What Goes On

Winter Music Issue

FIRE ISLAND 2, LONG BEACH.

Some Mad Max-looking goon is singing "Fight for Your Right to Party" like Marilyn Manson. "He lives for karaoke," someone says; he has a little boom box onstage to record himself. No one seems to be having half as much fun as him—he's dancing alone like a street-corner lunatic in leather pants to the songs others pick, which is especially odd after the bartender (the lovely Miss Krista Dawn, on loan from Alex's) explains he's only drinking tomato juice. Later, sans mesh muscle shirt, he takes some liberties with a Clash song, singing, "Should I stay or should I fuck you? And come all over your face!"

Ikey Owens of The Mars Volta and
Free Moral Agents knocks back
some Bloody Marys at the Prospector
in Long Beach and lets the camera
do all the work. "This is the best
photo shoot I've ever had!" he says.

CHAIN REACTION, ANAHEIM.

"We really want everyone to dance," Braun says. "So we are going to take a quick break from song because now is the time, in the Great Glass Elevator show, where we dance." A female photographer snaps two flashes in Braun's face as he begins to wiggle to a video-game symphony of blurps and beeps. It's a full minute of sexual herky-jerkyings and uninhibited shaking. Each band member is giving it all at the expense of their dignified masculinity; it looks like a German dance club, only more frightening. Mason is breathing heavily, droplets of sweat puffing around his mouth as he exhales. He slings his guitar around his neck and returns his fingers to the wet wood. Braun wipes his brow, stretches his back and arms, reaches for the microphone, and repairs a look of confidence. He checks to see if his hair is still in place.

THE GLASS HOUSE, POMONA.

The multicolored lights above the stage just faded to black, but Rilo Kiley's set isn't supposed to end yet. Even in this darkness, front woman Jenny Lewis' silken voice doesn't waver. Their song emerges from the shadows, with Lewis' dim silhouette calmly looking left to right, and after a few moments, the lights reveal themselves again. "Shit, that was a close one," Lewis says. "It's hard to play guitar in the dark." But it's just a tease, and the red and blue lights extinguish themselves once more. Off in a back corner, the fans come to the rescue, extending their arms into the air and flicking on lighters, hoping their puny flames will reach the stage. People waving lighters at concerts? These preteen emo kids probably don't even recall when lighters used to flash at concerts. They've been replaced by cell ph—yup, right on cue. The lighters in the back ignite a wave of other pinpoints: cell phones and digital cameras. "Maybe you could come onstage and point that light at my keyboard," Lewis suggests to someone in the front.

FITZGERALD'S, HUNTINGTON BEACH.

Punkers slinking between pool tables and video golf—OC in microcosm. Saturday night's all right for sneering, as Mike from the Stitches does his best Rotten mic clutch and Johnny sneers his best Vicious sneer. Johnny's guitar starts cutting out. "We'll give you the second verse sometime next year," Mike says. Johnny starts it again anyway, with Mike quipping, "Take two," just in time to hit his vocal cue.

J. KING NEPTUNE'S, SUNSET BEACH.

The George Fryer Combo steps down from the stage, and it's like stepping into a whirlpool, the crowd swallowing the musicians. Hands reach out to slap them on the back; a woman buys Fryer a Red Bull-and-Aguas; others stuff fivers into their hands in exchange for CDs. Alcohol. Laughter. Good cheer and something resembling a warm glow of indeterminate genesis, like a scene from one of those happy-holiday bits in A Christmas Carol. The onlookers are like men and women hauled back from the cusp of death, as if music were a spiritual defibrillator, yet—miracle of miracles—this revivifying music is produced by guys who happen to be their neighbors. In this moment, they are rock stars yet still theirs.

BREAK DOWN

BJ'S CAFÉ BISTRO, LONG BEACH.

They clapped, though quietly, for Vooduo, which is maybe what you do in front of a living history lesson, Max says later. "We're not really a psychobilly band, but they seem to like it," he says, packing up his Silvertone, abandoned halfway through with a broken string. That's the other thing he does: break strings. "Even in the psychobilly scene, it's better that we stay more garage," he says, and then it's outside for a smoke. The string can wait until tomorrow.

KOZMO'S, HUNTINGTON BEACH.

There was—surprise—something in the air of the parking lot, and one fortysomething was complaining about spam clogging up his server to his buddy between tokes. Times have indeed changed for the Deadheads. Without a leader, they have no ability to recruit, and as a result, the spirited dancing that was once a staple at Dead shows has suffered greatly. Cubensis do a good-enough imitation so it can't be all their fault. Folks flocked to the stage like cowpokes at the chow bell when the tribute band hit their first note. Problem is those people dance like the undead. Nothing was shaking on Shakedown Street, and if anyone ever needed a miracle, it was these people. "I was never much of a Grateful Dead fan," says Greg the doorman, "but these guys are good musicians, and they draw a good crowd every week."

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