The Kids Are All Right

The Kids of Widney High
Chain Reaction
Friday, May 12

We have to say straight-up that the Kids of Widney High are critic-proof. They're students enrolled in a songwriting class at Widney, a special-ed school for developmentally disabled kids in the Adams District of Los Angeles. Which means that to pick out every shortcoming, to make note of every out-of-tune vocal or oddly timed body movement made onstage would be like making fun of the retarded, and seeing that our lovable older brother Ted is autistic, we're just not gonna do it. See?

We would've easily been able to overlook their faults anyway (it's not like you can compare the Kids to Lit or anything) because the Kids are so damn charming and sweet. Touched, to be sure, but in that wondrous way that Daniel Johnston and Wesley Willis are, which is why when they holler out such beaten-to-death clichs as "ARE YOU READY TO ROCK AND ROLL?" and "HELLO ANAHEIM!" and "ARE YOU READY TO PARTY?" and when one of the kids does the horns-of-Satan gesture with his fingers, you can't not smile or gleefully holler right back. That the six kids (who all sang, backed up by five musicians) were all wearing WIDNEY HIGH SCHOOL KODIAKS T-shirts—which they were selling at their merch stand!—only made them more endearing. Their songs are the sort of innocent tunes you probably tried to write in grade school after first hearing the Beatles. Sample line from "Look out Your Window," which is on their new Let's Get Busy CD: "Look out your window/And what do you see?/I see looooove!" Or this, from the song "Pretty Girls": "I see pretty girls everywhere I go/Everywhere I go/Everywhere I go/At the beach!/At the mall!/On the bus!/Gimme a yeah!/Another yeah!/Once more!" The music is '50s-'60s pop, mostly, which fits them because the genre still sounds untainted. But on Friday, the Kids revealed their ability to branch out into other styles—there was a solid blues bent to a song about "workin' all day long, now we're going home/Hallelujah!/We're going home," and even a dark, vaguely Goth/punk coloring to "Insects" ("You better watch out or the insects will get you!"), which first appeared on their 1989 Rounder Records debut, Special Music From Special Kids. An angry environmentalist vibe spewed forth on "Throw Away the Trash" ("Throw away, throw away, throw away the trash!/C'mon everybody and throw away the trash!"). But what the Kids ultimately want is a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T, which is what they covered in a rewritten version near the end of their set: "Don't ignore me/When you walk by/I'm not that different/And that's no lie. . . Please don't tease me/Or talk like dirt/You don't know/How much it hurts. . . . You stop and stare/And that's not cool/I have feelings/Just like you/All we're asking/Is for a little respect!" Ultimately, the Kids of Widney High rocked—we can pay them no higher a compliment.

Jay Buchanan
The Lava Lounge
Saturday, May 13

First the band Square, then Jay Buchanan—what's up with all the hot buzz acts all of a sudden? Singer/songwriter Buchanan warned us that his live show would be better than his CD, and he's right: on plastic, his otherworldly high, quavering voice (otherworldly because Buchanan has this uncanny ability to somehow keep it in-tune) comes off a bit too perfect. Onstage, though, he and his three-man backing band smolder, and Buchanan's noticeably toughed-up pipes recalled a rougher combo of Buckleys both Tim and Jeff. His quieter songs demand a lot from the audience—i.e., he wants you to quit yer yakking and listen to him pour his heart out onstage for you. When you give him your attention, he'll reward you with honest, passionate songs about real things, like our fave on this night, "God Bless the American Son," which has ornery lines like "Teach 'em all how to hold a gun!/Think your God is the only one!" Buchanan is great, the buzz deserved. We'd interview him, too, if Commie Girl hadn't beaten us to it.

IT CRAWLED FROM THE MAIL BIN THE CAMPGROUND EFFECT (10-SONG FULL-LENGTH CD) Lots of feelings going on here, which means you could call it emo, though the band probably wouldn't want you to. Their art is best epitomized on "Tananger," which begins as a sad, ethereal slab o' beauty (slow guitar notes, dirge-like drumbeats, an odd effect that sounds like crickets chirping) before erupting into an electric wall of pissed singing and general despondence. Tempos pick up, then the whole thing simmers down again, settling into a controlled grace that winds up where it began six minutes earlier. It's a lovely piece, something that tells you they're at least ambitious enough to avoid the trap of blurting random noise. Not that blurting random noise isn't okay every now and then, though.

Info: (714) 962-5922;;

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