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Henry Rollins: The Essence of Punk Rock

[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.]

See also: Henry Rollins: Decoding Vladimir Putin

Several nights ago, I went to the Echo to see La Sera and The Julie Ruin. I had been looking forward to this show for a while.

La Sera is Katy Goodman, who used to play bass in Vivian Girls and who has made two albums, La Sera and Sees the Light. Both are excellent.

The Julie Ruin features Kathleen Hanna and Kathi Wilcox, both of Bikini Kill. As you might know, after Bikini Kill broke up, Kathleen released a lot of records with her band, Le Tigre, and Kathi made records with Casual Dots, The Frumpies and a momentary trio called Pigeons with Guy Picciotto of Rites of Spring and Fugazi and Bridget Cross of Unrest, Air Miami, Maybe It's Reno and Panax.

That is a lot of discography coming at you, I know, but these are prolific artists and not always easy to keep up with.

Before the show, I had heard only one song by The Julie Ruin, "Oh Come On." I liked it immediately. I have always liked Kathleen's voice. She wakes you right up! I still listen to Bikini Kill records. They are very explosive, and the songs seem to discover themselves as they play, which is fresh and exciting. It's not an easy band to put on your radio show because of Kathleen's liberal use of words that the FCC finds objectionable.

There is a lot to say about what Bikini Kill and other "riot grrrl" bands were able to achieve when they first set out. They were not some momentary, convulsive, creative spasm of independent music. There was a very real, relevant point of view being expressed. Feminism, the fact, force and need for it, was doled out, unapologetically, at high volume to a generation of young people. The music was often fun, but this was absolutely no joke. I would like to think the message stuck.

I don't think I am overselling this. I bet the members of Pussy Riot are very well aware of Bikini Kill and riot grrrls. This music, these liberating, defiant voices, are what punk rock is all about.

My evening started out with me screwing up monumentally. I orbited the venue for quite a while, looking for parking. By the time I got into the Echo, The Julie Ruin were due to go on in less than half an hour. No La Sera for me.

Once inside, I found a dark spot in which to lurk and take in the audience. There were a lot of girls and same-sex couples, arms around each other. This made me very happy.

While I have no empirical evidence to back this up, I bet that the number of homosexual people per thousand has not fluctuated all that much over the centuries. I do not believe the dented wisdom my father used to extol, that homosexuality was a sure sign of a civilization in decline. I think it would be an extremely heavy lift to be gay in, say, Oklahoma in the 1950s. Where to go? How to get by? I can't imagine having to suppress yourself to that degree. So the sight of young, gay people being themselves in 2013 is inspiring. There can be no looking back.

Music is such a great vehicle for galvanizing and bringing sanity to the proceedings; again, one of the great aspects of punk rock.

A few people stopped to talk to me, which was nice. I feel like such a visitor at shows. I speak an ancient, weathered language and am lodged in the memories of these people's parents, yet they are cool to me.

It occurred to me that I was surrounded by what millions of dim-witted, information-deprived Americans see as society's scourge! Thankfully, these mopes are an ever-diminishing demographic. All my chips, and I mean all of 'em, are on these young people.

 

Amazing that in such a "free" country, we still struggle with such curb-sized impediments to going forward. As a young person, I never considered how much there was to be done, what was at stake, and that there were always at least two ways to go: problem or solution. It was people like Joe Strummer and Johnny Rotten who took me out of idle and put me into gear. Maybe for some at this show, Kathleen Hanna was one of those fire starters.

At 22:24 hrs. The Julie Ruin, Kathi on bass, Kathleen on vocals, Kenny Mellman on keyboard, Sara Landeau on guitar and Fredo Ortiz, expertly filling in for an absent Carmine Covelli on drums, hit the stage.

Such a great band! Pop music with a punch. Innovative and interesting use of the parts. Lots of backing vocals. Sarah dialed in some great sounds and played with cool smarts. Kenny's keyboard lines blended with Kathi's total badass, pulsing bass, the whole thing anchored by Fredo, who, in his first and only show with the band, sounded as if he had been with them from the beginning of the tour.

And then there's Kathleen, who really should be in front of a band. Beyond the fact that she can really sing, she has charisma to burn. Some of the best moments of the show were the between-song bits of expository chat. She is not only incredibly insightful, she is effortlessly and naturally funny. She turns an audience into allies. That is very punk rock.

The set flew by. It was such a blast. Soon, I was outside waiting for my car and wondering how I was going to deal with work the next morning.

Going to local shows (always worth it, sleep be damned) reminds me that L.A. is full of really good people. The Julie Ruin have cool fans. This was time well spent.

Much to the chagrin of the onward-to-the-past set, and much to my great joy, many of these people and millions more like them, all over America, will be voting in 2014 and 2016 and, as time goes on, changing things. People get ready.

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