By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Spunt’s devotion was instant: “The first time I went there I thought, ‘I want to be here every day!’ And until about a year and a half ago, I was.”
Randall and Spunt joined the ring of people around Smith who are involved in keeping the place open. A turning point came in 2002, after the Great White club-fire tragedy in Providence, when, like many venues around the country, The Smell was closed by the fire marshal, and remained so for six months while it was brought up to code. During that time, Spunt moved all the shows that had already been booked to a squat in Hollywood where he was living. Almost every night for six months, there was a four-band bill in his living room, and almost every day he’d be down at The Smell, putting on new doors, building and painting, along with Smith, Randall and the rest of the regulars.
“Anthony Berryman from Sodamm Insane came down to the video store where I worked and said, ‘Look, bros, you have to be there. Jim can’t do this alone. You guys are going to get the keys, and you need to be there. I don’t want to hear that you are flaking on shows you booked or not showing up.’ That was 2003. That was when we had to step up. I had to learn how to do sound, how to put the mics up there and run the soundboard, every night,” Randall remembers. “Jim would try to pay me, and I would avoid him — he’d try to slip a twenty in your pocket somehow.”
“And then we did the same thing to Mika Miko,” Spunt says, “because Wives were going on tour for four months. We told them they had to step up, but they were there every day and playing twice a week anyway.”
In the years since The Smell’s rebirth, the venue’s stakeholders have gone from being just a few trusted bands and regulars to the scene at large. The door was thrown open for everyone to get involved, and it wasn’t simply an issue of good intentions; No Age began to tour frequently (often with Smith in tow), as did Mika Miko, Abe Vigoda and longtime Smell booker/comrade Brian Miller. Smith made a What Would Jim Do book, and a few sets of keys were entrusted to volunteers. The Smell transitioned from the hands of a few to any and all willing hands.
Backstage after No Age’s show in London in late October, a post-teen girl has been waiting, impatiently, for 30 minutes since Spunt and Randall got offstage, to interview them for her Web site. They are soggy and winded from their set and trying to get it together to walk across the street to play a second, “secret” show for 120 die-hards at a 90-capacity sushi bar. Despite the fact that the girl is openly resentful and has a list of 40 terrible questions, they indulge her. With smiles. They are unwaveringly polite. It is the California way to never offend anyone, but their gentleness, removed from the context of The Smell’s downtown alley, becomes immediately recognizable as the spirit of Jim Smith. After 10 minutes, they have to go. They invite her along — she carries the cymbal stands.
At the packed sushi joint, kids are blowing up balloons, Smell-scenester Vice Cooler is deejaying R. Kelly too loud. The band heads backstage — a stairwell to the roof — where I watch them learn The Misfits’ classic “Where Eagles Dare.” Someone had dialed up the guitar-tab on their iPhone, learned it and proofed it against the collective memory of friends and magazine editors in the stairwell. Five minutes later, Spunt and Randall open their set with it, and seething, swarming, ebullient fans scream along: “I AIN’T NO GODDAMN SON OF A BITCH! YOU BETTER THINK ABOUT IT BAY-BAY!” The floor begins to flex scarily under the bouncing people, so, at the behest of Randall, everyone sits down so as not to fall into the basement below, an instruction that sparks a pig-pile pit, people lying on each other, singing along and writhing. At the club show they played just an hour before, for 1,200 composed Londoners, they were great — a truly fun band. But to see them play a party at this too-small spot, heavy with die-hards and drunks clamoring for requests, is to see No Age at their incandescent miracle-band best. It is then that you get that they are so much more than a band, they are deliverance — they are everything everyone says they are — everything we’ve wished and waited for in punk.
Since its inception 30-odd years ago, punk has had a spotty history of living up to its best intentions, which is, in essence, its charm. Periodically, there have been bands — most notably Crass, Fugazi, Bad Brains, The Ex, Bikini Kill — or labels (K, Dischord) or scenes that sprang up from all of the spitting, drunken nihilism with a radicalized notion that inspires a paradigm shift. It is a matter of inspiration — and great records or live shows are necessary to back it up, to wrap people up in the big idea — the pugnacious do-it-yourself dogma is transmogrified into something urbane and empowering. It’s a rare sort of once-or-twice-a-decade thing, this adjustment, where a band shows us we can be more than fans, and that this can be about something other than entertainment, getting wasted or getting laid, and that community can come true. It is an alchemical shift, where music becomes exactly what you believed it was when your heart was 15 and pure, and all the hope and time you’ve given it pays out. The Smell is home to one of these coalescent moments, No Age its symbol.