In what one hopes will be an annual tradition, Rhino Records returns again this year with a pop-up version of its beloved Westwood retail store, presenting two weeks of cutout-bin sales and surprise in-store gigs by a stellar lineup of pop-rock veterans. The concerts emphasize once again how much Rhino Records used to be a major cultural nexus on the Westside, not just as a place to find rare indie records but also as an intimate venue to catch performances by influential musicians.
In much the same way that you never know who you might bump into while rummaging through Rhino's bins of classic albums, you never know who'll pop up onstage at the pop-up store in the next two weeks, as tireless Rhino executive producer Gary Stewart and his crew keep adding major names to the ever-expanding roster of upcoming performers. One of the biggest surprises was an out-of-the-blue reunion Sunday night by the Crawdaddys, a quintet from San Diego who were part of Voxx Records' first wave of garage-rock revivalists in the early 1980s.
Another surprise was how hot and vital the band sounded, even after being dormant for so many years. You could certainly hear where latter-day '60s revivalists like the Hives got their ideas, as singer-guitarist Ron Silva snarled his way through a set of Crawdaddys originals and vintage covers of primal rock classics like “Oh Baby Doll,” “Slow Down” and “Let the Good Times Roll.” The group were at their best on Rolling Stones-style blues rockers like “Bald Headed Woman,” but they also deftly pulled off poppier tunes like the Knickerbockers' Beatles sound-alike “Lies” and a yearning, affecting version of the Velvet Underground's bittersweet “There She Goes.”
Guitarist Peter Miesner pried some elemental solos from his ax, but it was keyboardist Keith Fisher who really kept the Crawdaddys moving with a soulful foundation of bluesy piano chords and rollicking, Jerry Lee Lewis-fueled embellishments. As they introduced yet another long-lost favorite, the band members joked about how everything they played was a golden oldie.
“Don't exaggerate our antiquity,” Silva counseled his mates.
“That's difficult to do,” Fisher quipped.
In a more serious moment, Silva made sure to offer a shout-out to the band's late mentor, former Bomp Records founder Greg Shaw, as scenesters like DJ Audrey Moorehead and Dionysus Records' Lee Joseph looked on. A good crowd of garage-rock fanatics and record collectors filled the main room, whose low stage, PA system and lighting were more sophisticated than the setup at last year's edition of the pop-up store. If anything, the store's sound was much better than the din you hear at most local dives.
Things will only get better during the next two weeks, as future bills include a power-pop fan's dream paring of the Muffs with the Bangles' Vicki Peterson, as well as sets from such crucial worthies as the pop-soul stylist Evie Sands, country-pop chanteuse Susan James, venerable punk combos Channel 3, Symbol Six and the Crowd, former Mumps man Kristian Hoffman, Little Willie G, pop-punk diva Holly Beth Vincent, a reunion of the Balancing Act, rising pop rockers the Ruby Friedman Orchestra and many others. The shows are all ages, with the suggested $5 donation going to the MusiCares charity. Check Rhino's Facebook page for frequent updates.