Photo by Tenaya Hills'Tis a mighty depressing vision in downtown Fullerton these days, what with the good ol' Hub Caf all chainlink-fenced-up and abandoned-looking, and the Reagan Years arcade gone forever, with its vintage '80s games now merged with the decidedly less-fun ones from the current millennium in the space next door (but, praise Allah, at least they saved Burgertime). Yes, we know the Hub will be coming back in a vastly larger, full-scale-restaurant, alcohol-serving form this summer, and we know that the bands we love and loathe will be bouncing distortion waves off its walls once again, but still, halfway through the remodel—and at 10 o'clock at night—the Hub looks downright creepy and foreboding. Ghostly, even—like if you listen really, really hard, you could still hear the echoes of old Kevin Darish or King Kukulele songs.
We couldn't help thinking of the Hub—sitting all cold and lonely and unloved—as we indulged in a slew of bands at a brand-new venue, the Santa Fe Express Caf, situated on the other side of the parking lot from the Hub at the Fullerton Amtrak station (and, OC music historians take note, just across the tracks from the old Ice House—yeah, the fan-stabbed-at-the-'94-Vandals-show Ice House—which is now a freaking Calvary Chapel!). The Santa Fe Caf is very Hub-esque, with its free all-ages shows, its makeshift outdoor patio bandstand and indoor coffee bar (added bonus: they have Turkish smoking pipes, a.k.a. "fuckin' killer bongs"), but the locale, just 30 feet away from the passing trains, breeds intrigue: watch elderly, shopping-bag-toting tourists form flummoxed looks as they're welcomed to Fullerton by savage, expletive-barking punk rock bands! Be entertained as cranky lead singers try to outscream shrill train whistles! Witness the bloody carnage as mosh pits spin out of control and into the pathway of a 200-ton San Diego-bound Pacific Surfliner!
The music, at least on this night, was hit-and-miss, starting with a band called the Politicians, who specialized in poppy, catchy, '70s-punk-inflected two-minute tunes loaded with gnarled guitars and head-bobbing choruses. They weren't bad, either, especially after their singer sharpened what had been an overreaching, bad-'80s-metal voice on the first few tunes into a smoother Buzzcocksian/Joe-Strummer-on-the-first-Clash-album one. Plus, they had a colorful fan base, like the septuagenarian who got up and wiggled in front of the band, lost in his own personal pogo ("Watch your hip!" their singer kindly warned).
Even better were LA's Bobot Adrenaline, with their brainy, soaring punk tunes that touched on such political matters as war, war and war—more specifically, at least on "Radio Tikrit," the one tune they bothered to intro, about covert, CIA-run stations that broadcast American propaganda to the Iraqis, an excellent, kick-in-the-sack number with a great, "Guns of Brixton"-like shuffle. The opinions expressed, though, fell mostly on a throng of disinterested ears. Perhaps there was something slightly more lethargy-inducing than straight tobacco in those Turkish pipes?
Tumbling deep into the abyss of the ordinary were Aggro Tommy, a Long Beach fivesome who played a most undistinctive, by-numbers brand of punk rock. Dull and bland, with absolutely nothing to offer that would make them stand out from a zillion other bands propagating this tired terrain (the faux-leopard-skin coat and the bangs-tumbling-into-the-eyes thing the lead singer fashioned didn't do zip for them either), and when the singer opened her mouth, out came pretty much the same high-pitched oogaluh-oogaluh that spawned a planet of similar Exene imitators. Just as we were starting to nod off—about halfway through the third song, we think—an Amtrak whizzed past the station, creating a breeze far fresher than Aggro Tommy could ever hope to sonically achieve, and the train-track clatter was more in tune than they were, too.
The final band we saw—endured, actually—were called Allotic, who were flat-out awful, as if their lame, dreadfully clinical name hadn't already tipped us off. There's "punk," there's "rock," and then there are bands who boldly forge musical genres all their own—so look for Allotic in the "music that sounds like orangutans in heat" section of your favorite record shop.
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