Cafe NELA

(2014)

At Cafe NELA for Eddie Rarer’s birthday party yesterday. Eddie digs the solid rock’n’roll bands but fooled us by booking a lot of zany–way zany–avant garde acts. Whew. When I walked in the joint the blast of Hookah’s white noizoid sound knocked me clean back out into the middle of Cypress Avenue where I was run over by a Smart Car. Totalled it. I apologized and tried to enter Cafe NELA again. I leaned into the sound and made it to the bar. Hunkered down and clung to my beer and a rogue sound wave broke right on top of me and washed me back out into the street right in the path of a truck mounted on monster wheels so high it passed right over me, and I was standing up. I made it back to the sidewalk and hid outside. But I had left that beer on the bar. I got down on all fours and crawled back in. Hookah was raging, screaming, dissonant, artistic. But there was my beer. I could see it. With sisyphean effort I crawled slowly to the bar and hunkered down beneath it. With one hand I reached up and grabbed my PBR. The can quivered as if alive. The roar of Hookah went on and on and then suddenly, as if the very pit of Hell had opened up beneath them and swallowed them whole, all was silence. The audience burst into applause. It was Hookah’s crowd. They’d dug every blast. I’d survived. Art damage lives.

How cowardly I, a jazz critic, had become.

Went out into the beer garden while the next act set up. It’s a popular place, that beer garden. Full of bohemians, freaks and neer-do-wells. They tell stories, some even true, and wonder about lost hair. The women listen to the men’s aches and pains and roll their eyes. Twenty somethings mention their parents. Sometimes we know their parents. Even are their parents. Gigs are planned and bands discussed and suddenly they all have the munchies. A beeline is made for the Salvadoran place next door. They’re cheap and they’ll even bring your food to you right at the bar. I ate a delicious meal that way one night at Cafe NELA watching Don Preston and a free jazz saxophonist from Philadelphia. Yesterday the nice restaurant lady brought over the huevos rancheros I’d ordered. By the time I’d made it back to them the eggs had been sonically transmogrified into a chicken named Pancho who was now the bar mascot, so I skipped dinner.

Hanging out in the beer garden I suddenly heard the unmistakable guitar playing of Carey Fosse. Very talented guy, that Carey Fosse, trapped between rock and funk and jazz and avant garde. He touches on all of them, mixes them, drops them, picks them up again, makes weird shapes. He rocks rootsily, funks groovily, jazzes swingfully, avant gardes freakily. We stood down in the beer garden where by some sort of Twilight Zone miracle we could hear it all perfectly. Cool. We could hang and laugh and bullshit and rag on each other with a Carey Fosse soundtrack. I said time to go in and watch but Donny Popejoy showed up in a Pabst Blue Ribbon tee shirt easily worth another ten minutes chatter. OK, time to go watch Carey Fosse. He was riffing away way cool. I got to the door in time to see him putting away his guitar. It’s all in the timing.

But he had sounded great outside anyway. Very talented guy, that Carey Fosse. Next–unless I’m missing somebody–Ape Killed Ape was entertaining if drummerless. There was a real rock band on at the end I wanted to see but our colds caught up with us and we fled into the night. Great place, that Cafe NELA. The latest–maybe the last even–in the weirdo loser underground hang continuum. It’s been a long way since Al’s Bar. A lot of water under the bridge. And a lot more cheap beer.

Cafe NELA

Cafe NELA is at 1906 Cypress Avenue, Los Angeles 90065

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