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MUSIC | LOCAL ANGLE

Rock Central

Cobalt Cafe is the main launch point for bands from Valley and suburbia.

September 24, 1998|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Located between a couple of pizza places and a Harley-Davidson dealer, Cobalt Cafe is the low-rent center of the rock 'n' roll universe, and a successfully functioning minor league franchise for major league rock music.

If microscopic plankton can nourish giant whales, then the Cobalt nourishes the Valley rock scene by providing those bands no one has ever heard of with a place to play. And play. And play.

The Cobalt is open every night, with up to five bands offering live music five nights a week.

It's an all-ages joint, and thus they don't serve alcohol--just the usual assortment of juices and the million types of coffee--keeping the Idiot Quotient low.

The cause of all this racket is Dave Politi, who has run the Cobalt for eight years, five at the present location.

"I just want to support the local music scene," he said. "I grew up in the Valley. The idea of the Cobalt came from a friend who suggested I open a cool, little coffeehouse. The first location opened two days before the Gulf War started in 1991 and this place opened two days before the '94 earthquake."

From the outside, the place looks closed or even deserted. Must be the black curtains.

Inside the Cobalt, there's no mystery and no interior designer to pay, either. It's one big carpeted room with a stage on one end. The sparse furniture is totally '50s kitsch. There are many Formica dining-room tables with metal legs and matching chairs, like the ones the Cleavers and Nelsons used to gather 'round.

Lighting is provided by a bunch of cheesy thrift-store lamps, not to mention Christmas lights, which will be quite timely in just two more months.

There's a bunch of couches, one so long that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could stretch out on it.

And everywhere there's Politi running around doing something--or everything.

"It's a great schedule and a great lifestyle--you get to be your own boss. I do all the booking, the sound and the dishes, but sometimes the earplugs aren't big enough."

Besides some bizarre milk carton display, there's plenty of open wall space, with the exception of one wall--near the band room--with lots of album covers. The eclectic mix includes bands such as 24-7 Spyz, the Byrds, Iron Butterfly, Black Flag and Bobby Brown.

Inside the band room, the walls are covered with fliers and stickers from the many bands that have played the Cobalt.

"Bands always start here, then move up. Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake and Save Ferris have all played here," said Politi. "Over 85 bands played here last month. We cater to the outskirts. We get bands from Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, Agoura and Ventura."

So, what's the hot new sound this week? One hint: It's not ska. According to Politi, that's old news at the Cobalt.

"This place is always a little bit ahead of the trend. Ska was real big, but now it's hard-core and metal. Bands like Homemade and the Insurgents have a large following and any hard-core band can do really well here," he said.

"Bands that play here bring their own crowd. Sometimes, they'll bring their grandparents and all their friends. I just supply the place."

By booking so many bands for so many years, Politi has heard every excuse imaginable.

The dead grandmothers. The dog that ate the set list. The girlfriend in jail. The boyfriend in jail. All the broken car stories. "The most common excuse usually involves the drummer," he said.

"In fact, the band playing tonight (Rolling Thunder) lost their drummer, but they're playing anyway. The younger bands are actually more reliable because some of the older ones just don't care. They don't realize that this is a business. If a band cancels once, I usually give them one more chance, then, forget it."

BE THERE

Cobalt Cafe, 22047 Sherman Way, Canoga Park. Janet Robbins, Michael Chandler and Paul Adams are singer-songwriters tonight; Fire Sign, Red Things Die, Deceptions, Cabbage Nectar and Kionyascotsie play original rock Friday; Protocol, Fallout, Phlo and Milkweed play original rock Saturday; Area, Lost Identity and Food play original rock Sunday; Monday is Open Mike night; Tuesday is Poetry Night. 7 p.m. until midnight daily. Free to $6, all ages. (818) 248-3789.

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