Day 7 October 4th – GTA flashbacks, rock ‘n’ roll haunts and unexpected discoveries
Up early, we head for Santa Monica Pier. That iconic Ferris wheel is clearly visible in the early morning sun as we stroll across the deserted beach. Exploring the pier brings back GTA flashbacks again, they got it so right in San Andreas. The number of times I have walked down this pier in the game shot a bunch of innocent bystanders found a car and drove off into the hills being frantically chased by police cars and helicopters.
Back to reality, we grab a coffee and sit to do some people watching. Homeless people and drunks lay asleep, slumped over tables in the sun as Mexicans sell art and a Chinese guy plays hypnotic music on some exotic looking instrument. An Asian woman, older than her body suggests, dances continuously to the music blaring from the cafe speakers, she wears a tiny black bikini and with a constant smile on her face, seems oblivious to the world around her. This seems to be the general theme in LA. Everyone is in their own little bubble; interaction seems unlikely unless there is a transaction to be made. Take the restaurants, the beautiful people greet you with a smile and call you “sir”. They will do whatever they think you want for that extra dollar tip, the lower classes bring your food and I wonder who takes the tips.
We hire bikes and take the cycle path, a long stretch to Venice Beach. It’s still early morning for most LA residents and Jamaicans with t-shirt stalls and hippies with guitars are still setting up whatever it is they do for the day to make money. As we ride onwards, the fragrant smell of marijuana fills the air, now it’s legal over here, you see (or smell) it everywhere. We cycle past all sorts of strange looking characters from all walks of life.
We stop at a skate park and watch teenagers do their thing for a while, we dodge Jamaican street sellers, trying their hardest to sell you a CD of their latest ‘music’.
After lunch, we take the car out for a bit of sightseeing. Driving in LA takes time and in hindsight, maybe taking a taxi or an Uber is the best way. One of the places on my list was the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, one of many cemeteries in LA where the rich and famous are laid to rest.
In this idyllic, reclusive escape from the craziness of LA, you can find the likes of Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Rooney amongst the graves laid out across the beautiful gardens, but the reason for my visit is Johnny Ramone and Chris Cornell, who are funnily enough laid right next to each other. My brother was a massive Cornell fan, I remember Dan playing ‘Seasons’ to me when he worked it out, that moment always stays with me and it was essential for me to just take a moment with my thoughts here.
Back when I originally booked this holiday, I presumed nearer to the time that we would have a whole host of bands to go check out at the various clubs on the strip. Turns out, sod’s law, that its slim pickings for a rock ‘n’ roll junkie the nights we have chosen to be in town. But we do find that Shooter Jennings is playing at The Whiskey A Go Go, so that will do nicely.
In a bizarre twist of fate, we cross paths with my gig-going buddy and ace photographer Marc McGarraghy, who is over here doing a similar road trip with his wife.
The venue is forever iconic in my mind from my teenage years. All my heroes played here, Van Halen, Motley Crue and Guns n’ Roses, it’s the stuff of legends. It is smaller than I imagined but very cool. With a 500 capacity it’s just the size venue I love, and after grabbing a beer, we turn to the stage and imagine what has gone down there over the years.
But that’s all history now and tonight we have four bands to watch. Openers Shelby Texas are a boy/girl duo with just a guitar, who play instantly infectious countrified tunes, Their voices are great together and their Cash/Carter influences even more evident with the inclusion of a cover of Cash’s ‘Jackson’.
I don’t know who Keith Jacob is and I have no desire to find out after tonight’s performance. The guy plays the cheesy sort of country-pop I hate, like Billy Ray Cyrus. Songs that go nowhere and lyrically mean nothing. His voice isn’t great and his stage presence at the same level. The guitar tech is a dwarf, no joke! And things get even more bizarre as the set goes on. He keeps bringing out stunning looking dancing girls who perform perfectly synchronised dance routines that do nothing to improve the fact that his songs suck! Why? Maybe one is his daughter or the guitar player’s girlfriend, or maybe they are just strippers. The mind boggles, but they are by far the best thing about his set.
The climax involves the girls onstage with flying v guitars, doing an ‘Addicted To Love’ style dance routine as two male dwarfs, complete with miniature flying v guitars jump about too! The most tripped out and bizarre performance I have ever seen and probably the worst. I’m still not convinced it actually happened.
Hellbound Glory is like a breath of fresh air after that performance. Fronted by the instantly likable Leroy Virgil, who looks like a Bee Gee in a bomber jacket, yet sings like a rock ‘n’ roll star in his prime. His band is tight, the rhythm section especially a well-oiled machine. Turns out they are actually Shooter Jennings’ band and this is the album release show for Virgil’s comeback album ‘Pinball’. An album produced by Jennings himself and featuring his own band, backing the Reno-based singer/songwriter. It seems Jennings has taken Virgil under his wing and got him back into the business of doing music.
The upbeat title track and the likes of ‘Another Bender Might Break Me’ are whiskey and cocaine-fuelled tales that showcase a quality songwriter on the edge of a few benders himself.
As his set ends he takes the front of the stage and pours his drink over his head, in a sort of ‘don’t give a fuck’ act of defiance. Take me as I am, he seems to be saying and we certainly will.
Hellbound Glory impressed and are an unexpected highlight of the evening that will have us talking long after this trip has ended. ‘Pinball’ is a must-have album for us right now.
Porn legend Ron Jeremy is in the room tonight, should I go up and tell him I’ve seen all his greatest movies?…probably not! He takes the stage to introduce Shooter Jennings. What a band! The same players who backed Leroy Virgil, all the same apart from fiddle player Aubrey Richmond, who has changed from all black leather to a hippified, blue one piece for the headline set.
Shooter, dressed in a purple suit, shades ever present, stands behind a keyboard stage front for most of the set. Sometimes on keys, sometimes a guitar, it’s the bassist and fiddle player that the eyes are drawn to watch as the set unfolds.
The sound of Shooter Jennings is more in line with what the two of us have been listening to in recent times. A sort of Alabama 3 meets Nick Cave vibe with a touch of Johnny Cash. The band is tight, the songs flow and the packed room love it. The likes of ‘Electric Rodeo’ are soaked in Black Crowes vibes, catchy standout track ‘Outlaw You’, definite country but with added fiddle giving a folk edge to it.
We came to this show last minute, on a whim. Not familiar with the music of Shooter Jennings, we leave after a great night needing to check out the back catalogue, but it’s the support band Hellbound Glory who really leave a lasting impression long after the trip has ended.
Day 8 – Universal Studios, bucket list bars and future stars
Day 2 in Los Angeles is spent mostly at Universal Studios. The tour is essential, the themed rides vary in awesomeness, Sedd has been before and recommends we upgrade to fast-track entry to save time queuing good move. We get there as it opens and leave by 3 pm having done pretty much every ride. Most are 3D interactive rides, with 3D glasses, Harry Potter and Transformers offering the most thrills, a larger than life replica of Springfield is very trippy and a detailed replica of Hogwarts is not to be missed.
We then take a trip over to Laurel Canyon to find the house where Jim Morrison lived, check out the hippy country store next door and just take in the atmosphere. Cruise through the likes of Rodeo Drive, the chaotic traffic, the palm trees and the characters that you would only see in LA.
The evening brings a trip down Hollywood Boulevard to check out the bucket list rock ‘n’ roll bars. We find The Viper Room, intending to grab a quick beer and move on. We follow the black-walled corridors to the main room, a small room that is packed, everyone seemingly waiting for a band to take the stage. There’s a cool vibe in here, we soak it in, like The Whiskey last night and imagine the bands that have taken to that stage in the past.
Tonight is the album release show for a band called Disciples Of Babylon. Premiering tracks from the newly released ‘The Rise And Fall Of Babylon’. The guys have an epic, almost proggy sound. Rousing gang vocals on the likes of ‘Liberty’ and ‘Karma’ bring to mind 30 Seconds To Mars at their best. Frontman Eric Knight incites crowd participation time and again and does what’s needed to keep the packed in crowd ignited as guitarist Ramon Blanco pulls off stadium-sized licks to his side. They even throw in a choice Zep cover in the form of ‘Immigrant Song’.
Lyrically, a socially aware band who are in touch with the state their country is in, musically and sonically tight and professional, they seem to have the songs that matter. Worth checking out methinks.
We then head onto the Rainbow Bar & Grill. Again, it’s tiny and very cool. I don’t really know what I was expecting, glitz and glamour, maybe a rock star sighting or two? Truth is, these clubs are exactly the same as the clubs I frequent in the UK, small, great drinking bars that have the same atmosphere as Fibbers, as The Brudenell, as whatever club I go to watch bands in, the only difference is the location and then maybe the less famous clientele.
I would have liked more time in LA, but it’s just so freakin’ big! A lot bigger than I expected. There is still so much we did not see, so the Hollywood sign, the Walk of Fame and the rest will have to wait until next time, as Vegas is calling.
Author : Ben Hughes