View more photos in Lina Lecaro's "Nightranger Revs it Up" slideshow.
When did "quirky" replace "sexy" in band demand? At the risk of dating ourselves, Nightranger and many of our over-30 gal pals have been pining/whining for the good ol' days, when swagger on stage was an essential part of the rocker repertoire. It's a blanket statement, we know, but today's indie bands seem more concerned with being sardonic than seducing us with their dangerous, godlike auras. Last Friday night, however, we were taken back to a more bad-ass era complete with captivating, cocksure frontmen and scorching ax-grinders. Spike's Bar in the San Gabriel Valley is best known for its raucous rockabilly and New Wave events, but Friday's Rev It Up often showcases killer garage sounds as well, and the bill was more than worth a little freeway trek in the rain, especially since it was headlined by an all-time L.A. favorite, The Hangmen. One of the brightest and bluesiest groups to emerge from the record biz ballyhoo and rock-signing frenzy of the mid-'80s, leader Bryan Small could have seen success akin to Guns n' Roses and beyond, if not for the drug problems, major label turmoil (with Capitol and Geffen) and lineup drama that plagued his band. Two decades later, despite the Behind the Music-like backstory, the group is astoundingly strong and sprightly on stage. Friday saw the lineup amped by Supersuckers' guitarist Rob Heathman and his gritty riffs fit like a tight, perfectly weathered leather glove. From classics such as "Rotten Sunday" and "Downtown" to newer jams off their Mike Ness-produced '08 EP, In the City, the Hangmen rawk harder than ever, especially Small, whose snarly Jagger-meets-Iggy-ish allure has only gotten more interesting with age. Look for their catalog on the garage-heavy indie label Acetate Records.
Also on Acetate, the MC5-ish Superbees are back a-buzzin' after a long hiatus. Singer David James may not be flailing about the floor or falling over his cords, but like Small, he still stings when he sings and strings. Rounding out the bill are The Royal Highness (formerly known as The Chelsea Smiles), which sports a new lineup to go with the new name (Todd Youth is off the mic and singer Skye Vaughn Jayne delivers the brutal vocal blows); and Barrio Tiger, the ferocious 'n' fun Echo Park pack, including guitarist Jimmy James (formerly with the Hangmen and a zillion other local bands) and frontman Calixto Hernandez (of the old Juvee skate shop, now slingin' behind the bars at La Cita and The Shortstop). Rev It Up did just that Friday, and we suggest rolling into Rosemead for promoter Brando Von Badville's next Spike's sizzler headlined by The Lords of Altamont on March 12. Badsville's also bringing his grimy rock goodness to the Sunset Strip, promoting what he hopes will be the first of a regular series of Rev It Up nights at the newly reopened Key Club, this Saturday, Feb. 27, with another Acetate band, Hollywood's Prima Donna. PD just came back from a primo punk gig opening for Green Day throughout Europe and Asia, and if the international lust they earned is any indication, the Dollsy young dudes might be leading the way for a new generation of unapologetic sleazesters who, once again, put their moneymakers where their mouths are. The all-ages show will also feature Duane Peters, The Billy Bones and original gutter punks Motorcycle Boy.
Bad-boy swagger was definitely a big part of the Ramones' appeal, at least where Dee Dee and Johnny were concerned, but lead singer Joey (real name Jeffry Hyman) evoked something altogether different onstage: a dark and intriguing awkwardness that ultimately came to personify cool in a new way, a punk way. The book, "I Slept With Joey Ramone," penned by his brother Mickey Leigh and N.Y. underground chronicler Legs McNeil, provides an enlightening look at Joey's childhood, his early love of rock & roll (who'da thunk Richie Valens' "La Bamba" was his first fave rave?), his struggles with OCD and the tempestuous love triangle that tore the band apart. At the L.A. Q&A/book signing at La Luz de Jesus Gallery Saturday, Leigh was joined by Rock 'n' Roll High School star P.J. Soles, director Alan Arkush and longtime Joey buddy Howie Pyro (a former bandmate of aforementioned Todd Youth in Danzig, D Generation and Chelsea Smiles). Leigh exposed some interesting tidbits at the event. ("We never, ever sniffed glue," he said of his and his bro's experimentations. "There was lots of other stuff, though.") Perhaps the most exciting revelation was the news that he just signed "something with Fox Searchlight Films." Leigh was vague about the deal, but he assured that in no more than 10 years, a Ramones movie based on his memoir is highly likely, something many fans have surely been hoping for ever since Entourage put the idea in the fictional movie-land universe (as a vehicle for its hero, Vinnie Chase) a couple seasons ago. Could art imitate life with actor Adrian Grenier starring?
DAZED & AMUSED
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Bad news from the book signing: La Luz owner Billy Shire told us he's closing his higher-end Culver City gallery Billy Shire Fine Arts in March. The art world, like the music industry, is struggling. Even the Museum of Contemporary Art has seen its share of financial woes and just escaped going under last year after some major donors stepped in. MOCA's "First 30 Years" exhibit marks a grand — and surely gratifying — showcase for the museum's two locations, enhanced by provocative "Engagement Party" live events. After the book signing, we attended MOCA at the Geffen Contemporary in Little Tokyo's "Live Sprawl," an interactive experimental music presentation by art duo Lucky Dragons. It wasn't our cup of (mushroom) tea as stand-alone entertainment, but the strange soundscapes were a fitting complement to the impressive collection, featuring Jeff Koons, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jackson Pollock, and Chiho Aoshima's vibrant animated "City Glow." The exhibit, through May, is recommended as both an evolutionary modern art–history lesson and surreal experience.