the Vex, Masque, Starwood, or Hong Kong Cafe a lot back in the day. (Our friend, Save Music in Chinatown bake sale boss, and Castelar alum, parent, and volunteer Mamie actually used to work the Hong Kong Cafe door because her dad ran the venue!)

The Dils didn’t get together just to play our show. Chip and his rock ‘n’ roll animal son Giuliano had already played for us twice in their other band, Ford Madox Ford, and I simply asked if they wanted to play a warmup show after noticing that they announced a  Dils show in San Diego. We made it a doubleheader of Dangerhouse Records legends by asking the Alley Cats to come back and play for us again. With hits off the Yes L.A., compilation and URGH! A Music War, is there a more underrated, or unappreciated band from L.A. punk?

It was a perfect lineup to bring back Hector Penalosa (from Spirit of  ’77 garage punks  The Zeros) with his new power trio Neko Neko. He and his trusty drummer Nico had already played for us in various lineups of Baja Bugs and My Revenge. How could we say no when fellow Dangerhouse labelmates Rhino 39 came out of nowhere wanting to join the lineup and volunteer their back line to boot? And who else could DJ the show except our friend Lisa Fancher, the founder of Frontier Records and holder of the keys to Dangerhouse Records?

Sprinkled into the massive crowd, it was heartwarming to see so many friends, regulars, and longtime supporters including pals from KXLU, KCHUNG, and RazorCake, and members from Channel Three, Adolescents, and Midget Oddjob, as well as Bob Forrest, who have played for us or supported us since the beginning. Wendy and I have known some of the attendees since we worked together on Giant Robot. And college before that. Plus lots of family everywhere.

When Wendy and I started organizing Save Music in Chinatown shows, we hoped to raise some money for the music program at our daughter’s elementary school but had no idea it would last this long or that a scene would grow around it. We never dreamed that it would create a space where Eloise could make flyers, get to sing onstage, or form a band with her cousins and their friend. (The Linda Lindas made an appearance, too.)

We never expected to become activists for public education or advocates for the historic neighborhood where my immigrant grandparents or in-laws, and now daughter, found a place. All of that has been amazing and unexpected, and we couldn’t have done it without everyone who has attended our shows, helped out, and supported the cause along the way. Thank you.

Right now, Castelar Elementary only goes up to fifth grade and Eloise is a fifth grader. Any bands out there want to play what could be the final Save Music in Chinatown show on Sunday, June 2? Anyone out there want you join us?  Nothing lasts forever, so check it out while you can.

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Cool shows: The Dream Syndicate, Mike Watt & The Secondmen, Baja Bugs, King Tuff, TV on the Radio

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Cleaning out the SD card and airing out some of the better photos before they are banished to the hard drive. Above: The Dream Syndicate freaking out at the Echoplex (November 22, 2014).

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Froth at the Echoplex (November 22, 2014). They opened for The Dream Syndicate and were kind of like Phaseshifter-era Redd Kross with more droning.

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The Dream Syndicate at the Echoplex (November 22, 2014). So noisy, so refined, such perfect songwriting and execution by the self-described “just a punk band from L.A.”

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The Dream Syndicate at the Echoplex (November 22, 2014). Key songs: When You Smile, Tell Me When It’s Over, Halloween, Medicine Show, That’s What You Always Say, Days of Wine and Roses.

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Backbiter at Cafe NELA (November 21, 2014). The Raji’s regulars ended their sludgy-but-never-dragging set with a badass cover of “Kick Out The Jams.”

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Mike Watt & The Secondmen at Cafe NELA (November 21, 2014). Loved their Echoplex set earlier in the week, but this one was much cozier and heavier and they played “The Red and the Black”! Afterward, I handed them flyers and said thanks for the next Save Music in Chinatown show that they’re playing…

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Neverland Ranch Davidians at Cafe NELA (November 21, 2014). Stripped-down, and sweaty punkabilly trio led by Tex Mosley.

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Baja Bugs at Rebecca’s in South Park (November 8, 2014). Saw our pal Hector Penalosa (My Revenge, The Zeros) play with his ripping early Beatles band at a benefit for cats and dogs. So much fun, such a great guy.

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Colleen Green and La Sera at the El Rey (November 6 2014). Perfect openers for King Tuff’s homecoming show. Musically cool as a cucumber and sweet as sunshine, respectively.

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King Tuff at the El Rey (November 6 2014). Recently saw KT at Amoeba (and the car wash) but had to see him again in a full-on concert. The new album is awesome and his live show is a blast.

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TV on the Radio at the Fonda (November 22, 2014). After digging TVOTR at the massive Hollywood Bowl a couple of times, I got to preview the band’s great new songs in a theater. Instant classics along with old favorites, and later I got to meet the great Kyp Malone from Jon Moritsugu’s Scumrock, too. But that’s another story for another post…

We Want The Airwaves: Save Music in Chinatown

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For more than a month, I’ve been submitting details about Sunday’s Save Music in Chinatown benefit show to just about every calendar and music blog in town. And I have yet to see a listing or receive a reply.

That’s a bummer since I’m super proud of the lineup (the first hometown Bicycle Thief gig in 13 years, second show ever by Evil Hearted You, the return of Hector Penalosa from the legendary Zeros) and feel very strongly about the cause (music education at Castelar Elementary, the public school that my 6-year-old daughter attends). I thought the angles of bringing punk shows back to Chinatown and uniting the neighborhood’s subcultures of art and music for the local kids were strong, too. Oh well.

But just when I start to wonder if I’m delusional, in come my excellent friends contributing awesome goods for the raffle, volunteering at the bake sale, and promoting the gig via social media. And a few have even put me on the airwaves to help get the word out.

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Last night, I was a guest of Cyrano and Lotus on KXLU‘s Molotov Cocktail Hour. How cool was it to make the pilgrimage to L.A.’s main artery of underground and independent music–and for my pals to not only give me a lift to the station but provide snacks, as well. They’ll be DJing at Sunday’s event, and I’ll be too busy to enjoy their selections of Asian and Latin garage rock, psych, and punk, so it was extra cool to dig those jams in the studio while adding cuts from bands that have been supporting the cause and gushing about the upcoming show, as well.

On Thursday, my friend Gabie invited to the KCHUNG studios in Chinatown to be on her Crystalline Morphologies program. She invited me to bring a guest and Ben from Evil Hearted You was available to talk about his band and share why they jumped on a chance to play our next event. Gabie has been a supporter of our project since the beginning, and always invites me onto her show each time we have a benefit to play records and promote the cause. You can stream or even download the show at archive.kchung.org.

Thanks again to Cyrano, Lotus, Gabie, and everyone else who helps in whatever ways they can. There’s no way we will single-handedly raise enough dough with our little DIY shows to pay Castelar’s $50 thousand bill for music education. But raising awareness, building community, and engaging the scene matter, too. And we can have a blast doing it.

Hector Penalosa on My Revenge, Baja Bugs, The Zeros, and Save Music in Chinatown

The Zeros at The Troubadour (July 20, 2012)
The Zeros at The Troubadour (July 20, 2012)

My first contact with Hector Penalosa followed a double header at The Troubadour with The Zeros and The Muffs in 2012. After I posted a manic, raving review on my Giant Robot blog (R.I.P.), Hector did the unthinkable. He wrote a thank-you note. No one ever did that before and no one has ever done it since. Turns out not only was he in one of my all-time favorite bands but he is one of the nicest guys ever, too.

Hector and I became friends on social media after that, which was cool, but what was really awesome was how he liking, sharing, and promoting the Save Music in Chinatown project as soon as my wife and I started it. He even drove up from San Diego to attend the inaugural show and we’ve become friends in real life.

So of course I had to ask him to play our second show, and he brought The Baja Bugs. I have extremely limited knowledge of the Fab Four compared to the hardcore Beatlemaniacs out there but holy crap! The Baja Bugs play the Liverpudians’ catalog with the fire of a hungry and brilliant garage band loaded on uppers and riding the explosion of early rock ‘n’ roll. They also cranked out a blistering mini-set of My Revenge songs and I’m stoked that the latter will be playing our next benefit gig.

I had a short conversation with Hector about his bands and the Save Music in Chinatown cause to get us stoked for the show…

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My Revenge at Save Music in Chinatown 2 (February 9, 2014)

Can you tell me a little bit about My Revenge? How long has the band been together, what’s up with releases, and so on…
My Revenge is a band that I’ve had on the back burner for close to two years. I’ve been writing songs for many, many years, on and off, and I had accumulated quite a lot of songs. So I decided to expose them to the public. Naturally, I had to get a band together.

I have recordings of the songs we play, but I’m a bit of stickler when it comes to recording. But I am going to release a CD, as well as vinyl, plus the usual download access on the Internet.

Three of you are also in The Baja Bugs, who tore it up last year at a Save Music in Chinatown show. Can you remind me how you guys got together and describe your specific approach to the Beatles catalog? The era, the vibe…
The Baja Bugs are a Beatles cover band with rock ‘n’ roll muscle. It started out of frustration. Listening to to other Beatles cover bands and tribute bands, I realized that they were lacking energy in their performance. Technically, they have the musical parts down but there was no fire. That element is so essential to The Beatles’ music. Sure, they have ballads and mellow tunes. But for a live performance a band should focus on the “rock ‘n’ roll” Beatles. They were influenced by Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, and a few other guys who started and were rock ‘n’ roll! And The Baja Bugs love to play all the wild, uptempo, rocking Beatles tunes.

Baja Bugs at the San Diego Library (June 28, 2014)
Baja Bugs at the San Diego Library (June 28, 2014)

As a fan of your music, I was stoked when you started supporting Save Music in Chinatown on social media right from the beginning. What are some of your thoughts on music education?
Music education is just as important as math, English, and history lessons. Creativity and music tap into a part of our brain that otherwise would not be used. They create a different way of thinking–a positive development of the brain. But music education and the creative development of children in schools don’t seem to be a priority in the school systems any more.

I know that music changed my life for the better. It takes me to a happy place when I listen to it or play it. And it does the same for so many other people. And, yes, it is stimulating and fun!

The Zeros at Los Globos (August 16, 2014)
The Zeros at Los Globos (August 16, 2014)

Do you have fond memories of playing in Chinatown back in the days of early L.A. punk?
I do have lots of fond memories of playing in Chinatown. The Zeros played at Madame Wong’s back in 1979 with The Go-Go’s, if I recall correctly. Who would have expected punk rock in a Chinese bar back then, but it happened! The punk bands were looking for venues to play and the Chinese bar owners saw it as great business through selling drinks and charging a little money at the door. A win-win situation. We also played at The Hong Kong Cafe in 1994 and a few other times, too.

The Zeros are still in demand and seem to play fairly often these days. Do you ever step back and think, “Damn we wrote a lot of great songs when we were just children!
The Zeros do play once in a while. If the offer to do a gig seems right, we tend to play it. At the same time, we don’t want to overplay and burn out our audience. It makes the gigs a bit more special.

Regarding our songs, we don’t really ponder much on, “Hey, we wrote some cool songs when we were kids.” We wrote what we felt about what we saw around us at the time. We just made sure the songs were catchy and a bit tough with a dash of cool. To this day, we enjoy playing them! They’re still fun and to see and hear fans sing along with us here in the U.S., Spain, Tokyo, or elsewhere is a blast!

Los Globos (August 16, 2014)
Los Globos (August 16, 2014)

Do you remember when you made the transition from a kid who enjoys and listens to music to someone who makes it?
From listening to music to playing music was a slow transition. My dad is a musician, and when I was 5 or 6 I discovered his record collection on the bookshelves in the living room of our old house. I started playing The Supremes greatest hits collection, and was captivated by the snare drum on the recordings. My dad had a drum kit in the living room and I recall tapping the snare drum to the beat of the The Supremes.

That was just the beginning. My dad also had a piano but it looked complicated with so many notes and keys. Six years later, I discovered the guitar and seriously wanted to learn how to play it. Once The Beatles became a part of my life, I really wanted to become a guitarist and musician. I was 12 going on 13 by then, and I haven’t stopped.

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Catch Hector and My Revenge at Save Music in Chinatown on Sunday, October 19 at Human Resources in Chinatown! Show starts at 3, tickets are only 12 bucks in advance through Eventbrite and 15 at the door if it doesn’t sell out!