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Spotlight On a Crazy Diamond

Syd Barrett Tribute Night at Bordello, April 19

It was Syd Barrett Tribute Night, and I have never seen so much facial hair in my life. Long, short, combed and scraggly — all the beards of Los Angeles were gathered in their hirsute splendor at Bordello, where 21 local bands reinterpreted the songs of Pink Floyd visionary Syd Barrett, one psychedelic masterpiece at a time.

Scott Sterling, promoter behind the extravaganza, was nervous before the show. As was often the case with Barrett, who inspired Pink Floyd’s bittersweet paean “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” there was no telling whether the night would turn out as genius or train wreck. There were moments of both, although the only letdown came near the end, courtesy of Yes Me to Death, whose neo-riot-grrrl hard-ons wilted in dramatic fashion when they tried winging it through one of Barrett’s typically Byzantine arrangements. Most other acts fared better; early highlights came care of chanteuse Eleni Mandell (“Feel”), tot-rocker Gwendolyn (“The Gnome”) and crystalware guru Douglas Lee, who performed “Chapter 24” using nothing but a set tuned of wine glasses.

None of the bands spent much time sermonizing about Barrett, preferring instead to launch straight into their various adaptations. Glammy white-panted rocker Kennedy was the biggest chatterbox (he inexplicably dedicated his song to Adam Ant), but his onstage swagger veered a little too comfortably toward parody for some die-hard Barrett fans — people like Mike Davis, a Malcolm McLaren lookalike with a polka-dotted silk scarf around his neck. “Syd Barrett was the perfect combination of pop-music sensibility and bohemian unconventionality, more so than the Beatles,” he said. Barrett died last year from liver failure, having lived the majority of his adult life as a recluse. Some blamed his early mental decline on excessive acid consumption; others say the drugs probably triggered a pre-existing schizophrenic condition. “People love him because he never played the rock-star game,” said Davis. “He said what he had to say, and then he wasted away.”

The bands picked songs from three principal Barrett albums — his finest, Pink Floyd’s first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967); and the later solo albums The Madcap Laughs and Barrett (both 1970). The Moon Upstairs brought a classic rocker vibe to “Matilda Mother,” from Piper. Their rapturous outro made me wish I’d been dosed, and as my friend noted, “I guess they only get one song, so they may as well jam the fuck out.” Pity Party, a Quasi-esque girl-drummer/boy-guitarist duo, went sexy, dangerous and nontraditional with “Baby Lemonade,” in keeping with what Barrett himself might have done, had he been playing a tribute to... er... himself. The night rounded out with a medley (“Lucy Leave,” “Candy & a Currant Bun” and “Interstellar Overdrive”) from the Hubcaps, whose sunglasses-wearing drummer belted out earth-shattering snare rolls in a tripped-out jam that got Mike Davis, die-hard fan, grooving in front of the stage... high praise indeed.


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