A guide to four nearby music venues.
Had a boring week? Weekend not looking much better? Well, entertainment is not reserved exclusively for those who buy $40 tickets and have to drive hours from home. There are venues nearby that can take you from the couch to center stage in moments.
These establishments offer a wide array of entertainment, whether for the intellectual listener or the primal dancer. To help you decide where to go, I’ve devised a rating system I call “the 4” for four local venues: the Folk Music Center, The Glass House, Chain Reaction and The Whisky A Go-Go.
There are a number of ways one can assess musicians. One can judge based on hair, message or even sponsorship. My four categories are: stage presence, lyrical content, musicianship and merchandise. I’ve rated each venue and band numerically, with 10 as a possible perfect score. Now it’s time to leave the couch behind!
A trip to downtown Claremont can offer much more than food and window-shopping. The Folk Music Center started as a back-room music store attached to Boots Beer in 1958. Now, nearly 50 years later, it’s a bustling music shop by day. But many don’t know that it offers an open-mic night the fourth Sunday of every month. Ten slots are available for performers in each of two sets.
On Oct. 6, the venue broke from habit and invited the harmonica and steel guitar duo known as Gut Puppet to perform a set. Initially, I intended to review them, until I saw the opening act. This musician was Emad Gabra. Violinist Anoush Suni and percussionist Daniel Tehrani soon joined him. The crowd of intellectuals, families and senior citizens quickly quieted and shifted slightly in their steel folding chairs, waiting for an introduction.
Rather than speaking with words, Gabra told us through his music exactly who he was and what his intentions were. The first song was entirely instrumental: an ambient, Middle-Eastern-sounding melody. The song’s fluidity filled the room and created a sense of interconnectedness between audience and performers. As Gabra sang the first words of his set under the dim lighting, the walls of the venue, which are lined with various obscure instruments, seemed to mesh together.
Gabra, an Egyptian native now living in Claremont, is fluent in Arabic, and sang entirely in his native tongue. He paused between numbers only to introduce himself, his band mates or his songs. Otherwise, he played straight through. The only exception was when he drew the crowd’s attention to the rolled bits of paper tied with thin ribbon that had been handed out at the door. A whisper of rustling paper swept the room as Gabra explained that it was a poem he’d written in Arabic and English called “The Fig Tree.” The piece spoke of when Jesus cursed the fig tree and killed it. Gabra’s poem came to the conclusion that the damnation of the figless tree is a metaphor for a lack of faith.
A true artist who creates solely out of love for his craft, Gabra was genuine, humble and soft-spoken. “I write songs dealing with social issues and politics. I don’t write love songs.”
Emad Gabra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Stage presence: 7.5
A very commanding individual able to transform a simple wooden stool into a monument.
2. Lyrical: 7.8
Gabra sings in Arabic. He typically attempts to describe his songs to listeners, but given the 35-minute set, Gabra did not have time.
3. Musicianship: 8.5
Some off timing with his companions did not hinder this artist.
4. Merchandise offered:
Free hand-written poem in English and Arabic written by Gabra. Also, CDs on sale for $10.
• Never seen moment: Such a genuine display of artistry. Humble and capable, Gabra has no pretentious agenda onstage.
Now off to Garey Avenue in Pomona, where you’ll find a house made of glass. Well it’s actually made of concrete, but there is no mystery about what is going on inside when you hear the music flooding the streets. Surrounded by closed shops and parking spots, The Glass House in Pomona offers a variety of musical genres. The club’s layout is perfect for almost any band. There is a large floor with plenty of space. The area behind it features a raised viewing level, and opposite the stage there is a bar with plenty of buffer between it and the much-used dance floor.
On Oct. 7 the Glass House catered to those who like their dancing with a bit of rock ‘n’ roll, and featured the incredibly dynamic group Mink. The band includes Neal Carlson on vocals, Stella Mozgawa on drums, David Lowy strumming rhythm guitar, Nick Maybury on lead guitar, and Grant Fitzpatrick on bass. On first glance, front-man Neal Carlson looks somewhat like a mix of Joey Ramone and Mick Jagger, but as soon as the New York native opens his mouth, you know he’s an original.
“Music is about being free, not about looking cool,” Carlson said. The band rifled through a set, tearing through songs that ranged from psychedelic surf to pure punk. The entire band was moving as if the stage was as red hot as their set.
It was nice to see a band break the tired norm of indie indifference with their bright smiles. The band looked like they were having just as much fun as the crowd. The diverse audience ranged from foot-stomping teenie-boppers to parents embarrassing their children by dancing. Guitarist Nick Maybury never missed a note, even when his back-up vocals were too low or when his cord was accidentally pulled mid-solo.
“When everyone’s exhausted and wants to kill each other, Nick’s like ‘Yay! We get to play twice today,’” said Mink’s tour manager Caroline Tully.
Mink can be reached at myspace.com/mink.
1. Stage presence: 9.5
That’s about as high as I could justifiably rank them. Even Iggy Pop would say “Wow…”
2. Lyrical: 7.4
Had to be simplistic to fit the fast-paced music, but overall good.
3. Musicianship: 8.5
Extremely smooth and concise. Very genre-specific; it’s just 20 different genres.
4. Merchandise offered:
Free poster with $10 CDs, pack of two pins $3, pack of two wristbands $10, and shirts for $20.
• Never seen moment: Neal started a clap using his microphone and a shoe he’d kicked up into the rafters.
Anaheim-based Chain Reaction is as far from Disneyland as one can get in neighboring postal codes. Featuring punk rock, grit, stickers and sweat, Chain Reaction is pressed into the corner of a dingy strip mall, flanked by a cinder-block wall on one side and a small record store on the other.
Catering to the under-aged and under-paid masses, Chain has been providing an alcohol-free venue at a reasonable price for more than 10 years. An alcohol-free bar offers a variety of candies, energy drinks and water. Each wall is covered in the stickers or T-shirts of bands that have come through. The busy walls make one feel surrounded, even on an empty night, as it was on Oct. 8. Chain’s Web site boasts “We have all types of bands here: ska, punk, rock and alternative.” The term “alternative,” though, doesn’t branch out far enough to reach the indie, glam and hip-hop band, Shut Up Stella.
“Who’s Stella? We don’t talk about Stella,” joked Kristen Wagner, a lead singer in the group. The band is comprised of three very photogenic pop-princesses: Jessie Malakouti, Kristen Wagner, and Fan_3, and followed the pre-teen pop-punk posse Rive on a desolate Monday night.
The three have worked tirelessly for two years to hone their craft and establish themselves in the studio. After working with various producers—one of whom produced scandalously sweet Lily Allen—and then shooting an ill-fated pilot for an MTV reality show—the divas have begun to work on their live fan-base, and recently joined forces with guitarist Mike Feingold, drummer John Epcar, guitarist Drew Taubenfeld and bassist Charles Moniz.
The girl/boy tension that nearly nixed No Doubt has entirely passed the group by. Fan_3 did jokingly state that there is “lots of sexual tension between the three of us,” as she drew her fellow front-women in for a dramatic hug. The girls did admit that the new line-up was good for the band, and that the testosterone mellowed them out. As their performance commenced, it was clear that they were not open-mic-night regulars. Never pausing to preach or to have a prima donna melt-down, the group pounded through their impressive catalogue to their small, yet receptive, crowd.
1. Stage presence: 8.5
A great mix of choreography and ingenuity.
2. Lyrical: 7.2
It’s pop, but it’s good pop.
3. Musicianship: 7.4
There was some reliance on a backing track, but otherwise solid.
Free four-song EP.
• Never seen moment: A band perform so hard, and with so much vigor, for such a thin crowd.
The Whisky A Go-Go has been a center of the music scene since 1964. A place at the heart of nearly every musical genre that’s hit it big, the club continues to pump lifeblood into the musical community. This venue, much like Chain Reaction, provides an environment for everyone from teenie-boppers to skinhead stompers to enjoy relatively inexpensive entertainment for all ages.
After closing its doors from 1982 to 1986, the club re-emerged with another bit of ingenuity: the location would serve as what would be known as a four-wall. It is how most venues are run today, on a pay-to-play basis. A band signs a contract stating that they will sell a certain number of tickets or pay an agreed-upon fee. The club’s stage is raised about four feet from the floor, behind which there is a bar usually bordered by merchandise booths. The multi-tiered space has another bar on the second floor, as well as a peaceful vantage from the fray below, with plenty of stools and tables.
On Oct. 9, Kill the Mockingbird had nothing to worry about with a near-capacity show for their very first public appearance. Singer Andrew Jarrin, bassist Ralph Zamora, and guitarist Alfonso Ramirez have spent the past five years dedicated to their now-defunct band Stytch. Adding lead guitarist Chad Killen and drummer Andrew Slane brought a lot of advancement for the band.
Prior to their first show at the Whisky, the band had been featured on the online TV show “The Bloodstream,” had a music video directed by Seth Wood, and recorded three songs which are available on their MySpace page. Now the stage was set for Kill the Mockingbird to make their debut in the thriving OC metalcore scene. The band’s fledgling attempt was a formidable effort. Singer Andrew Jarrin excelled vocally, but his showmanship was shadowed by that of bassist Ralph Zamora. In defense of the band’s lesser traits, their unanimous quote was, “We’re new.”
1. Stage presence: 7.8
There is a lot of potential.
2. Lyrical: 8
Not the “Cut my wrist and black my eyes” cliché.
3. Musicianship: 8.2
The somewhat bland stage show provided ample opportunity to excel musically.
4. Merchandise: None.
• Never seen moment: A bassist playing great bass licks, with his tongue.
After four shows at four venues, with four different bands in four different genres and four frames of criticism, the adventure comes to a close. With a ringing in my ears and a plethora of wristbands, the couch is a welcome change—for a night or so.