A Perfect Night in LA
Who knows when you're going to have the perfect night? I can tell you one thing, it can only be possible after your expectations have been lowered considerably. Take this particular perfect night in LA, for example. When we first got down here (we live in LA for a month every summer), I was all gung-ho to make an evening of going to see Brightblack Morning Light at the Troubadour, followed by staying over at a hotel somewhere in Hollywood. With a pool! And cocktails! Well, as the day drew closer, this shining beacon of nightlife started to fade to a dull twinkle as we slogged through the intense heat wave, my husband Danny's work schedule here at Cal Arts where he is teaching summer school, and my exhaustion spending every day taking our kid to the public pool in 105 degree heat. We had been lucky most nights to split a beer and play a lackluster game of Scrabble before hitting our airbed at 10pm. How were we going to manage a night on the town? Ugh!
Even with the prospect of a babysitter (several of the teachers here are wild about Henry, or maybe they're just broke) we couldn't see spending $200 on a hotel, so I canceled that reservation. We still had the show tickets, though, since I bought them on Ticketmaster. I toyed with giving them away free on Craigslist, but just couldn't throw in the towel just yet. Since we had missed the sold out Flaming Lips at the Hollywood Bowl, which my friends will never forgive me for since they all saw them up north and swore it was a religious experience, I felt like we had to at least try to go out and have some rock 'n roll fun. So as the night approached, we steeled our resolve to just go out and do it.
That morning Danny was seriously dragging. It didn't look good. We took our kid to a matinee of Monster House, which was insanely scary for a five-year-old, and made us wary about then leaving him with a sitter in case he might be plagued with nightmares. But when our sitter Lee showed up, a fun-loving twentysomething indie filmmaker and trickster, Henry was so psyched to see him that they immediately took off to go have some wacky adventures, leaving Danny and I with nothing else to do but go out! We decided we were going to hit a movie first, so as not to have to stand around in a rock club for any more time than necessary, and to miss all opening acts if at all possible.
We headed for the Arclight to see Little Miss Sunshine on opening night. Without advance tickets. Of course it was sold out, but boy, that Arclight is cool! So we stood around in the super moderne lobby trying to figure out which movie we should see, and based our choice strictly on start time, since we wanted enough time to grab something to eat. The best-timed movie that we could stomach was Clerks II. So we bought our tickets (reserved seats!) and then headed to the café/bar in the lobby for some cocktails and food. As we were sipping our lemon drops and waiting for our food, we checked out the crowd. I noticed something interesting about straight men in LA -- they all look gay! If any of these supposedly straight men, who seemed to me to be overly PDA-ing with their glamazon dates, walked down the street in San Francisco you would never guess in a million years he was straight. Weird. Perfectly gelled hair, super mod clothes, spray tans and nice shoes. I was perplexed and entertained by this anthropological discovery. But regardless, the people watching in LA is really unsurpassed. Good lookin' specimens everywhere, and they all seem important in some way. You don't know why, you don't know how, but they are making shit happen in ways you can only venture to guess. Even the waiters at the Arclight were fab, including one who looked like a cross between Nick Cave and Dave Grohl -- rowr!
There was a famous actress a few tables away, whose name I still have not been able to recall. I recognized her immediately, have seen her in magazines, she does movies and TV, she's young, blonde, cute etc. One of these days I will see her picture and be like --duh! But for now, her agent is cursing the fact that she doesn't elicit instant name recognition.
After copping a buzz off our drinks and with full tummies, we bopped down to our fancypants theater to watch Clerks II. Our expectations were waaaay low, since we both saw Clerks but had no real recollection of it. Well, let me tell you Clerks II is funny! Albeit in an absolutely crude, adolescent, gross, pathetic way, but we laughed, we really did. It had its moments, and actually was made with some kind of real heart and soul behind it. These dudes who made the first one, Kevin Smith and his buddies, made the sequel just to satisfy themselves and each other, and all the fans who have championed it over the years, and it works somehow. There are some great jokes, including a gut-busting tirade against Lord of the Rings complete with re-enactment, and some endearing performances from the losers who can't grow up. Their venue has moved from the Quick Stop to Mooby's burgers, but they are still just killing time in Jersey. We came out of there feeling proud that we had chosen Clerks II over My Super Ex-Girlfriend and the universally panned The Lady in the Water. We chose wisely. Step one to a perfect night -- choose well, but don't overthink.
Next stop, the Troubadour. As we cruised up Santa Monica Blvd., we saw the line of Paris Hilton and Nick Lachey wannabees, complete with valets, cops, and lines of shiny cars. What could this be, pray tell? Only Lobby, the hottest celeb club in LA! And it happens to be right next door to the seedy Troubadour. Well what luck. Seeing as we were going to see a smelly band of pseudo-hippies, it seemed only fitting we should be next door to such a glittering spectacle. Mommy is happy -- hooray!
We walked into the club just as Brightblack Morning Light were starting up, perfect timing. It was mellow, not too crowded, and we found a comfy place right at the side of the stage to take in the vibe. Brightblack Morning Light are definitely part of the nouveau hippie scene I have waxed so eloquently upon in past posts. Their CD comes with rainbow prism glasses printed with marijuana leaves, for chrissake. But where most of those bands base their sound on a strumming or plucking acoustic guitar, Brightblack are of a darker, moodier groove, emanating from a vintage Fender Rhodes played by a cool chick in aviator sunglasses. Over to her left we have the dude in the poncho, greasy dreadlocks covering his face, with two white feathers sticking up from his mike stand, and he appears to be playing guitar. I believe his last name to be Shineywater. There are two drummers, flanking either side of the stage, with unconventional drum kits, one wearing flip-flops and one looking kinda like Gene Wilder. Oh yeah, and there are petrified logs along the front of the stage.
The music is trancelike, it's deep, it's a little boring but pretty cool. They bring up a friend, a cute girl in a vintage Live Aid t-shirt, ostensibly to sing with them. She stands at the mike, playing with her hair for what seems like an eternity until she finally moans something along with them. All is going as well as can be expected, and Danny and I are happy sipping our Coronas and chilling out, when there seems to be some kind of feedback happening. At first it's hard to tell, since everything is drenched in all kinds of delay and reverb and nonsense. Suddenly, the poncho dude rips off said poncho in a fit of pique, starts ripping wires out of his guitar, and runs up to the front of the stage yelling "Fuck LA!" and storms off! Wha? Isn't this the band that camps in the woods between shows and wants to save the spotted owl? Heaven forefend! Poncho Dude storms out the back door of the club, while a meaty bouncer stands guard as the door slams behind him. Two seconds later we hear a contrite little 'tap tap tap' at the door and the bouncer lets Poncho Dude back in, who proceeds to storm upstairs in search of the soundman. Meanwhile onstage, the ladies have decided to take back the night, and start rocking out way harder than they ever did with Poncho Dude onstage. You go, girls! The soundman looks down at me and Danny from the booth, and I say, "Hey, you better watch out -- he's coming to get you!" He just laughs and says "They were four hours late!" Poncho Dude has it out with him, then we hear some yelling and scuffling, and bottles being thrown. Someone tries to subdue Poncho Dude in the dressing room, which is a glass booth visible to the entire club. Only in LA! Hi-larious.
So the ladies keep on rocking out a couple more grooves, then the keyboard chick in the aviator glasses mumbles an apology through the layers of reverb and that's the end of that. Well, Danny and I are mighty pleased with ourselves for having witnessed such an Altamont-lite ending to the freak folk love-in. We amble out onto the street, walking right into the fray of Hollywood foxes and foxettes waiting desperately to be deemed worthy enough to party with the likes of Lindsay Lohan inside the hallowed booths of Lobby. I beg Danny to indulge me -- can we just walk past the line and back around the block and check out the action? Since the line is so thick along the sidewalk, there is nowhere to walk but the street in front. As I step one toe off the curb -- BAM! There's a car crash right in front of me. A valet, driving a shiny silver Mercedes, veers right to the club entrance from the middle lane, cutting off another car coming up in the right hand lane. It's a hideous crunch and clatter. I jump back onto the curb and we marvel at the weirdness of it all when I hear "Hey, Alison." What now?
It's my old friend Jeff Palmer, bass player extraordinaire, who now plays with the fantastic band the Radar Brothers. He lives in LA now, but used to be a fixture in the SF music scene. He's a genius musician, and an adorable, sweet guy. So we all chat for like a half hour, catching up, musing on LA and its serendipitous nature, and laughing. We watch the endless parade of tanned, leggy blonds and beefy jock actors hop in and out of Escalades in front of Lobby. It's a nice moment, and feels like it's a show just for us. Making the scene but not making it at all. Just hanging. The world has gotten a little more cozy since I hit forty, and maybe that's kind of a cool thing.
On the way home, to top off such a funny night, we had to do the proper LA thing and get In 'N Out Burger drive-through. God, yum. Just super yum. We showed up at 2 a.m. with fries and a shake for Lee, who was like "Man, you guys read my mind. I was starving!" A perfect night, indeed.
Funding for KQED Arts is provided by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Support is also provided by Yogen and Peggy Dalal, Diane B. Wilsey, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Helen Sarah Steyer, the William and Gretchen Kimball Fund, and the members of KQED