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: The Fifth Year zine and sixth year

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Five years ago, Save Music in Chinatown was just a crazy idea that Wendy came up with.

A couple of weeks after Eloise started Kindergarten at Castelar, we received a handout asking us families if we could donate money to the elementary school’s excellent but underfunded music program. We knew there was no way the mostly blue-collar neighborhood would cough up enough dough to make a dent in the amount. And we aren’t rich. But Wendy and I straddle Chinatown’s immigrant culture (her parents and my grandparents) and punk rock past (my favorite type of music), and have a background in DIY projects. Why not build a bridge between two of our favorite subcultures in one of our favorite places to raise money for kids who live in and around Chinatown today?

With no experience in organizing benefit shows but a lot of help from old and new friends, we set up our first all-ages matinee fund raiser inspired by the old Hong Kong Café, which hosted early shows by the Germs, Go-Go’s, Weirdos, Bags, Black Flag, and other legendary L.A. punk bands. Except we had cookies and coffee, little kids dancing in front, and a very cool raffle with autographed records and books, and gift certificates for donuts and pho!

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We didn’t expect our humble shows to last more than five years, couldn’t have expected that so many amazing bands would play on our behalf, or never even dreamed that we’d be part of a small community that has raised about $10,000 for Castelar’s music program every school year. Amazing and totally unexpected.

And, personally, Wendy and I have become fixtures in Castelar’s booster club, recognized advocates of the teachers union, and regular contributors to the historic neighborhood’s resistance to gentrification.

Eloise is now a fifth grader, and several of her teachers have told Wendy and me that they will miss her when she moves on from Castelar next year. But I think we have grown and learned at least as much as our daughter—and are savoring everything that is going on and grateful to everyone who has helped in any way. Thank you for being a part of it.

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In advance of our sixth year and sixteenth show, we made a Save Music in Chinatown: The Fifth Year zine. This essay was written for it, and we hope to see you at Save Music in Chinatown 16 on Sunday, November 4 with Phranc, Ford Madox Ford, LP3 & The Tragedy, The Horseheads, and The Linda Lindas.

Rad Band Alert: LP3 & The Tragedy

lp3aAlthough Louie Perez III has been in numerous cool bands, I didn’t get to know him until the freshly formed Evil Hearted You (R.I.P.) played a Save Music in Chinatown gig for us last year. I really loved how that group channeled roots punk from L.A. (from Los Lobos to Gun Club) without skimping on arrangement or production, but then totally ripped it up live. Now Louie and drummer Eric going further in that direction with LP3 & The Tragedy. The group has a rawer, expanded sound and also features his cousin Ruby from Bongoloidz. After catching LP3 & The Tragedy at Alex’s Bar, I had to ask him some questions about them.

MW: How did your new band’s lineup come together?
LP3: The Tragedy was a random occurrence with close friends and family. I was offered a private gig by my boss and dear friend, Mark Mahoney. It seemed like a great chance to put together something with my cousin Ruby, considering we had been talking about it for many years now. Rather than just adding her to a project ad hoc, we decided to start something that was entirely new.

MW: Have you been in a band with your cousin before? What’s that like?
LP3: Ruby and I had never even jammed before, which seems odd considering how supportive she was of not only me but every band I ever played in. It was crazy. We just plugged in, started harmonizing together, and everyone went, “Dude. Keep doing it. It works!” It also helps that she is mega talented. That was three gigs ago. Our fourth show ever will be our first time at SXSW!
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MW: I loved it when you played new versions of Evil Hearted You songs at Alex’s. That band was great but came and left so quickly that I’m glad there are echos…
LP3: Thanks so much. EHY was a cool project. It was a great experiment in my songwriting, and I definitely wanted to carry a couple of songs into this band. That live show and band was a lot of fun. It helped me decide the setting and direction I was going in with this band.

MW: How close are you to having the LP done? Are you gonna be playing out a lot to support it or what?
LP3: We are finishing a record with Andrew Schubert at Golden Beat Studios. All straight to analog tape on the same machine used by Death Row Records! Andrew is a great fit for this amazing group of scoundrels. The band includes Carlos, who has been my buddy for years. We played together in Red Exiles. Fuller is my “right hand lefty” on the drums all the time. The newest member of the fold is Mike B. who has been playing the circuit for a while now. He plays a variety of instruments, and for us plays accordion and organ. We are dropping our first 7″ next month. It is the first vinyl release for Wiener Records, the little brother label of Burger Records. We will be supporting that and a full length release.

MW: Is it hard to keep up a band with your full-time gig? Where do you find the energy?
LP3: I don’t think any of us anticipated LP3 & The Tragedy to take off this fast.  The amount of support and positivity has given all of us a super nitro boost.  It seems like when personalities and musicianship both click, that chemistry asks the universe to allow it. For that, we are super grateful. And I rarely sleep.

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Above: Louie with Bob Forrest, who used to hang out with Louie and Ruby’s dads in Los Lobos back in the day, at SMIC4. Check out the LP3 & The Tragedy’s page on Facebook for upcoming shows and keep an eye on Wiener Records for the upcoming releases.