View more photos in Lina Lecaro's slideshow, "Nightranger: Pac-Sun's Beach Ballyhoo, Activision's #E3 Bash & More."
While the economy struggles to find its footing, the video-game market only seems to survive and thrive, stronger and more monstrous than a pixelated villain on a second-level killing spree. And when the Electronic Entertainment Expo, aka E3, is in town, it's an event that transcends computer-nerd mania, at least after dark, with a slew of intimate and massive parties taking over the city.
Well, maybe the soirees have scaled back a bit. Only a few years ago, we could barely keep up with the bounty of bashes E3 brought, from Xbox and Playstation to retailers like Best Buy (one year we caught The Killers, Interpol, Louis XIV, Chemical Brothers, Deep Dish and DJ AM at different events all in one week). The liquor-sponsored, play-for-corporate-pay band barrage may not be what it once was, but Activision's multimillion-dollar extravaganza last week made sure it was "game over" for anyone else who tried to compete anyway. The company behind Guitar Hero, DJ Hero and Tony Hawk titles went big — way big — renting out the Staples Center, providing drinks and snacks and showcasing an array of superstars whose music is featured on its games: Usher, Chris Cornell, Maynard James Keenan, N.E.R.D, Jane's Addiction and Eminem.
Highlights included: Keenan's "Bohemian Rhapsody," which took on a camp quality when synced on-screen with a green-Mohawked avatar for Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock!, N.E.R.D's sexy and sprite hip-hop (an aerialist performed on what may have been the world's tallest stripper pole) and Eminem as aggro and intense as we expected (remember when Slim Shady was silly and fun?). He was a good match for Activision's violent new title, Call of Duty: Black Ops, though almost upstaged by surprise guest Rihanna, a gospel choir and the Jumbotron screening of the game and accompanying pyro, which blasted (our eardrums) from the side seats near the media section. DJs Z-Trip, Deadmau5 and David Guetta provided ravelike interludes (enhanced by some insane LCD visuals), though few danced. This crowd was more interested in taking pics with their iPhones or tweeting, though the latter was difficult thanks to Twitter's post-earthquake tweak-out that night. Tech fail during a tech-head event. Oh, the irony ...
BEACH PUNKS & BALLYHOO
Tony Hawk had a busy week. In addition to rolling through the Activision monstrosity, he and other board biggies rocked the ramp at PacSun's Beach Ballyhoo in Santa Monica this past Saturday, a two-day event that felt very much like a warm-up for summer, for sports, for skimpier fashions and — if the sizable showing of punky, multipierced tweens was any indication — for the Warped Tour, which comes to SoCal this week.
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The newly minted beachside bonanza of bands and brands was almost as loud and clamorous as Warped, even if the groups showcased were more diverse. Sunday's lineup was strong (Matt & Kim, B.o.B) but we went for Saturday, when the playbill included Circa Survive, Minus the Bear, Ra Ra Riot, YelaWolf, As Tall As Lions, Bad Rabbits and AWOLNATION, plus DJ Pase Rock between sets. Ra Ra's stringed nuances didn't exactly fit in with the surrounding amusements (flying BMXers and amped b-ball showdowns) but they made an impact, and their dark yet subtle melodies played well in the seaside environs. Southern skate-rapper YelaWolf was probably more in sync with the scene. His pouncing, inked-up presence and spazzy spit flow recharged the event in the late afternoon. By then, attendees were seen toting multiple swag bags from Quicksilver, Roxy, FOX and, for a lucky few, Vans, which provided hand-painted sneaks (on white slip-ons, natch). There was also a circus sideshow tent, with jugglers, balloon-twisters, clowns and little people in rainbow afros, but — shocker — the big-top booze tent in the backstage VIP area was where we encountered the biggest ballyhoo and bozos.
Some might think Fallout Boy's Pete Wentz is a bozo, but the guy knows a thing or two when it comes to bars, at least. Angels & Kings has come to L.A. This sister slosher to Wentz, Jonathan Daniel and Bob McLynn's N.Y. drinking hole (the latter two are managers now but once manned bands called Electric Angels and The Step Kings, hence the bar's name) also involves the Dolce Group. The space used to be their Italian hot spot Bella, and on Wednesdays they've got two of their best DJs rolling out rock tunes: Tuesdae and DJ Casper from Rock Mondays at Les Deux(also a Dolce prop).
A&K somehow pulls off a mix of campy and classy, the theme being a sort of homage to bad behavior with mug-shot art on the walls (busted pics of Sid Vicious, Jimi Hendrix and Axl Rose, to name a few) and a mock lineup room (with the obligatory black-and-white signage) where anyone can channel their inner Lindsay Lohan or, God forbid, Nick Nolte. Of course, you kinda forget that you could end up posing for a real mug shot if you partake in too many of those other types of shots. Easy to do since the drinks are cheap for a Dolce spot. Another plus: They proudly boast no bottle service.
Another newbie in Hollywood, The Parlour Room seems to be going for a similarly low-key neighborhood vibe: no reserved seats, no guest lists, no attitude and no DJs even (juke only) ... yet. This space has been turned over a zillion times in the past few years (Madame Royale, Play, Red Buddha, the list goes on) but was coolest when it was Goldfingers, a rockin' grotto for live bands, grinding girlies and killer DJs. Parlour, from Craig Trager (the Well, the Woods, the Fifth), looks to bring back the laid-back sexiness of that one, but in an old-school way, with whimsical, brothel-like décor and snazzy sippers like Maple Juleps, Cucumber Coolers and $5 martinis. Looks like a backlash to $500 bottle-for-a-booth-buyout bullshit is in full effect.