When I was in high school some friends and I sometimes went to a racetrack about halfway between Shaker Heights and Akron. We weren’t old enough to bet, but one of us–Dudgie we called him, though how we spelled it in our minds is uncertain–looked old enough, so we picked horses whose names we liked. I will never forget Happyfellow Bob.
I went to the Casbah a few months ago, my first time out alone after my life changed last October, to hear, as I’ve put it, God, Dave Thomas as Pere Ubu, about which not too much could be said. Tonight (actually, three nights ago now) I went just to hear music, three bands, two with interesting names, and a third whose name I couldn’t remember talking about it beforehand. The interesting names were Kitty Plague and The Digital Lizards of Doom. That latter name in particular was my reason for driving down from Escondido to this dive bar near the San Diego airport.
This is not a music review, nothing like that, just a few impressions from an old guy who heard Hendrix, Cream, Butterfield, and Janis live back in the day. So I’m not complaining about volume. Kitty Plague, a power trio like Blue Cheer, made me think of the Ramones and the Dead Milkmen, and produced a wall of sound more powerful than Phil Spector could have pulled off. I liked them, painful as it was to listen, or want to have liked them, a third my age probably but who’s counting. I was told some of their songs were humorous. I tried not to leave the room. And, to tell the truth, I would go hear them again, particularly if I could get a t-shirt with their name on it. (I saw one tonight, but someone was already wearing it, and it would have been too small for me.)
From three we went to nine on stage, Unsteady, a band I hadn’t heard of but reportedly with a long history in San Diego. But I haven’t been our much the past few decades. They were billed as a ska band–a genre I don’t quite get, something like working class white reggae, but maybe something else–but didn’t sound so ska to me. A trumpet, a trombone (!), and two saxophones in the front row, a keyboard player with a hat the reminded me this was the night of the last day of Comic Con (a Wonder Woman showed up, and a guy in a costume I didn’t understand but clearly a costume). They were loud too, but it was easier to stay in the room, and hear the lyrics. The trombone player looked about my granddaughter’s age, and I pictured her up there, a different kind of life.
I remember the first time I saw Jimi Hendrix–sort of by accident, I’d gone to Winterland to hear James Cotton or Albert King, who can remember for sure. I was quickly in awe, and amazed that he could make all that sound without a rhythm guitarist. But he didn’t do it without a bass player and a drummer, to keep him grounded, or at least to remind him where to land. The Digital Lizards of Doom was a single guitarist up on stage with some equipment not clear to me. Even if he hadn’t started with a bad joke he would have had trouble. He didn’t fly like Hendrix. He did fill the room with sound, and I tried to appreciate it, but I thought Kitty Plague did it better. I didn’t stay for his whole set, so maybe I missed something, but driving home I remembered that Happyfellow Bob didn’t make us any money.