It was something completely unexpected, that the former frontman of an '80s cult band who made his way to L.A. by little more than happenstance prompted a scene teetering on pandemonium. But, this was exactly what happened when Mark Burgess, formerly of The Chameleons, played Part Time Punks at The Echo last night.
By the time we arrived, shortly after 10 p.m., the line extended across the bridge at Sunset Blvd., roughly a two minute walk from the club, stood about three people wide at any given point and continued to grow. The line was static for about a half-hour and then began to creep forward so slowly that even those of us with tickets didn't gain entry until after 11 p.m. We asked for a reason behind the hold-up, but no one, not even the performers, had a solid answer. Meanwhile, Burgess ventured outside, taking photos and signing autographs for those standing annoyed on Sunset Blvd.
There was a swamp-like atmosphere inside the club, the air hanging like a thick wet cloud as The New Room finished its set. We wandered to the smoking patio, which was only slightly less uncomfortable, and talked to some people in the crowd. This wasn't your typical night at Part Time Punks. Person after person told us that they were only at the club because Mark Burgess was playing. They hopped from crowd to crowd comparing photos and autographs of the singer, all the while grumbling that it was now midnight at the end of the weekend and it didn't look like the main act would be hitting the stage anytime soon.
Sometime between 12:30 and 1 a.m., Burgess appeared on stage, joined by a group of local musicians who had come together no more than two weeks ago, when the show was planned. Despite the short life of the band and the fact that most of the rehearsals had occurred without Burgess, who only arrived in L.A. a few days earlier, they opened with a flawless rendition of “Swamp Thing.” This is the song that has been played on a weekly basis at local goth clubs practically since the birth of the genre. Its slow drawl of a beat has prompted thousands of black-clad youth to snake their bodies and dramatically drop to the ground as though suffering from the vapors. While “Swamp Thing” in any other situation would have probably caused tears of gothy joy, here, with a crowd of people cramped into a horribly small space after waiting far too long for the show to begin, it started a fight.
It began when Burgess sang, “I can already hear your tune, calling me across the room.” A group of obviously drunk twenty-somethings took the lyrics to heart and came barreling through the crowd for spots at the front of the stage. As those of us who were trying to watch the show began falling forward, people shouted at them. One of these people was slapped. The pushing began as quickly and chaotically as anything witnessed at a suburban hardcore show. I was thrown up against Shannon Cottrell, who was trying to take photos of Burgess. Her camera flew backwards, hitting her in the face (she wasn't injured). People called for security. When a guard arrived, a friend of those who started the skirmish proclaimed, “They're cool.” The guard looked as though he was going to leave the situation alone, but after some arguing, the security led the crew through the back exit. Meanwhile, the band continued to play with exuberance. Our only consolation was that “Swamp Thing” clocks in at about six and a half minutes, so we were able to enjoy the first and last minutes of the song.
The audience stood captivated throughout the rest of the performance as sweat poured down their necks and glee crossed their faces. Burgess' voice was as powerfully evocative as it sounds on record and the band played as though they had been practicing these songs in their bedrooms since high school. The response to this last-minute show was so intense that we're certain the singer will be returning to Los Angeles sometime soon. Let's hope that next time Burgess gets a bigger venue.