I had been talking about a trip to California for a while now. It usually takes me about a year of false starts before I actually go ahead and pull the travel trigger and this time was no different. But this time I made sure that I covered as much as I could with the week at hand. I went to the mountains, the desert and even the beach (for like five seconds) and more than a few infamous bars and restaurants including the Viper Room, Whisky A Go-Go, the Rainbow as well as Mel’s Diner for 2 a.m. steaks. The weather in California kicks our East Coast ass and the people are way nicer than the legions of grumpy cutthroats we have here. Maybe it’s the Santa Monica Bentley’s and hillside oxycodone mansions that keep them calm, who knows? Tooling around 900-foot cliffs with no guardrails at night while my nephew (who was driving) texted his buddies, I had time to think of visiting the world-famous town of Hollywood and the Roxy on Sunset Blvd.
Funny that this would be my first visit as well as Bebe Buell’s first show at the venue. Throughout the ‘70s she ruled the Sunset Strip, hanging out with various rock kings and debutants, painting the town black and blue while changing the social structure of the rock and roll fan scene as we know it. But as of June 22, 2010 she was back in town after many years with a new record contract, a hot band and a very well publicized show. If there’s one thing I always enjoy, it’s the adrenalin pumped concentration of a band that has something to prove and The Roxy buzz was evidence that Buell never really left Hollywood, she had just kept them waiting for this show.
To understand the adulation fans and friends in high places still have for Buell, one just had to get in to the after party upstairs at On The Rox to see. On The Rox is the world-famous upstairs rumpus room that was made legendary by the musicians and actors that took refuge in its “members only” status. Led Zeppelin, John Lennon, Harry Chapin, John Belushi and Keith Richards are just a serious few that swilled booze at this cozy little bar. The industry mix of A-list celebrities was impressive tonight and Bebe’s friends included radio and music personality Rodney Bingenheimer, The Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, Frank Infante (Blondie), Eric Erlandson (Hole), Ginger Coyote, and of course Bebe’s daughter Liv Tyler, just to name the few I saw tonight.
But Hollywood glam aside, the show was the main event for most of us. The opening band was Gary Myrick & the Figures who slammed their opening slot home with favorites like “She Talks In Stereo,” “Living In A Movie” and the EP Language, featuring the percussive single “Guitar, Talk, Love & Drums.” Myrick is one of the nation’s top unsung guitarists, at one time replacing Stevie Ray Vaughn in the Austin band Kracker Jack back in the day. His set was spot-on and filled with great guitar solos. If you never heard of this cat, go check him out, as he’s a bona fide legend. Just before Buell and band hit the stage we had a pleasant surprise appearance from Antony Langdon of Spacehog fame, and he worked the crowd with his cool acoustic concoctions.
As Bebe kicked off her performance, grinding and spinning the microphone stand while the band vamped, I could only wonder which icon was responsible for teaching her those stage antics. Was it Mick Jagger? Steven Tyler? David Bowie? In her own words Buell will tell you, “My mic stand is my axe, my weapon, my guitar… I work that puppy!” And whether she’s willing to give you trade secrets or not, she does work it well.
Her band, led by guitarist and husband Jimmy Walls, rocked with the ancestral dark intensity of the Cars, The Godfathers and the Pixies. Out to disprove any Hollywood nay sayers, Walls unleashed the “Twin Engine” percussion of production partner Bobbi Rae (easily the sickest skin basher on either coast), bassist Pete Marshall and the keyboard power of Zak Lasher, showing the West Coasters how to walk the walk with their “Max’s Kansas City” sound, complementing Bebe’s dark and double-edged lyrical slashings with dynamic flare that can only come from home turf back east.
From the time the curtain came up, until the last encore of the night, Buell and company never let up, keeping the audience paced in place with over 13 songs including the hits “Sugar, Black Angel” (written about good friend Joey Ramone) and an ode to glory days with the touching “When We Were Godhead,” a song that Buell had lyrically dedicated on the CD to longtime Hollywood friend and scenester Rodney B. and a number which she sang directly to him in the audience tonight.
The show left you with an overall feeling that people really dig the moxy of a performer that has no fear. Coming off a 10-year hiatus and getting right back out on the stage without missing a beat is almost unheard of, but people really want Bebe Buell to do well. It’s the culmination of every person’s fantasy to have success against great odds and its addictive to watch. The curious celebrity seekers, as well as fans and famous alike really got into the night, singing along with tunes such as, “Superstar, I Will Wait,” “Untouchable,” and the a capella “Baby, Baby,” a sing along which had all the cool kids chiming in. It tells me that maybe Hollywood is getting back to those days of peace and love, trading in aloof posturing in favor of celebrating the prodigal daughter’s return.
Afterwards, it was like a family setting upstairs. Well, okay, a really, really famous family with Bebe and daughter Liv chilling out on the couch with Pauley Perrette from NCIS while well-wishers like Rick Springfield and Hollywood gossip columnist Janet Charlton stopped by to hang out. As I watched Buell chat with friends, you could tell she was in a good place and I’d like to think that this is part of her karmic payback for doing the right things in a topsy-turvy life.
Putting an earlier career on hold to raise a family and take care of life’s persistent responsibilities is definitely not as much fun as signing with Atlantic Records and gallivanting all over the globe, but whatever the case may be, Buell has mastered the art of mother, model, playmate, author, songwriter and rock and roller and this show at the Roxy proved once and for all that she has nothing to prove to anyone anymore. Her record Sugar is a great musical accomplishment, her band is top-notch and she is a successful survivor with a recording contract. In other words, she’s still blowing air kisses for the masses. And in a world of posturing mediocrity I say thank god for that.
Props also go out to Giddle Partridge, host for the night and a fascinating overall performer. This totally networked “Queen Of Hollywood” is allegedly related to Grand ‘Ole Opry Star Hank Snow as well as the 22nd Vice President of The United States of America, Levi P. Morton, which was Oval Office grounds for totally pounding the Roxy faithful with her electronica/punk based compositions including her newest single “Gringo Like Me” and of course my favorite, “Bubble Gum New Forever.” Check her out if you get a chance, she’s the wild card on the West Coast.