Not Just the Ticket — another ticketless special on Bogart’s in Long Beach

As I was typing up some of the recent stories, something was nagging at me — I knew there were a few shows I was missing in the overall account somehow, but I couldn’t remember what the details were. Then at some point everything became clear in a flash and memories of Bogart’s came back in. I have no tickets from any of the shows but it would be wrong of me if I didn’t reflect on at least some of the performances I saw there, almost always in the company of various KUCI types looking to see what was happening of an evening.

Mike Boehm’s 1993 article on the closing of Bogart’s is a perfect way to sum up what the importance of the place was — it’s also a portrait of a different world, in that OC’s neighboring concert and theatre scene has generally improved over the moons. Neither truly big location nor hardscrabble punk club, its location in a mall was summed up the exact weird appeal of the place — it never seemed like it should be there, and never quite had a total identity of its own, but in the time that it ran it had a lot of acts come through that probably wouldn’t’ve made it to the area otherwise, not to mention a number of local folks both from Long Beach and the surrounding area and OC itself.

There’s a Facebook memorial page which I encourage you to check out — the club’s booker Steve Zepeda has a Myspace spot as well — and you can get a larger picture of it all through them and the various links around from there. I vaguely remember the drives up, the parking lot, and walking up a staircase towards the entrance — I think this was an outside staircase, not entirely sure. Upon entering the club there was the ticket booth area, a smaller bar/club spot to the right and to the left was the main venue location, with its own bar, tables and so forth, plus the stage and open area in front of it. I’m probably misremembering some of the details there but hey, the photos on those pages will confirm or deny what I’m saying!

I’m not entirely sure what my first show was there, or even when it was, though I’m fairly positive it would have been in fall 1992. I’m probably conflating a couple of shows in my head here, but I know I went up to some of the performances in the company of not only good friend Mackro but fellow DJs Chowderhead and Biff, both of whom (Chowderhead especially) loved their jazz. So it’s not surprising that the first band I remember seeing was the Cambridge Pipers, who despite their English folk rock style name were a flute-led ensemble that might have been more Canterbury School in retrospect, though I couldn’t’ve told you that at all at the time. They were associated with and/or shared members with Bazooka, one of the many jazz-loving acts that were on SST Records during that era, and I had that album of theirs around but not anything but the Pipers. Pleasant enough, at the least, and I remember the lead guy happily in his own particular musical groove on stage — no Ian Anderson crazy antics (or Will Ferrell for that matter), just someone lost a bit in his instrument and that of his band’s.

They were opening for someone — I can’t remember who, but I can’t believe it was the either of the acts that I next remember at the venue. I’m fairly positive this was a double bill, but however it happened, Unsane and Helios Creed are the next definite memories of shows at Bogart’s, and even then it’s all a little up in the air. Unsane were never huge favorites of mine, I might have owned an album in some sort of thought that were all post-Helmet somehow. (God knows where I get these ideas from, they were more contemporary than anything else.) I remember it being loud and riffy and the lead dudes seeming to be pretty focused on stage in whatever they were up to — I can’t remember if this was before or after one of the members had died; if after that doubtless explained a bit of it.

Helios Creed I would have liked to say more about, but I barely saw any of it. I really loved Chrome, still do, and a fair amount of Helios’s solo stuff is just as gone so I was ready for whatever would happen. I remember him on stage with band as well as a dancer — shades of Hawkwind I suppose — and announcing “Master Blaster,” one of his best solo songs. A lot of growling acid guitar insanity followed and I would have been happily lost in it but the folks I had ridden up with were wanting to go home. So I assume we were mostly there for the openers, whoever they were and whichever show it was. There’s probably a list somewhere.

Two further shows, however, provided much more in the way of both clearer memories and plenty of entertainment. Having seen them the previous year at the Jabberjaw show I was all about seeing Ween again, who in the interim had ended up having their semi-breakout hit in the form of “Push Th’ Little Daisies,” one of the truly goonier songs ever to get semi-regular airplay and MTV coverage. A number of songs played at the Jabberjaw show had ended up on the resultant album Pure Guava, containing said semi-hit, and pretty much all of us at the station (well, those who I knew and hung around with) were playing that on a constant basis one way or another.

Unsurprisingly it was a pretty full and boisterous crowd for that one — I seem to remember being towards the back of the crowd, actually probably sitting down at one of the tables or leaning against something, maybe having a drink but it seems unlikely for me at that time. Dean and Gene were maybe a touch more slick by default given the venue but they weren’t any less inspired, and while the memories of what they played are a little fuzzier the overall impression was good times had. The two vivid memories: one of them introducing a number as their ‘strolling song,’ being a French language song that, in the spirit of their many other bizarro-world pastiches and parodies, was something of a Maurice Chevalier-boulevadier easy swing of a thing. Except it ended with the chirpily sung “Fuck you,” but of course. The other vivid memories was the radio station ID that one of us, possibly Mackro, got from the band, with them talking ‘the rock music…music rock.’ It all made sense then. Still does, really.

But the show I’m still glad I caught above all else there was from a band I’d been waiting to see for years. Negativland had been a firm favorite of mine from the UCLA days and I’m still a fan to this day, though it is interesting to see how their particular aesthetic stand is now something strangely outdated in terms of what they were attempting to do, however much the issues of copyright and fair use remain the flashpoints they are. But that is for another time and discussion — at this point they were still riding through the whole U2/SST mess as best as they could, and while they had a new album out in the shape of Free, pretty much nearly everyone who was there was just excited to see them again after what had gone down over the previous years.

Had I lived in the Bay Area I’m sure I would have been a little more used to the results given their occasional live performances but since this was the first time I really had no idea what all to expect — so hearing the voice of Dick Vaughn explaining that he was dead, had died in a plane crash, and knew he had died in a plane crash because he had prerecorded announcements covering all possible versions of his untimely demise, well, from that point forward I knew I was going to be for a good time. (I had already had a weird time thanks to opening act Little Fyodor and his sidekick Babushka, but I’m still not entirely sure if I didn’t dream all that. I liked their song “We’re All Doomed,” though.)

Various recordings from that tour surfaced via bootleg CD as well as, years later, a semi-formal release from the band themselves, but neither of them were of this particular show — however the general model remained the same, seeing as it was something of a low key theatrical presentation, down to the appearance of the Weatherman on video only. Black Flag covers and revisions, extrapolations of the perfect scrambled eggs recipe, the loudspeaker speaking up and saying that Christianity is stupid and communism is good, film clips, flashing lights, massive cut out guns waved around…what a time. And what an insane amount of gear on stage, at that.

It ended with Mark Hosler singing “A Man With Five Fingers,” only removing each of his fingers one by one with increasingly bloody hedge clippers. (It’s amazing what fake blood can do for you these days.) I was down in front the whole time, caught between laughing my brains out and dancing, of sorts. One of those shows that I can’t believe I almost forgot, so I’m glad I got this flashback to talk about it.

And all this in an open-air SoCal mall. Strange but somehow, very right.