Guerrilla poets Henry Rollins and Lydia Lunch brought down the curtain on the Lhasa Club Saturday night, providing an appropriately loud, loony and literary conclusion to the small room's tenure as a key platform for Los Angeles' more esoteric performers.
The Lhasa, located on a small, dark side street off Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, presented the usual rock bands in its six years, but also showcased performance artists, cabaret acts, comedians and poets. The Lhasa was the place where members of bands began doing solo acoustic shows teaming casually with other musicians. There was art hanging on the walls, and screenings of video and film in a back room.
Why did the Lhasa close?
"Just too much pressure," summarized the club's founder, Jean-Pierre Boccara, sitting on a couch in the Lhasa's lobby as ticket buyers filed in for Saturday's swan song. "I could have maybe tried to go on but the landlord doubled the rent, and that kills it."
Even without the rent raise, Boccara, 33, explained, the lack of liquor and dance licenses and the small, 100-person capacity made it impossible to continue.
"There's no future (here)," said Boccara, who moved to Los Angeles from Paris as an aspiring film maker 7 1/2 years ago. "With no possibility of getting a lease or a liquor license, it's endless. It's just not worth it. I feel like I have much more talent than running this place without ever making money. It's not only for the money. It's also because without the money you can't get better. If we had money we could do much better things. . . ."
But the demise of the Lhasa may be temporary. Boccara is working on a deal for a new location, which he hopes to open in March. Along with the projected revival of the Ash Grove in the same month, the L.A. music-club scene could be in for a major reshaping.
While the new Lhasa would maintain the same eclectic mix, there would be one notable difference.
"It will be bigger and the rent is $10,000 there," said Boccara. "If that happens then we'll have to be a little more mainstream. That doesn't mean I'll have to have Top-40 music and things that are uninteresting artistically, but I'll have to get bigger acts."
It was four years ago at the Lhasa Club that Henry Rollins, the singer for L.A. punk band Black Flag, performed his first spoken-word show. Now Black Flag is long gone, and these days the readings are Rollins' main performing outlet.
On Saturday, he followed a brief reading by author Hubert Selby Jr. and a compelling, semi-chanted litany of abuse from New York punk terrorist Lydia Lunch. His self-infatuation sometimes let him ramble around without any discipline, but this Rollins would be a revelation to anyone who knows only the raging punk singer of years ago.
Part stand-up comic, part casual raconteur, part serious writer, the wiry, tattooed Rollins was downright engaging as he talked about sex, violence, bus rides, man-and-women, rock 'n' roll--the stuff of life, and the stuff of the Lhasa.
"It was a very free concept where everything could be possible," Boccara had said earlier of the club. "All forms would be possible. Whether it was modern dance or a punk band, that's fine, as long as it's entertaining and intelligent."