By Larry Wilson
I’m always railing in this space against the dearth of real, live music for adults who aren’t dead between the ears (or in the musical taste buds) in Old Pasadena, which in theory is a perfect place for live music.
It should in fact be rocking the way Memphis’ Beale Street bleats the blues – a walkable Southern California entertainment neighborhood where a music fan could easily tromp from club to club, unlike the Sunset Strip, upon whose sidewalks no boots of Spanish leather have stomped since the Buffalo Springfield chronicled the hipster-vs-cops riot there.
You drive, dog, between the House of Blues and the Roxy, though they’re six blocks apart.
Oh, there’s some quiet jazz here. And you can find a club with a DJ spinning house, or dub, or acid dub house, or whatever electronic music mixed on turntables is being called this week. And I’m not even really a fuddy-dud about that; it’s just I’d rather see and hear a band.
And there’s fantastic and highly eclectic music at each one of Monica Lee Copeland’s Indelible Ink shows, which just moved from the champagne bar Pop on Union Street to Robert Simon’s new AKA Bistro in One Colorado, 7 p.m., the last Tuesday of every month barring December. The shows, which also include dancers and performance artists, achieve a modern vaudeville vibe, but they are mostly dedicated to the spoken word — slam poetry and regular poetry — with the musical guest as a sweet melodic tonic programmed in between.
That’s why the one night when I walked all of Old Pas in search of a rock tune, I ended back where I started — with the teen Led Zeppelin tribute band in the Old Towne Pub, the classic stinky dive bar that was always a little bit hidden and now is mightily so — enter from various alleys off of Holly.
At least they had a sense of humor, and tossed the pretty girl at the bar the mike so she could show off her Merseyside accent tribute.
If you know of live music you like in Old Pas that I’m missing, drop a line — would love to check it out.
But the other night I found a local joint that is booking the kind of bands that would be great in Old Pas. And it was very much worth the drive up to Sierra Madre to check it out.
I’d been to Cafe 322 on Sierra Madre Boulevard for lunch before, but had no idea the Italian place served up tunes as well as bowls of pasta with red sauce until my friends in the Human Hands, a great post-punk L.A. band that considers itself as “closely associated with what is loosely known as the Pasadena scene, bands with more of an art influence,” a scene I’d wager you didn’t even know existed. What it means, along with being smart as opposed to dumb, is a sprightly, ironic sound akin to XTC and Television. You might remember “Trains vs. Planes,” original member Juan Gomez’ funny transit number, or how they opened for Magazine back in the day, or headlined Perkins Palace — Old Pas’s Raymond, that is. Or more likely the bands that came out of HH, including The Dream Syndicate and Wall of Voodoo and The Romans.
But I walked into the joint alone halfway through the set the other night and, 35 years on, the Hands were hot. And the sound was just excellent — loud, yeah, but not so much that I lamented forgetting ear plugs. Loud like the Dictators: Young (well, young-sounding), fast and scientific. Insightfully funny real-person songs like “Emily Watson” that would do slice-of-lifers Fountains of Wayne proud.
Juan, the highly intellectual kind of guitarist who works in rare books at the Huntington Library, said the bookers and the club were great to work with. Featuring the kind of rock music that would do great in Old Pasadena. And if a fellow has to head to Sierra Madre to hear it, well, more power to the 322.
– Larry Wilson is public editor of the Pasadena Star-News and the San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group.