Esther Wong stood in the upstairs office of her Santa Monica club Friday night, thumbing through a ragged receipts book and reminiscing about the hundreds of bands that have played for her over the last 10 years. She seemed like a school teacher going through old yearbooks.
"Look, here's Oingo Boingo," she said, pointing to a 1979 receipt for $1,090. A few pages later, she stopped to explain why she had only paid the Naughty Sweeties $60: "They had a $300 bar tab." Other pages had receipts for such other key Los Angeles bands as the Motels, Plimsouls and the Knack.
"I can't believe it," Wong, 70, sighed. "Time flies so fast."
But Wong turned the clock back over the weekend with a three-night 10th anniversary celebration featuring some of the groups that have played either her Santa Monica club (Madame Wong's West) or, more notably, the original Chinatown club (Madame Wong's).
The original club was a local landmark, a center of the heady rock scene that developed here in the aftermath of a 1976 punk explosion that fostered the proposition that anybody could be in a band--as long as you could find a place to play. Esther and George Wong were among the first to open their doors to these musicians. The Chinatown club adopted a rock music policy in 1978 (the 10-year anniversary is a bit premature).
As the audience waited Friday for the music to begin, it was like a class reunion where ex-football heroes and cheerleaders-turned accountants and homemakers talked about their glory days.
"No, (the music scene) is not as good as it used to be," insisted Marty Black, who 10 years ago managed a couple of local bands, but now, at 40, works as an analyst for a computer firm.
His companion, Diana Binczek, a 27-year-old legal secretary, agreed: "We used to go see the Naughty Sweeties every (weekend) for two years ! I haven't even gone to a concert in two years now."
Many of the musicians, too, seemed like former Big Men and Women on Campus who were now just average workaday Joes and Janes.
"Martha (Davis) is the only one here who has a record deal," said David Swanson of the Pop, which had an album on Arista in 1980, but broke up in 1981 as the L.A. New Wave scene crumbled. Now 37, Swanson is an architectural illustrator. Naughty Sweeties leader Ian Jack is now a 35-year-old regional manager for a savings and loan.
But some of the old glory resurfaced as soon as the acts took the stage. The Pop offered a rousing half hour of classic-styled power-pop with near punk intensity and the latest edition of Skin--fronted by former Code Blue singer-guitarist Dean Chamberlain--combined the atmospheric strains of Roxy Music with Code Blue's original Who-meets-Hendrix intensity. The group was joined by Chamberlain's former Motels'-mate Martha Davis for an encore of Ben E. King's "Stand By Me."
Closing Friday's bill was the Naughty Sweeties, playing together for the first time in more than five years, but sounding as tight as ever. Among other acts scheduled over the weekend: the Kingbees; Sumner, the Nu-Kats; ex-Animotion singer Astrid Plane's new band, Plane English; and Doug Feiger with other members of the Knack.
Before going on stage, the Pop's David Swanson reflected on the old days: "There were good times and bad times, but I feel my life has been greatly enriched. I've got some great stories to tell my brother's kids--when they're old enough."