Every day when I get out of work, it feels like the scene at the start of a movie where the main character gets out of jail and has to figure out what's next. I'm usually wiped, a little bit out of my mind, and need to acclimate myself to the world that has changed since I've been inside. On Thursday night, my next moves were already set. There was a show at nearby Central SAPC, a bar and club in Santa Monica, with a weird and intriguing lineup. A lot of people were on the bill but the clear draw was a one-two-three punch of comedic actors: Martin Starr, Alison Brie and Charlyne Yi.
It wasn't a sketch show or anything. They all have musical side projects that they take seriously enough to book shows. I liked all these people as actors, and so I was curious to see what they do otherwise. Charlyne Yi was the only one I could imagine having musical chops. I didn't know what to expect from the other two. I meet up with my buddy Ray for some lamb shawerma before we go to the show.
We arrive right at the advertised start time of 8 o'clock. A couple of people are huddled around the club's entrance, sorting out their names on the guest list. I stand among them, and when I turn around, there's a bigger huddle behind me. I start to wonder if I've accidentally cut in front of everyone. I turn back towards the front and Alison Brie is giving the door attendant her last name to clear up her guests or credentials or something. I look to see if Ray reacts.
Ray met Alison Brie at a bar once and scrambled for a cool question to ask her. In his deficit of wisdom, he came up with some awkward inquiry about the sexual tension between Annie and Jeff. I like to remind him of this. It's part of the reason I thought to bring him along.
Inside, Central SAPC is much nicer than the indistinct cement block it presents outside. The drinks are reasonably priced. I order a Russian Mule, which is ginger beer with vodka, because it is exactly the cost of a ticket (minus service fees) and I had never had one before. It tastes sweet like lemonade but burns your throat like listerine. You couldn't down it even if you wanted to.
"I owe you two a film," says a guy as he approaches. He wears a beanie and glasses and looks like an archetypical young comedy writer.
I don't say anything in response, but if we were in a comic book, my word balloon would say "??"
"Remember me?" he says, to our clear confusion. "Aren't you guys National Film Society?"
"Oh, no," says Ray. "I know who you're talking about, though."
Guy apologizes. I in turn recognize him from something, but I can't place it and stay silent. At best, I keep thinking of a shorter Jonah Ray.
Ray shows me a picture of the National Film Society on his phone. It features two guys, one of whom looks a lot like Ray with his distinct wild hair and mustache. The other is just a guy, and I'm pretty sure were I not an Asian male sitting next to him, I would never be confused with him. I am fairly confident that any Asian male sitting in that chair would have been mistook.
The show starts with Charlyne Yi and her drummer and, yes, she does have the musical chops. Her set is full of bite-sized gnarly punk stuff. Yelled lyrics about hearts, then thrashed chords to back it up. They aren't comedy songs, but there are a lot of laughs in the gags surrounding them, like a completely unprovoked freestyle rap session, or poorly-executed consecutive trumpet & saxaphone solos.
By the end of her set, the room is filled wall to wall. The concert goers all seem like they know each other from being in the circulatory system of young, cool Los Angeles. A lot of black leather jackets and peacoats and beards. They're not necessarily an elite, but I have a hard time imagining any of them going down the 405 afterwards to a home in Inglewood, or even Culver City.
The Girls is next and Alison Brie jokingly scolds us for not being at home to watch COMMUNITY's season premiere. The Girls is basically a singing group backed up by two acoustic guitars. One of the players tonight is Tom Felton, who opts to stand way back in literally a darkened corner of the stage. The setlist is composed of pretty covers of songs like "My Name is Jonas" and "We Are Young," arranged into folksy harmonies. They know how to complement each other's shiny voices, and their best moments have flashes of First Aid Kit.
It's at this point that I realize how great notoriety is. Not even wealth or celebrity, just the built-in audience that allows you to pursue your hobbies and live out your artistic fantasies at your leisure. The rest of us practice in our garages and eventually give in to laziness, but if you've got notoriety, you get to skip that part. You're not required to write new songs, or even learn an instrument, or go through the growing pains of becoming ready, you just organize something and people will come cheer you on. I don't mean to begrudge them -- it's fantastic, I'm happy for them, and I'd do the same and more. I'd take up baseball or boxing or professional wrestling and have 20 strangers cheering me as I stumbled my way through the learning process.
A heavily bearded Martin Starr comes on next, and to my surprise he is a rapper. He is flanked by a band called Common Rotation, and they are clearly the most musically talented thus far. One of their members plays a sick/ridiculous banjo-Stratocaster combo. Their first song was an ethereal dreampop version of MIA's "Paper Planes", complete with cash register onomotopeia, and it works. The rest of their set follows similarly, with Starr doing lead raps in the calm, monotone style that recalls Blue Scholars and other soundalikes.
The indie rock cover of hip hop songs is always a perilous task; if you do it ironically, it becomes obnoxious and condescending to people who actually like those songs. There's a line to walk if you don't want to be Dynamite Hack, where irony is the main course and all they do is juxtapose lilting guitar with abrasive lyrics. Fortunately, their song choice and dedication to them seemed sincere. After a few songs it becomes clear that they're doing covers as fans, not parody makers. There is a version of "Young, Gifted and Black" as "Young, Suburban and White," but it would have been worse if they didn't change it.
Next, they do a rad version of Akinyele's "Put It In Your Mouth" where the hook is sung by this woman with an amazing Janis Joplin voice. It is the song of the night in retrospect.
Singer-songwriter Daniel Hart is announced as the next artist on the bill. It is nearing 11.
"You a big Daniel Hart fan?" asks Ray. We are both eager to get some rest for the next work day. We are not of a class that can afford to do much on a Thursday night.
"I don't know who that is," I say to him. I try not to leave during shows for politeness reasons, but I have no reason and little will to stay out of this imagined obligation. I assure myself that he'll do fine without me.
We exit the bar. Ray helps a car back out of the tiny gravel parking lot that turns out to belong to Alison Brie. I help Ray back out of his spot in a tricky 3 point turn because some Volvo decided to turn a tiny crevice across from us into an improvised parking spot. Along the way, I see Martin Starr packing up and give him a thumbs up. He says thanks. On the drive back to where I left my car, we talk about Christopher Dorner, plans for the month and how to become better people.