Save Music in Chinatown 7 photos by Ben Clark

smic7-3I’ve already shared my photos (above) and thoughts on our most recent benefit, and you can check them out at imprintculturelab.com. But then I received images from my photographer friend Ben Clark (maybe you’ve been checking out his images all over the new Jabberjaw coffee table book) and they are worth sharing, too.

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While digital photography has made it easy for hacks like me to take pretty good photos, there’s no substitute for a skilled photography. Rachel’s friends and family sitting on the floor, Nate behind the soundboard–Ben really conveys what the room feels like and doesn’t just take band pics.

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The California image below reminds me of Joe Strummer… And Adam’s Saccharine Trust shirt! Does he break that out for special occasions or wear it all the time?

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Dustin’s expression in this image below is amazing–probably one of the few times he wasn’t smiling during the set!

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How great are Upset? How cool is it that you can see the girls rocking out in front. They raged! Before talking a little bit about our cause and introducing the band, I got to say, “Girls in front!”

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Steve Soto is a legend who has played with so many excellent bands: Adolescents, Agent Orange, Manic Hispanic, 22 Jacks, Punk Rock Karaoke… But his solo songs are simply gorgeous and to see him on an empty stage is actually a little jarring.

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How great are Sean & Zander? And who knew what their stripped-down take on roots and Americana would appeal to the kids so much?

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Proof that the kids love Sean & Zander.

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Thanks to Ben, who doesn’t go to as many shows as he used to but set aside time to attend ours. And all the musicians, supporters, attendees, and friends who helped to make it happen. Looking forward to our next benefit in January!

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Why Save Music in Chinatown 7 is my next perfect day

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In a couple of weekends, we’ll be hosting our seventh Save Music in Chinatown show. Some things haven’t changed since Wendy and I came up with the harebrained idea to try organizing all-ages benefit matinee concerts to raise money for the defunded music education program at our daughter’s public elementary school.

• Castelar still must raise $50,000 annually to pay for music classes for the kids. Our shows can’t pay for all of it but we can make a difference, raise awareness, and foster a community.
• The lineups are stellar, our stash of raffle prizes is amazing, and the bake sale has achieved legend status.
• We still rely almost entirely on word of mouth and I still stress out and wonder when people will start buying tickets, but it always turns out great. (Doesn’t it?)

But some things have changed, too.

• We’ll always appreciate Human Resources for giving us a place to start and grow as well as a connection to the neighborhood’s awesome art scene, but finding a new home at the Grand Star is a step toward carrying on the punk rock heritage and adding to the tradition of the Hong Kong Café and Madame Wong’s.
• We’ve amassed a small-but-dedicated army of friends in awesome bands, rad venues, and DIY media outlets that love the history of punk rock in Chinatown and help us pay tribute to it while helping the local kids.
• Personally, Save Music in Chinatown has been a shift from making things on a printed page to making things happen in real life, but I’m in the process of making a Save Music in Chinatown zine in time for our next show!

I’ve stated this before and I still believe it so I’ll repeat it. When we have a Save Music in Chinatown gig, we’re really make my perfect day a reality (sorta like the ones we used to print in Giant Robot mag). Waking up late and rolling out on a Sunday afternoon when there’s free metered or cheap parking available, seeing a bunch of amazing bands for a bargain price with killer snacks and quality coffee, and being able to take kids if they can handle it. Seeing friends and family who don’t go to as many shows as they used to because of stinky, late night venues full of assholes and poseurs. Being done around 6:00 p.m. so you can grab some noodles for dinner before getting home at a decent hour and being ready to get up early on Monday.

And not only are we helping mostly immigrant kids at an inner city school receive music education, but we are exposing the handful that show up to DIY culture. They get that music isn’t just played by rock stars or rappers at Staples Center but by regular folks who lug their own stuff around and play on tiny stages for friends. And if even lame parents can be part of something cool, why can’t they?

Please check out and share the event page on Facebook and ticketing information at Eventbrite, and hope to see you in Chinatown on Sunday, September 27. Thanks for the support and hit me up if you have any questions!

Below, clockwise from top left: Elvis, Tony from The Adolescents, Donut Friend, Margaret Cho, Scoops Chinatown, and Dan from The Adolescents and Dennis from The Crowd are down with the cause.

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Tony Reflex, Steve Soto, and Lisa Fancher on the Adolescents’ La Vendetta

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The Adolescents were already one of my three all-time favorite bands and then they turned out to be the raddest humans, too. How stoked was I when singer Tony Reflex started supporting and then attending our humble Save Music in Chinatown benefit matinees out of the blue? And I never even would have dared to hope that he’d ask bassist and fellow co-founder Steve Soto to play one of our fundraisers for music education—only to turn it into a secret Adolescents show for about 150 damn lucky supporters including many unsuspecting elementary school students.

So with La Vendetta being released domestically on Frontier–rather just exclusively via German import like the previous four or five releases–how can I not be excited or want to cover it? The completely raging and supremely catchy batch of songs touches on social injustice (the unpunished murder of Kelly Thomas by Fullerton police) and international tragedies (Fukushima), as well as local legends (Jack Parsons Laboratories) and lost friends (Pat Fear and Mike Atta). After the afternoon gig, I hit up Tony and Steve and Lisa Fancher from Frontier Records, the Adolescents’ first and latest label, with some questions about the legendary band from Fullerton’s past, present, and killer new album…

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MW: You guys have played with a number of other bands and still do. What makes Adolescents special and still exciting after so many years? 
SS: I like doing the solo stuff and I have fun playing with other bands but the Adolescents is my first love. Every time we play a show or make a record, it all goes back to two kids who met at a show because the power was shut off and then went on to start their own band. Whether we are in Europe playing to thousands of people in a field or in a small club playing to 100 people, it’s all about that bond we formed back then and all that we have accomplished together since then. I don’t have that bond with anyone else.

MW: The band’s recent string of albums is super strong but they haven’t received proper U.S. distribution. How cool is it to have La Vendetta released domestically and then have it be on Frontier on top of that?
TR: It’s pretty great. We have really wanted to do another record with Lisa. Besides being a label I respect, Lisa herself is a really awesome person. I am glad we are collaborating again.

MW: Lisa, what is it about La Vendetta that made you want to handle it?
LF: I don’t think Steve or Tony will disagree with me when I say they were bad about playing me anything after O.C. Confidential. In fact, I still haven’t heard the LPs between La Vendetta and OCC! (Ahem, vinyl please.) But, in truth, I have not been releasing new material by anyone for a long time. I knew when I heard La Vendetta that they’d really been working on songwriting and production, and I think people will finally stop asking them about the Blue Album lineup. At least, I hope so!

MW: Back in the day, what made them stand about among all the other groups that were exploding from the punk and hardcore scene? Why did you want to release their debut album?
LF: Songwriting, for sure. They were light years ahead of other punk bands in L.A. or O.C. in that department. I think the age thing was something of a gimmick. Rikk Agnew is only two months younger than me, anyway! But I am still so incredibly proud of the Blue Album, considering the time and budget parameters I put on the band at the time. And, oh yeah, the producer Thom Wilson had never recorded a punk band before–just stuff like Seals and Croft! So hilarious that the Adolescents’ debut was called “over-produced.” I still give Jack Rabid shit about that. I wanted my records to sound good and look good, and I think that’s another reason the Blue Album stands the test of time. If you ain’t got the music, you ain’t got shit!  (I trademarked that–don’t try to steal it!)

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MW: Tony, how is writing songs with Steve different from when you guys started?
TR: I thought about this one a bit because if I simply said, “It hasn’t really changed much,” it would sound like I didn’t want to answer the question. But it really hasn’t changed much. When we first met, Steve and I lived a few cities apart. Orange County is huge. He lived in the Placentia area, which is in the eastern part above the 57 Freeway and I lived more or less in the central part where Stanton and Anaheim meet. Since neither of us had cars, we collaborated by land line telephone and tapes, and traveled by bus or bumming a ride. Now we live in different counties and are separated by more distance–including the time/schedule factors–so the fact that we have cars hasn’t really contributed to anything except getting together to hang out. Now we collaborate by cell phone and MP3 files.

SS: We started off writing songs over the telephone! But however I send Tony music, he always comes back with lyrics that blow me away. I love it when he is tracking his vocals because I will start picking out lines and be like, “Holy shit! Did you just say (insert great Tony line here)?” I have a lot of “holy shit” moments with Tony because his pen is mightier than most.

But the best part about our friendship is that we laugh a lot. We have a lot of inside jokes after 30-plus years of friendship and, even more importantly, during times when things have been truly bleak in my life he was right there with me.

MW: Do you have a favorite song on the new album?
SS: Hm. Can’t pick one. I love “The Last Laugh” because it’s about Bill “Pat Fear” Bartell. I miss Bill. I also love the energy of “30 Seconds,” and the story behind the lyrics is awesome. (Google “Jack Parsons.”) And then there is “Dish.” I had goose bumps when I heard the words the first time: “With this pen, I’m going to fuck you up.” The song was about Kelly Thomas but look at how timely it still is. It hit home again when people held up their pens for Charlie Hebdo. The pen is mighty and it will someday topple fists, Tasers, chokeholds, and religious fanaticism.

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MW: The recent one-year anniversary of Fullerton police officers going unpunished for killing the unarmed and innocent Thomas really makes it feel like a fresh wound.
TR: The Kelly Thomas verdict was something that affected all of us. In fact, Steve’s family and my family were out on the marching lines, and so were Rikk Agnew and his family. The murder of Kelly Thomas stands as one of the most devastating acts of cruelty in the history of Fullerton, and it is something that brought all of us together.

Throughout the history of the band, we have tried our best to deal with contemporary issues without sounding dated. I think we have done that well, and that is why our records transcend generations and any specific time frame. They sound fresh whenever you hear them. That’s part of the reason that they work. And, yes, I think most of the Adolescents’ recorded catalog is great–with the possible exception of Brats in Battalions.

MW: Are there fans who see your set list and think “Let It Go” is a song from Frozen?
TR: Haha. Spoken like a father who has heard the Disney song a million times. Actually, believe it or not, I haven’t seen Frozen and only learned of the song on news radio and the byline was “how to get annoying songs out of your head.” But I haven’t had anyone comment on it before. Maybe they are closet AM Disney fans that don’t want to be outed.

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MW: Can you tell me a little bit about how Dan, Ian, and Mike came on board? They’re rock solid!
TR: Dan Root is a great guitarist. He was in a band called One Hit Wonder that was on Nitro and had toured the world pretty extensively. Remarkably, of all that he is done, that is the band I hadn’t seen! I did see him when he played with Jack Grisham in Tender Fury, as well as the years he worked with our mutual friend Rik L. Rik and, more recently, with Steve in CJ Ramone’s band. He brings a great dynamic and, like Mike, a sense of humor and friendship.

SS: Dan is awesome. We became friends back when he was playing with Jack in the mid ’80s. When I was in Tender Fury very briefly, Jack called me up and said, “You and Dan goof around too much. I need you to help me keep Dan under control.” I thought, “Screw that. I like Dan out of control!” He is an amazing guitarist and a great hang.

TR: Leroy was a great player but he was really clear that he could only record, so that was that. Ian Taylor, on the other hand, has made the commitment by driving up from San Diego to be a part of this. He has a rich musical history, having come from the desert area and playing in Unsound and Mondo Generator, and I was a fan of his band Furious IV in the ‘90s.

SS: Right when we were starting to look for a new guitarist, Tony ran into Ian randomly, called me, and said, “Hey, I ran into Ian and he said, ‘If you ever need someone…‘“ It was so random, yet makes perfect sense because he is a great fit.

TR: Mike Cambra is a dynamite drummer. As much as bringing a great style, he is just a really cool guy. Interestingly, his uncle was in the Tubes.

SS: Mike plays in Death by Stereo with my friend Efrem. That’s how we met. An awesome drummer and great dude.

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MW: Lisa, do you remember exactly when you first met Steve and Tony?
LF: Actually, I don’t. I remember talking to Frank on the phone and making a deal to record the Blue Album while I was working at Bomp! Records. I think the first time I met the whole band was the first day making the Blue Album at Perspective Sound in beautiful Sun Valley, CA. Steve didn’t bring his bass. But anyone can feel free to set me straight on this. This is why history books of any kind are so utterly suspect…

MW: But now you’ve got this great new album coming out, essays in photo books, appearances in record collector documentaries, and anniversary shows–are you on a roll or what?
LF: I guess? You left out co-owning my distributor (ILD) and launching my own radio station (KXFU, February 2015)! It would be bitchin’ if any of these things resulted in a paycheck but it’s the “being so insanely busy I don’t know what day it is” that really counts. The Dangerhouse show was the high point of last year for me, so I really look forward to putting on Part II with Part Time Punks this summer!

MW: With everyone’s other bands, projects, and lives going on, is it remotely possible to support La Vendetta with shows?
TR: There will be at least 40 shows. We are scheduling 10 in South America and 30 in the United States and Canada.

MW: And of course I was totally shocked and super stoked that the Adolescents played our benefit. But Steve, I really dig your solo work, too, and was excited about the idea of you playing those lovely, sad songs for us. Can you tell me about them?
SS: I started writing my first solo record after my divorce. It was liike my attempt at doing Elvis Costello’s Blood and Chocolate. I wrote one of my favorite songs on it with James Achor of the Royal Crown Review. I love Steinbeck, and was thinking about The Grapes of Wrath and the Okies that headed west for a better life. “West Coast Bound” was my take on leaving my relationship behind and moving west. And it was actually true. I mean, I already lived in Long Beach but I moved four blocks closer to the beach…

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Get the new Adolescents record straight from Frontier Records (value priced with free shipping in the U.S.!) or keep checking the band’s Facebook page for tour dates and buy it from the merch table (that’s how I’ve been acquiring the recent imports a couple at a time).

Save Music in Chinatown 5 photo dump with Mike Watt & The Secondmen, The Gears, and Adolescents (surprise set)

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Save Music in Chinatown 5 happened on Sunday and I’ve finally unloaded the SD card… Everyone knew the show would be badass when the universally loved and respected Mike Watt went on first with the Secondmen. The heavy trio blew the minds of the kids and adults alike with their jazz-fueled punk (or is it the other way around?) and only true legends could follow.

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Clockwise from top left: Mike Watt with Secondmen Pete and Jerry, as well as Missingmen member Tom Watson; Adolescents crew digging Watt & The Secondmen; members of the Missingmen, Red Krayola, and HowardAmb; photographers Ben Clark and Krk Dominguez in the crowd with Una from Keep, Laurie from Track 16, and so many others…

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I like these photos of Mike Watt & The Secondmen because you can see Steve and Tony from the Adolescents and Axxel G. Reese hanging out in the background. In the second panel, the bassist for Minutemen, fIREHOSE, DOS, and so many other projects is encouraging the audience, “Start your own band!” at the end of the set. Perfect for a show raising funds for music education at Castelar Elementary.

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Clockwise from top left: Tony Adolescent and Krk from Flipside; Me with Chris from What? Records, Iloki Records, and Wondercap Records and Watt; Steve from Adolescents with Lisa from Frontier Records; thanks to KCHUNG’s Kings of Punk DJs and Gabie for lining them up. What would our city do without KCHUNG or KXLU?

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The Gears played next and their combination of first-wave punk energy (coming from The Controllers) and rockabilly swing makes for one badass live show. I already love all of their recordings from old to new but in concert they’re just plain unstoppable. Look for a documentary on the Masque-era favorites to make the rounds soon.

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Left to right: Tony Adolescent said that when you’re a singer who’s following a frontman like Axxel G. Reese, you just keep your feet planted and don’t even try; Ace has been doing sound for Adolescents shows for decades and kindly made ours sound better. That’s Save Music in Chinatown co-conspirator Nate the Man on the far right.

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Musical badasses. Too bad The Gears didn’t play “Don’t Be Afraid To Pogo” since I trained my six-year-old in the original punk dance move in advance. But omitting “I Smoke Dope” from the set was totally understandable. And did I mention Mike from CH3 came up with his crew? I totally blew it and didn’t take a picture with him, but what a rad guy. His band played our second benefit and I first saw The Gears with on a show they booked at Alex’s Bar years ago…

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Clockwise from top left: The Gears circa 2015; Me with Lisa from Frontier Records, Mr. David O. Jones, and Chris from What? Records, Iloki Records, and Wondercap Records; Adolescents playlist being scribbled; Save Music in Chinatown crew includes my wife Wendy and pal Nate.

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A solo acoustic set by Steve Soto was advertised as the top bill–and he was actually going to start off with a few songs–but the band decided to just dive into the unannounced Adolescents show with “Rip It Up”! Lots of songs off the Blue Album but also from the ripping new LP which is finally coming out domestically on Frontier next month.

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Left to right: Before the surprise set, Tony described his ties to Chinatown, including meeting his wife in the courtyard between the Hong Kong Cafe and Madame Wong’s during the neighborhood’s punk glory days and his in-laws attending the Italian-language church up the street; filmmaker and good friend Pryor, Wendy, and the family of Ben from Evil Hearted You, who had played a rare show at the previous benefit.

smic5-11 Tony has been very supportive of our DIY fund-raising matinees since we started last year, but I never dared to think that he and Steve would actually bring the Adolescents to one of our benefits. I’ve always loved the band because they are as political and funny as they are polished–a perfect balance of purpose, anger,  and tunes. How amazing is it that they made time to gather for our very humble benefit at an old kung-fu-movie-theater-turned-art-gallery.

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After wiping down and cleaning up Human Resources and then having dinner with my family and friends who stuck around, I had just enough time to hustle over to Cafe NELA and catch a secret set by The Gears, who played an all-requests set with the missing songs and more. Excellent.

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Thanks to three of my favorite bands who happen to be the best humans ever, friends like Grant and Eric at Human Resources who make the shows possible, contributors and helpers at the bake sale (and interTrend/Imprint for providing coffee), raffle donors (Keep Shoes, Donut Friend, Berndt Offerings, Scoops Chinatown, Tum Yeto/Toy Machine, Jawsey Bruce Records, Sticky Acres, The Beatle Years, and so many more), Gabie, Steve, and Max who promote the shows on KCHUNG and KXLU, and everyone who spreads the word and attends the show. How awesome is this for Castelar students and the Chinatown community, and how far can we take this scene that we’re growing?

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Our next benefit is on Sunday, May 31, and when the lineup comes together you’ll see it here first…

Adolescents and friends at the Observatory, Steve Soto and friends at the Slidebar

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Can there really be too much of a good thing? That’s what I pondered while driving down to the Adolescents show behind the Orange Curtain on Saturday night. Love the Adolescents, Weirdos, and Channel Three. Have been wanting to see The Stitches and The Widows. So how could I not go or not see them all?

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I didn’t know much about The Widows except that they are opening for the Adolescents at The Casbah after Christmas. Invited by the headliners to drive up from San Diego to join them in O.C., too? Good enough for me. Dug their garage punk melodies with a surf vibe mixed in, Beach Boulevard style, and they get bonus points because one of the members had his family including a bunch of kids right in front.

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I’m still not totally used to seeing Channel Three play bigger stages like this. More channeling of The Clash, less fucking around. They have a seriously great set list with “I Wanna Know Why,” “I Got a Gun,” and “Indian Summer,” mixing fun and riffs like no other band–and tighter from a lot of touring this year. They not only brought along Maria Montoya for “You Make Me Feel Cheap” but Santa Claus for “Blue Christmas.” Some of my favorite dudes ever and one of my favorite bands ever, too. And that was before they played a benefit for my daughter’s school last year…

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Can’t believe it took me this long to see The Stitches. The Spirit of ’77 punk band from Orange Country really brings it live, just like they do on 7″ singles, comps, EPs, and albums. Mike Lohrman and Johnny Witmer have a cool wild frontman/stoic axe player dialog that’s up there with Mick and Keef, Johansen and Thunders, and Iggy and anyone…

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It says a lot that the first-generation L.A. punks are still weird in comparison to any other band on the planet. The Weirdos’ extra bass-heavy set started off like Wilson Pickett but derailed into darkness right away. “Destroy All Music,” “Life of Crime,” “We Got The Neutron Bomb,” and all the hits never get old because their cool mix of art, noise, and fun will always be always be ahead of everyone else.

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Before the headliners went on, the punk’s greatest hits played over the house sound system shifted into songs about the law: Black Flag, NWA, The Clash, Junior Murvin, KRS-One. The playlist put the music of the Adolescents in a completely current political context instead of a hardcore oldies one. Perfect since the band’s most recent album was largely a reaction to the unpunished killing of homeless man Kelly Thomas by the Fullerton police. Singer Tony Adolescent dedicated “Kids of the Black Hole” to Utah cosplayer Darrien Hunt who was shot by cops for carrying a toy sword as a Samurai Champloo character. Awesome.

I found out a couple of days later that the band’s message of solidarity amongst underdogs was totally lost on a meathead between the barricade and stage who socked a fellow photographer that was shooting as a favor for the band. WTF? Now there are predatory jocks in the photo pit as well as the slam pit? What a sad statement about any sort of scene or humans in general.ssbw1-o

So it was a welcome change of atmosphere to catch an evening of acoustic and roots music by punks at the Slidebar arranged by Adolescents co-founder Steve Soto. First up was Otisserie, a.k.a. O., a.k.a. the beloved sound guy, principal member of Olive Lawn and fluf, legendary skateboard and music designer photographer, and namesake of an off-the-menu juice and soda drink at the World Famous Casbah. The San Diego institution played songs from his old bands as well as ultra sad, ultra heavy acoustic numbers that will be released one of these days.

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Johnny and Jay from Old Man Markley, played a fired-up set of bluegrass originals and covers that included loving takes on Descendents, Ronnie Spector, and even Sublime. These guys have chops that go on forever and their possibly drunken banter is next-level, too.

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Steve Soto and Allison June make a sick combination with his heartbreaking songs about the devil (an ex) and personal ones about his mom (who was present) and her killer pipes. Mitch Townsend provided otherworldly atmosphere with his slide guitar and gang of effects pedals. Lovely and bold, and a nice counterpoint to seeing Steve with the Adolescents just nights before. So different to be hanging on every word instead of singing along…

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I’ve seen Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss with their bands (Sean is from Throw Rag, Zander is associated with Joe Strummer, Circle Jerks, Thelonious Monster, and, yes, The Weirdos) but never as a duo. They complement shamelessly raw emotion with ungodly talent and sound sort of like gospel arrived at through hard living and AA meetings. It’s at once heartfelt and sad and beautiful: a slow-motion train wreck gorgeously framed from a perfect angle.

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Afterward, I thanked Steve for arranging such a great evening of music and told him how much I look forward to seeing him play our next Save Music in Chinatown benefit. He’s as generous as he is talented as he is ripping, the show happens exactly one month from today, and I hope to see you there as well….

Announcing Save Music in Chinatown 5: Mike Watt & The Secondmen, The Gears, Steve Soto (Solo, Acoustic)

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The lineup for our next Save Music in Chinatown show came together in about 48 hours. On Tuesday I had lunch with my old pal Chris Ashford, who happens to be making a documentary about The Gears. He hit them up, and the next day they generously agreed to play.

The Gears at Alex's Bar (May 14, 2013)

The Gears at Alex’s Bar (May 14, 2013)

Yesterday morning, Save Music in Chinatown’s secret weapon Nate Pottker received a response to a cold email that he had sent to Mike Watt about the show. The legendary bass player was down, adding that he and The Secondmen would love to open for The Gears.

Mike Watt & The Secondmen at Fun Lovers Unite! at The Echoplex (November 18, 2014)

Mike Watt & The Secondmen at Fun Lovers Unite! at The Echoplex (November 18, 2014)

Right away I shared the good news with Tony Adolescent, a supporter of SMIC from the beginning. He said that his bandmate Steve Soto was up for playing a solo acoustic set for us. In about 10 minutes, they checked the date and locked it in.

Steve Soto with The Adolescents at the tribute to Bill Bartell at  The Echoplex (December 19, 2013)

Steve Soto with The Adolescents at the tribute to Bill Bartell at The Echoplex (December 19, 2013)

And there we have it: another killer benefit gig to raise money for music education at Castelar Elementary, and another excellent punk show in Chinatown to boot. I’ll put up a Facebook event page and Eventbrite ticketing page after Thanksgiving, but until then keep an eye on the Save Music in Chinatown community page for updates and everything else.

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Check out the Facebook event page and ticketing at Eventbrite, and we’ll seeya at Human Resources in Chinatown on Sunday, January 11!