We Hawks have perpetual wanderlust. If we don’t hit the road or the airways several times a year, we get antsy. Los Angeles, like New York, will turn you into a local, a denizen, an Angeleno or New Yorker. As we all know, New Yorkers are a bit warped, and in a distinct way. Or maybe shaped, or bruised. Angelenos, who were once tabulae rasae that never had much written on them, are now becoming regionally distinct. Los Angeles did indeed used to be laid back, like the Eagles would have you believe, but that (actually rather meanspirited) Iowa By The Sea atmosphere has vanished along with the smog alerts. Now the air is cleaner, but the pickins are leaner. The freeways are always clogged, even in the darkness of 5 a.m. The West Side is usually gridlocked. (Say, Westsiders–you’re hip, you’re fit, you’re eco conscious, you’re considering a whole house filter and you set your own hours. Why don’t you get out of your Lexus Hybrids and get on a bicycle for that trip to Huckleberry or Peets? Haven’t you about had it with the traffic?) The clash of cultures has made L.A. all of a sudden not dull, suddenly rich in culinary, streeet, and musical experiences. But the intensity is ratcheted way up. One must escape often or go mad.
Or go local. The L.A. basin is so huge, its development from the 1880s to now so explosive and ungoverned by anything resembling planning or vision, that it would take a lifetime to explore the weird and surprising nodes of culture embedded in a concrete plain of chains, tracts, and malls. While mini-oases do exist in the vast flats of L.A., it’s a good bet to seek elevation for the old, the strange, the unique, the slice of parallel universe that makes you forget where you are. The hills, with their crooked streets, harbor this strangeness. And the closer to downtown, the better the odds for the odd.
HM157, for example. There’s a good chance you’ll drive right by this bulky Victorian mansion on North Broadway in Lincoln Heights, for its fellow mansions are long gone. The Laundromat Familiar crowds its tree shaded flank, and a MacDonalds glows across the street. HM157 appears to be an urban commune, with an indeterminate hierarchy of hipsteressence, but they get the job done. This is a gem of a concert going experience. We arrive as an acoustic trio, Rob, Paul L, and Marc Doten on the big upright bass. Or an intended trio, for Paul’s last minute soldering of a pickup wire on his refurbished Takamine acoustic guitar has failed. So the telecaster prevails. Paul hates acoustic guitar pickups and everything about them–the tinny, clunky sound, the lack of control from working a microphone, the extra gear that must be lugged, the way the sensitive electronics expose his hamfisted picking technique. The aesthetic battle will be resumed on another night.
At eight p.m., scheduled time for the opening band, there’s nary a soul in sight. We explore the odd shaped little rooms the mansion has been carved into over generations, check out the big back yard with old plants and new art pieces, chat on the comfy old front porch with Weba and Mark, our longtime friends from EP, and Marc’s girlfriend Michelle, who has just finished a kid’s music album, and has her piano students play both hands in treble clef just to expand their fledgling musical minds. The soundman shows up. The two other bands, RT and the 44s and Run Down Hill, load their gear in. Both bands are dressed sharp in unified and calculatedly retro style. By contrast, we have our usual disheveled look with a token effort at ruralism. Stage clothes and presentation are definitely our weak suit. Hopefully our music and sparkling stage banter carry the evening, because we are and always have been indifferent to all other aspects of show.
Nine o’clock rolls around with no apparent move toward the stage by any musical entity. We volunteer to go on, since the flyer and its electronic facebook equivalent promise Hawks at 9 p.m. The other bands and Charon, who may in fact run HM157, are cool with it. Cool. This is the cool kind of cool, a casual cool that isn’t masking ambition or adherence to rules. It’s cool. Tonight we explore songs from our new CD, a training run for Marc, who is our main bass sub and will be our fellow adventurer in Ireland and England in July. The music feels ramshackle and poetic, like the contours of the Victorian parlor with shifting lights and new bohemian audience that is quite enthusiastic. This is good. We will be happy to return.
RT And The 44s have carefully put together a rough edged, Beefheart meets Johnny Cash sound, the lead singer testifying through a distorted old microphone, a strange indistinct low end thump emanating through a home made bass, washboard player and drummer alternately locked into and producing parallel versions of a groove. Strong stuff, like an Angola chain gang that’s been handed instruments. Gwendolyn and her posse show up, having missed our set because we went on on time. We all hang out. HM157 is as good a hang as you will find in this town.
Run Down Hill , hitting the stage in the wee hours, are the surprise and the delight of the evening. These guys are tall, all but one at least 6’5”, but they mostly sit down, the lead singer sitting on a cajon and playing it as he sings. This is truly mysterious music, unhurried, lush, impassioned in a subdued manner that can’t be plotted. Steel guitar, electric guitar, a kinda Doc Watson acoustic guitar, weave textures unique to the band. Beautiful songs. This is a band to keep an eye on.
The boho crowd and their good vibes hang to the end, no filtering out to race home catch TIVOed trivia on the wide screen at home. All are present in the misty night in Lincoln Heights, next to Laundromat Familiar.