Todd Congelliere isn’t one to celebrate his own achievements. In the nearly three decades that the former F.Y.P. singer-guitarist has been running San Pedro–based Recess Records — during which he’s released records by bands like Screeching Weasel, The Dwarves, Against Me! and his own melodic punk acts, Toys That Kill and The Underground Railroad to Candyland — the closest he’s gotten to putting a spotlight on his influential one-man bedroom business was to quietly host an afternoon show at the Echo in honor of Recess’ 100th release.
Which is why Recess Records’ upcoming art exhibit and music series, Annals of Time, opening Saturday, Jan. 9, is such a rare glimpse beyond the vinyl of this underdog DIY label. That the display of fliers, posters and comically doodled ad art is all happening (alongside eight weekends of high-energy punk shows) at an unassuming wine bar in Long Beach is just a bonus.
“I’m actually trying to fly under the radar with this,” Congelliere says modestly while sipping an IPA on the back patio of 4th Street Vine, which occupies a storefront along Long Beach’s funky Retro Row. “I don’t think I’m an artist at all. There’s nothing really to convey in it. This is what I have, we’re going to hang it up, and we’re going to have some shows.”
4th Street Vine might look like a wine bar — rotating art on exposed-brick walls, a well-used wall piano, polished stemware — but it definitely doesn’t sound like one. Since opening in 2008, it’s been a popular watering hole for the city’s musicians, who for most of that time have used the stageless, lighting rig–free space as an intimate venue for occasional (and always free) punk, folk and rock shows.
Everyone from psych lords Crystal Antlers to rapper 2Mex has performed in the space, and now that the bar has obtained a permanent entertainment license from the city, there is live music six nights a week. Two of these nights feature bands that owner Jim Ritson would consider “rowdy”; this is when Congelliere’s own bands drive over the bridges from San Pedro to play.
“We always had art and music in the plan, but I never imagined rock & roll shows here,” says Ritson, a punk fan who co-owns the bar with his girlfriend, Sophia Sandoval. “Honestly, I really tried to make this place a jazz-focused bar, because I love jazz, too. But people come out for rock shows, and the local music scene is so active around here, it’s only natural.”
Congelliere played at 4th Street Vine with either Toys That Kill or The Underground Railroad to Candyland nearly a dozen times over the last year before Ritson (an old-school Toys That Kill fan) approached him with the idea of doing a Recess Records–themed exhibit. With 4th Street Vine now one of Congelliere’s two most frequently played home venues — the other is Harold’s Place, a dive bar in San Pedro — he agreed.
Recess began in 1988, when Congelliere, then a teenager and professional skater, made 100 cassettes of F.Y.P. songs and sold them at competitions at which, he admits, he should have been skating instead. But it wasn’t until two years later that he released a vinyl record and first started telling people he had a label. “It was a joke, like I was playing house,” he says.
Twenty-eight years later and Congelliere is still “playing house” — constantly touring to support his own music, discovering new bands to add to the Recess family, and releasing a handful of new records each year.
“Everyone knows the musicians because they’re out there, but then there are guys behind the scenes, like Todd,” Ritson says. “Sure, he’s in a few bands, but every day he’s getting up, processing orders for his label, communicating with people all over the country, if not the world, about music. He’s doing his part to get music out there, and he’s been doing it for a long time. I thought it would be really cool to showcase what that label has done and give them some props.”
When Ritson suggested a Recess-themed art show, Congelliere sent him a link to some old print ads, which had been placed over the last 13 years in magazines like Maximum Rocknroll and Razorcake. Each one features the names of available Recess releases alongside a large art space that Congelliere filled with his own jerky designs, mostly cartoons mixing political commentary with immature humor. Coupled with a few other pieces of paper memorabilia and some surprise ephemera, these ad panels make up the bulk of the “Annals of Time” exhibit.
In order to book two months' worth of Saturday-night punk shows, Congelliere brought on Craig Ibarra from San Pedro’s Water Under the Bridge Records, who filled the lineups with both Recess and non-Recess acts. The eight shows read like a then-and-now of Harbor Area punk: Mike Watt + the Secondmen, Saccharine Trust, Bombón, the brilliantly named Assquatch. Congelliere’s original band, F.Y.P., which has technically been in retirement since 1999, is playing its “official last show ever” at the closing party.
So what is a punk-rock show at a wine bar like, anyway?
“It’s obviously not as wild [as all-ages shows], but I still feel the energy,” Congelliere says, finishing up his pint of beer. “It’s great because there’s usually a lot of people, and it’s people who are here anyway to drink, which I like because you’re not playing to the same crowd every weekend. When you’re playing at 4th Street Vine, you know there’s something exciting going on, but you can’t really put your finger on it. That’s why I like this place.”
“Recess Records: Annals of Time” runs from Saturday, Jan. 9 through Friday, March 11. Toys That Kill and Rats In The Louvre play the opening party. For a full list of who is playing during the duration of the exhibit, click here. 4th Street Vine is located at 2142 E. 4th St., Long Beach. (562) 343-5463; 4thstreetvine.com