As the bass player for the Movies, an indie rock band out of Silver Lake, I thought I had played just about every hole in the wall in Los Angeles with every no-name performer in town.
So it came as a surprise when, having been asked to seek out the best unknown musical acts and venues in the area, I found a seemingly endless assortment of places and faces that I never knew existed.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday February 05, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Music in L.A. -- In today's West magazine article on the best unknown musical acts in L.A., one of the websites given for Christina Vierra should have been www.mamapearlmusic.com.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 09, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Busdriver show -- An article in Sunday's West magazine on the best unknown musical acts in L.A. listed the date for a show by rapper Busdriver at the El Rey as Feb. 16. It is Feb. 17.
Some of the musicians and scenes I stumbled upon may break through one day. Most won't. They've long been obscure to nearly all but their most hard-core fans. That's just fine; fame is often fleeting anyway.
But greatness is not. So next weekend, when the spotlight on the Grammys has dimmed, head to one of these haunts or track down these artists--the cream of what I discovered during my search for backwater bars and below-the-radar bands--and listen for yourself. Then you'll hear a remarkable sound: music made for music's sake.
The Cowboy Palace Saloon
The Chatsworth air smelled of damp leaves and a cool breeze blew as I pulled into a dingy strip mall and parked in front of a coin-op laundry with fake wood paneling.
Bordered by Bully's Billiards, a strip club and a liquor store, the Cowboy Palace Saloon calls itself "the last real Honky Tonk," and it's true to its word.
Pushing through swinging Old West-style doors, I emerged at the edge of a large wood dance floor. A five-piece country band, Debra Lee & Trigger Happy, was tearing it up onstage. "Here's something you can two-step to," said the feisty Lee, as a middle-aged woman in a pink blouse swished past me, arm in arm with an old man in a bolo tie. I sidled up to the bar and ordered a Bloody Mary. The Asian cowboy beside me played a harmonica softly to himself, and a man in Wrangler jeans and a 10-gallon hat strummed air-guitar on his pool cue.
For the next couple of hours, I sat back and listened to some of the most enjoyable lap steel-driven melodies I had heard in a long time, including old favorites by Patsy Cline. When I finally got up to go, a little man with the biggest mustache and the saddest eyes in the world asked me to dance. "Sorry," I said. "I'm on my way out." Then I turned and pushed my way into the sweet night air, still whistling "Dixie."
The Vitals: 21635 Devonshire St., Chatsworth; (818) 341-0166; www.cowboypalace.com. No cover, full bar, free barbecue on Sunday and free dance lessons nightly. Highly recommended: a Bloody Mary made by Irene. Performances to catch: Terry Hanson & the Westerners, Gary Hill, Chad Watson and the Wednesday night talent contest.
On a Thursday night at Echo Park's club du jour, the Echo, I came across an articulate, rapid-fire underground rapper named Busdriver. With a powerfully resonant voice and lyrics that speak to a world beyond bling, he, well, transported me.
As he performed--I looked over your rap, and saw several grammatical errors on my first proof read, that's why my catalog is what your merch booth needs--Busdriver stalked across the stage with the mic cord thrown around his neck. Something in his delivery reminded me of Public Enemy's Chuck D, but Busdriver has a fresh, direct style all his own.
The air hung heavy with sweat and the smell of pot mingling with bubblegum. A quick glance at the packed crowd revealed a remarkably diverse audience: white kids with dreadlocks, black kids in baseball caps, a girl in a veil and a group of Latinos grooving to the infectious beat. As the bespectacled Busdriver explained to me later, this motley crew made perfect sense: Underground rap is about acceptance.
In grade school, he formed a group called 4/29, named for the start date of the 1992 L.A. riots. "We were two black kids and a Korean kid," said Busdriver, who now is 28. "We thought we were so positive, bridging the gap." But ultimately, he said, underground rap is just another avenue in the sprawling grid that is hip-hop. "If you're black and grow up in a black neighborhood, rapping is essential," Busdriver explained. "In essence, it's the last folk music."
The Vitals: www.busdriversite.com. Busdriver's albums can be found on his website and at independent music stores. See him Feb. 16 at the El Rey with Aceyalone and Rjd2, 10 p.m.
Nestled in an unassuming brick building covered with lush green vines not far from Los Angeles City College, Il Corral is an iconoclast's oasis.
"Noise is the new punk rock," its no-frills website proudly proclaims. Inside, I quickly learned that this was no mere slogan: Youths with spiked hair and gaudy accessories writhed in unison to the musical stylings of a charmingly atonal three-piece rock band called the Pencils.
A climbing rope, affixed to the ceiling, swung in the mob's center, while off to one side a DJ booth was propped on a plywood board and sawhorses. Several tattered couches of thrift-store lineage lined the walls and continued into the cluttered back room. There, the occasional reveler rested his head, perhaps for the night.