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.

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.

 

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!

Save Music in Chinatown 15 preview: Cringeworthy, a tribute to Cringer and J Church

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Cringeworthy at Awesome Fest 11 (Bar Pink, April 17, 2018) – Photo: Greg Wong

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.

Cringeworthy is a tribute to Cringer and J Church, bands that Lance Hahn used to play in. It was a big deal to me when I found out that he dug GR, the magazine that I helped make, and it wasn’t long before we became friends and he would stay at my house with J Church when they toured through Los Angeles or even just to visit.

Lance was a DIY dynamo who would write a song every day, release singles and records nonstop, contribute to a bunch of compilations, and tour with bands that ranged from Subhumans to Seam. Our overlapping interests stemmed well beyond punk rock, and conversations spilled over into Asian cinema, vegetarian Chinese food, lefty politics, and baseball. He was supposed to play my wedding but came a week too late—perfect for a guy who not only had Charlie Brown on his record covers but who embodied that sort of relentless persistence in the face of doom, surrounded by oddballs. The miscommunication actually worked out for the best because we were able to hang out for a much longer time, and that turned out to be the last chance I’ve have to see him before he died from a variety of health-related issues.

Cringeworthy includes Cringer drummer Kamala (also of Kamala & The Karnivores), her husband Frank (Star Fucking Hipsters, The Love Songs, Degenerics), my cousin Anthony (RAD, Sick Burn), and Lory (also RAD and Sick Burn). They have played only a handful of shows and it means a lot to me that they are traveling all the way down from the Bay Area to play our humble benefit. I will try not to cry during their set, especially if my 10-year-old daughter Eloise happens to grab the mic during one of my favorite Cringer songs.

I asked Anthony and Kamala some questions on the cusp of this great occasion.

MW: Can you remind me why and how Cringeworthy started?
AL: George Chen contacted me about doing a one-off band to pay tribute to Lance for the Epicenter Zone Reunion weekend in July 2015– a series of shows celebrating the 25th anniversary of Epicenter Zone.

[Lance’s partner] Liberty was one of the event organizers, I recall.  Lance, of course, was such a central figure to Epicenter, being the record buyer and store manager at various points. You couldn’t really do this anniversary and not acknowledge Lance’s importance to Epicenter.

The original plan was that George would play guitar, I would play bass, and Adam Pfahler would play drums. The songs we were considering were all J Church songs, since Adam used to drum for J Church.  I remember that Adam really wanted to play “Sound of Mariachi Bands,” in particular.  The vocalist position was never quite pinned down, because almost immediately Adam decided he couldn’t manage the time commitment.

We then got in touch with Kamala and found out she was interested in doing this project. At that point, it really became a Cringer tribute band, because Kamala played drums on so many classic Cringer songs, but of course not in J Church.  Since Cringer was a 4-piece, we needed another guitarist, and Kamala’s husband Frank was the perfect choice because he is an amazing guitar player and all-around great person.

Later, George moved to L.A. from the Bay Area, so it became necessary to replace him in order to play a few more shows. Lory from RAD stepped in and learned all the songs–some on bass, some which she plays guitar on.

The short answer to this is: to pay tribute to Lance Hahn, and have a lot of fun playing these songs that mean a lot to us over the years.

MW: Lance once told me that he tried to write one song a day. Wth so many Cringer and J Church songs to choose from, how did the band come up with a set list?
AL: We started from the set of songs that Cringer commonly incorporated into their live sets back when Kamala was their drummer, and just picked the ones we liked the best. Besides having Kamala’s lived experience and fantastic memory, I had a couple of old Cringer set lists I had hoarded away, plus the Live in Europe VHS tape, to provide guidance.

To humor me, everyone learned “Yellow Blue & Green,” which is one of my favorite J Church songs because of the bass line.  All the rest of our set is Cringer songs.

MW: Kamala, did the songs come back pretty fast? Has it been a weird trip back in time in any way?
KP: Yes, songs came back pretty quickly. I guess it was muscle memory!

I wouldn’t say it’s been weird–more like conflicted. On one hand, it’s great to have had enough distance from playing the music to realize they are special and it’s been great revisiting it. On the other hand, an endeavor like this can feel like ego-stroking nostalgia. And there was some reticence about doing J Church songs for me. There was never a conversation about Cringer breaking up. J Church just formed in its place while I was recovering from a broken finger gotten on the Cringer/Citizen Fish tour. However, J Church’s songs, in reflection, are very special and I’m happy to incorporate a song into the set. It turns out that “Yellow, Blue, and Green” is one of my favorite songs that we play.

MW: Can you talk about that first Cringeworthy show?
KP: As indicated above, it was the Epicenter Reunion show at San Francisco’s Verdi Club in July 2015 since Lance was a well-loved volunteer at Epicenter. The show was mayhem, in many ways, because they had so many acts (spoken word, bands) in such a short period of time and no equipment backline. So, I think we had 20 minutes to set up, play, and then get our equipment off-stage. It was strangely silent after we played our set of five songs. We thought that people didn’t really like what we did, but it turns out that most people were crying because they were moved by hearing Lance’s music again.

MW: Wait, I thought everyone got sick and it was a big disaster!
AL: That was the second show!  We were gonna play the Lookouting Fest in January 2017, but 3 out of 4 of us got the flu and were really sick the day of the show, and then had to cancel at the last minute. We got to play Gilman again in January 2018– sort of our triumphant makeup show.

MW: Did you expect other shows to happen?
AL: No.

KP: This will probably be the last show for the foreseeable future. We all have busy lives and other bands.

MW: What possessed you to come down and play our benefit?
KP: We have the great honor of being asked but also have an inside track since Anthony is your cousin. It’s a small but fantastic cause in this dystopian world and the billing is eclectic. As a life-long sober person, playing in the middle of the day at an event attended by people of all ages at a venue not focused on alcohol or meat markets is pretty much heaven.

MW: As punks from the Bay Area, do you feel connection to the Hong Kong Cafe or that thread of underground music and culture? Is it exciting at all to play in Chinatown?
AL: Not being from L.A., I mean I can’t claim to have any direct connection with the old Hong Kong Cafe. For me, that connection would be with old venues where I did see bands I loved back in the day, like J Church at Jabberjaw, Jawbreaker at Macondo, or any number of bands at the Smell.

Of course, I feel a connection with the DIY spirit and passion that makes Save Music in Chinatown so special– bringing bands, music fans, and non-music fans together for a righteous cause really appeals to me and makes me want to be a part of it. Having it hosted at a venue in Chinatown is just a bonus, moreso because as a Chinese person whose dad was born in L.A. Chinatown, I treasure the neighborhood and what it means to the longtime Chinese community–and less so because of the punk connection!

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Follow Cringeworthy on Facebook and get tickets to Save Music in Chinatown 15 at eventbrite.com!

 

Save Music in Chinatown 15 preview: The Unhushables (w/ members of Big Drill Car and Supernova)

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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 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.

The Unhushables unleashed their first album digitally mere weeks ago, and the power trio from Costa Mesa includes Frank from Big Drill Car (who I used to see all the time at the Anti-Club) and Art and Dave from Supernova (Jabberjaw regulars). The bands would cross paths in other now-departed venues like Bogart’s and Our House, and I’m super excited that they are going to play for our cause at the Grand Star in Chinatown. (Frank actually played on a bill with our secret headliner on his birthday last year!)

Big Drill Car’s cover of Bowie’s “Black Country Rock” is probably a good starting point when describing the new power trio. “Finally Surrender” could provide the soundtrack for the pool sequence of a ’90s skateboard video while the twanging, riffing, and aching in One in a Million’s title track reminds me the song that Keef sings on vintage Stones records. What, no cowbell in “Get Up and Go!”?

I shot over some questions to their compound behind the Orange Curtain and Art, Dave, and Frank answered in unison. Check them out and see them at our show!

I’m super-excited that your first show will be at our humble benefit!
So are we!

Of all the shows and places out there, why did you say yes to ours?
Well, the show offer came in about two hours after the album went live on iTunes. We thought, “Geesh, this can’t just be a coincidence.” It’s like exactly what the band premise was/is about: giving back. So when the door opened for a benefit so fast, we were like, “Good grief, ready or not we need to accept that offer.” So we did!

Will you be flattered or freaked out if super fans like me show up in tin foil or Big Drill Car mechanic shirts? 
We’re just stoked to be on the bill and will be super-flattered to see old fans. But they ought to realize The Unhushables is different and with it being the first–and hopefully not the last–live show we have no idea what to expect. We’d be stoked to see fans flyin’ their colors but the tinfoil meteor showers are a special experience for ‘Nova shows and there’s nothing too “alien” about The Unhushables…

We’re all leery of first gig type things, and adding to that Art and Dave haven’t performed live without the protection of their spacesuits in decades. It’s kinda daunting. So, yeah, guess we’d be freaked out and flattered at the same time.

Supernova and Big Drill Car go pretty far back. Do you remember when the bands first crossed paths?
Hmm. The band members are all chums from the neighborhood. Frank and Dave first met around high school at Newport Harbor High. Art knew Frank just from around town even before that. We all knew each other and hung out long before the bands ever formed. The Costa Mesa music scene had a lot of suburban kids that all hung together, and we all played or jammed in different bands and mixed up members, and eventually some of those projects solidified into record-releasing touring bands. Who knew?

How is songwriting or music making different with this combo at this point of time versus back then with your old groups?
There are certain approaches to making the songs that haven’t changed: just messing around in the band room with ideas or a riff and making up some words to fit the spot. Other times, someone has a concept or thought for a song and sometimes they even have the lyrics figured out and they just need some ideas for a drumbeat or bridge or bass line. But it’s still pretty much collaboration with no control freaks.

The new record is amazing but it seems like a lot of songs are about meeting your maker. Is everything okay?
Everything’s great. Just God fearin’ punk rawkers tryin’ to walk the line so we know where we’re headed when it’s time for the dirt nap. The Unhushables want to give back and share the love, the band isn’t about money or seeking rawk stardom. Our other bands have had offers to play benefits, such as Supernova playing a benefit for a kid with cancer, and those types of opportunities to really stoke out some folks and help a good cause are tremendously fulfilling. We relish those opportunities and look forward to more.

I heard that another record is already halfway done! Are those songs totally different? Are you going to play any of those for us?
We actually had heated discussions about tossing a few of those songs on the first record, but since it was taking so darn long to get the first record finalized, we finally agreed we’d just do a follow up. Like the first group, the new songs are pretty eclectic: some crazy slow and hauntingly odd but in a good way, others more poppy, and some upbeat barn-burners. Hard to find the time to get ’em all dialed in, and it’s been an open question whether we play any at the show. Guess it depends on amount of time to play, etc.

The era of Hong Kong Cafe and Madame Wong’s in Chinatown were just before my time but any chance any of you went to shows there or had connections to it?
We missed those shows, but are so grateful for these forerunner venues because it helped foster an amazing scene and kept great bands going. They all influenced and motivated us to pick up our instruments and have a go at it.

Finally, our benefit is for music education and I’d like to ask when you started playing?
Art started playin’ bass and guitar in his high school years and inclined toward bass because the bands back then needed bass players. Frank also messed around with bass and guitar before starting high school but sings like a nightingale, so that became his foray in Big Drill Car. He’s going back to his punk rawk roots on guitar in The Unhushables and some of his licks have that old So Cal influence. Dave played drums in various bands before high school and it always been a good outlet for him.

Can you talk about its importance not even just to people in bands but humans?
It seems everyone enjoys music, whether playing or listening on car radios or phones. Whatever we’re doing seams to be more enjoyable if we can do it with music going. So it’s critically important that kids are supported in learning to play and appreciate music and because it simply makes life so much more fulfilling.

wukong-horizFollow The Unhushables’ on Facebook, Instagram, and Bandcamp, and get tickets to Save Music in Chinatown 15 at eventbrite.com!

The return of Dengue Fever, Senon Williams art update, and Burger-A-Go-Go

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I’ll never get sick of sharing the story of how I met Senon Williams. After hearing what sounded like a far-out, psychedelic, Cambodian garage rock jam on KXLU while driving across town from my home in Silver Lake to the Giant Robot compound on Sawtelle, I called the DJ to find out the name of the band. He said it was a demo from a local group called Dengue Fever, and that Senon wouldn’t mind him giving me his name and number. I went on to stalk the band and write its first article in print, followed by various pieces on the band’s milestones.

After the magazine ran its course, we’ve kept in touch. Dengue Fever played one of the Save Music in Chinatown benefit shows that my family went on to start organizing and Senon painted a poster for us. Then we followed his trajectory in art, which has included multiple shows around town and a beautiful book.

When it was announced that the band would be joining the upcoming Burger-A-Go-Go tour, it was a perfect excuse to catch up once more.

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Dengue Fever has been out of the headlines for a while, but now you’ve got this Burger-A-Go-Go tour coming up. What are some of the interesting things you and your colleagues have been doing during your break?
We all been doing a bevy of life living. I been painting, traveling, and playing music. Paul has been recording a bunch of his own music and doing sound design. Ralicke plays with everybody under the sun and swims with the fish in the Pacific the rest of the time. Zac is a mystery but I know he has been making a record with a friend of his. Ethan’s family is growing and he practically has a zoo of exotic creatures at his house. Nimol has been traversing the country playing traditional music in Cambodian supper clubs.

That being said, we are always recording and experimenting. We are enjoying different processes of songwriting, in the past we have simply stayed to our instrument. These days we have been thinking more to what the song needs and care less who plays it. We are unhurried with our ideas and have the feeling to evolve and embrace the ethereal.

There’s new music in the works? Without getting too detailed or giving anything away, can you further describe this direction, style, or vibe that you’re sensing.
We are slowing it and being minimalists. Making Nimol’s voice be the center and not using traditional drum kit as often.

I think it’s cool that Dengue Fever is part of the Burger family, and I give the label credit for having a roster of old and new punks, psychedelic groups, garage rockers, lo-fi bands, etc. and breaking down so many barriers to support just plain cool music. How did you get into the fold?
I don’t really know. But my guess is way back when our manager Josh developed a friendship with them and they were into our music. Then one of them suggested we do a Best Of album on cassette with a ton of songs on it. After that, they have been licensing all our albums for cassette release.

Pasty’s Rats, Feels, and The Coathangers are great and I can’t wait to check out the other bands! Which ones in the Burger-A-Go-Go lineup are you particularly excited about joining?
I am mostly excited about all the women in the line-up. It is going to be great, I always have a better time in mixed crowds. I think the deep vibes will spread.

It must be hard leaving your family, but is going on the road with the band still fun for you? Do you ever miss it during a long hiatus between records and shows?
Yes, I love to tour. We are still a band because we respect each other and love each others company…and cool shit just keeps happening.

And I will miss my family. We only go out for short stints or, if there is a long tour, there is generally plenty of time in between. When I am home I don’t do a 9-5. I am with my family with my time, heart, and soul. But I think the love is enough to bridge the gap when I’m gone.

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Aren’t you in another combo besides Dengue Fever now? What’s up with that?
I play with Mark Lightcap, Steve Hadley, and Jason Yates. We have no name, we have no plans, we play all the time, and let the music flow out of us. We don’t write songs; deep melodies find their way into the outer space where we reside. We record everything, then I edit all the magical spots together… And presto! A song.

We have recently played a few shows performing Acetone songs. A band that ended 15 years ago to support a reissue of music and a biography book. Mark and Steve were in that band. We have no plans to continue with Acetone music but will play those songs if invited… It will be peppered with far-out excursions if not entirely.

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Finally, what’s going on with your art? Now that your book has been published and is getting some distribution, are you taking a break? Working even harder?
I have been seriously making paintings for a few years. I have had several solo shows and been in a bunch of group shows. I find painting to be a very important part of my life, and I am becoming more prolific and the scale keeps growing. I will be painting until I can’t.

My book published by Hamilton Press is exquisite with a masterful design by Green Dragon Co. and the beauty of it has got me stunned. I am still in dis belief.

I also just completed my first lithograph with Ed Hamilton in an edition of 20. There will be a reception to celebrate the release of my print March 10th at Odd Ark Gallery.

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Catch Dengue Fever up and down the West Coast from mid-February through early March. I think I’ll go to the March 3 show at 1720 in Central L.A. and then say hi to Senon at Odd Ark Gallery in Highland Park on March 10.