Girls Gone Wild

Punker Shane West meets his fan base

In retrospect, it's difficult to say who had the better view: the two dozen teenaged girls gathered in front of the stage, screaming and snapping cell phone pictures of the chiseled, sweaty movie star; or Shane West, the jaded-looking, sweaty punker singing onstage, his lyrics overwhelmed by a chorus of ear-piercing shrieks and cell phone flashes. Having replaced his teen-magazine-selling, aw-shucks grin with a devil-may-care snarl and a mouthful of beer, West climbed onstage at Hogue Barmichael's on July 29 with his guitar—and new image—at the ready. His hair parted and shellacked into an unfortunate array of four-inch-high Liberty spikes, he looked exactly what he was: a former teen-dream star gone badass. Well, sorta.

It's easy to look badass at Hogue Barmichael's, or at least it was that night, when every 15- to 20-year-old armed with a bottle of bleach and a flat iron within a 30-mile radius showed up, paid eight bucks at the door and pretended to be 21 for the night. Oh, they weren't drinking, mind you—Hogue's would never allow that—but it was a far cry from the all-ages shows at Chain Reaction and, you know, the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards. All-ages show or not, West was still playing in a bar, where more than a few folks—himself included—were on their way to legally sloshed. For the very youngest in the crowd, like Kaleigh, a slender, awkwardly shy 15-year-old we chatted with, it must have been thrilling. And terrifying.

As we expected, Kaleigh acknowledged she was there to see West's pop/punk outfit, Jonny Was. Had she heard his music before? Not quite. "But he's really hot," she said, smiling in unison with her two even-more-shy friends. "Really hot!" they echoed. Kaleigh had also never heard of the Germs, the late-'70s LA punk band whose lead singer, Darby Crash, West played in a now-shelved biopic, What We Do is Secret. But as for his hair? "I think it's cool," she replied, adding that while she doesn't think it looks good on other guys, "he's hot with it." Of course.

So West at least had these 15-year-olds on his side, although they might have glimpsed more of the heartthrob than they wanted once they joined him on the smoking patio. There, West was pleasantly exchanging second-hand exhales with fans and signing autographs. One busty gal even had her chest signed. (Another had "I'm a vagina!" scrawled on her arm—no word on who wrote it.) It's always a little strange when the barrier between celebrities and us regular folks is removed; even more so for those for whom the barrier contains so much: daydreams, magazine clippings, wide-eyed awe. For these girls and the other girls like them present that night, it must have been overwhelming.

Still, when Jonny Was took the stage, the fans followed, cell phones and digital cameras at the ready. And West? He wasn't half-bad. But then again, it's easy to look like a rock star once you've played one on TV—or the screen, as it was in his case. Plowing through a set list of familiar-sounding—think New Found Glory and the like—punk lite numbers (including one improvised Poison cover when technical difficulties arose), the band wasn't much different from the previous acts. Except that whereas the floor had been packed with wristbands and beer cups for bands like October Vacancy, it dwindled down to awkward, orthodontia-ed girls with giant black X's on their hands—the mark of a non-legal—for Jonny Was.

It was a mostly tame set, too—surprising, considering how hard West was trying to look like a badass (the other guys in his band sported the normal jeans, T-shirt and hat fare). Smiling for the cameras and signing an autograph for a fan who had to leave early, he was the perfect showman. In response, the crowd appeared to enjoy the set, even if they were snapping pictures more than bouncing and dancing.

But it can't be easy knowing the primary reason people come to your gigs is that you once starred in A Walk to Remember alongside Mandy Moore, and toward the end, West's own awkwardness began to show. "Fuck summer school!" he joked, encouraging the summer-school-aged crowd to stay through the next bands' sets. It was jarring, especially considering the night and its music had been relatively G-rated. Righting himself, he looked away and then laughed, sadly, as if at his own private joke. Turning back to the crowd, he mumbled, "I'm going to hell."

EGRILEY@OCWEEKLY.COM

 
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