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Mental Ward

Wednesday, 10:49 p.m.: I’m on a ceaseless stretch of highway. Orchards blur past my windows in the dark. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and with each passing moment, I get farther away from Los Angeles, and Kevin Federline. The self-proclaimed “America’s Most Hated” man is at this very minute “rapping” onstage at House of Blues, and though I’m getting closer to candied yams, I somewhat regret missing such a morbidly curious spectacle.

Friday, 11:12 p.m.: Thanksgiving weekend may symbolize abundance, but as for live shows, it represents citywide famine. I’ve returned to L.A. in time to see the keys-and-drums married duo Mates of State, but having overdosed on pie, I fear that a helping of their saccharine pop may nudge me toward diabetic coma. With little to lose, a comrade and I opt instead for the Kibitz Room, the wood-paneled bar annex at Canter’s deli. Trips to the Kibitz Room are perfectly suited for nights when one would prefer to be in a honky-tonk in Milwaukee. We settle into a torn-vinyl booth, join a birthday sing-along for a stranger in a tube top, then enjoy some country-tinged acoustic tunes by Kibitz Room staple Paul Chesne. If it weren’t for the guy at the bar wearing a sleeveless shirt and jams, you’d hardly know we were in Southern California.

Saturday, 9:51 p.m.: A woman has just climbed onstage holding a pair of shoes, here at the Cat Power show at the Orpheum. The intruder shuffles awkwardly near a tower of speakers a few feet away from Chan Marshall — a.k.a. Cat Power — before a team of bodyguards discerns that the apparent psychotic is not part of the act, and apprehends her. Wrapping up a number with the Memphis Rhythm Band, Ms. Marshall looks briefly alarmed, then shrugs and says, “Yeah, she wanted me!” before returning to her two-hour set. She croons, shadowboxes, howls and chicken-dances her way through material off her latest release, The Greatest, then sits down solo, performing a delicate cover of “House of the Rising Sun.” She finally launches into a chipper farewell monologue that includes the non sequitur “I-wish-I-could-bake-some-brownies-I-can’t-wait-for-Christmas,” before she bids a final goodbye, bowing to the floor, and exiting amid deafening applause. At that moment, I totally understand the love that would possess someone to climb onstage with shoes for her.

Saturday, 11:49 p.m.: “What would a New Yorker do?” A few comrades and I are standing under the Orpheum’s marquee, six blocks away from our postconcert destination: Redwood, downtown’s newest (and perhaps only) pirate-themed bar. [A brother, perhaps, to the great rock & roll pirate dive bar, the Buccaneer Lounge, in Sierra Madre. —ed.] We want fried calamari, and are debating if a New Yorker would get in the car and drive the six blocks for it. Walking wins, and en route, downtown’s eerie emptiness is a prominent topic of discussion.

Saturday night, 1:34 a.m.: “The Sistine Chapel is DOPE, man.” A local artist chats with me about the bitchen wonders of his recent trip to Italy. We are at a gathering of the roving arts collective Cannibal Flower, held this month at Infusion Gallery downtown. Cannibal Flower co-founder L. Croskey, known about town as DJ Mr. NumberOnederful, scratches beat-heavy tracks on his turntables, and I weave through clusters of artsy folk and catch the bizarro magnificence of Joe Bravo’s food-as-canvas piece Anna May, acrylic on tortilla. Worthy art is provocative, and I find I’m craving an after-hours burrito.

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