What Goes On

Winter Music Issue


Quasi bangs drums onstage as the kids in the audience stand motionless. Outside, a homeless-looking girl peeks in through the window, tapping her foot, cupping her dirty hands between her eyes and the glass.


The guy who sold this writer the PJ Harvey B-sides CD just the other day gets up onstage to play guitar with the only guy who's ever worn an argyle sweater at Alex's, along with the rest of Greater California. Ikey Owens from the Mars Volta and Free Moral Agents explains how great he thinks the new Greater California album is, and they are quite good, though a bit on the quiet side—you could hardly hear their harmonizing over the chatty crowd. "They're putting everyone to sleep, and no one is drinking," says the bartender.

Annie Hardy of Giant Drag
grew up in San Clemente, but
right now she's in Hollywood,
and she's about ten minutes
from being politely-for now
asked to leave.


The solo singer—C-Los, he calls himself—sits with an acoustic guitar on a stage covered in painted flames, perhaps a hell all his own. It's just his voice, some strings and his songs. He's squeezing his vocal chords to sound strained, but he's not really selling it right. The isolation so often underlined by live music is exemplified by the solo acoustic performance; it hangs in the air even after C-Los leaves the stage. Maybe it wasn't him—maybe it's still going to see music when all your office-rat friends are too tired or too busy with grown-up bullshit, so you go by yourself. Or maybe it's going with a mob of friends and not being able to communicate over the amp clatter or the uhn-tss of the club sound system. But music is as easily the divider as the uniter. And maybe it's the isolation the performer is hating or maybe reveling in, disconnected from the voices out in the dark, amusing themselves with chestnuts like "Play some Skynyrd!" But whatever—it's dripping off the walls as the next act takes forever to set up.


The saxophonist in the Evan Stone Quintetlooks like he's dressed for a luau, and you can't blame him. As he finishes a smooth, even inspired solo, the yuppie scum comprising a good half of the audience are yapping away, drowning out his band. Still, there are pockets of true believers. Like the circle of five old white-haired guys at the corner of the bar closest to the band—with greedy, hungry grins, they must have seen some shit in their days. One righteous fossil even plays air piano on the bar. The spryest of the lot is mouthing most of the words, just drinking in the singer's clear, smooth voice. Business dicks talking aerospace can't ruin this guy's night.


The George Fryer Combo warms up with a few surf instrumentals, then knocks off the Beatles, Tom Petty and The Band. By the second set, the crowd has swelled, the tiny area in front of the stage is packed, and the band is beyond warmed-up: they're smoking. Dave Felde (bass player from Swingin' Tikis) and Wolfie Scheffler (drummer from Tub) settle into a deep pocket. McCracken (wickedly nicknamed by the band's eponymous dictator, actual name: Phil Vandermost, from Greenwich Meantime) and Fryer open up guitar duels that ought to be legendary, this time tearing up and trading off on War's "Spill the Wine." The band breaks out a couple of uptempo numbers from their CDs Decaf and Melodica; women dance, men stand like shepherds around a manger. The set climaxes during a blistering extended version of Van Morrrison's "Wild Night"; McCracken is like Eric Clapton on meth; men swoon. Fryer launches into his solo like Laird Hamilton cutting into a wave. They are living their slogan: "Four geezers playing for their lives." Fryer shoots Dave a quick glance (it's almost telepathic; they've played endless gigs in this band and their duo). And then they hit the final chorus, kill the song and retreat to the bar.

Johnny Witmer of The Stitches
makes it look easy when he's
holding a guitar - but getting
ready for his DJ night at
Fitzgerald's in Huntington
Beach is a little more difficult.


A 20-year-old fashion student from Downey pulls into the parking lot at Cero's, which he's seen before. At the door, he removes $5 from his Paul Frank wallet and heads for the nearest wall, where he stands eyeing a group of similar-looking 20-year-olds—Rainbow Blanket—setting up onstage. Five drums, two masks and a guitar is all they've got with them, but when they start—on a whim, it seems—the room feels as though it's gonna cave in. They're banshees on PCP, anger mixed with parents-gone-for-the-weekend elation, and the fashion student moves to the front of the stage, where a small group has gathered in front of the drummer. The drummer hands him a stick, and the poor guy looks terrified—until he glances at the girl next to him, returns her eager smile and pounds the shit out of the drum for six straight minutes before quitting, huffing, spent and—apparently—relieved.

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