A Los Angeles story of madness and awakening, in twelve parts

Manhattan Murder Mystery, at the Echoplex

Manhattan Murder Mystery, at the Echoplex

Part IV: Echo Part Rising, Saturday Afternoon

I woke up on a floor in Echo Park to discover it was Charles Bukowski’s birthday. The public radio station KCRW, broadcasting from Santa Monica, was airing a special in honor of the legendary author, short story writer, novelist and poet. As I listened to his friend Harry Dean Stanton’s beautiful reading of the stark and gorgeous Bluebird, I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to prepare for the Echo Park Rising Festival than with streetwise and poignant words from this prolific Angeleno.

In the aftermath of the reading, I thought of my first few days in Los Angeles. There was the massive decompression at Echo Park Lake from so many layers of stress, and just wandering around the streets of Echo Park and Silver Lake in contemplation and what I’ll call “life evaluation.” My friend’s barrage of stories of his current state of mind and recent miseries, his supporting characters of the kind that Bukowski might like to write about, if he were still here. There was the young and naive female sub-letter he found on Craigslist, who put his belongings in bags and tossed them out into the yard, crashed his car and ran back to Pennsylvania after just a few days in the big city. The crack addict and “crack whore” hooker, who stole the car and took it on a joyride. The police. The disorientation. The restless days, locked out and temporarily among the lost and the homeless, out on the streets. The crack addict’s ex-wife and her ominous warnings, and other sordid and sundry characters who had come in and out of his life, wearing him down, taking, not giving, and leaving just a hollow shell in their wake. And through his and my sleepless nights, mysterious packs of barking dogs, like roving canine gangs. Interwoven with the dogs were the ubiquitous ghetto birds. It was horrible and yet gloriously romantic grit.

Besides just the joy of being there (and not being on the East Coast), there was that which strengthened and sustained me: a neighborhood that was relaxed, easy-going and filled with working-class Latino families. Bright, never-ending sunshine. The Tribal Cafe a short walk down the street, with their vegetarian Mexican dishes, amazing kale salads and powerful energy drinks. All of it dirt cheap and in a casual, bohemian setting. Tired as hell but strangely energized, I grabbed my things and headed out for an afternoon and evening of fine music with some old and new friends. It was time for Echo Park Rising.

'A Haunted Summer' at the Echoplex

'A Haunted Summer' at the Echoplex

Five weeks later, I’ll admit that everything is but a pleasant blur now. I’ll apologize for what will be a lack of specific details, but with a lead-up like that, I trust that all these wonderful bands will forgive me. Echo Park Rising. An astonishing and completely overwhelming smorgasbord of over 200 bands spread out over two days on some 15+ stages all over Echo Park. I only caught a small handful, mostly those whom I’d written about but have never seen and a few whom were “old friends.” I began at the legendary Echo, positively awestruck, and which incredibly I hadn’t made it to on my past two visits. For you Bostonians, The Echo and its sibling venue, The Echoplex, are much like The Middle East Upstairs and Downstairs, except with really good sound systems.

Black Hi-Lighter

(The Echo, 8/17) ~ Black Hi-Lighter are muscular, snarling power-glam, and how great it was to see these guys live after writing about them. The fun of their performance was mixed with another “emotional decompression” which was just the joy of being there. Yeah, kinda teary — to a swishy, campy (but entirely heartfelt) soundtrack. Perfect.

Young Hunting

(The Echoplex, 8/17) ~ Young Hunting is a new band for me, and one of a handful of “happy accidents” while I was in L.A. (meaning I didn’t really plan on seeing them but was glad I did). They were very dreamy and quite lovely. Their latest is Hazel, available as a vinyl LP with a digital download card included.

Manhattan Murder Mystery

(The Echoplex, 8/17) ~ Here’s another band I was really looking forward to finally seeing. The Manhattan Murder Mystery just felt like this hillbillie hoedown stomp. To me, anyway — and I’ll stand by that. LOVED*LOVED*LOVED them. I also learned the Manhattan Murder Mystery Drinking Game, demonstrated by Matt Teardrop, with the entire crowd obediently following suit (after every song, hoist your beer in the air in a reverential toast, and then take a long drink). I felt like a wide-eyed little kid who just snuck in to the big kids’ party.

Olin & The Moon

Another happy accident was Olin & The Moon at the TAIX outdoor stage. I wandered in (or rather ventured out to the back of the parking lot) mid-set, but liked what I heard.

Haunted Summer

(The Echoplex, 8/17) ~ Yes, back at the Echoplex, where I would just plant myself for a very special musical evening (but more on that in my next installment). Haunted Summer is a simply beautiful band and one I fairly recently discovered and wrote about, adding them to my growing stable of marvelous east side L.A. bands. As pretty as these guys sound in their recordings, they’re even prettier live.

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/85024399″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

After Haunted Summer, I had every intention of running over to Lot 1 and catching Nima Kazerouni’s (So Many Wizards) solo project, Crown Plaza. However, I was stopped by a distinguished looking gentleman sitting at an outdoor table, who complimented me on my vintage Henry Clay People t-shirt and asked if I was going to their final show that night (I was). Turns out it was Seamus Simpson (Radars to the Sky, Smokers in Love, Thailand), so we had a lovely conversation about The Henry Clay People, the noble Silver Lake/Echo Park music scene, the skanky music business, the meaning of life, and I forgot all about Crown Plaza. But I did learn that Seamus had a new band called Midnight Cities and that I should go see them that Tuesday night at Boardners, which in fact I was already going to on Tuesday night, to see George Glass and the debut performance of The Pretty Flowers featuring Eli Reyes (Rademacher, Henry Clay People) and Noah Green (HCP). Holy Hera, what a lineup. So anyway, sorry Crown Plaza. Here’s what they might have sounded like:

Moses Campbell

The aural assault of Moses Campbell followed at Lot 1 (made all the more intense in their tiny back room), and them I did catch — or at least part of them, as it was soon time to race back to the Echoplex for that evening’s festivities.

Coming up next: An Evening at the Echoplex: Kan Wakan, The Happy Hollows and The Last Hurrah for The Henry Clay People.

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