L.A. Punk Has a Sense of Humor, Too

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The New Yorker has a great piece this week about how punk rock is again flourishing in Los Angeles, which in the early 80s was home base for a slew of Southern California’s influential punk and hardcore bands like Black Flag, X, and the Weirdos.

Sasha Frere-Jones describes a vibrant new scene that resides primarily in a small, dingy, downtown Los Angeles space called The Smell, where a close-knit group of friends hang out, play punk-influenced music, make T-shirts, and release one another’s records. I know the space well. While living in L.A. in the early 2000s, I saw a handful of shows there, including some extremely noisy and exciting performances by Nels Cline, before he joined the ranks of Wilco.

But to truly expose L.A.’s current punk scene, I’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention an equally important venue in the Highland Park area (sort of between Hollywood and Pasadena) called Mr. T’s Bowl, a former bowling alley that is now home to a funny, dorky, and quirky L.A. punk contingent.

Mr. T’s Bowl is where I’ve seen bands like the Mormons, who wear short-sleeved, white, button-up shirts with black ties, bicycle helmets and backpacks, and go berserk on stage while playing a hybrid of punk and hardcore. The band recently performed at Coachella (Southern California’s annual music festival) by meandering through the crowd with a bullhorn and portable amplifiers on wheels.

Mr. T’s Bowl also introduced me to Third Grade Teacher, a band made up of two men and two women who dress up in Catholic school garb and pretty much go wild on stage while playing loud, fast music. The club’s endorsement of hyper, nonsensical, punk-influenced music continues in 2007. This month, the club’s calendar includes Stab City, whose wry MySpace tagline is “You’re nobody ’till somebody kills you,” and who claims to play an oddball mix of grime, blues and crunk. Also billed this month is Artichoke (tagline: “cool locally, warm globally”), who do a happy, acoustic cover of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK.”

The best part about these and other punk clubs in the area? From what I’ve seen, a lot of people who show up to watch the shows come prepared to participate, whether that means dancing, heckling (in a friendly sort of way), or jumping on stage with the band, which to me is a good sign of a scene flourishing.

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