Neverland Ranch Davidians at Cafe NELA (November 21, 2014). Stripped-down, and sweaty punkabilly trio led by Tex Mosley.
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.
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.
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…
One week from today, my wife Wendy and I will be throwing the fourth Save Music in Chinatown DIY punk matinee/fund raising gig at Human Resources gallery to pay for music education at Castelar Elementary, where our daughter goes to first grade. This an unplanned and awesome extension of my days of writing about music and hanging out with artists when I edited Giant Robot mag. Getting to share and push culture on the printed page was a real gift. But to do something that happens in real life and try to make a difference in the community where my immigrant grandparents and in-laws have spent time is a different type of radical. Especially since Eloise goes to school there now.
The harebrained idea was spawned last year when our daughter started attending kindergarten. Her inner-city campus looks like a prison but it’s an excellent school with passionate teachers, bright kids, and a kick-ass dual-language Mandarin program that Eloise is thriving in. Then, in the first week, we parents received a flyer stating that the music program had been defunded. Could the households help pay the $50 thousand bill? In that particular mostly immigrant and blue-collar neighborhood, probably not.
Wendy wondered what we could do, since we’re not loaded and don’t do bake sales. It occurred to us that Chinatown has a punk rock heritage that can’t be beat (X, Zeros, Weirdos, Black Flag, Dils, Germs…) and a lively art gallery scene (post punk) as well. Although the scenes don’t overlap much with the locals outside of bars and restaurants, of course they’d help kids if they could. Especially for music. And since Wendy and I have ties to all three cultures, we decided to have punk matinees in art galleries to help the local kids. Wendy came up with the name: Save Music in Chinatown.
I was fortunate that my old friends Gabie from KCHUNG and Wendy from Ooga Booga Store introduced me to the crew at Human Resources right off the bat. The gallery’s vibe is perfect with its past lives as a kung fu movie theater, porno theater, and sweat shop before it was abandoned and was reborn as a gallery that specializes in difficult to show or sell art. Eric, Grant, Luke, and everyone else there have been nothing but super cool and supportive.
And how awesome is it to have punk rock back in Chinatown. In the afternoon. I have a lot of friends who don’t get out as much as they used to because they don’t like staying up late or dealing with getting a babysitter. These all-ages matinees are a perfect way to get everyone out but also expose kids to cool music.
At six, Eloise has seen the likes of The Chuck Dukowski Sextet, California (with Jason from Green Day and Adam from Jawbreaker), Channel Three (with guest appearances by Maria Montoya and Tony Adolescent), Money Mark, Hector Penalosa from The Zeros playing with The Baja Bugs, and Bob Forrest from Thelonious Monster. Not to mention art rockers like Lucky Dragons, L.A. Fog, Deradoorian, Bitter Party… (Conversely, a lot of the artists who are used to playing late-night, sketchy venues dig being able to bring family and kids to our shows.)
While groveling for raffle goods is definitely the most awkward part of planning, I think it’s a key part of the fund raising. It allows us keep the door price low but raise some extra bucks. And it allows all sorts of friends and neighbors to contribute and build a scene. Regulars like Una from Keep, Mark from Donut Friend, Chris at Scoops Chinatown, and Vicki at Berndt Offerings, all the bands that sign records, artists who donate autographed books and prints, and everyone else–what would I do without them? And on the the bake sale end, gourmet goodies from so many parent/volunteers plus baked goods from Wendy’s pasty chef/cousin Linda, coffee courtesy of Julia and interTrend, and other treats add to the awesome experience (and funds raised) substantially.
And Sunday afternoons are ideal because there’s plenty of free street parking and everyone can leave early enough to grab some noodles in Chinatown before getting home at a decent hour and not being a wreck on Monday. A perfect day.
So please come to our next show. I still can’t believe Bob Forrest (Thelonious Monster) and Josh Klinghoffer (Dot Hacker) are playing their first hometown show as The Bicycle Thief in 13 years for our little matinee. And I love Evil Hearted You’s carefully crafted post-punk roots sound on their debut album but their live show is going to kill you. I’m not even going to get into how great Hector Penalosa’s mini set of My Revenge was at the second show–a perfect mix of power pop, garage rock, and O.G. punk–and how much I want to see a full set. All that tied together by the garage rock tunes spun by KXLU’s Molotov Cocktail Hour DJs? Damn.
I hope you can tell that although Save Music in Chinatown was born out of necessity, and there are worthwhile cultural angles that I’m interested in and proud of, this project is mostly just super fun for us. And I hope it’s that way for everyone who helps out by playing or promoting the gigs, donating raffle items, working the bake sale, or attending.
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…
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!