There’s something to be said for home field advantage.
It might be more or less irrelevant in sports, but it must exist in music. Rock history is littered with bands and venues rising together: The Beatles and the Cavern, the Doors and the Whisky, Talking Heads and CBGB – I could go on. It’s tempting to think those days are over; after all, Live Nation runs most of the clubs now, and they don’t give a damn about helping your garage band grow up. Still, if you think it can’t happen again, you’re ignoring Los Angeles post-punkers No Age and downtown L.A.’s the Smell.
In this city, we have a warped sense of rock perspective; the other day, I read something that described the 1,000-capacity El Rey Theater, with its 100-foot high roof, two bars and balcony, as “intimate.” It wasn’t that much of a surprise, really; there aren’t a whole lot of truly intimate venues here. (I’m not counting coffee shops, bars, and other glorified eateries.) L.A. is, rather, legendary for its big theaters. What’s more, it also has a huge and insatiable audience for indie rock, so maybe we don’t really need to go to tiny downtown warehouses, but the Smell is there anyway. [Continue reading…]
The former Mexican restaurant, run by a fiercely hip squadron of volunteers, hosts bands that most venues wouldn’t bother with: novice hardcore, post-hardcore, punk and post-punk bands are its bread and butter, and their draws often number in the dozens. The lighting is bad, the sound system is puny, and the acoustics are nightmarish. Most of the bands that play there – let’s not romanticize it – suck. But there’s a real DIY spirit at the Smell that other places just don’t have. If legitimately punky authenticity is what you crave, it’s waiting for you downtown.
When I got to the Smell on Sunday to see No Age, three black-hoodied girls with dyed hair were working the door . One of them pointed humorlessly at the sign that proclaimed “$8,” as if to silently tell me, “You don’t belong here you fucking yuppie, and your misstep is going to cost you.” I remember when I was this protective of my home turf – the since poshed-up Koo’s Cafe, then in Santa Ana, now in Long Beach – so it didn’t bother me, though it was weird to be on the other end of the exchange. Another girl wrapped one of those damned sticky wristbands around my arm and caught a few strands of my arm hair. I tried to tug the hair out of it and blurted, “Aw, goddammit,” laughing. The one who took my money told me to “Calm the fuck down, you’ll be alright.” I guess I wasn’t welcome, but that’s the price for authenticity. (Last time I went to the Smell, for a Ris Paul Ric show attended by some 25 people, they seemed much happier to have me.)
When No Age took the stage – the third of five bands on the night’s line-up – the Smell was living up to its name in body odor; the place was humid and packed. (Maybe 200 people were in the performance space, with another 100 or so waiting hopefully in the dark alley outside.) The post-punk duo took their time to set up their gear on the small, low stage. No roadies, no techs, no waiting-in-the-backstage-lounge bullshit – just a band that wasn’t too big to plug in its own stuff. When their mics went live, drummer/vocalist Dean Spunt said plainly, “It’s fucking awesome to be at the Smell.”
This was without the slightest hint of Hello Cleveland! posturing; No Age and the venue have a history together. Besides playing their first show there, the venue’s unused 2nd & Main St. facade adorns the cover of their singles collection/full-length debut, Weirdo Rippers. And, having just wrapped up a tour, the show was No Age’s homecoming. The band/venue combo even won a rave from clueless New Yorker Sasha Frere-Jones.
No Age blasted spiritedly through almost all of their recorded post-Burma post-punk tunes, and between each, Spunt or guitarist Randy Randall would take a turn saying, “This is fucking awesome,” or “This is the best show ever,” or “It’s so great to be back at the Smell,” or “Thanks to all of our friends for being here.” In reciprocity, the crowd moshed earnestly during the payoff at the end of each song, giving itself over to Spunt’s brutal snare shots and Randall’s octave-doubled riffs. As the set progressed, it became clear that the duo lovingly and willingly identifies itself with the Smell, a place populated by an adoring crowd they knew personally.
The set’s musical highlight was “Everybody’s Down,” perhaps No Age’s signature anthem. To mirror the title, a half-smiling Randall walked strumming into the crowd, leaned over, and lay down, as Spunt declared the opening lyrics from the edge of the stage. Then the guitarist resurrected himself, hopped back on stage, and climbed to the top of his amplifier. Having gone from the tiny venue’s lowest point to its highest, he timed a leap with the song’s climax. In a theater, the gesture would’ve been capital-d Douchebaggery; at the Smell, it was flat-out heroic.
But most remarkable was No Age’s non-musical highlight. After the band told the rapt crowd that the next song would be their last, a wasted hipster (whom I’d observed non-consensually groping numerous female show-goers throughout the evening) bellowed, “Bo-ring!” Spunt’s ears perked up and he asked, “Who said that?” An incensed crowd pointed fingers at the heckler, and someone stole his hat; he was too wasted to notice. The drummer briefly taunted him, then conceded, “I’m kidding, man, it’s just that you have a silly haircut. I hope you have a good night.” But, noticing the heckler’s continued belligerence, Randall said with all the seriousness of the girl at the door, “Get that guy out of here. Get him out of here.”
At a Live Nation venue, this would cue the 350-pound, shaved-head security guards to defenestrate the obnoxious man, but the Smell has no such crew – just its audience, bands, and volunteers. So instead, the crowd took turns shoving the loser towards the door. The night’s riot-grrrl headliners (and Smell regulars) Mika Miko gave him his final push onto the deserted streets of downtown L.A.
That’s home field advantage.
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