So if you’re actually reading this Blog, you know that I just recently came back from a rather underwhelming trip to Los Angeles. Among the few highlights (besides simply getting the fuck out of traffic) was going to the Whisky A Go Go, the legendary rock club in Hollywood. Admittedly, this was about 80% of my desire to spend any time in Los Angeles at all.
The club itself was rather surprising. I’m used to rock clubs like The Middle East or Lupo’s or O’Brien’s. Places where you feel the need to wash at least your hands, if not burn your clothes, after you leave. Dark, somewhat dank, and what appears to be a half-dozen fire and health code violations in any direction you look. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It is "very rock n’ roll" one might say.
The Whisky was remarkably well-lit in between sets, and you could actually see the bartender and see what money you had in your wallet when you went to the bar, even while bands were playing. Usually the bar experience is a doubtful one at best. It was also very clean, especially for a rock club. I’ve eaten in diners that were dirtier than that.
I suppose I shouldn’t complain, since one would think it would be nice to not be in a rat hole to hear some good rock bands play, but it is suddenly like dating the prom queen after banging skanks all you life.
Anyway, venue aside, it was a very cool experience. It is about 1/10th the size of the club shown in the movie The Doors. Damn Oliver Stone. But you can feel the history and see it on the walls with all the photos.
While there, I caught two bands – one very good, the other just plain great. The very good band was actually the headliner, The Real Mckenzies. For all you Boston-area folks out there, they appear to be the West Coast equivalent of our beloved Dropkick Murphys. They have that great – and already classic – combination of punk and Scottish music that goes so strangely well together. I think around the same time scientists finally get a handle on cold fusion, they will figure out why the hell a set of bagpipes sound so good up against a solid punk guitar riff.
The funniest part about the Real McKenzies were the band members. I have this habit/talent of matching people up with their celebrity look-alike counterparts, which is quite funny if you pick someone who is completely out of place. For example, in the Real McKenzies, you had Martin Short on lead guitar, Huey Lewis on bass, Uncle Fester on rhythm guitar, and apparently Tommy Lee has left Motley Crue once again, this time to take up playing the bagpipes. Seriously – this guy looked – and acted – just like Tommy Lee. It was kind of freaky. If he had come out stage with a big-titted blonde "actress" it wouldn’t have surprised me. There were a few other guys in the band who reminded me of other oddly placed celebrities, but it has been a few weeks and I can’t remember them…
Anyway, they were cool, and I ended up staying later than I should have, since I ended up with only two hours of sleep before my 6 hour flight the next day. However, the real highlight of the evening was the band Custom Made Scare. When they first hit the stage, they sounded a bit like they might just be another typical punk band, but they quickly changed my mind. They bill themselves as "cowpunk" but I think that really limits their range. They’ve been around for about 10 years now according to their web site and the fact that I haven’t heard about them simply illustrates just how badly fucked up the music industry is.
Live, they are a fast, punchy band with Charlie as the lead singer who sounds an awful like Axl Rose at times (and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible). Charlie is definitely the best front man for a local band I’ve seen in a long time, exuding rock n’ roll without falling into too many cliches. He seems to be having a legitimately good time up on stage, not just going through the motions. The rest of the band have a cock-sure rock swagger that matches the music while complementing Charlie’s antics.
The music goes well beyond the cowpunk definition, while still bringing up a few country-ish elements here and there. A more accurate description of their music is classic Sunset Strip rock n’ roll in the tradition of Motley Crue, Guns n’ Roses, the Doors, LA Guns and others. And in case you get the wrong fucking impression, I also mean that in the best way possible. At least twice during the show I said to myself "holy shit, this song could be straight off of Appetite for Destruction" and I don’t know if you can come up with a better compliment for a band than that.
However, they aren’t stuck in the past, and definitely pay homage to their influences more than copy them, bringing in a slightly updated and fresh sound to the mix, including the aforementioned Johnny Cash-style country, as well as borrowing some of the best bombastic parts of modern rocks bands like Stone Temple Pilots.
In fact, on record, Charlie begins to sound a lot more like Scott Weiland than Axl Rose, but the music still rocks with the same intensity as it does on stage, which officially makes Custom Made Scare’s album The Show Must Go Off the album that Velvet Revolver SHOULD have put out. The cowpunk bit really falls off on many of the songs here, trading it in – with no compromise whatsoever – for fucking awesome balls-to-the-wall rock and roll. If you don’t find yourself singing along to "Detroit" every time you hear it, and trying to turn the radio up louder and louder each time, then check your pulse. The music has great production values, both in terms of quality AND the music itself. The band sound properly experienced and sure of themselves, taking the room they need to stretch out in the songs and add some depth to the music (unlike Sin City Chainsaw, who is still a really good band, but could definitely learn a thing or two from Custom Made Scare when it comes to controlling themselves – see my previous post about that).
The result is a CD that definitely rocks, but also provides plenty of hooks to sink into you and not let go. It is without a doubt, one of the best non-major label releases I’ve heard in a long time, and they have the best live show of a local act I’ve seen since the hey days of PURRR (the old Boston band I used to help out with back in the day). Buy the album, see the band if they are in your area, and for chrissake, I hope they come out to the East Coast so I get my friends to go see them!