Nightranger: Where There's Smoke 

Thursday, Aug 5 2010

"Dub" is "bud" spelled backward. There was lots of time to think up dumb, stoner anagrams like this and munchie out and toke (duh!) for those waiting to get into the Dub Club's 10th anniversary last Wednesday at the Echoplex. It was possibly the longest line ever for the popular Echo Park reggae night. The club's jamlike procession of vocalists from the dub, reggae and dance hall didn't disappoint those who did either, nor did the club's DJ/promoters Tom Chasteen, Boss Harmony and Roy Corduroy aka Jason Mason (singer for twang heroes Whisky Biscuit and DJ at other area dance spots including Tuesday's Thriftcoteque at The Short Stop and Punky Reggae at La Cita with the Part Time Punksposse).

General Trees and Tippa Lee offered mesmerizing rhythmic flows, but the star of the evening was definitely the soulful Sister Nancy, who worked the crowd with chatter ("Deese tunes are older den most of you," she teased) and slayed the room with her signature emotive singing/scatting style. The dance-hall diva, who's also known as one of the first female DJs of the genre, didn't get on the decks, but she did dance a lot, and her performance was a ferocious fire by the time she got to the hit (a Dub Club favorite) "Bam Bam," which turned interactive, as the crowd shouted out its bombastic chorus at the top of their (smoke-weary?) lungs.

After her set, different irie figures (Carlton Livingston, Sister Carol, Junior Cat) took turns on the mic, each as hypnotic and powerful as the one before. The energy level wasn't quite what it was only an hour earlier, but that's often how it goes here. After 10 years, Dub Club still shines bright, but by nature, there will always be a point in the evening when things slowly start to burn out.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY LINA LECARO - Wham, "Bam Bam," thank you, ma'am: Sister Nancy at Dub Club

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The Echo
and the Echoplex put Echo Park (we won't use the other "E" word for fear of being rebuked by The "Eastside" Police) on the musical map, and, no doubt, the adjacent venues are at least part of the reason so many music makers reside there these days. But one thing the musician hub/hood has lacked is a proper guitar shop — until now.

The Fretted Frog, which opened last Friday on Alvarado Boulevard, is looking to fill a void in the area for both merchandise and small-scale live music. The new shop, opened by Frenchie transplant Roland Belloir, offers a spot to pop in for busted strings, get repairs and customization (for electric axes too) and peruse beautifully handcrafted acoustic guitars, mandolins, banjos and ukeleles. Perhaps most exciting for the newly nicknamed "Frog Block" (which also includes stylista Micki Curtis' groovy vintage clothes emporium Lemon Frog Shop, The Downbeat Café and the Machine Projects art space) is the corner stage near the shop windows, which will showcase live acoustic music on a regular basis, plus open-mic nights and instrument clinics.

Friday, the inaugural house show featured the melodies of Haroula Rose, whose sweet and simple songs were as delicate as her name might imply yet had the depth to keep the entire room (even the many dogs and children there!) captivated. Walter Spencer, who took the stage with a bunch of acoustic players, brought a bigger bounce to the opening bash. The former punk bassist (who has played with the Water Tower Bucket Boys and Pat Smear, among others over the years) makes twang-tastic party music, and cuts like "Have A Good Time" and "Let's Dance" had the friendly and fashionably casual crowd doing both.

Still, there's one Spencer song that lathers like no other: "Dr. Bonner's Magic Soap," which he wrote about the unfortunate predicament in which pal Don Bolles (The Germs, 45 Grave, Celebrity Skin) found himself three years ago (he was put in jail after the soap — which he kept in his car — came up positive for GHB, and released after further tests found nothing). Even without the now-mythic local backstory, it's a sprite little ditty, and it ha one of the most memorable choruses ever: "It makes my baaaaallls tingle, but it don't get me high!"

Adding to the tune's relevance Friday, it happened to be Mr. Bolles' birthday. The drummer/Club Ding-a-Ling (aka Kitten Sparkles) DJ wasn't on hand for a serenade, unfortunately, but he did showcase his new project, Fancy Space People, a couple nights later down the street at the Echo, for Sunday's Part Time Punks. We hear it was out of this world.

Ding-a-ling still rings at Hyperion Tavern, a little bar that, we're glad to say, continues to thrive minus the hype — or even a decent drink selection. Another less-than-glam grotto Grand Star in Chinatown twinkles on as well, even on weeknights, as we saw for ourselves last Thursday during the dance club Love Life, featuring DJs Dorian (Solid Gold, Transistor) and Clifton (Funky Sole, Sonic, Underground). What's more fun than bopping to Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam on a tiny light-up dance floor amid drunk couples and pop-lockers? Not much. Here's hoping they bring back their "I Heart '80s" theme again soon.

Both of the above hovels are in our book, Los Angeles' Best Dive Bars (which we invite you to see us read from at Book Soup, on Sunday, August 15!), but we're sad to report that another favorite drinking hole we featured, the 70-year-old Ye Coach & Horses doesn't seem to be as lucky. The beloved bar was served an eviction notice by building owners Samuel French Books last month, and the buzz is that it will eventually be taken over by nightlife impresarios Sean MacPherson and Jared Meisler (Roger Room, Bar Lubitsch). We popped by C&H a couple nights before the closure to say good-bye with the regulars, and it was a bittersweet booze-fest to say the least. But there may be hope: The bar was to be shuttered on July 31, but staff and regulars have been doing their best to fight the closure. At press time, via their Facebook page, it looked as if they were still serving, deadline be damned. That's dive bar defiance for ya. We'll keep you posted on this one.

Reach the writer at llecaro@laweekly.com

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