It got a pretty intense when The Dils played Save Music in Chinatown 17 last weekend. Over the years, our series of all-ages benefit matinees has maintained a fairly low profile and no show ever got so big that we’ve had to worry about children getting crushed. But of course the unexpected return of The Dils attracted wall-to-wall crowds and a line of punks of all shapes, sizes, and ages snaked down the stairs hoping to just hear, feel, and smell, the gig. I was seriously worried about us getting busted by the fire marshall, fights breaking out, or middle-aged skins or mohawks trampling kids for selfies with the band or to shoot it on their iPads.
But none of that happened, and the afternoon was as fun as it was exciting. I’m pretty sure none of us in the room (including singer, guitar player, and co-founder Chip Kinman) thought we’d ever see The Dils play their first show in 40 years right across the plaza from the old Hong Kong Cafe. And how many people can say The Dils played a benefit for the music program at their daughter’s elementary school? Or that their daughter sang “Class War” with them? (The answer is two: me and my wife.)
I’m all for friends’ old bands getting back together to play festivals and big shows, receive the attention and love they deserve, and have a blast in front of huge audiences. And that made it even more unreal that this would happen at one of our humble benefit shows. The afternoon felt less like a star-studded, invite-only event that you read about in a magazine than a gathering of old friends who just happened to play together at the Vex, Masque, Starwood, or Hong Kong Cafe a lot back in the day. (Our friend, Save Music in Chinatown bake sale boss, and Castelar alum, parent, and volunteer Mamie actually used to work the Hong Kong Cafe door because her dad ran the venue!)
The Dils didn’t get together just to play our show. Chip and his rock ‘n’ roll animal son Giuliano had already played for us twice in their other band, Ford Madox Ford, and I simply asked if they wanted to play a warmup show after noticing that they announced a Dils show in San Diego. We made it a doubleheader of Dangerhouse Records legends by asking the Alley Cats to come back and play for us again. With hits off the Yes L.A., compilation and URGH! A Music War, is there a more underrated, or unappreciated band from L.A. punk?
It was a perfect lineup to bring back Hector Penalosa (from Spirit of ’77 garage punks The Zeros) with his new power trio Neko Neko. He and his trusty drummer Nico had already played for us in various lineups of Baja Bugs and My Revenge. How could we say no when fellow Dangerhouse labelmates Rhino 39 came out of nowhere wanting to join the lineup and volunteer their back line to boot? And hwho else could DJ the show except our friend Lisa Fancher, the founder of Frontier Records and holder of the keys to Dangerhouse Records?
Sprinkled into the massive crowd, it was heartwarming to see so many friends, regulars, and longtime supporters including pals from KXLU, KCHUNG, and RazorCake, and members from Channel Three, Adolescents, and Midget Oddjob, as well as Bob Forrest, who have played for us or supported us since the beginning. Wendy and I have known some of the attendees since we worked together on Giant Robot. And college before that. Plus lots of family everywhere.
When Wendy and I started organizing Save Music in Chinatown shows, we hoped to raise some money for the music program at our daughter’s elementary school but had no idea it would last this long or that a scene would grow around it. We never dreamed that it would create a space where Eloise could make flyers, get to sing onstage, or form a band with her cousins and their friend. (The Linda Lindas made an appearance, too.)
We never expected to become activists for public education or advocates for the historic neighborhood where my immigrant grandparents or in-laws, and now daughter, found a place. All of that has been amazing and unexpected, and we couldn’t have done it without everyone who has attended our shows, helped out, and supported the cause along the way. Thank you.
Right now, Castelar Elementary only goes up to fifth grade and Eloise is a fifth grader. Any bands out there want to play what could be the final Save Music in Chinatown show on Sunday, June 2? Anyone out there want you join us? Nothing lasts forever, so check it out while you can.