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West On 46

It’s the Friday kicking off Labor Day weekend and time to abandon this clearly godforsaken SoCal desert. Yes, fellow and feline Angelinos, we are living in a desert. Deserts have dry brown hills, very little rain, and occasional thunderheads swelling in empty blue skies. This year we easily qualify.

By the way, a brand new geo survey shows that arctic ice is melting at rates not predicted by any computer modeling–oh, never mind. We’re loading up the Yukon at chez Waller, greedy to escape the already 100+ heat. Done. Let’s roll. Rob and Shawn in front, Paul L and wifey Victoria in the back, cashews and water at the ready. 5 north, familiar moment of mild panic through Burbank as traffic stops, but it clears up as it always does by the time we clear Sunland. Aptly named.

The movie reruns: 5 north, Grapevine, mysterious 5/99 split, TA truckstop, we resist its high fructose song, all in blurry heat, but what’s this? We cut west on Highway 46, for we are heading, for the first time in Hawks history, for Santa Cruz. We’re opening at the Catalyst for our friend from days of Taix gone by Lucinda Williams. Bless her heart.The 46 is straight as an arrow west through abandoned oil fields–no, a few rigs are slowly pumping up and down. Who owns this baking field, who profits from its slow siphoning of near spent and twice abandoned oil fields, who turns the big wrenches, who hooks up the hose, who drives the tanker, to what refinery in decline? Our fascination with infrastructure’s twilight is in full wax. Twisted steel, rusting pipes, bleached cracked asphalt, honky tonks not filled with cowboy oil riggers, schools not reverberating with eager youth in boots and Levis made in America, brand new 2 bedroom stucco 900 foot square homes not stretching the bounds of Bakersfield, wedding receptions not booked at the auditorium in Pumpkin Center.

West into the low hills. Here’s where James Dean died. Once lonely. Now it’s overstated, like most pop history, makeover of the gods, a giant sophisticated James Dean face making vigil at the big Y in the road. But ahead, if you will ignore civilization’s black lines, are twin hills converging at a lone oak, surely a power spot where James’s spirit spills his waters.Paso Robles (see the three California native Hawks for correct whitey Californio pronunciation) is reinventing itself as robust vineyard land. Three new winemakers spring up for every ranch that calls it quits. It’s still way over 100, sun creaking past zenith, as we rather deliriously search for a plaza Rob half remembers from a long ago journey. We cover most of Paso Robles, hmm, looks like some pretty nice vintage houses out here, nice neighborhoods, hmm, Shawn could set up his studio and record local bands, maybe get a talent night going at the brew pub. Hmm. Because L.A. is the new Mojave.

We find a 50’s retro burger palace. American Graffiti ruined the 1950’s forever, stripping them of their viciousness and righteous hatred, leaving only overexposed Richie Valens and Buddy Holly. Paul L orders a surprisingly good veggie burger, further perversion of that Great Decade, Victoria gets a poorly executed tuna melt, and Rob improvises an upbeat retro country two step about blowing his brains out. Back into the heat. We’ve stalled enough to make sure that an on time arrival in Santa Cruz will involve luck–our standard procedure.

101 north, resume a different rerun, yes hills, yes fields, yes giant artichoke, yes convoluted conversion to Highway 1, yes farmworkers, yes shockingly big PG&E power plant at Moss Landing. And yes, cool, cool relief. Roll down the windows. It’s cool. Cool. For the first time in weeks, we are truly cool. We barely care that traffic is at a dead stop. We crawl forward. Are we missing soundcheck?No. Our wanton professionalism prevails once again, traffic moves, a few wrong turns into downtown Santa Cruz and we’re fifteen minutes early at the Catalyst. Two huge tour buses idle at the Catalyst back door. Wow. Lucinda’s a big deal. The internet implies it, but this confirms it. Dave Sutton, long time buddy and virtuoso bassist and nice guy, with Lucinda for 6 months, greets us.

The soundmeisters run us through a quick sound check in the cavernous room, Catalyst pizza and Pacifico, relatives on the guest list, compose 45 minute set list, vocals in the green green room, greet relatives, the time flies, it’s time.The Catalyst is packed with old hippies and scholarly crazies and lonely Lucinda listeners who know her heart breaks just for them, a few sleek youth, a few people that could pass for Southern Californians. We wade through the crowd, and it’s big. The murmuring is loud. We haven’t played for this many people since last summer.

And we want more, please. For a big crowd gives you energy. You can’t help noticing that little old you is bigger than life. Your music is very loud in a big space, and the crowd, in this case, is very loud when it roars. Whoa. Four songs to harness the energy, four songs to rock steady, two songs to peak out and exit. We end with Humboldt. It’s still our big song, despite somewhat conscious attempts to write a new big song, and it works its magic as we stretch it to maximum extension. We almost get an encore, it’s close, and we are pleased. This crowd has no idea who we are, as does not KPIG, much to our sorrow, but now the crowd knows, and they tug at our sleeves with compliments, friendly gauntlet to Green Room. Wow.

Lucinda brings her own sound system, and she and the band sound like a record, crystal clear, pristine, balanced. (Indeed, they tape the show and sell freshly burned CDs of that same show at the end of most nights.) Longtime guitar right hand man on stage left Doug Pettibone, superbass Dave, and Butch Norton on the massive clear drums like giant codeine bottles lay down a huge sound, and it is codeine at first, slow laments, then suddenly they’re rocking. The crowd gets their big money’s worth, long rocking encores, and Santa Cruz ambles off into the night, specimens under the bright lights by our merchandise table as we observe and chat with several specimens gazing at us sunbaked southerly specimens. Our mailing list fills, our CDs are liberated from the table, everything is just all right. In the cool cool midnight a new generation of kinda crazed Santa Cruz nightlife makes amorphous moves and tentative patterns, loud and raucous and completely mysterious to we the baked. To the vehicles! To the desert! An unknown mass destiny awaits.