associated with the
punk movement in England,the scene would have been threatening. While
most of the the audience was dressed routinely, a few dozen wore chains,
dog collars and other zombie-ish attire linked to the British punk stereotype.
On stage, the Screamers was an odd-looking foursome. With his hair greased to stand straight up, lead singer Tomata Du Planty raced around like a man in a nightmare. The band's nervous, relentless music added to the room's anxious tone.
Du Planty suddenly leaped from the four-foot stage onto the dance floor to join in the frantic, up-and-down pogoing that is integral to English punk. Rather than strict, pogoing, Friday's crowd darted about, bouncing off each other. It was like bumper cars without the cars.
For the uninitiated, the dance floor looked like a combination gang fight and Demolition Derby. The Screamers maintained their urgent, pulsating pace.
After a few minutes, Johnson headed for the exit.
Asked if he felt uneasy, he snapped, "Hell, no, the kids are fine. They're just having fun. It's the noise. My ears can't take it. Why do they have to play so damn loud? But I may be back. See: I got my hand stamped. They said that'd get me back in..."
*In his brief glimpse, Johnson discovered more about the true nature of the L.A. punk scene than he would in most of the sensationalist media accounts available to him. His favorable reaction would have been welcomed by Brendan Mullen, the 23-year-old force behind the Masque and the weekend shows.
Besides raising funds for the Masque, Mullen had hoped to demonstrate that the L.A. punk scene is a positive, rather than negative social and musical force. However aggressive some the the bands and rambunctious some of the audience, the overriding spirit is one of fun.
He knew, however, the shows were a risk. "We never have any real problems at the Masque." Mullen said during Friday's show. "But you have a different audience here and just 1% or 2% could destroy everything. If there are problems, it'd make it much harder to deal with the city and the owner of the (Masque) building. It could mean the end of the Masque forever."
He said this weekend showcase-featuring 20 L.A. bands-would also show the individuality of the new wave movement here. The Elks Building was chosen for the shows because its fading elegance appealed to his sense of theater.
Though things went smoothly Friday, there was an undercurrent of tension. Given the unveven quality of the bands, much of the audience spent portions of the evening lounging on the huge stairway or exploring the grand old facility.
Told periodically about trouble somewhere in the building, Mullen spent much of his time moving between the concert room and the main lobby. The reports proved groundless. The audience, too, seemed particularly self-conscious of making sure nothing happened to damage the Masque's future.
By the end of the evening, Mullen seemed drained. There head been problems with the sound; some of the performances hadn't been strong; some bands had to borrow musicians from other groups to round out their lineup.
"The whole point is the movement is still in the embryonic stage," Mullen said. "There's a long way to go. Some of the musicians will drop out. They'll get married. They'll give up. Some bands may reform several times. But I can already see who the best writers are."
"It's a necessary step. We've got to get vitality and freshness back into music. The whole thing is it's antitechnology. It says that you don't need a million dollars worth of equipment and years of study to play rock 'n' roll. Rock has become too dependent on technology. It needs fresh ideas. Most importantly, it needs a place to start. You'd be amazed how many bands are starting up. We get calls every day from new groups wanting a place to play."
*The Screamers turned in the most individual and invigorating set of the weekend. While many outfits went after the high energy sound of the Sex Pistols, only the Screamers conveyed the Pistol's maniacal aura. Besides Du Planty, the group includes Tommy Gear on synthesizer,
K.K. on drums and Jeff on piano. (The punk bands are big on first names and assumed names.)
The Zeroes, from San Diego, are more mainstream than the Screamers, but the band has excellent stage presence and a tight, disciplined sound. Because of its tough, street wise stance, the Zeroes have been dubbed the Mexican Ramones.
The Alleycats has much of the crowd buzzing Saturday. Though I missed the trio's set, a tape of the group's first Dangerhouse single showed a striking blend of powerful instrumental swirl and commanding, unnerving vocals by lead singers Randy and Ronnie Spector lookalike Dianne.
Slash-an excellent monthly guide to the local punk scene-says the record due next month shoves the new group "masterfully to the front line." The group (also featuring drummer John McCarthy) will be at Kuhuna's Club in Redondo Beach tonight at 9.
The Dickies, a fast-rising quintet from the San Fernando Valley, turned in the most disciplined and best received set of the ones I saw Saturday. Indicative of the speed with which bands can progress, the Dickies had only been together a few weeks when it made a triumphant debut last fall at the Whisky. It has since built enough of a following and repertoire to have several record companies interested in them. Normally, the band employs props to give its music a humorous, tongue-in-cheek edge. But it went without them Saturday.
Shock is more pop-oriented than most of the local new wave outfits, but it has some catchy songs and a good-looking, hard-working lead singer in Paul Bearer. The X band was mostly routine. Eve has a strong sense of vision and deserves watching. In 17-year-old Rick L. Rick, the F-Word group boasts a singer with the toughest, leather-jacketed stance. But he caused Mullen some concern when he pushed a cameraman from the stage during his set.
Skull, too, has an aggressive, don't-fool-with-me lead singer and a driving, if inconsistent sound. The Weirdos, one of the best known local bands, tied with the Dickies for causing the most dance floor activity. *
D.D. Faye, 21, summarized many feelings. A writer for Back Door magazine, a local rock guide, said the Masque is a source of identity and pride for punk fans.
"Before the Masque, everyone was intimidated by the East Coast scene." she said. "I remember a New York band playing the Whisky and putting us down as a bunch of spoiled, rich kids. He was trying to pass himself off as being streetwise or whatever and he was wearing this $110 designer sweater and he had his hair styled.
"Well, we didn't take it. We shouted back. We're tired of people thinking everyone in L.A. is lying around Laurel Canyon, playing tennis and snorting cocaine. Anyone who thinks that is ignorant. The Masque gives us a chance to wipe out that idea." *
Just when things seemed home free Saturday, there were reports of trouble downstairs. There had been a fight and a glass door kicked in at the restaurant. Racing downstairs, Mullen found yet another false alarm.
There had been trouble, a security officer said, but the punks weren't involved. Some people who were at the Elks building for a wedding had gotten a but rambunctious. At 2 a.m., the punks said goodby to MacArthur Park and Mullen prepared to meet with owners of the Masque building to discuss meeting the city code demands.