Monday, February 23, 2009

Show Reviews (2002)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, Feb. 23 - This was originally published in Punk Planet #52.


1. Le Tigre / Erase Errata in Pomona, Saturday night
Tickets for a recent Friday night Le Tigre show at the El Rey Theater in West L.A. were found online, sold for $129 a pair. The sticky ethical questions raised by the sale masked a graver issue still; three tickets for the following night's Le Tigre concert at the Glass House in Pomona sold online for $11.50. The realization has been a long time in coming: I live in the Poughkeepsie of Los Angeles. No one respects Pomona. The 30 minutes of drive time from my doorstep to the big city might as well be an expedition to the Mesozoic Yukon for the cosmopolitans coming the other way. Pomona is, as of this writing, the only city on the L.A. Times weather map listed with a qualifier ("Pomona/Fairplex"... a signifier that decodes to; once a year a county fair will be held on this barren spot in the desert). This spring, Mexico City will receive its first Starbucks before Pomona does. It wasn't always this way. Frank Sinatra and Tippi Hedren used to buy hotdogs here when Pomona was a screening oasis. Pillsbury Hardcore were pioneering freaked-out hardcore in this town three presidents ago. What other city on Earth can boast the birthplace of both seminal youth merchandising outlets of the 80's and 90's; Toxic Shock and Hot Topic?

Speaking of "Hot Topic", I think Le Tigre played this song. I'm not entirely sure. Saturday's show took place in the one building in Pomona I can't say I really care for, The Glass House. Like the El Ray, GH is the sort of large, faceless, bouncer-friendly venue that has a sneaky way of distracting from the enjoyment of the bands at hand (I've found myself comparing both clubs to NY's Irving Plaza when talking with east coast friends, as much a gauge of crumbiness as size). Glass House security once forcibly parted me from a ball-point pen on the grounds that it posed some sort of shanking threat. I've always had a brown spot on my heart for clubs like this. Staff jostles me, a friend gets patted down, and inevitably I'm summoning the god of colon cancer to sweep through the night, sprinkling his magic dust over the sleeping heads of my oppressors.

Which isn't nice. Or fair - these people are just doing their jobs, and not in that In-The-Dock-At-The-Hague kind of way, either . I understand there are trade-offs required when running an operation of this size and catering to this demographic. I didn't get stabbed with any pens. And the sound, unlike last year's LT show at The Smell in LA, was crisp, resonant and free from power outages. The worst one can reasonably say about this club is that its ceiling is cluttered with the sort of heavy duty, International Space Station-looking aluminum light rig that may or may not kill a lot of people if an 8.9 earthquake hits. Tragic, yes, but also unavoidable.

2. Quixotic / Pink & Brown in Los Angeles, later that Saturday night
One continues to The Smell in downtown L.A., but the daily ration of cellular energy allocated for sociability is spent, leaving one drained and draped across a stinky couch, unable to appreciate the night's music. Not to put down The Smell's fine assortment of couches. As with so many aspects of this great space, the couches get less stinky with familiarity. Likewise, the bathroom, so utterly trashable on first glance, can actually serve as a nice sanctuary on heavily trafficked nights. And Jalesco, the fairly intimidating Mexican gay bar around the corner on Main street, is actually a decent place for one to obtain a brown bagged Tecate or engage in a bit of toilet stall rumpus.

No bouncers here either. The Smell is that rarest of commodities, a club run by people cool enough to pull the whole thing off but old enough to not suffer delusions of grandeur or fits of political infighting. I've found myself comparing the space to the late Ft. Thunder to east coast friends, as much a gauge of humanity's fundamental decency as size (although the walls of The Smell are barren of the reading material that made even the most boring of shows in Providence a treat, leaving me to leaf sadly through weird RCP-vegan manuals whenever I forget to bring a newspaper). The worst one can say about this place is that its seemingly unretrofitted brick structure will unfurl like socks in a dryer when the 8.9 hits.

3. Cat Power / some horrendous Caucasian garage band, Claremont, the next Wednesday
Four days later it was time for the suave downtowners to make that trip to the Yukon. Cat Power's handlers had booked her in "Little Bridges", a performance hall on the lush campus of Pomona College, itself oddly located in Claremont, the wealthy, troubled, Morgan-Fairchild-nosed older stepsister to hardworking P-Town. Little Bridges' European grandeur and vastness is hard to surpass. This is a solid building. An 8.9 earthquake would hardly raise eyebrows in an audience here. Every mortar and joist is tight in the way only massive amounts of money can sustain. According to the college's website, a recent $5.2 million renovation saw the instillation of new multi-story organ pipes, an "8-inch [thick], resin-impregnated honeycombed structure that is bonded and screwed to the ceiling", over a hundred brand-new, hardwood sound-deflecting chairs, a reshaping of the rear and side walls, wainscoting, windows and balcony, resulting in an increase in reverberation "by a factor of 1.5." I'd seen the Bulgarian Women's Choir of Los Angeles here only a week earlier and can testify that the hall's sound really is quite amazing, a brutal display of Old Money power.

Which was why a Cat Power performance seemed so crucial as a life experience, as simply unmissable as karaoke night at Carnegie Hall . I arrived during the shameful opening indie band, enjoying the spare time to wander the plush lobby. From an unassuming bronze plaque set near the front door, I learned that Bridges Hall of Music had been built in built in 1914 as a sort of working mausoleum. "After brief years in the bloom of her youth," the plaque read, under a sad, half-relief angel, "Mabel Shaw Bridges passed into the unseen... this building has been erected by her parents." The unseen? At the risk of sounding tactless; had they ever found the poor young lady?

"Did you finish your zine?" I turned and saw Anthony, my sometimes employee. Shit. The zine. I'd forgotten to make the zine. How can one attend a Cat Power concert at Bridges Hall of Music without handing away free copies of their unnamed fanzine full of random photos of Amish people and car accidents and orangutans? I made the sort of sour face that says You're Fired and excused myself for the men's room. Bathroom facilities; the Bridges family does not skimp in this department either. Even the itsy bitsy trash can spoke to some unattainable level of elegance, so tidy and tiny that I actually watched guys gingerly placing their waded up handtowels on top of the overflowing can, some humbling show of respect for the entire Bridges clan.

Back in the lobby, I talked with Erica, Station Supervisor of local KSPC, the event's sponsors and one of the absolute best college radio stations in America. KSPC is housed in the basement of the building next door. Several times have I gone to drop off a promo CD in their offices only to contemplate, on emerging into the sunlight, calling the DJ from the outdoor callbox and threatening violence if they didn't play a cut in the next five minutes.

The indie band finished playing and hopefully reassessed their lives. A buzz filled the great hall. Finding seats as if we were attending the opera, I was informed that the old singer of Pillsbury Hardcore was working sound. A different man, some heavyset college employee, wheeled out a grand piano. I nursed a sudden, private hope that this big fellow would reveal himself as Cat Power, busting out the hits on the Steinway.

But the real Cat Power arrived, a self-effacing wisp next to that giant piano (which went unused). She endured great waves of applause, sat on a stool and strummed. It was the quietest thing I have ever heard. To be fair, I didn't make it through the whole set. After the first 10 or 15 notes I got bored and left on shoes whose soles seemed, suddenly, to squeal like two wild boars just waking from deep anesthesia. I crossed through the outer hallway, cautious of the ghostly, gnashing head of Mabel Bridges, out of the building, across the several hundred foot Marston Quadrangle and into the student rec center, playing a few rounds of Zero Gunner until I grew fearful that the game's blips might drown out the performance across the campus grounds.

I took a walk. The menace of shadows cast by streetlight is, in Claremont, all illusion. Rare is the police chopper that hovers over this town. A friend lived here for over a decade and never locked her door. Claremont on this night was serene, breezy, room temperature. But, of course, it's like that every night of the year. Peering over hedges and white picket fences, I tried my hardest to recall what it was about this part of the country that had me so bothered ten years ago. What is it about this state that so galls the rest of the nation? What's not to like?