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Holiday Smackdown, Y'all

Friday, 8:17 p.m.: “I’m totally checking out this woman’s hooters.” I’ve been sawing at a hunk of cheese at the Harmony Gallery on Franklin Avenue, but my companion is standing transfixed before a Kathleen Lolley painting. I glance up from the Gouda expecting some impressive cleavage, only to find that my comrade is referring cheekily to the many owls featured in Ms. Lolley’s work. Indeed, her hooters are cute and abundant, and many of the dreamy sepia-toned pieces feature somewhat depressed forest animals (as seen in her owl-heavy cover art for My Morning Jacket’s Z). Perusing her wares, I text a non-impoverished friend and command her to buy something. Then I return to the free cheese platter.

Friday, 10:26 p.m.: Descending the Spanish-tiled staircase down a craggy slope into El Cid, I’m bitch-slapped with a barrage of sensory information. The seemingly ancient tapas restaurant/theater is as dark and cozy as a body cavity, with blood-red table linens and low lights. The evening’s entertainment, the Bay Area–based Gypsy-flamenco troupe Fishtank Ensemble, is at work creating a textured ruckus with a fiddle, upright bass, castanets, foreign-tongued wailing and a pair of Japanese banjos. Vocalist Ursula Knudsen is seated on a high-backed, ornate wooden throne. A handsaw clenched between her knees warbles softly at the stroke of a bow beneath her lilting lyrics. At one table, a fanatic male admirer claps and shouts erratically, eyes transfixed, a ribbon of drool spotting his shirt. Sure, he’s in diapers, but he’s gettin’ down with the klezmer-Gypsy vibe.

Friday, 11:14 p.m.: “It’s a holiday smackdown!” Julie Edwards, professional knitter and half of electro-pop duo The Pity Party, is pinned between a folding table and a wall at Sea Level Records in Echo Park, presiding over an array of handcrafted berets and scarves. I agree with her astute assessment that, yes, there are many fierce items to be purchased. She clarifies: “No, I mean that’s what it’s called: the Holiday Smackdown.” She adds that last year’s bazaar was fairly mellow, but this time they’re serving free booze. The result is wall-to-wall humans drunkenly browsing through handmade purses, silk head scarves and a wide assortment of vegan baked goods. In the interest of supporting the arts, I purchase a cupcake. Okay, cupcakes. Plural. Leave me alone about it.

Saturday, 11:02 p.m.: “So did you go to Beck’s secret show tonight?” an acquaintance asks. I hesitate in response. I could feign prior knowledge, maybe say, “Beck kept texting me, but I’ve seen him play, like, a million times . . .” Rather, I simply admit that I’m a loser and didn’t even know the Echo was hosting such a notable gig. The best she can do is offer the jaded consolation: “Yeah, secret shows are all elitist bullshit, man.” This does nothing to soothe my regret.

Saturday, 11:42 p.m.: “I feel like stumbling through the crowd and shouting, ‘Play some Skynyrd!’” I’ve dragged a friend to see Pink Mountaintops at Spaceland, and he’s in no mood for it. A bloodstream thick with Xanax and Bud Light is apparently not conducive to enjoying jangly, ’60s-inspired rock. As the seven Pink Mountaintops layer maracas, tambourines, acoustic guitar, double basses, two drum kits and male-female harmonies, the vintage-derived result is not necessarily life-altering, but, dude: It’s better than Skynyrd.


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