Damn, I miss Raji's. Not just the seedy locale it once occupied on Hollywood Boulevard, but the whole ethos of that lovable dump – inspired and inspiring amateurism that joyously mooned the Sunset Strip glam scene and its attendant major-label ass-kissing, plus an anything-goes attitude long absent in these increasingly sterile times. Even the Raji's groups that supped at the corporate trough crashed and burned, every last one of them. Born to lose and then to die, such is the life.

Which is why the Darlings, a magnificently inept quartet of die-trying slashers and pounders, have captured the hearts of exiles from that godforsaken soon-to-be-a-subway-stop crater. First espied by this intrepid reporter in that most prominent of the post-Raji's slouch-and-slam saloons, Bar Deluxe, the Darlings were a jagged boulder from punk heaven sent to tear a hole in the local ranks of vapid power-punkers and quasi-arty Silver Lake posses.

Dig this: Band commences to hammer out a rudimentary instrumental that sounds like the bastard child of Dick Dale, albeit knee-deep in a sludge pit of bassy distortion. Then out struts the band's star, Paige Darling: Snatching the mike off its stand like it's the last cocktail at 2 a.m., Paige commences to bawl out “Recovery,” a semi-paean to clean living, and doubles over in a writhing, spastic war dance. A full 102 pounds of semivamphood, she struts her Jagger chicken walk for about 45 seconds before venturing into a semispin – and lands firmly upon her hot-panted keister. Audience erupts into uncomfortable laughter, as it's unintentionally funny. But there's something endearing about Paige's sexpot persona, a goofy, go-for-it stance that immediately distances her from every pouting bimbo in torn nylons mock-fellating an SM-58. She keeps singing, band keeps flailing. And boom, boom, on come the lights.

Paige Darling is the first to admit – and her band wholeheartedly agrees – that “We are totally unprofessional. We'd like to be tighter and better, but right now, it's not there.”

It's not likely to ever get there, either, praise the Lord. Formed two years ago as a result of Paige answering an ad placed by bassist Lance Vandenhende and guitarist Derek Thompson, this combo has been blessed and cursed in equal doses. During the post-Green Day “sign anything that spits” rush on prefab punk groups, the Darlings were actually the subject of some label attention, but the majors demanded cute ballads from Paige, and she kicked back angrily. Numerous attempts were made after those debacles to make a pro-sounding disc, but the band's fashionable dabblings in hard drugs attracted like-minded studio engineers, and the result was an expensive mess. Finally, the Darlings took matters into their own hands. “Cut nine songs on the CD in one day, and mixed them, too,” says Paige. “Those were keepers. The rest was crap.”

The keepers have become Wet Dreams and Teen Machines, the Darlings' debut for Bomp. A muddy roar from the bass and guitars is the blurry bed for every song, all of which ride along a furious Ramones/Discharge forward charge like a pack of wacked-out palominos. Ugly chords with the dulcet tones of a thrush above: It's a formula you've heard a trillion times, yet the band's indefatigable spirit rises over the beaten-to-death path of melody-and-Marshalls. It's great from opening assault to very last slam.

Having nearly derailed themselves with an ex-drummer whose traps were chronic fixtures in local pawnshops, the Darlings are freshly powered by a skin-whacker named X, a new record out, and the eternal optimism of their loopy-eyed vocalist.

“I feel like giving up every other day,” says Paige, “but on the good days I forget all about our little personal problems, y'know?”

True, these folks teeter on the brink of total chaos every night they play, but that's pretty much what makes punk rock go. Now toddle on over to wherever the Darlings are trying their level best just to hit those three magical chords on the same beat at the same time. And keep your eye on Paige Darling, 'cause she's like that movie vamp tottering on heels too high – waiting for the fall is part of the excitement.

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