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Best Rock & Roll by the Hour

(Illustration by Ronald Kurniawan)

Best Rock & Roll by the Hour

Downtown Rehearsal — a huge cube of a building whose elephantine concrete frame is covered with a flesh of sooty red bricks — dominates a corner just east of Skid Row. Overlooking an auto impound lot and tangling highways, this former warehouse has a bunkerlike quality, a groaning freight elevator, impersonal proportions and a no-one-will-hear-you-scream aura straight outta Saw.

Since 1989, Downtown Rehearsal’s rented rooms have cradled countless rock & roll dreams and a few good chart-bound realities. It’s spawned a multibuilding, 267-room business that — countering the image of these places as moldy basements full of lethally wired pawn-shop equipment run by bong-fueled burnouts — is an utterly pro setup: security cameras, sprinkler system and all. Clients include international touring acts, local club stalwarts and first-band teens — it’s almost a rite of passage for area bands to have a space here at some point.

There’s a waiting list for Downtown’s rooms, yet you’ll rarely hear more than one or two bands playing actual complete songs as you pass. One afternoon a rhythm section repeatedly ran through the verse of Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills,” only to crumble every time they hit the chorus. Another time an over-reverbed male voice blurted “motherfucker!” every few seconds, at concert volume, between drunken giggles. Some rooms have had the same occupants for years, bearing framed family photos and comfy furnishings that can be glimpsed through cracked, sticker-covered doors in the mini-maze of corridors.

For weeks the rather forlorn stage set of a major-label metal band, including Spinal Tap-ish pods, has loitered in Downtown’s lobby. The very person who added “suck” beneath the band’s name on one of the racks almost certainly whacks off over their lifestyle — Downtown’s notice boards ache with longing for such industry and fan validation. See, for most of us, the day-job weariness, chipping in for the rent, and living on the kind words of hardy friends never ends — until the day the rehearsal room door finally creaks shut for good.

Downtown Rehearsal 2155 E. Seventh St., L.A., (323) 263-7381