What Goes On

Winter Music Issue

SOUND CHECK

KOZMOS, HUNTINGTON BEACH.

A not-unattractive brunette in those horn-rimmed glasses that are now cool is chattering to a blocky sort of guy in a black dress T-shirt and pants, saying, "I really have to know somebody and find out what they're about and get to know them before I can have sex," and he takes that news standing up. Then the PA shuts off, and the band—three nondescript guys called Left Street Local—launches into a set of Helmet-esque ditties, and we can't hear anything except them. That's okay because Triple Frown, which is on next, will make them redundant. The couple walks away—actually, they sprint.

UGLY MUG CAFE, ORANGE.

The first woman was already apologizing for the screeching she might do during her songs. Middle-aged, wearing a jean skirt, sporting black bangs and smiling so nervously it seemed like she'd been near-fatally wounded in love, she sang "Me and Bobby McGee" the way everyone who ain't Janis Joplin sings it—with not a shred of the proper anguish. A song of her own about the bags being packed and how memories last forever was followed by a cover of that Jewel song about dreams lasting for so long. It was time to go when the people sitting on the couches filled in the words she forgot.

PRIVATE RESIDENCE, SANTA ANA.

The all-girl Muslim punk rock wedding band run through the Ramones and Crass songs they always do to warm up—"The KKK Took My Baby Away"and "I Ain't Thick It's Just a Trick" seem wedding-appropriate. All goes well, which is to say they play okay and tell the singer she has too pretty a voice. "Sing throatier," they tell her. "Not so pretty." They've asked her to screammore, to cough more, to somehow, you know, destroy her voice a little more. It could be the difference in them getting that elusive fourth gig.

GYPSY DEN, SANTA ANA.

It's open-mic night, and things are getting interesting. It's one acoustic-singer/songwriter blurafter another, with one guy howling into the mic about "sucking corporate cock." Then Corporate Cock Guy is replaced by a dude doing a painfully—oh, yes, painfully—earnest, irony-free take on Barry Manilow's "Can't Smile Without You," pretty much defiling the spirit of his Beatles and Bob Marley guitar stickers.

MEMPHIS, COSTA MESA.

Cymande and Greyboy songs bounce gently off the walls—and the bottles of imported beer—as the bar quickly fills up with midlevel-luxury-car owners. The two girlswho requested rap they could "dance to" quietly stare at each other, sipping on colorful drinks and wondering when DJ Cocoe will put on something that wasn't recorded on reel-to-reel.

SHOW TIME

BJ'S CAFÉ BISTRO, LONG BEACH.

Max and Heidilaunch into their traditional set opener, "World's Greatest Sinner." They are the Vooduo, a duo in the fine tradition of the Cramps' core, Flat Duo Jets or the White Stripes: front man Max—former Lords of Altamont drummer—singing and laying down licks on a vintage Jimmy Page-model Silvertone or a Danelectro reissue. Heidi pounds away on a snare-tom combo: animated enough that her bangs get plenty mussed on the lively ones—but still managing to look all bored and cool when her husband introduces each song. Tonight, it's BJ's Café Bistro in Long Beach, but it could be almost anywhere bands still play on the floor, in joints too small or old to have a stage. This place is ancient—the former Dick and Faye's Café Bistro—and the crowd is cool, like at any dive bar. The Vooduo smolders in all the right clothes: a motorcycle jacket/vest for Max, a café racer jacket for Heidi, and the requisite black Converse lowtops—now a psychobilly standard. The kids watching lean against the bar in the backroom—where you used to have to be 30 to get in—and let a guy who looks like William Randolph Hearst trundle around with pitchers of beer. They're all Bryan Gregory hair, pegged black jeans and black Cons; for the ladies, a Chanel knockoff jacket suffices—if it looks like someone has been buried in it. And it does.

KNITTING FACTORY, HOLLYWOOD.

A few hours and three-quarters of a pack of American Spirits after arriving in Hollywood, Fielding take the stage and launch into "The Giant," a song off their new demo. Buzzed from whatever beer he could bum for free, Poush shoots a smile through the spotlight at his girlfriend, who sits with a handful of their other friends in the balcony, and hopes this show will gain them a few new friends—or, you know, a record deal. That would be nice.

RANDOM BAR, COSTA MESA.

The DJ is already on his second scotch-and-soda when his friends walk through the door. The Chilton LP sits untouched in the bag, but only because he can't find the right time to play it between all the requests for The Smiths, Franz Ferdinand, The Ramones and Michael Jackson. Does he need a recharge? his friends ask. Sure, fine, yeah, whatever, so long as it's strong enough to make the two girls sitting in front of the DJ booth disappear. You know, the ones who keep talking about their great sex lives?—yes, he can hear you, and thanks for the update 'cause he'd been really worried, given last week's detailed recap and all. And expensive boob jobs?—oh, dear, you got ripped off! Why, just a few weeks go, he overheard two girls looking just like you talking about their boob jobs, and it was way cheaper! And what's that? You want to hear some Jay-Z, and you're slipping him a fiver to play it just for you? Hey, pal, better make that scotch a double.

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