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Review: Mike Watt and the Secondmen At Harvard and Stone, Hollywood

Punk Rock legends, heartbreak, and a full moon, what else could you ask for on a Thursday night in Hollywood? Perhaps a reserved parking spot in front of the bar or a free Uber ride, but that’s wishful thinking.

March 6th of this 2015th year since Christianity claims to have its favorite Prophet’s birthday was an electrifying evening at Harvard and Stone in Hollywood. Harvard and Stone is a nice little turn-of-the-century themed bar on Hollywood Boulevard on the East side of the 101 freeway that cuts its way through Hollywood, dividing it neatly into the pretty part with West Hollywood and its parades along the Sunset Strip and its hair, and the not-so-pretty part that isn’t quite Silverlake or Echo Park but has its two massive Scientology outposts and Franklin Avenue. It’s a perfect place to find good Independent Rock and Roll.

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Smallwigs

Opening up at 10pm was a quartet that played Blues and Country influenced Garage Rock called Small Wigs. They are regulars on the scene, often playing places like Monty Bar in MacArthur Park, the Venice Townhouse, and assorted other tastefully discreet venues in and around the Los Angeles Basin. They always put on a good show and this night was no exception. The brothers, Elvis and Max Keuhn play guitar and drums respectively in both this band and another group that has gained a considerable acclaim in recent years called FIDLAR. However this project with Mikki Itzigsohn on bass and Matt Zuk also on guitar has a sound that can certainly stand on its own. They grooved on slow bluesy songs like “Black Lung” and kicked into high gear with raw jams like “New Wig” and did everything in between pretty damn well. The crowd they attract are for the most part 20-somethings that are into Garage, Punk, and assorted other Indie and can be seen in and around a lot of Downtown LA, Echo Park, Silverlake, Highland Park shows and parties.

At the end of their set the smokers with only a mild to moderate habit went out and took their smoke break, since those with a more severe nicotine dependency had to leave at about the halfway point of the set to the back smoking patio which can only be described as a narrow, crowded and smokey sliver of an alley at the back of the building. By now many of the Hollywood Randoms, those who did not necessarily come for the show, begin to start filing into the bar. Some gather at the front bar near the stage and listen to the DJ who is spinning assorted 45s including everything from oddities like “Teenage Enema Nurses in Bondage” by Killer Pussy and classics like “Moonage Daydream” by David Bowie on the sound system while watching Small Wigs break down their gear.

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Others are more interested in meeting someone via getting beer spilled on them and buying each other drinks in the more private section of the establishment towards the back of the room or via sharing cigarette lighters and second-hand smoke out in the Smoking Sliver. 11 o’clock in the evening rolls by and there is an electric organ attached to a Leslie speaker, a drum kit, and a bass rig onstage with these respective instruments’ owners, who all happen to be members of Mike Watt and the Secondmen, attached to them ready to sonically assault the audience with pure Awesome.

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By now the crowd has considerably more variety among the age groups in attendance. It now includes Punks of assorted ages, including those who were around to first see Mike Watt when he played with the Minutemen or Firehose and those who are seeing him for the first time now at a bar for their first time not needing a fake ID to get in as well as the Small Wigs contingent. The Secondmen blasted into their set with abandon, blowing minds and ear drums with equal force. The organ howled, Mike Watt’s bass rumbled, and he and Paul Mazich yell out lyrics over Jerry Trebotic’s rhythmic and exact funk-punk drumming. In addition to their original material, they played a few Minutemen covers, which sounded surprisingly wonderful with the guitar replaced entirely by an organ. All good things must come to an end, and so did the Secondmen’s stellar set.

Some of the “old-timers,” as a coworker likes to refer to the aging 40-something Punks who came to see Mike Watt as, left to do old-timer stuff as well and some of the others who only came to see Mike Watt and/or Small Wigs. The Hollywood Randoms were nice and liquored up at this point and were not going anywhere anytime soon. The exposed wood on the walls and tastefully distressed steel bracing that appears to be functional as well as aesthetically pleasing in the dimly lit barroom glowed in the flicker of restaurant style oil-candle light and the soft warmth of incandescent bulbs. The heavy smokers continued to chain smoke, the moderate smokers came outside to join them, and there were many drinks bought and selfies taken by the patrons of Harvard and Stone.

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At this point I was not really paying much attention to the time so I cannot say for certain exactly what time it was when the 3rd and final band began to take the stage. Kera and the Lesbians were about to go on. They would close the night. They tuned up and began to play their own brand of melodic, soulful, and heartbreaking indie blues ballads. Kera’s vocals tugged at your soul like a heartbreak over Tom Waits style compositions. Kera put her heart and soul into every bit of that performance belting out her vocals while writhing and duck-walking Chuck Berry style across the stage making every word of the lyrics to their songs written in the expressions on her face. She certainly is one hell of a performer.

Shortly thereafter we left leaving the remaining mix of Hollywood Randoms and Eastside Indie kids to smoke and drink and socialize until closing time and walked the blocks to where we our car. All in all, was one damn good evening.


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