SO MANY ACTS, SO LITTLE TIME

March 5, 2009 – 4:18 am

Lux Interior, singer of The Cramps, died on February 4, 2009. But back in 1990, before the internet and webcasts of live shows, DJ/musician/critic X’Ho had to fly in to Los Angeles to watch The Cramps live and trade tattoo tales with bassist Candy del Mar and guitarist Poison Ivy. The above article was published in BigO #57 (September 1990).

The Los Angeles Weekly, a free entertainment guide, kind of summed up rock’s calendar in its intro to rock events the week I arrived, which was just about a week before summer.

It said: “Due to the erratic lives of LA musicians and the capricious personalities of booking agents, all of the following bookings are subject to change for no apparent reason.” I found that to be true - to my disappointment, the Jungle Brothers cancelled their LA gig that I was so anxious to attend. And they aren’t even LA-based. Still, I was wild with bewilderment - “like a kid in a candy store”, a friend had observed of my predicament shopping in Vinyl Fetish.

This was one of those indie-type record shops in Melrose - by the way, they stock two rare Prince bootleg albums: Crucial With Miles Davis on CD at US$50 + tax and Dance, Music, Sex, Romance, recorded in 1988 in Europe and that’s a three-record set at US$44.99 + tax. (Address: Vinyl Fetish, 7305 Melrose Ave, LA, California 90046)… as I was saying… I went wild thumbing through the pages of the LA Weekly for the first time. So many acts, so little time to see them all. Did I have time for jet-lag? No. But neither was I prepared for what was to come…

THE CRAMPS
The Hollywood Palladium In Hollywood
California
June 15, 1990

I got cramps even before I got to the Cramps. It was, I guess, a serious case of the foreign intestinal bug that came with debilitating runs every half hour or so.

Still, would I miss the one chance to catch 1983’s best rock ‘n’ roll band in the world live? I must admit I had many moments of reservations about going. When my Israeli friend (studying in LA) arrived at my hotel half an hour late to drive me to the show, I was half glad I could be given more time to, literally, get my shit together.

And when he got lost looking for the Palladium, I wasn’t complaining. Hollywood Boulevard on a Friday nite is jampacked with cruising-down-the-drag traffic that, on that nite, accorded me the rest I needed in the little automobile’s front seat. Eventually, we got there all right.

I was feeling cold and weak - ready for the next run to hit me. As they say - when the shit hits the fan… boy does it take on a different meaning here. The Cramps (I mean the band of course) had already started their set. Inside the Palladium was a crowd of about 1,500 people - mostly leathered goths and bikers and clean-cut punks and thrashers, I figured I was at least half an hour late, missing Flat Duo Jets, which opened the show (reported to be one of the most happenin’ Southern rock combos at the moment whose music was heard in that Athens, Georgia sampler soundtrack a few years ago).

As for the main attraction, after all these years, the Cramps remain a rare mummified rock commodity that service trash with outrageously gawdy wit. And the show displayed that quality through and through. The only possible misgiving would be the group’s descent into manic raunch and roll so nullifying at times you’d wish for the smarmy dank mood of their Psychedelic Jungle days to re-surface.

Nonetheless, the show contained some of the Cramps’ best musical pieces - You Got Good Taste, Drug Train, Psychotic Reaction (tho’ not an original) and Can Your Pussy Do The Dog. Of course, the band was a sight to behold. Cool B-grade shock-horror with a ranting-&-raving maniac came in the shape of a gangly Lux Interior whose bodily contortions suggested a rubber skeleton filled out with pale dead flesh.

Interior bared all - wearing nothing but a skimpy black G-string as if to outstrip some imaginary bikini girls with machine guns. As usual, lead guitarist Poison Ivy, in her Fifties-Las Vegas showgirl sequined bikini and diamante tiara, was cool and taunting.

Bassist Candy looked the part of a blackPVC-leather side-kick from out of some Sixties spy-thriller flick. Drummer Nick Knox sat drumming away with a dead-pan expression that belied his hippy-shake rhythms - he could pass off as a young dead version of Roy Orbison forever trapped behind dark glasses.

Interior gave a costume change for the encore - dumping his G-string for a pair of red see-through meshed briefs with matching colour high heel shoes… as in stilettos, dig?!

And I thought to myself then and there, what would our $ingapore neighbours say about this? Who cares. After the show, I met up with Knox, Ivy and Candy and pulled down my pants (no underwear) to show the two ladies my Cramps tattoo.

Candy, who looked stoned out of her mind in an euphoric high, took a good look and said: “I see lots of little lines… and stars… yeah, that’s great!” Wished I could take her up on the matter and pursue the galaxy together. Instead, all I could do was obey the Cramps’ new motto - Stay Sick! and rushed to the toilet.

THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS
Greek Theatre in Hollywood Hills
June 16, 1990

“I think it’s good for people to be skeptical, to question and be anti. If you’re brought up a certain way and your immediate surroundings and environment teach you a certain thing, you shouldn’t just get swallowed up by it and believe it.”
- Brett of Bad Religion

Some folks are born to be anti-establishment. Well, at the Greek Theatre that mid-June evening, there were about 6,000 of them all waiting to thrash the pro-estab for good… as in good clean fun. I was, of course, still having the runs and feeling weak. And for a good part of the day had second, third, fourth thoughts about seeing my current favourite band live.

Ooh, the Hollywood Hills was a cold place to be after the sun’s gone down. Worse, our car was parked quite a way from the theatre’s main entrance, which meant an ordeal of bracing the cold in a poor physical state. Spent five minutes at the merchandising counter before going in whereby the batteries to my camera were confiscated by the security guard at the door (”no flash allowed he said).

Arrived just in time for the Peppers’ opening number (God timed it!) but missed the opening act (again) by the Meat Puppets. The huge crowd was spilling into the aisles as security men kept shining torches everywhere to keep them within the seating area. Not that anyone was sitting down. The energy was too high for that. The Peppers’ vibes were sensational and very, very infectious, to say the least. Even my bird-watching non-alternative Israeli driver-friend was bopping to the music.

Had I not experienced the sensation myself I would never believe that the Peppers are capable of creating a healing power. That night, they did to me what believers could call a minor miracle. Before the first number was through, I felt completely cured! The Peppers rocked the night like speed-crazed thrashers nailing down the solid American punk-funk they’ve almost single-handedly popularised.

To my surprise, the crowd knew almost all the songs by heart; and I thought I was a big Chili Peppers fan. LA is definitely Peppers’ home-ground - hence the 6,000 in attendance. And when the band played its nearest to a near-hit Higher Ground, visions of the Red Hot Chili Peppers ruling mainstream radio seem like plausible reality.

Along with the band’s growing status comes a strange irony that it has also attracted a lot of pseudo-&-plastic poseurs for fans… y’know the spanky Hollywood type. As if oddly aware of this in some way, singer Anthony Keidis sang in jest a verse of Leon Russell’s Superstar as a mocking salute to the Carpenters (who made the song a hit) while bassist Flea goofed around the stage like a techno-Rocky-Horror apeman from a day-glo zoo.

At one point, Flea announced that the record company execs (at EMI) had requested for the band to record a ballad for commercial reasons. “And so,” declared Flea, “here it is - our ballad for the record company!” Bam - the band wacked out their wickedly frenetic speed-funk number from Mother’s Milk - Nobody Weird Like Me. Yeah, it’s bashin-the-estab time and the audience loved it.

The most touching moment of the show, however, was a poignant version of Knock Me Down which given Keidis’ spoken dedication to the Peppers’ late guitarist Hillel Slovak made loving sense.

Yeah, good time boys can sing the blues too. Good-time pal - John Norwood Fisher - lead singer of Fishbone guested on stage for a couple of songs and the Fishbone-Peppers posse performed a show together about a week later under the pseudonym of somethin’ Disgrasias (a piss-take on Julio Iglesias).

Despite the strong performer-audience rapport and a thoroughly invigorating show, the Peppers had some sound and technical problems that ruffled Keidis and Flea’s mood somewhat.

After the show, Scott Ian of Anthrax was seen queuing to get into the VIP reception room. He was a little reserved when approached. Axl Rose arrived for the reception a little later and acted really aloof - except to those he knew of course. He looked sexy as hell - maybe that’s why. Flea and Keidis were cordial; drummer Chad Smith was high and guitarist John Frusciante was surprisingly friendly. Met a girl with bleached spikey hair who looked like she’d seen better groupie-paying days and she told me not to ask her too much about the Peppers (she knows them all - and very well too she confided) coz her new boyfriend was around and he’d get jealous.

Guess she was for real since Axl Rose actually spoke to her for a while. She told me the Meat Puppets sucked. After a while, she moved away probably considering my autograph-hunting ritual too uncool for her Hollywood connections. I sought in vain for the EMI rep who invited me to the show, only to meet Keidis’ young, old man (”Don’t tell anyone, he doesn’t like people to know,” I was told by that spikey haired girl), a sexy and eager Def American sales-chick and lots of super-almighty cool, snooty music-biz people.

So, I was in the land of a thousand attitudes - I finally got round to realising. But thank God there were some REAL people left - the Meat Puppets crew. Present were the two Kirkwood brothers who told me that drummer Derrick Bostrom had immediately driven home to Arizona after the show “coz he’s not the partying sort.”

A real cool fellow I thought. There was also this Canadian girl who was the girlfriend of one of the Kirkwoods who was really interested in music and spoke incessantly about it (to my delight) instead of trying to pull off the coolest LA stance like the rest of the girls there.

God, I wish I’d caught the Meat Puppets’ opening act. They must have been real good live, ’specially since that spikey-haired groupie-girl thought they sucked. I went away that evening wondering if the Peppers were still my favourite band even though I cherished the feeling of being revived by their divine madness onstage.

TOM VERLAINE
Slim’s in San Francisco
June 17, 1990

Slim’s is a club-bar that calls itself “the best of American roots music.” And that was what ex-Television front-man Tom Verlaine aimed for in his solo acoustic show there. Showcasing a batch of new songs from the new album, The Wonder, including Shimmer, Ancient Egypt and Kaleidescopin’, Verlaine was presenting his new music at its seminal, almost demo-like, state.

Attired simply in a long-sleeved turtle-neck T and dark jeans ripped at the knees, Verlaine played the dour boho-troubadour who grew out of his Velvet Underground phase to discover the real McCoy of a folkie in himself.

Clearly, Verlaine is not into the whole shebang of music business games and tactics. He just wants to get his music across to his fans. He doesn’t even seem keen to win new ones - going by the esoteric stance of The Wonder album (which the record company doesn’t seem too keen on promoting either). As a one-man act, Verlaine succeeded as a free-stylin’ song-poet whose stream-of-consciousness monologues were as crucial to the performance as the songs themselves. At best, he is a quirkier Leonard Cohen of post-post-punk (sic) with a vision so disturbingly dream-like you’d rather remain in the dark listening than question the nature of his thoughts.

At worst, he’s a solemn Jonathan Richman without the gags - and as atonal as Lou Reed’s best/worst. Verlaine’s gentle and awkward voice brought a sweet and graceful ease to the style that all at once compensated for the lack of an electric set (after all, Verlaine is really best known for his sparkling electric guitar solos).

Yet for all his resolute focus on playing the darkly whimsical folkie, Verlaine’s acoustic presentation seemed too tentative lacking the sure-handed execution of his electric rock ‘n’ roll. The result was just what a lyric-line of his said: “Asking myself questions and giving myself answers.” Nobody knew what those answers were for sure and one suspects not even Verlaine himself knew in absolute terms.

But the 100 or so patient fans asked for an encore whereby Verlaine performed his “personalised medley of Johnny Cash’s I Walk The Line and Ring Of Fire connected by a series of dreamy anecdotes. The singer had earlier performed a wonderful version of Lefty Frizell’s Blue Eyes Cryin’ In The Rain.

Even so, some non-fans found it all too trying on their patience and left the club before the show ended. It was, after all, a non-show kind of show - like watching a busker in a bar talking side-walk reality. After the show, Verlaine sought refuge in the changing room in the club’s basement refusing to greet anyone while the PA played a Leonard Cohen song. But then, no one except yours truly was interested in getting an autograph. I guess Verlaine just wanted to remain underground for a while.

Note: Click here to order X’Ho’s Attack Of The S.M. Space Encroachers.

  1. 2 Responses to “SO MANY ACTS, SO LITTLE TIME”

  2. Re: Cramps review: The Big X’ho - whoa!
    Wonderfully written backstage conclusion!

    PS I saw the band for the second and last time on the same Stay Sick tour.

    PPS To Lux: Rock in Peace on your everlasting date with Elvis… As I think back on my first date with you at The Cramps Channel New Year’s Eve 1986 Show, thanks so much for disgusting my ex-sister-in-law and my ex-wife. I eventually did the same thing. Obviously. You just didn’t waste time… This note’s 4 U!

    “Well, you can’t dig me/ You can’t dig nuthin/ Do you want the real thing?/ Or are you just talking?
    …You got to live until you’re dead/You got to rock until you see red…
    Stick out your can/ I’m the Garbage Man”

    By thewaymouth on Mar 15, 2009

  3. PPPS Fantastic pic of the Big X’Ho w/Candy & my heroine, Ivy. You may have been sick but you were still a plucky, lucky man.

    By thewaymouth on Mar 15, 2009

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