Show reviews: Meat Puppets, The Middle Class, and Phranc at Track 16; Patti Smith at Amoeba; Electric Guest and Black Shakespeare in Eagle Rock

Can anything be better than a rad display of photography from the early ’80s L.A. punk scene accompanied by full sets from legendary bands? For free? That would be last weekend’s closing party from the We Got Power magazine crew’s We Survived The Pit installation of photos (live, candid, behind the scenes) and artifacts (zines, skateboards) featuring live music by Meat Puppets, The Middle Class, and Phranc. Well, catching even more music earlier in the day isn’t a bad thing.

That morning, I saw Electric Guest play a casual set for fans and Spotify in the backyard occupied by Music Friends studio. This was pretty much the first time I heard the band, but they were really solid, and how they could pull off such a delicate sound under a tree house is a total mystery to me. Afterward and just down the street I caught a bit of Black Shakespeare at the Stone’s Throw stage of the Eagle Rock Music Festival. Rad to see a familiar face brightening up the afternoon for a sizable audience with his pure reggae jams before heading over to Bergamot Station in Santa Monica.

I got to know Executive Director Laurie Steelink and the folks at Track 16 when I was tracking down Manuel Ocampo for the article in Giant Robot 39. I’ve sorta kept in touch with the artist and the gallery since then, and wanted to attend the last party before they get kicked out to make room for a train station. More on that situation in a future post, but the main thing to know is that this does not mean the end of Track 16.

Another familiar face. KXLU’s Bomb Shelter DJ Adam Bomb (who I met though Down By Law, Punk Rock Vatos, and Brujeria) provided the period-appropriate tunes: Black Flag, Dead Boys, Zeros… He held down the fort for fellow pit survivor Keith Morris, who was slated to play records as well. I heard the ex-Black Flag and current OFF! singer was sick, and hope he gets better before my favorite active band hits the road. And as was often the case back in the day, the famously All-American Jewish lesbian folk singer Phranc (ex-Nervous Gender, ex-Castration Squad) opened. She started with a really great song about growing old in L.A. and, no, she still doesn’t like female mud wrestlers.

The Middle Class were next, and they opened with “Love Is Just A Tool” off the fabled Tooth and Nail compilation with The Germs, Negative Trend, Controllers, etc. Kick ass! I recalled how rad they were at the Frontier Records 30th anniversary show a couple of years ago, but was kinda shocked by how long the set was. They must have played every song they know, from their single “Out of Vogue” (perhaps the first hardcore number) to their ripping cover of The Modern Lovers’ “She Cracked.” Awesome.

Meat Puppets stood out among the fabled SST Records roster with their ZZ Top riffs and Grateful Dead jams, but no punk band could better exemplify the theme of surviving the pit. From cranking out great albums that didn’t sell to being championed by Kurt Cobain and even appearing on Nivana’s MTV Unplugged appearance. From serious substance abuse issues and time spent in jail to reunion and rediscovery. The brothers Kirkwood (and Curt’s son/Cris’s nephew Elmo as well as drummer  Shandon Sahm) play as heavy as ever, starting with tight versions of “Lake of Fire” and “Touchdown King” before getting into the serious jamming. And whistling.

I never, ever want to leave shows early, but I had to leave after 90 minutes because I couldn’t handle the second-hand pot smoke. But it was a rad show, and I received the book that the gallery was celebrating a couple of days later. With insightful, no-holds-barred essays by Rollins, Dez, Dukowski, Watt, Pat Fear, Tony Adolescent, Keith Morris, and others about their bands and their scenes, hundreds of beautiful and powerful black & white photos, and every single issue of the zine reproduced, it’s essential reading for any fan of first-generation L.A. punk and the closing party at Track 16 did justice to it. The installation is now staying open until October 20, so if you haven’t seen it yet it’s not too late…

Which brings us to tonight’s Patti Smith in-store at Amoeba. I’d be lying if I said that I was more than a casual fan of her work, but holy crap. Her set was amazing. Starting off with “Redondo Beach” was a rad way for a New York music icon to kick off an L.A. show, and she mixed up the 30 minutes with new (“This Is The Girl” for Amy Winehouse) and old (“People Have The Power,” her closer) in a totally relaxed yet masterful manner. She makes being a powerful and poetic badass seem so effortless, timeless, and cool.

I hope some of Patti sinks in with Eloise… Seeya at the next show.