It's been 30 years since Frontier Records first began to expose its indelible roster of local punk bands to hard-core fans, forever leaving its mark on the music scene in L.A. and beyond. After Sunday night's eight-hour-plus gathering at the Echoplexto celebrate the milestone with some of the best-known and most influential acts from the era and the label itself, it's clear that its legacy continues to inspire a new generation of disaffected youth.
But what happens when the founding fathers of punk grow up? In the case of The Adolescents' Tony Cadena, definitely not a mellower stage disposition. Cadena, who mentioned that he "had a heart attack last month" (he was serious!), sure seemed spry during the band's blistering headlining set, ranting and panting and even doing a little crowd-surfing in between faves that included "Self Destruct," "Creatures," "Amoeba" and the always-fitting "Kids." He figured the announcement might "bring a little excitement to the show." It wasn't necessary.
We missed The Flyboys, who played late afternoon, but we did catch former Adolescent Rikk Agnew punching out a potent set, followed by The Deadbeats (whose salacious jazz-core spectacle featured nipple chains, a backup singer in a Hello Kitty corset and a dog-collared blow-up doll) and San Francisco's The Avengers, a rhythmic yet raucous combo that fed off the still-intense chemistry of singer Penelope Houston and guitarist Greg Ingraham.
Second-to-last TSOL were equally tight and brutal, though the uncomfortably hot room seemed to be getting to them a bit. The too-short but definitely sweet set almost seemed to wipe out singer Jack Grisham, who complained a few times. It got the crowd, too. The club opened up the Echo upstairs for those who, as Michael Stock (of Part Time Punks, who co-hosted the event with Frontier founder Lisa Fancher) announced, "Need some fresh air."
The most impressive performance came from Middle Class, who may look like soccer dads but are considered by many to be punk founders thanks to slamming early anthems like "Out of Vogue." They were hard, fast, loud and just plain good, with the bass player in particular whipping some middle-class middle-aged ass.
The all-ages event, of course, had its share of old-timers (and a laying-low James Franco in the crowd!), but the blitz of baby-faced fans in sweaty new-old punk tees was undeniable, with most doing the expected stage-diving, crowd-surfing and fist-pumping, all of which kept the Echo's security busy for most of the night. (Especially when one guy climbed the rafters and jumped.) The battle to score each band's set list was passionate but good-natured. No blood was shed, which was not the case at punk shows back in the day, that's for sure. The crowds do seem kinder and maybe even a little gentler than they were when Fancher launched her iconic label three decades ago. Still, when it comes to punk kids, angst is eternal. If new music doesn't cut it, back catalogs like Frontier's will always be there.
TAKE A LICKIN'
Fancher was a strong woman who dominated in the testosterone-fueled world of punk rock, but the other gal we cover this week, PR maven/musician/sometimes groupie Cherry Vanilla commanded the decidedly more androgynous landscape of 1970s New York. In her new book, Lick Me: How I Became Cherry Vanilla (by way of the Copacabana, Madison Avenue, the Fillmore East, Andy Warhol, David Bowie and the Police), CV recounts many of her trysts Pamela Des Barres–style, but the tome is also a revealing and humorous chronicle of the music and art world at the time. Vanilla, who lives in L.A. these days, did two book-reading events here last week, and we attended her intimate event at Tavin (a whimsical Echo Park vintage boutique that's been hosting lively author salons with the help of writer Steffie Nelson) last Friday night. With the bevy of beauteous Janis Joplin–esque Boho frocks in the store, it was no surprise that most attendees at the reading wanted Vanilla to share her section about making love with Kris Kristofferson, but our wish for a Bowie bit also was granted. It was as poetic and otherworldly-sounding as one might expect.
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Vanilla's reading at the Chateau Marmont earlier in the week had an actual Bowie present — Angela Bowie — and we hear Ziggy Stardust's ex was none too happy about the cosmic tryst described out loud at the event. She was even remarking loudly about it at one point during the oration, and later had a fall, bringing DJ Howie Pyro down with her. A more shining moment from the Chateau bash: Vanilla chum Rufus Wainwright doing an impromptu set, including a piano-accompanied rendition of "Hallelujah."
WHEN YOU'RE A STRANGER
Just when we thought we knew about every live-music space in town, we discovered a mysterious new cavern: The Strange. We've often noticed goth-y gaggles hovering around the space (on Melrose near LACC) while coming home from some other club, but last Friday night, we finally dared to venture inside. Officially an art space, the large venue also hosts comedy and exhibits, but it is promoter Sean Tallen's live-music haunt Subversion that packs in the black-PVC–loving peeps. Caught two decent bands Friday: O.C. gloomsters The Family Shocks and the schlocky but fun Echo Park band Native Fauna, which boasted weird props (a stuffed tiger, disco balls, rubber snakes, bizarre head sculptures), weirder getups and captivatingly quirky vox courtesy of singer Cameron Murray (who used to be an organ-and-drum-playing "Indian" in Spindrift).
Check out the Strange's website (thestrange-la.com) or just wander in sometime, but do it soon. Owner Christopher Sapone told us there's a good chance he may close the joint by the end of the year.