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Moguls: Where Offbeat Reigns

The nightclub combines high-camp concepts and adventurous bookings.

June 18, 1998|HEIDI SIEGMUND CUDA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A week from tonight, a pivotal band originating from Hollywood's underground music circuit in the mid-'80s is scheduled to play an unannounced set at Moguls, a key club in the current Hollywood scene. As per underground regulations, however, most will hear about the show after the fact--not because the artsy warehouse-sized venue wouldn't like to broadcast its coup, but because space is limited, so those who go gotta be in the know.

The event is part of a benefit to raise money for a stage play titled "Waiting for Iggy," an effort written in tribute to Iggy Pop. All the evening's performers will be pulling tunes solely from the legendary Stooge's catalog.

Such an unusual effort is typical for Moguls, which has been fighting an uphill battle--one that it's finally winning--to continue offering such offbeat musical adventures. After losing one round with the city, when Mayor Richard Riordan vetoed the club's petition for a dance permit, Moguls prevailed in round two. The veto was overturned three weeks ago by the Los Angeles City Council, and the spacious club is now zoned for dancing.

And not a moment too soon. Moguls is the Hollywood home of such high-camp concepts as "Johnnie Legend's Incredibly Strange Rock & Roll Wrestling," a monthly show sponsored by Tigermask promotions, where masked wrestlers pummel each other in a sendup of Mexican lucha libre ("free wrestling"). Fans go nutty, throwing tortillas and wieners at the performers, who ham it up like some insane version of the World Wrestling Federation.

All this is occurring in a makeshift fighting ring, in between performances by psychobilly bands, whose fans lap up the wrestlers' antics.

At Dionysus Records' third annual, weekend-long Demolition Derby in May, Johnny Legend's goony squad was on hand, as well as dozens of garage, surf, rockabilly, psychobilly and space-age bands, and Moguls was transformed into a retro-futuristic playhouse. Adding the proper theatrical touch to the surreal event (which was hampered by some technical difficulties during a rousing set by the Crusaders) were the members of the Cacophony Society, who trundled around Moguls in spacesuits, sipping cocktails. The performance art troupe, which featured 100 ragtag Santas in its Christmas show at the club, returned last weekend with cabbage-eating sculptures fueled by air compressors.

In other words, Moguls offers a sound link between L.A.'s arty, absurd and aurally strange denizens. The fact that the large, two-room space looks as much like an art gallery as a Lower East Side nightclub is part of what makes the combination go together like a hand in a thrift-shop glove. There's no other place in L.A. that offers a wedge of pizza with a drink order, which can be enjoyed while watching Japan's favorite export, Guitar Wolf. (The band returns to Moguls on July 2.)

And if there's too much howling going on for your taste, you can always retreat to the screening room, which is located directly behind the stage and is a veritable theater of the absurd in and of itself. Whether an oversized Elvis is prancing about in too-tight trunks in "Blue Hawaii" or Jimmy Page is offering variations in the fine art of guitar noodling, the films selected reflect the philosophy of the laid-back club: There's no scene too strange for a club with a heart of art.

BE THERE

Moguls, 1650 N. Schrader Ave., Hollywood, (213) 465-7449. 18 and over, cover varies.

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