Paperplanes Can Make Long Beach Feel Like Lubbock

Rhinestone Cowboys
Paperplanes can make Long Beach feel like Lubbock

Paperplanes put out a record last year, and at the first curl of pedal-steel by Cliff Kane you had to wonder—now where did this come from?

Rhinestone Republic sounded like Nashville in 1975 or Lubbock in 1979—the kind of record that comes out of the kinds of places in the documentary Heartworn Highways, where the walls are wood-paneled and the cars are peeling paint and where Townes Van Zandt can fall splatter-drunk into a big hole and still make a joke out of it, even though he’d play “Waitin’ Round to Die” just a minute later. But Johnny Cash played Long Beach, too, and Long Beach still has oil wells pumping just like West Texas. And Paperplanes first changed from singer/guitarist Micah Panzich’s home-tracked Guided By Voices-style project to a formidable live rock & roll band and then—after a curious eight-month hibernation that didn’t end until last January—emerged as real-deal true-blue “beer-here!” John Prine-Merle Haggard-Jerry Jeff Walker-Jimmy Dale Gilmore outlaws who couldn’t possibly pick a favorite barstool in the whole city of Long Beach even when directly asked.

They came out of that hibernation the way Lee Marvin steps proudly through the swinging saloon doors, and they delivered one of the strongest local albums of 2008—15 songs of what happens when kids raised on punk find out George Jones has just as much to say about their life as Joe Strummer. Panzich had that sort of high-register howl that John Fogerty had when he was young (or that David Lowery had when he wasn’t depressed), while bassist-turned-guitarist Pete Tavera had a battle-weary baritone like Guy Clark. Panzich would hit the bridge on “Don’t You Cry With the Rain” and shout breathless and ragged above his band—“And when the tower guards are standin’ with their guns/they’ll pull the trigger/don’t even try to run!”—and the guitars would whistle and spark like Clarence White and it’d pull something inside you up a little higher by sheer righteous conviction. Or Tavera would gather himself and take a breath that would quiet the entire room and sing—“’Cause I been drinkin’ quite a bit, and I bet you noticed I can’t quit . . .”—and it’d haul everybody into that hole Townes got stuck in, except there wasn’t going to be a joke this time. It was a fearless, honest record, and any flaws it had made it better, because they brought it alive in wilder ways.

Paperplanes caught themselves exactly as they really were. Even a year and some later, Rhinestone is just as ready to break a different part of your heart if you let your guard down. And that was just the start, it turns out. Dennis Wilson recorded all night every night until the night he dived into the ocean and never came up, and Panzich (whose sense of humor is happiest between black and bleak) laughs gently: “That’ll probably happen to us! We’ll probably record till we die!”

Rhinestone’s scheduled follow-up, Transamerican Lights—a Loaded-style rocker, at least by the scattered tracks ever released—has now been superseded by a brand-new full-length on its way to release and an expanded lineup, with new drummer John Husak taking over for Rob Harvick, plus new bassist Brad Coats—the only member of the band who grew up on country, and who is now trying to learn punk rock.

That’s the reverse of the rest of the band, says Tavera, but he still fits just fine. In fact, he’s just one barstool down from Panzich on a random night at Long Beach’s House of Hayden.

“It’s all pretty much rebel music,” says Coats now. “If you grew up on Sabbath and die with Merle Haggard on your iPod—or vice versa—it all means the same thing.”

“But what Merle Haggard song would it be?” asks Panzich.

“‘The Bottle Let Me Down,’” says Coats.

“Ah,” says Panzich. “The bottle DID let me down. I sure as hell don’t know anything about telling people how to live—just be honest, play good music and don’t fall asleep at the bar. Because you might not get invited back in.”

Paperplanes at the Pike Restaurant & Bar, 1836 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 437-4453; www.myspace.com/thepike. Fri., 10 p.m. Free. 21+.

 
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