Brand New Karn!

Jud Karn/Tragic Johnson/John Wilkes Kissing Booth/Sri
Linda's Doll Hut
Friday, Oct.

While it's true that we've been mega, megaBruce Springsteen fans since wayback before Born in the USA (an era when seemingly every flag-waving, Rambo-worshiping smegmahead hopped aboard ourfandom train), we absolutely refuseto write anything in detail about the four LA Bruce shows we caught last week. We think far too much gets scrawled about the guy already (most of it wretched, if well-meaning), and we don't wish to contribute to the blather—but we'll just make these brief points:

We thought it quite groovy that one of the tunes Bruce picked to blast on the before-show tape each night was Social Distortion's "99 to Life"—he's a big Mike Ness fan.

And our insatiable appetite for primo-quality rock of the kind we witnessed at the Staples Center led us to Linda's on Friday: if Bruce had just happenedto be in OC on his night off, we think he would've wanted to hang out at the Doll Hut. For we were on a Bruce-inspired quest. We wanted music with heart.With soul.With passion.With a brain(though we'd settle for half a brain). With cold beer at a reasonable price, even though we rarely imbibe—and Linda's was where we felt we could find it all.

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Though Sri (pronounced "shree," as in "Sri Lanka") weren't nearly meaty enough to placate us by themselves, this four-person band were a nice, cranked-up buncha kids, full of sweet, ringing guitar licks (must've been the Richenbackers) and a gnarly power-pop swagger amidst their frequent crunching. Good cruising-around music, circa 1982 or so. Nice save, too, because their singer looked like a Britney Spears clone.

Better were Arizona's John Wilkes Kissing Booth, who began with a slow, sad, mournfully beautiful tune that could only have been about death but somehow felt like . . . life. They were a tad too schizo, though—we loved their organ-drenched, ethereal songs about artillery, matadors and Ohio, and their cute, low-budget lighting and tape effects. But then they'd destroy our idealizations of them when their otherwise powerful, passionate lead crooner would tell bad between-song jokes about boners. His droll audience patter ("We got a mailing list, but we're not gonna send you anything. And you can get our album nowhere") also left us unmoved, rattled off with a snarkiness that made us think the band hasn't begun to realize its potential, of which it has tons. Still, they were very lovely indeed.

So—mostly—were Tragic Johnson, named after either the ex-Laker or someone's deformed genitalia, we don't know. Their singer seemed kinda curmudgeonly, and their songs about girls named Karen and being so damn tired ain't gonna alter the rock-lyric astral plane any, but we liked their eardrum-rupturing volume, which felt bluesy in parts and Replacements-ish in others. "Mary Goes Round" was our favorite tune, a wicked little rock & roll number that sounded like the instantly lovable radio hit it could be (unless, of course, it was actually a cover song and we were too stupid to know any better). Our least-fave song followed right after, a thing called "Damage" that sounded too much like that irritating Creed song that's all over the dial now. A question: Did their guitar player really need each and every one of those 13 or so effects pedals?

And then . . . it came! The "music with a heart/soul/passion" thing, in the form of Jud Karn, a new band (or side project, we're not sure yet) from Chris Karn of the late, great Sonichrome, one of our favorite major-label OC bands that shoulda been huge, if only they hadn't broken up earlier this year on account of those pesky "creative differences."

While we'll surely pay attention to whatever Chris does in the future, Jud Karn, serious or not, was slamming—one of the best, swellest local club gigs we've seen in weeks (that Smile drummer Scott Reeder was in the band may have been a contributing factor). They're a souped-up power trio who spent their set exploding near-lethal pop bombs, sending our sorry, bulbous asses nearly flying through the fragile Doll Hut walls. We especially enjoyed singing along on a zippy run-through of the Sonichrome semi-hit "Honey, Please," which you may have heard last year on the radio, a precious jewel adrift in a sea of aural swill.

This was apparently the first time the three have ever played together (though you wouldn't have guessed it), and Chris quipped that it was basically a practice session. Allbands should have practices this intense. People, we hereby command you to stalk Chris Karn, and pester him to play 'round here more often.

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