I don’t know how many hours all these very creative types—some musicians, a writer, a couple artists, maybe some others—had settled in around a beat up table in an assortment of abandoned chairs at the very bottom of the Cafe NELA patio. Either gravity or our careers had left us there because you couldn’t get any lower than that table. We sat there drinking and smoking and laughing way too loud, the jokes were terrible and the insults mean and the stories were always old and sometimes true. Far nicer people than us gave us a wide circle, like plump eating fish warily eyeing a circle of sharks. Sometimes one would foolishly come too close and be devoured, chomp, in a swirl of cackles and humiliation. It was all rather merciless and totally enjoyable and we sat there for hours laughing and basking in our asshole exceptionalism. We knew we were it. We knew it did not get any lower than us. More dumb jokes, each more offensive than the last. Some bass players have no pride at all. Eventually three grown men were doing Jackie Mason impressions at the same time, though not quite in harmony. I’d never heard three bad Jackie Mason impressions at the same time. Probably never will again. Pipes went round. Holy vodka in a water bottle, Batman. Even friends were abandoning us by now. The Jackie Mason was getting weird, the sculptress was getting dangerously out there. We were starting to peak on our own delicious high. This is what I’m gonna miss, my painter buddy said, this. You can see music anywhere, he said, but this…. He gestured it in water colors, I saw it in words. This, he said, this is the life.
It’s just so cool to see Chris Stein (of the legendary Saccharine Trust and so many other aggregations) getting such a jazz man’s send off on Facebook, people talking about what a great guy he was and such a solid, inspired ensemble player. The grief is there, low and blue, but I think there’s no greater way to pay tribute to a musician who fought so hard against the inevitable than to talk about what a great guy he was and such a good player. He’ll certainly be missed in our crazy underground. He’ll certainly be missed on inspired nights at Cafe NELA. Bassists like him are a rare thing. People probably even rarer. A shame he’s gone but a treasure he was.
Saw a brilliant power trio last night at Cafe Nela that was so inexplicably original I tried for half their set to come up with a point of reference but the only one I could think of was Otto’s Chemical Lounge. Who? Yeah, big help. I talked to the band as they tore down. They’re called the Kidneys, from Cypress Park. The best new rock band I’ve seen in a long, long time. They’re all twenty years old or so. Goddam kids. Frantic, with crazy harmonies, crazier rhythms, crazy good playing. They’re so brilliant they probably have no future whatsoever. But if you want to see a new band that doesn’t sound like every other rock band these past thirty years, this is it. I’m just hoping there’s all kinds of bands like this out there, fresh out of high school, full of new ideas and trying not to be successful. Just playing crazy music and bugging all the boring people who wrecked everything.
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.