At Club Bahia, May 25
By DANIEL HERNANDEZ
There's always an element of danger at a Very Be Careful show. They tend to play venues and in neighborhoods where the occasional bar brawl is not uncommon. And the band members themselves, true products of the modern multicultural L.A., are legendary in the city's urban core for never turning down that pivotal final drink. You know, the one people still talk about a week after it gets drunk. It's their charm, their force: playing traditional Colombian vallenato, a kind of sexy, sleepy-eyed cousin of cumbia that you cannot, just cannot, help dancing to as soon as it strikes your ears and hips, Very Be Careful encompasses the “real” Los Angeles in a way no other home-grown cultural phenomenon does. Of course, people might fight or get too drunk or start making out ravenously on the dance-floor. Everyone is sweating. Everyone is checking each other out. Everyone is a shade of the color called Mixed.
So with excitement and a little trepidation I made my first venture on Thursday night to Club Bahia, a salsa nightclub on a sketchy stretch of Sunset Boulevard on the eastern tip of Echo Park, to see the VBC guys jam out some fresh vallenato in celebration of their new, all-original record, Salad Buey. The nightclub is decorated in the classic Latin American supper-club style: dark, lots of neon, fields of small round tables ideal for coupling and cuddling, organized around a square hard-wood dance-floor. We're hanging out at the bar while a DJ spins mainstream cumbia and already the vibe is considerably hot.
(Photos by Daniel Hernandez, Daffodil Altan, and Humberto Flores)
“Everyone in here is dressed like a cross between 1945 and 1985,” my friend and OC Weekly colleague Daffodil Altan comments as the band takes the stage. “What's up Alhambra!” they call. “Monrovia! West Covina! Koreatown! Boyle Heights!” The music begins and the entire dance-floor is immediately occupied.
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When you go to see Very Be Careful play, it’s almost as much about the crowd as it is about the music. The Club Bahia show drew your typical VBC fans, who are ardent and loyal: cholos and their hinas, hip-hop and rasta heads, indie Latinos, hipsters, and the kind of people one astute neighbor refers to as “hippie hop.” Couples hold on tight and the guys who show up alone, in classic courtship mode, scan the room for a lady who looks like she needs to be asked to dance. Daffodil and I move to the dance-floor after some tequila-and-soda on ice and, yes, I do believe there is magic happening here.
During a break, I run into L.A. artist Sandra de la Loza, who offers some insight in the significance of Very Be Careful. She notes the band formed from the historic Peace and Justice Center, a squat house in the Belmont area just west of downtown that emerged in the “post-riot” period as an important producer of culture, music, and community. “Punk, with reggae, with hip-hop, you name it, it got mixed,” de la Loza said. “That is the L.A. sound. It's kind of like a punk Los Lobos. A post-riot generation, working class, with access to all this culture, all this history.” It's also, I see, about kids who want to bend their knees, hunch over, hit hit hit with those hips, and make faces.
Near night's end, a DJ comes on and plays a set of old-school hip-hop, freestyle, and 90s techno. Everyone is still dancing. VBC comes on again, announcing they've only just begun their set, and the crowd is with them. The work at hand is too important: dancing, sweating, and falling in love.