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Southland Implosions

7 Mar

I was back in SoCal for a week this month – first time in two and a half years! While there, I spent some time cruisin’ freeways and highways and byways through those geographies known as the South Bay, San Pedro, & Long Beach. While at it, I got to wondering: has anything musically meaningful gushed outta these once-hallowed grounds since the 80’s?

In the intervening years, I’d come to believe them areas to be, in the words of Mr. David Tibet, “DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD!” Oh sure, I too heard all about bands with names like PENNYWISE, F.Y.P, and SUBLIME. But somehow, those yahoos just did not equate with meaning in my jaded mind. And I do not think I was the only local harboring such beliefs.

But as I’m still jetlagged, I’m feeling gracious. What follows is an attempt to reevaluate three turn-of-the-century comps that give an indication of what these three areas – each of which, at various points, I’ve called home – stood for when my wife & I up and jumped ship to the UK 3 years ago. Me, I didn’t give this stuff so much as a nod (much less a wink) at the time, but, in the spirit of fair play, I’ve come to back to really listen.

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bayafter.jpgThe Bay After (Raw Power Records, 1999) – The concept is obvious: 19 “nu skool” South Bay punker acts take on 21 “O.G.” South Bay hardcore tunes. And the results? Well, they depress the everlovin’ shit out of me. To think that at one time such inspired – nay, genius! – HC punk rock like BLACK FLAG, THE DESCENDENTS, RED CROSS, CIRCLE JERKS, hell even THE NIP DRIVERS once ripped forth from these zip codes still puts a big, shit-eating grin on my face. That UTTER CRAP like this would eventually follow, well, that’s one for the mystery books.

Hot tip: don’t ever go and do a straight cover of a BLACK FLAG or DESCENDENTS song with a clueless drummer in tow – you’re begging me to turn your music off. And that’s like a full third of this disc. Those bands who set their sights on less-ambitious groups like THE CIRCLE JERKS, NIP DRIVERS, RED CROSS and WASTED YOUTH [ed. note: since when were them West LAers a South Bay band?] at least have a fighting chance. The original stuff relied on rage/aggression as much as anything musical; kids of any generation oughta be able to replicate that. Outta this lot, WAR CALLED PEACE takes the cake – but wait, they feature singer Roby Rogers, who was an allumni of an actual early 80’s South Bay HC band, CON 800. So again, the old guys win. Only Mikey Theodore’s FISHSTICKS do anything fun with the material – but here, it’s with unreleased demos you probably never heard by the aforementioned CON 800, so you won’t be able to tell anyway. Watt does bob up playing old MINUTEMEN tunes with something called AGROKULTURE, but it feels like a vain attempt to legitimize things: too little, too late.

Can something this bad be blamed entirely on bogue concept? Does it speak more to the way many of these once-diverse, vibrant beach towns have been gentrified beyond all recognition? Maybe, just maybe, commodification of subculture leads invariably to SHIT.

triskaidekaphobia.gifTriskaidekaphobia (S.A.D. Cassettes/Recess Records, 2001) – I can’t say this is my favorite, but it is the most interesting of the lot, as the San Pedro terrain this maps has always been the most ornery and uncompromising of the these three areas. This collection sounds & feels homegrown/homebrewed, which gets my thumbs up from the get-go. And this documents crosscurrents that not only the punkers, but the metallers, experimentalists, and the aging ganja-rockers (yeah that’s you, Watt) will get a kick out of. Bill Bowman’s VIDA-sideproject, THE FARMERS (imagine that! A VIDA sideproject!) sounds tight, as does the overblown leslie organ that newcomers THE LEECHES base their garage madness around. The ubiquitous Watt sounds powerful doing a STOOGES cover with a trio called WE GO SPEEDRO, the F.Y.P guy sounds less annoying in his TOYS THAT KILL – and Pettibon did an eerily compelling cover. Craig Ibarra, who publishes The Rise and Fall of the Harbor Area fanzine, curated this with real affection. Gotta love that folks other than me were still groovin’ on a post-SST wavelength at this late date.

various_lbr_longbeachblvd.jpgLong Beach Blvd. (Skunk Records, 1999) – I lived in Long Beach in the late 90’s/early 2000s, and avoided all LBC tattooed white-guy dub action like it was Anthony Kiedis’ stillborn child. And this collection, not-so-subtly referencing the Beach Blvd comp. on Posh Boy from ’80, sprang from that fetid womb. But this comp’s ok, really it is! That’s probably cause Mudd (drummer of the original FALLING IDOLS) put this together. It starts really strong, with the reformed SECRET HATE doing songs found nowhere else. And those sound as eccentrically rockin’ as they did on their great Pop Cult Vomit CD from around this same time.

Somebody smart went and did a cover of a CREWD song, but I gotta admit the more rote-sounding stuff in the middle loses me. And just when I thought it was over . . . in swooped THE PIVOT FOOTS. These guys’ wry, lounge-punk stylings got me hooked and laughing but good. Could totally imagine them being a hoot and a half live someplace like Alex’s on Anaheim after a couple of those nuclear gin martinis they specialize in there. Yeah maybe I shoulda gone out more back then. If this comp. had only included the equally absurdist VANDALS-do-hotrod-music of DEL NOAH AND THE MT. ARARAT FINKS, I’d say it’d be a winner fr sure. As it is, seek out the individual CDs by SECRET HATE and THE PIVOT FOOTS, pretend you just ditched a nasty speed habit at Redgate Rehab facility out near Terminal Island, and get ready to live Long Beach Allday, everyday.

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Now I must admit, that really wasn’t too hard on my ears. Just don’t ask me to reevaluate Nu Orange County punker nonsense any time soon. I ain’t got the stamina.