Save Music In Chinatown At Grand Star Jazz Club, Sunday May 7th 2017
Money was cut for art and music programs in school, arts education is now in danger everywhere, so every year, Save Music in Chinatown is trying to just do this, save music, by organizing fundraising concerts to pay for the underfunded music education program at Castelar Elementary School, located in the middle of Chinatown. This public school serves mostly immigrant kids who don’t get much exposure to performing arts or creative outlets, and the 12th effort of this series of fundraising concerts was taking place on Sunday afternoon at the Grand Star Jazz Club. I had heard about these punk rock afternoon shows for a good cause, and decided to go check it out this Sunday. Chinatown has a long history with punk in Los Angeles, as the Hong Kong Café and especially its rival, Madame Wong’s, were Los Angeles music venues and part of the punk rock scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Esther Wong, was even nicknamed the godmother of punk in LA, as every band played there, from Fishbone to the Go-Go’s, X, Guns N’ Roses, Black Flag, fear, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Ramones, just to name just a few.
Martin Wong is carrying the torch and, with a few others, he was organizing this Sunday afternoon, which was featuring 4 bands, MY Revenge, the Schizophonics, Tabitha and Alley Cats, bringing us on a trip in punk rock history from the mid 70s to the present. Actually there was a fifth band as Alice Bag stopped by to read two excerpts of her book ‘Violence Girl’ and performed two songs, an old Bag song and of course ‘Programmed’, her strong critique at the US education system. All the small kids were listening to her very attentively and Alice apologized in advance for the ‘bad’ words in her prose, ‘but it’s okay because it’s art!’ she joked.
The first band MY Revenge, was featuring Hector Penalosa from 70s punk rock band The Zeros and was at time channeling early rock ‘n’ roll, from Chuck Berry to Johnny Thunders, mixed with poppy harmonies. They were all about upbeat power pop-rock hooks, giant chorus harmonies and big rocking riffs in a cool classic rock tradition. Some of their songs had ‘wheels’ as they said, but they also slowed down for a few ones. In 1977, the Zeros were part of the same lineup than the Germs and the Weirdos at the Orpheum Theater, and that tells you how deep in LA punk history we were.
I have never seen something like The Schizophonics, saying they were a high-energy band sounds like an understatement, they were (and I am especially talking about their guitarist/frontman) totally unstoppable, entirely un-shoot-able, he was in constant move, jumping and doing the splits non stop, followed by some fast moon walking. This guy never seemed to touch the ground while the music was a sweaty madness of top-energy soul-rock fest under a fuzz psychedelia of guitars and some James Brown-like screams. It was fantastic and completely insane, the power trio rearranged the furniture around us many times, like a mad beast possessed by a demon of rock n roll. It was chaos and mayhem from start to finish and a lot of fun. They were on fire and the arms and legs of the frontman looked like semi-detachable objects not always following the rest of his body. The kids couldn’t contain their joy and all of them broke a sweat.
The next band Tabitha Brand was so new they didn’t even have a singer (I mean by that they are probably looking for one) and for now they were a power trio playing heavy hard rocking instrumentals. But none of the members was new to the game as sisters Mayuko and Tsuzumi (on guitar and bass) were in The Binges and Stephen Perkins on drums was in Jane’s Addiction. I hadn’t seen so much Japanese sonic power since a Shonen Knife’s show, although these girls were much heavier than the Osaka Ramones. It was blistering arena rock for school, and most of the kids sat quietly to listen to the band’s Mastodon riffs piling at the top of each other, although one of two tiny metal-heads headbanged through the whole thing. Martin Wong’s daughter sang a cover of the Dickies with the band, which shows that not all kids of her age are into Taylor Swift. Good for her!
The Alley Cats were described by X’s John Doe as having ‘made some of the toughest, most nihilistic music on the scene’, and this overlook LA legend closed the afternoon with a set driven by original member Randy Stodola. This legendary frontman looks like a real pirate these days, a pirate who has been through many battles but can still kneels down with his guitar, and who cares if their songs, such as ‘Nothing Means Nothing Anymore’, ‘Give Me a Little Pain’ or ‘It Only Hurts The First Time’, were appropriate for the precious little angels who were watching them.
The musical afternoon was also accompanied by raffles giving away nice gifts such as a copy of Violence Girl signed by Alice Bag or a Jane’s Addiction CD signed by Stephen Perkins,
Save Music in Chinatown is an important cause, and it’s fantastic that they always get great bands supporting the cause – The Adolescents, Chuck Dukowski Sextet, Mike Watt & The Missingmen even played one of their gigs. And this is probably the case because musicians understand that access to music is a very valuable thing, an essential way to express yourself. Music and arts education should never been neglected, and if our government is too stupid to understand that, these awesome people support the cause themselves, the punk way, the only way to do it.