Purgatory Pizza is a squat, diminutive joint just east of the L.A. river, across from the Pico Metro stop. Driving by, you might not notice the place -- they rarely illuminate the ramshackle sign that hangs out front. Or, you might be deterred from going in by the skate punks that constantly loiter outside, hoping to catch the next train into the city.
Inside, the walls are covered with bits of poetry (she was the girl on the fire escape, giving haircuts to her friends). Fast punk records blare from behind the stark mental counter, and posters for shows collage the windows. It's not a particularly inviting room. The guy behind the counter, young but grizzled, might take your order but then again he might not. He probably looks like he's in a band. He is.
In fact, just about everyone who works at Purgatory is in a band. The shop takes a liberal approach to hiring, and musicians can work there in between gigs. It feels vehemently anti-cooperate, and employees are paid in cash. If they have to take two weeks off to go on tour, no problem.
This was the case with Pergatory cooks Thor Dickey and Michael Crain, whose band Retox scored a spot opening for OFF! on their most recent tour. After that the post-hardcore/thrash outfit -- whose songs are about shitty childhoods, frustration with the bureaucracy, and the perils of war -- took off for dates in Europe. Though they still haven't returned, they know that when they come home their jobs will be waiting for them.
"Purgatory feeds all of us, literally and figuratively," says Zac Carper, lead singer of another Purgatory band, FIDLAR. They're garage-punkers who often open for Bleached, and just played with The Black Lips. "They have no problem with last minute days off. Everyone is good friends."
A mix of hardcore punks, metal heads, salty rockabilly gents, and earnest folk singers, the bands come off as cool -- though they say their scene is too off-the-beaten-path for the cool kids to care. Many of them have also had surprising degree of success. FIDLAR, for example, was invited to CMJ this year, and its members claim they have record companies chomping at the bit.
Working at the shop isn't a golden ticket into the music business, of course. Brook and River have a couple of terrific EPs, but have largely been ignored by the press.
Purgatory manager Travis LaBrel's band Olin & the Moon has been around for years, but finalizing a record deal has been complicated.
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Purgatory is a fitting name for the place -- it is a haven for those in between obscurity and recognition, for those waiting patiently to ascend to the pearly gates of artistic validation.
Oh, and most importantly -- Purgatory's pizza is amazing. Their sauce is made from scratch and their specialty "no-marinara" pie is a neighborhood favorite. The pizza is much like the place: simple, honest, and unpretentious. Like the staff's music, it's substantial and sticks with you.