Save Music in Chinatown 15 recap with Adolescents, Midget Oddjob, Unhushables, Hurry Up, Cringeworthy, and DJ Lisa Fancher from Frontier Records

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Our fifteenth Save Music in Chinatown show was going to be amazing. I felt like the lineup was carved in stone before the fourteenth show (Lois, Dub Narcotic Sound System, PHAG featuring Phranc and Alice Bag, and Mike Watt & The Missingmen!) even happened. But timing didn’t work out and the deck got shuffled leaving us with only a super-secret headliner that we couldn’t promote because we didn’t want stage divers and slam dancers to crush little elementary school kids at our all-ages matinee. And what sort of lunatic would pay 12 or 15 bucks to see a show if they don’t even know who is playing? We can’t have that sort of weirdo around our children!

But like Tang Sanzang in his journey to the west or Tampopo in her ramen shop, we received help from the coolest collection of legends and oddballs. Each band really deserves its own story.

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Cringeworthy is the humblest type of group–a tribute band. But they play the songs of Cringer and J Church, two punk bands that I not only loved but was actually close to. The singer and guitarist Lance Hahn was a dear friend and J Church would not only stay with me when they toured but Lance would come over just to hang out. He was a songwriting and DIY animal, who had his own record label and zine, and we shared a lot of overlapping interests outside of punk rock: Hong Kong movies, vegetarian Chinese food, Hawaii. It meant a lot to me that he dug the magazine I helped make, and it was brutal when he died at the young age of 40–not long after he was supposed to play my Chinese wedding banquet (a precursor to our Save Music in Chinatown shows and a story for another time).

But Cringeworthy was formed to play an anniversary show at Epicenter Zone, where Lance volunteered, and features Bay Area and Sacto veterans of the punk and hardcore scenes including Kamala from Cringer and Kamala & The Carnivores, Frank from Star Fucking Hipsters and The Love Songs, and Lory and Anthony from RAD and Sick Burn. Anthony is also my cousin! How cool was it that he would get his Lance tribute band to come down to Los Angeles to play our benefit and even ask our daughter Eloise to sing one of my favorite songs by him: “Confession.” There is so much to love about that particular moment–J Church, Lance, Anthony, Eloise, Chinatown– it almost hurt to watch.

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I knew it was a long shot when I asked my old friend Maggie (ex-Bangs) if Hurry Up might be interested in playing our humble benefit show. Who would come all the way from Portland to play for free? But judging from her radio show, I knew that she was not only a fixture in the PacNW’s underground music scene but also an aficionado of all cool music including early L.A. punk. It turns out Maggie had been talking to Kathy and Westin about embarking on a short tour the day I contacted her, and it might not have hurt that her partners’ other band The Thermals had just announced a breakup. All that plus cheap airline tickets made the unlikely trip possible .

It was very cool to see our little benefit show from an out-of-town visitors’ point of view, especially because they were so stoked! Seeing little kids from Chinatown mixed with legends of L.A. punk bonding over music and cookies must have been a surreal experience, and the power trio played like they were out of their minds. Conversely, friends in the crowd were blown away by the power-pop infused, garage punk ‘n’ roll band’s musicianship but also their pure joy. After seeing Hurry UP play three ripping sets in two days (one with Save Music in Chinatown friends and LA punk legends Alley Cats) and getting to hang out with them so much, I was very sad to see them drive off to San Diego.

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The Unhushables didn’t even exist when we started planning the show. But not more than an hour after their Facebook page launched, which was a big deal to me because I was a huge fan of Franks’s old band Big Drill Car as well as Dave and Art’s Supernova, I asked my friend who managed them if they might be interested in playing our show. Just like that, they said yes and I had to try hard not to fan out. I probably saw Big Drill Car two or three dozen times in the early ’90s, and have fond memories of Supernova pulling up to Jabberjaw in their space van.

More or less, I kept my cool and even asked them if they’d be interested in making and selling a small run of CD-Rs with hand-printed sleeves (since their LP was only available digitally) and  invited them to KXLU they could introduce themselves over the airwaves while promoting the show and cause on the Molotov Cocktail Hour (they stayed for the entire show). The nicest humans! The most fun set! The music is entirely new but us old fans could clearly detect the weirdness of Supernova and exuberance of Big Drill Car. I hope they play again and often.

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I have been trying to get Midget Handjob to play our show for around a year now. Their name is PG-13 (possibly R) but the music is mind-expanding to all ages with an all-star cast of noise-making punkers who can also play hard jazz and noise and Keith Morris reading fever-dream stories on top of them. Yes, the original singer of Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and OFF! It isn’t easy to wrangle seven schedules when every contributors plays in multiple bands but somehow the stars lined up for our show. And I didn’t find out until two weeks before the show, when Keith sent a message saying, “Weren’t we going to perform?” Okay!

We simply opened doors a little earlier and Keith was cool with us tweaking the combo’s name into Midget Oddjob, since flyers were going to be hung at our daughter’s elementary school. But nothing about the set was dumbed down, watered down, or made kid friendly. The band is a real jewel of L.A. punk that doesn’t play very often and they burned a searing impression into every single ear and brain cell with their supremely and equally trippy and psychotic jams. Freak out at the all-ages matinee!

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The Adolescents were our secret headliner–again. At our fifth show, founding member Steve Soto was announced to play a solo set and then the entire band played. I don’t think that either Mike Watt & The Secondmen or The Gears knew who was going to play after them! For Sunday’s matinee, our fifteenth, we did a better job of spreading the word to friends, family, and anyone who follows our updates and had a comfortably packed room full of curious kids, punk lifers, and supporters of the cause. Maybe having Lisa Fancher, who released their first and best-known Blue Album, be our deejay was a clue, too?

Before the set, singer and longime champion of our cause Tony Reflex talked about how the band has played Chinatown many times since 1979 and described his landmark moments in the historic neighborhood, including getting arrested for the first time and proposing to his wife. I would add their shows for us at the Human Resources gallery and now the Grand Star. For a band with that sort of legacy and imprint in L.A. punk to give our cause their seal of approval  not once but twice (and Steve did come through with a solo set on top of that) means the world to me. Their set was a full-on rager starting with “Brats in Battalions” and ending with “Amoeba,” peppered with more classics and brand-new faves in between (“Flat Earth Stomp,” “5150,” and the title track off their excellent upcoming Cropduster LP will blow you away). They don’t hate children and none were crushed.

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Of course, Save Music in Chinatown shows are more than concerts and not just because there was a kickass bake sale and little kids in dancing around in front. We raise money for music education in the inner city, where many students are immigrants, English learners, and underserved kids who don’t necessarily get opportunities for a thorough music education outside of school. We build on the punk rock tradition of the neighborhood’s old Hong Kong Cafe (where first-wave bands like X, Black Flag, Germs, Weirdos, Go-Go’s, Bags, and Dils played) by inviting artists who played there back in the day as well as newer members of the underground music tradition, both local and from as far away as China. We mix up immigrants and underground music, my favorite subcultures, that have crossed paths in the very same plaza as our shows at the Grand Star and unite them for the sake of kids, art, and the future.

After helping to start and edit an independent magazine for 16 years, where I met my graphic designer wife, I figured Wendy and I would never do anything that cool again. Who knew we would be able to embark on something like this with old and new friends, building a scene, supporting public education, and exposing kids who can handle it to underground and DIY culture? Who knew we would be able to do it and make a difference in the neighborhood where my immigrant grandparents and in-laws found community?

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My observations and gushing are mind-numbingly similar after each of our shows, and they must be a blur to anyone who actually checks in on my posts. But as our fifth school year draws to a close, I am more shocked than ever by the events we have shared, allies we have made, and how much our daughter has grown alongside the project. She has become our in-house artist, top spokesperson, and guest performer as well as lead inspiration. I didn’t get exposed to zines, DIY, or indie culture until I was a teenager and it blew me away. What can stop someone who is empowered by those sorts of things as a child?

With Eloise entering her final school year at Castelar, it’s hard not to anticipate the end of our project looming. That means we will have to make those three matinees especially great. (What bands want in? Do you dare miss a show?) It also means finding ways to make its impression go beyond 18 shows with 150 -200 people attending each afternoon. (An article for someone? A full-on book? The words may be dull, but we sure have some great photos.) Instead of taking a break this summer, I plan on doing a lot of digging into how these shows have reflected and affected the community, thinking about making the transition from school booster to activist, and considering where to go from here. Hopefully the posts won’t be too dull and we’ll still see you when school resumes in the fall. Have a great summer!

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If you don’t follow my feeds or blog, join the Save Music in Chinatown community on Facebook for updates on the next show.

 

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Save Music in Chinatown 15 preview: Hurry Up (ex-The Bangs and The Thermals)

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I never expected our Save Music in Chinatown benefits to support Castelar Elementary’s music program to last this long. For five school years now, our all-ages matinees inspired by the neighborhood’s punk rock past at the old Hong Kong Café (but with cookies and little kids dancing around in front like the Peanuts Gang in a Target Video) have raised about $10,000 annually to help provide an extensive music education to largely immigrant, English-learning, and underserved students. We also have a lot of fun exposing kids that can handle it to DIY culture. All the while, we’ve made a lot of friends in LA’s storied punk community. Adolescents, Channel Three, Alice Bag, Mike Watt, Chuck Dukowski, Rikk Agnew, Phranc, Alley Cats, The Crowd, The Gears—our list is way too long to list and includes rad newer bands as well as some from China!

Our fifteenth show is the most shamelessly selfish lineup yet. Most of it is newer bands with members of older groups that never got very big or popular back in their days. But I loved them and want people to check out the current music, too. These are punk rock lifers who don’t play for fame but love and the scene.

I’ve been stalking Hurry Up for a long time now. I really dug Maggie Vail’s old band, The Bangs, and how cool is it that she is now in a possibly even more raging punk trio with Kathy Foster and Westin Glass from The Thermals? I sent Maggie a message via Instagram on a whim, and the stars must have been aligned because the three of them had just been talking about a West Coast tour. Guess what? Over the next week or two, we planned an incredible weekend tour so around our matinee fundraiser date. Hurry Up will be up to their armpits in punk legends on the trip, and I understand no less than the man, the myth, the legend O helped them set up a great show in his home town of San Diego, too.

Meet Hurry Up, and seeya at the shows.

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MW: Hurry Up has been around for eight years! What is the secret to lasting that long?
MV: It’ll be eight years in November, which is insane! Our secret is we are doing it purely out of love for each other and our music. This is by far the easiest band I’ve ever been in–whether that’s writing songs together, recording, playing shows, or touring.

MW: Can you remind us how you three got together?
MV: We started backstage at a Thermals show at Irving Plaza in New York City. I was working at Kill Rock Stars at the time and flew out for their Now We Can See show. We started talking about how we wanted to start a hardcore band because we were always seen as the “nice” ones and wanted an outlet for our darker sides. When Kathy and Westin returned from tour, we had our first practice and wrote at least four of the songs on our first record.

 

 

 

MW: Is your album still an accurate reflection of your band, or have you changed a lot since then?
MW: Yeah, it’s pretty accurate I think.

MW: Any new songs in the rotation or in the works?
MV: Yes! We have so many new songs and will be recording our next record in August. We just booked the studio time! Get ready for new hits like “What’s Your Name (I Already Forgot),” “Death Puberty,” “Dismal Nitch,” and “Oh Screw It.”

MW: The Bangs and The Thermals had great taste in covers. Are there fave songs that Hurry Up takes on as well?
MV: We’ve done three Dead Moon covers so far with “Fire in the Western World” almost always making an appearance these days. We also do “Sex Beat” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog”

 

 

 

 

MW: Your deejay project Strange Babes has rad taste in punk, power pop, and rock, too. Since our benefit is going to be in Chinatown right by the old Hong Kong Cafe and Madame Wong’s, I’m wondering if you can share fave bands and cuts from L.A.’s first wave of punk?
MW: Well, I am always fond of “Let’s Get Rid of New York” by Randoms. I even played it the first time I deejayed records in New York last May at a Bash & Pop show (I couldn’t help myself). Other faves: “Kids of the Black Hole” by Adolescents, the Stiff single version of “How Much More”  by The Go-Go’s, “Manimal” by Germs…

MW: Kathy, you’re a Strange Babe, too.
KF: I don’t really have much to add, but here is some of my fave L.A. punk. Black Flag with Keith doing “Nervous Breakdown” and “Wasted.” (I also love OFF!) Gun Club’s “Sex Beat” and all of Fire Of Love. Suburban Lawns songs that Su sings: “Janitor,” “Unable,” “Green Eyes.” Agent Orange’s “Bloodstains,” “The Last Goodbye,” and the rest of Living In Darkness. Of course, X’s “Nausea,” “The World’s A Mess…”

MW: Westin?
WG: Maggie and Kathy’s track listings are really good already. I don’t have a lot to add. Well, maybe just a couple. “Black Thoughts” and “Panic Attack” by OFF! Descendents’ “Suburban Home.” Bad Religion’s Suffer— the whole record!

 

MW: With The Thermals’ running its course as a band, will Hurry Up get more time and action? Or is it in a comfortable groove with stuff like Strange Babes, Roseblood, CASH Music, Bikini Kill Records, The Thermals’ mail order, and life in general naturally filling the void? Am I forgetting anything?
WG: Hurry Up is definitely going to get more action! As Maggie said, we’ve booked studio time for our second record in August, and you can bet we’ll be touring for that one more than we’ve ever done before. We’re all stoked to really go for it with Hurry Up this year!

KF: I also work part-time selling vintage clothing and bar-tending. Never a dull moment! But I’m definitely into Hurry Up doing more touring and I’m excited to record our second album finally! We’ll see what happens.

MW: You play a lot of local shows but haven’t toured much lately. What do you look forward to most about getting together for the weekend trip to SoCal?
KF: Basically the same things I love about touring: getting out of town, playing for new/different cities and people, seeing friends and making new ones. And, of course, that special bonding that happens on the road with your bandmates/best friends.

WG: Tenacious D sums it up: “The road is fuckin’ hard, the road is fuckin’ tough.” We love road gigs! The best part is leaving behind your “normal” life to live your real life as a 24/7 rock & roll warrior. We’ll be playing a lot more road gigs in ‘18 and beyond. It’s so fun to spend time together and play music with your friends.

wukong-horizFollow Hurry Up at hurryup.cashmusic.org and Instagram and catch their SoCal tour from May 19-21!