Had a Nice Day

A Showcase cacophony of music genres and venues beat the hell out of Shelley Duvall

Quarter to five on Sunday afternoon and still in bed. Torn between a desire to catch up on my REM sleep and flicking back and forth from the Lakers' playoff game and a presentation of The Shining -- a Nicholson double bill. So profound was my lethargy that I actually contemplated spending the evening being weirded out by that telepathic tyke and staring at Shelley Duvall's face -- a disturbing sign if ever there was one.

Red rum or not, the imaginary friend in my mouth was urging me to get off my ass and go to the New Times Music Showcase. It seemed a logical move, you know, me being music editor and all. But after nine months of preparation and hassles, a string of last-minute cancellations and weeks' worth of radio and TV whoring/promotion, the event itself seemed anticlimactic.

Usually, when I think of music fests I think South by Southwest or CMJ -- travel to cool locales, first-class flights, outrageous per diems and lots and lots of hotel porn. Unfortunately, the most I expected on this day was the free fried food and watered-down beer that my VIP badge would command. Still, duty directed me to Mill Avenue, where I arrived just as the festivities were about to commence.

Who dat?: DJ Michael spinning heads and records at the Owl's Nest.
Who dat?: DJ Michael spinning heads and records at the Owl's Nest.
Let's run him up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes: Sugar High's Jason Garcia, making like modfathers Townshend and Weller, catches air during the band's Hayden Square performance.
Paolo Vescia
Let's run him up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes: Sugar High's Jason Garcia, making like modfathers Townshend and Weller, catches air during the band's Hayden Square performance.

I headed to Macayo Depot Cantina, where Tolerance was kicking off things in the Hard/Modern Rock category. I encountered a sneering churl who exited the restaurant and muttered, "Tolerance. Shit, put me down for zero Tolerance." Admittedly, the group's chunka-chunka riffing lacked the slightest hint of loose-limbed soul, but the band threw enough pop and funk wrinkles into the mix to keep the margarita-happy patrons satisfied.

Seized by a rush of ambition, I resolved to cram in as much music as possible. I moved on to Hayden Square, where Barrio Latino, a return nominee in the -- yes, you guessed it -- Latino category, had sunstroked masses dancing in the front of the concrete amphitheater. From there it was a quick stop into Balboa Café, where I expected to find Valley blues icon Hans Olson plying his acoustic backwoodsia. Surprisingly, no one was in the place, including Olson, his absence the result of a scheduling mix-up, Ah, logistics.

The effort wasn't entirely in vain, however, as I caught a snippet of an advance copy of the amazing new disc by Texas twangers Slobberbone playing on the club's sound system. (An obvious enticement to catch the group, which will perform at Balboa -- and featured in this section next week. But I digress.)

Crossing the square, I ventured to the one place I had most dreaded going -- the Have a Nice Day Cafe. Part of the charm of the Music Showcase is seeing bands perform in venues that usually don't cater to the live music crowd. And the Have a Nice Day Cafe -- a uniquely American monument to crass commercialism -- seemed the most unlikely of all these.

The place was apparently conceived with the notion of capitalizing on our warm, fuzzy nostalgia for the golden age of all-night disco and coke bashes, right down to the mirror ball, lighted stage and John Travolta cutout on the wall. Unfortunately, the owners weren't quite determined enough to see the motif all the way through and instead decided to toss in a bit of '80s retro-kitsch as well, judging by the Ghostbusters and Terminator posters plastered on the club's Day-Glo walls.

The Have a Nice Day extravaganza began with a trip back to the "Me" Decade courtesy of '60s-styled poppers the Zen Lunatics. Dressed in matching black Beatle suits, circa Revolver (though the length of guitarist Chris Hansen-Orf's hair seems to be heading dangerously into White Album territory), the group "got happy" with their own '70s salute, peeling off covers of the "Theme From Laverne & Shirley" and Maxine Nightingale's "Right Back Where We Started From" as well as inspired run-throughs of such Lunatic originals as "Thelma Thorazine" and "Media Sensation."

A 6 o'clock set from industrial outfit Thirteen Miles Down seemed equally out of place, though the environ wasn't quite as disconcerting as the group's lack of a drummer, a shortcoming for which the band compensated with a digital replacement. Front man Matt Timmons dubbed the outfit "three guys and a tape deck."

The most hilarious and incongruous visitors to grace the multicolored Nice Day stage were Valley punk legends the Glass Heroes. The early '90s favorites reunited in December, marking their first performance in five years.

Front man Keith Jackson opened the set with a bit of "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore" wonder and a nod to the very Tony Manero decor ("Jesus, I think we're on the set of Saturday Night Fever"). You half-expected Jackson to chuck his Les Paul, grab some paint cans and go barreling down Mill to the strains of "Stayin' Alive."

Opening with a cover of Chelsea's "I'm on Fire," the group played an incredibly tight set, despite its near half-decade dormancy. It was heartening to see bassist Steve Davis, suffering from hepatitis C ("C Notes," Brian Smith, April 27), at his black-jeaned, tee shirted and tattooed finest, ripping though a barrage of three-chord testaments to the class of '77. Whatever it lacked in punk pretense, the Have a Nice Day Cafe managed the best sound of any of the indoor venues, even with the Heroes' wall of Marshall stacks pushing 11.

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