Cat Power; Pico Blvd.
So some notes on Cat Power at McCabe’s then. Figured we’d start the night on this neglected stetch of Pico that goes from about Bundy/10 Fwy to Cloverfield. On this strip you got Arsenal, Liquid Kitty (yeah, they both have issues–to be taken up at a later juncture), Mr. Cecil’s, that great rare (adult) bookstore, Unurban, Trader Joes (yay!), McCabe’s, Rae’s, Joker, Air Conditioned, Viking Motors (my Volvo mechanics, Ove and Rolando) and the Daily Pint. There’s bound to be a find in there, so we hit the mean streets of Santa Monica.
Meet up at Rae’s (2901 Pico Blvd.) after work. Rae’s is a little cozily grimy diner–you got your googie signage out front, your booths and counter and walls that are alternately teal and wood paneled. It’s just dirty enough to feel homey, but not unsanitary. The cook in his paper cylinder hat is right up front behind the counter, so you can get a good look at your order coming together. (Note: you may not want a good look at your order coming together. Especially how they reheat the breakfast pork.) On a typical Sunday morning, the place is jumping with all manner of clientele–hung-over hipsters, Mexi-American families, gay entertainment biz underlings–all shoved in there, real Los Angeles-like, with a line at the door. (Note for newbs: they don’t do a “Johnson, party of 4” list like Denny’s or some shit. If you see a line, just get in it, don’t stroll past it and ask the hostess/waitress for a table.) This Thursday eve around 6:30 pm, the place takes on a bit of a Lynchian vibe, everything moving a just few frames slower, the action is fully under control by a lone waitress and cook.
A few scattered middle-aged solo eaters sit and look out into space instead of their coffee. Our meals are (counter-clockwise): 1) The Hobo–the king of their breakfast menu: 3 hotcakes, 3 eggs, bacon, sausage and ham, plus a shot of tomato juice. A hearty, savory meal that single-handedly is causing a cardiovascular crisis in zip codes 904xx. The components of The Hobo arrive to your table in stages, like materials to a construction site: first the butter and syrup cups, then the juice, then the eggs and meats, then the pancakes. The array forms a little Solar System of plates and saucers, which can be unwieldy at a counter space. 2) The Hot Beef Plate–this is your classic open-faced roast beef sandwich and side of mashed taters, both swimming in an Exxon Valdez spill’s worth of gravy. (Note: If you ask the waitress if gravy is poured over both the roast beef and the potatoes, she will politely say yes, but her look will say “Of course, you fucking moron.”) Three-quarters of the way done, this plate will be a khaki colored swirled glop that generally brings about feelings of regret and shame to the eater. Finally, mine, 3) Club Sandwich #1–this is the typical triple-decker BLT + pressed turkey sand sliced in prisms. Add a side of fries, and there you have America on a plate. There is little to say about the meal, but it gets a passing grade and, sometimes, that’s all you’re looking for.
Bloated up with carbs and fat, it’s time for a drink, so of course it’s time for Joker (2827 Pico Blvd.), right across from Rae’s. Joker is, in fact, a dive. Not in the sense where it is filthy or potentially dangerous, like, oh, this place, but moreso in the sense that it is largely devoid of character and excruciatingly dull. They have Bud, Sad Adams and Sierra on tap. There are pool tables. There is a dartboard. There are Miller Lite-provided Dodger flags. There is a nook bookshelf that has a Goodwill’s random assortment of some books, a microwave and some old VHS tapes. It is basically a Midwest suburban basement bonus room. It is also “Home of The Spiders,” which we surmise is either a softball team or a motocycle gang, hopefully both. At 7 pm or so, the big excitement at Joker is when one of the regulars, a frazzled middle aged old broad shouts over the bar to the back door, “Hey asshole, close that door!” To which the barmaid, not bothering to look up, replies, “He’s bringing some stuff in from out back.’ Then the old yeller says, “Oh! And here I am saying â€˜Hey Asshole!’” It dies down after that, but I’m I have no doubt they’ll be retelling this story again and again. “Remember that time I shouted â€˜Hey asshole, close that door!’ but I didn’t know you were bringing in some stuff from out back? That was some funny shit!” OK, we’re out of here.
Just up from Joker, Air Conditioned has opened up shop. It’s got that newish feel. It’s been open somewhere in the area of seven months old we are told. It’s a beer and wine bar at this point, maybe waiting for that hard liquor license to come through. The clichÃ© velvet rope out front, though not needed for crowd control, telegraphs an aspiration to make this an exclusive spot. Then you get inside and there’s a little nook partitioned off with a curtain, another barrier, which, as you know, losanjealous is adamantly against, in all forms. It’s a great space with a lot of potential, but you end up wishing they didn’t go so Hollywood moderne yuppie on the dÃ©cor and left a few rough edges here and there. The music at this early hour is decent, a laptop is randomizing jazz standards, “Blue Moon” and all that. They pour a good mix of what I assume are trendy boutique wines by the glass, all written up on a board in colored chalk. We’re drinking beer anyhow and the lady in our party has wisely gone with a Stella as the bartender/soi-disant sommelier was of no help in picking out something interesting. There’s a birthday going on downbar, but we didn’t get any cake passed our way even though we sang and clapped. Bastards. We want to like this place, so we’ll give Air Conditioned another shot and see if the room (and clientele) loosen up a bit as they settle in.
So with a few in us, it’s about time to hit McCabe’s for Cat Power. They have that backroom that feels perfectly set designed with general store Americana, but you can actually play and buy (for some serious coin) the guitars hanging on the wall. Place used to strike me as pretentious; now I dig it. Either I’m mellowing out or have made one too many trips to Sam Ash. Probably a bit of both. So it’s a 9 pm show-time (plus some of the expected [desired?] Chan me-time before actually starting). Forgetting the venue itself, the show has the feeling of a special event. There’s about 175 people in this room, easily the smallest crowd before whom she’ll play anywhere this year. (Go flickr her + “Bonaroo” or “Coachella” to see the masses she can draw) She comes down the stairs, barefoot, in a McCabe’s tie dyed T-shirt and what she calls her “skinny jeans.” The room is attentive and appreciative, maybe a bit too reverent. It’s quiet to the bone, as if everyone is silently trying to outappreciate each other, like an art gallery crowd. She starts with a few on her familiar beat up Danelectro, then gets on the upright house piano for a few, alternating this way for almost 2 hours. She is very good tonight. The set is about half from her last 2 LPs and a mix of older stuff, with her “Satisfaction” cover thrown in there for kicks. All the smoking is doing wonders for her voice, her huskiness is perfectly ripened. (Kids: Don’t listen to what anyone else tells you–smoking is damn cool.) When she’s in the song, she stays in there and holds the room. In between songs, there’s just the right amount of loveable goofiness with some tangential storytelling, which may or may not be a manifestation of some OCD, not that it matters. Hell, I’d be disappointed if she just went up there, sat down, didn’t say shit, played the songs and went home. As much as you’re there to hear the tunes, with some artists, you’re just there to be in the room, just be in their company for a couple of hours. A lot has been made of her “maturing as an artist,” but that’s all bullshit talk. (Anyone starts using words like “mature” [or “relevant” for that matter] needs to check themselves.) Just because more recently her records and performances go down easier doesn’t mean a thing really. She remains one of the few performers whose shows I’d left early, but that wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying it, but more because I could’t handle it, physically or otherwise. At this point, you’ve got to put her in an elite class of singular singer-songwriters that includes types like PJ Harvey and a few others I can’t think of right now.
Coming out of McCabe’s, sweaty from the intentionally non-A/C’d room (come on–how much can you possibly make off selling bottled water?), the cool Pico Blvd air feels great, Blue Bus fumes and all. The 11 p.m. show’s crowd is lined up on the sidewalk and I catch more than a few of them looking up at our early show’s exiting crowd to see if they can get a hint of what to expect, kind of like when you come out of a movie or rollercoaster. It’s still early, so head back to Joker to see if the action has picked up.
The numbers of drinkers have increased and crowd is a dude-heavy mix of blue-collar types. A few plumbing co. T-shirts can be spotted in the room. The pool table is active, but intermittently so. All the action seems to be down at that video bar game where you spot the subtle differences in seemingly identical photographs. There is a young brother making the rounds in a crazy checkered silk shirt looking like Kadeem Hardison from A Different World. Apparently, he is the gay confidant to a bartender and he is trying to talk some sense into her down the hall near the bathrooms. Billie Jean and Journey are on the jukebox. I remark that “Don’t stop believing” is overdue to be used in a film as an ironic counterpoint in a particularly depressing scene, as it is sickeningly over the top enthusiastic. We agree Paul Thomas Anderson can and will pull it off. Enough. Time to move onto The Daily Pint.
The Daily Pint is another fairly non-descript bar with pool tables, bar videogames and a TV going, but it is somewhat distinguished by its beer tap and fridge assortment. I have a Hobgoblin ale. It tastes metallic. The crowd is younger than Joker, probably more SMC than USC, and there is the same working class vibe. Pretty inoffensive and mellow, not a trendy crowd in the least. Not sure what Zagat says about it.
It’s a school night, so we call it around 1 a.m. or so. Place is winding down and they depressingly have Craig Ferguson on the telly. The verdict on this stretch of Pico is pending, but on this Thursday, the highlights were (in order): 1) Cat Power and 2) that woman yelling at that guy to shut the goddamned door because he’s letting all the AC out at Joker.