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Men's Fall Fashion Issue

Stage Presence

If You Want to Make It as a Band in L.A., First You've Got to Dress the Part and Brave the Scene

September 08, 2002|GEOFF BOUCHER

If you can make it in New York clubs, you can make it anywhere. But if you can make it in Los Angeles clubs, you can make it everywhere, which explains why the garage bands that aspire to grow up and become rock stars brave the sometimes treacherous local scene. Southern California is the epicenter of the music industry, and that means even tiny clubs here have a searing spotlight as well as the frostiest audiences this side of the Iditarod. Now only will the crowds not dance, they mutter into their cell phones during the high notes and leave during the third song.

Still, if you want to hear what will be on MTV in six months, if you want to see the next fashion in pop and rock, this is the town to find it. Or to be it. From the Eagles and the Doors, through Van Halen and Guns N' Roses to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Linkin Park, the clubs here were the early proving ground for scores of superstar acts. The talent levels on any local stage can vary wildly night to night--sometimes even hour to hour--and the next performer could be the new Van Morrison or, well, the latest Vanilla Ice. Watch what the performers wear, too; be it homemade, secondhand or fresh from the catwalk, the would-be stars on the Sunset Strip know that here, of all places, your wardrobe has to be ready for your close-up.

''The Hollywood myth about someone in the audience that's going to make you famous, you know, the producer with the cigar and all? Well, here in L.A. it's true.'' The man talking is Adam Levine, lead singer of Maroon5, one of the more promising bands in Los Angeles clubs. The group is on the cusp of success, with a slot on a national tour featuring Sheryl Crow, Train and Ziggy Marley, and they are fairly certain they won't run into crowds as chilled as those at the Whisky, where the group first played in 1995, when its members were students at the Brentwood School.

''L.A. and New York are the most cutthroat places to build a following,'' Levine says, wiping stage sweat from his brow. The singer and his bandmates have just finished a rollicking, sold-out performance at the Troubadour, where women in the audience literally cried. But Levine is having a hard time exorcising the ghosts of L.A. gigs gone bad. ''What makes it hard is this is where everybody goes to be in a band. If you're the hometown hero of, whatever, Wyoming, it's different. I mean, I'm sure that's difficult there, too, it's difficult to build a following anywhere. But when you're here in L.A. and there's seven bands on every bill and you have these legendary clubs like the Roxy, the Whisky and the Troubador. Well, you better be good. Damn good.''

There are a lot of damn good bands in L.A., but most of them burn out, fade away or simply sell their gear at a pawnshop and surrender all future ovations for a ''real'' job. In fact, for the members of the three bands profiled in this story, the hardest part for most of them was getting time off from their day jobs for a weekday fashion shoot. Be you a lawyer or pizza delivery guy, you have to serve somebody. ''This is the type of shirt I'm going to wear when I can afford it,'' one of the young rocker models muses during the fashion shoot.

Fashion shoots, making music videos, prowling the red carpet at awards shows--those things are not a part of everyday life for the talented quintet Damone. Maybe someday, but for now their nights offstage are more likely to find them hanging out in the small house in Burbank that is their unofficial headquarters. It's Friday night and their attentions are focused on green-bottle beer and banter about the careers of Neil Young, Rage Against the Machine and Brian Wilson (all of whom, coincidentally, found their paths to glory in Southern California). Dave Boyle plays guitar and sometimes frets about the peculiar brand of fan he sees when they play locally. The group has traveled to gigs in San Francisco and as far east as Pittsburgh, but they've found the most jaundiced eyes on their home turf.

''Everybody in this town is in a band. Or manages a band. Or does sound for a band," Boyle says. "And when you get up there to play, unless you're in just a pure dive, you find a lot of cynical faces in the audience.

''The crowds here are just different. But, you know, to do well here means a lot. The respect of our peers is a badge. And when you're outside 'the machine' that means a lot.''

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