There was a long wait in line to get into the show, even though it was well past the showtime printed on the ticket. It was one of those events where they had security guards patting down all who enter the building.
I headed straight for the balcony and spent balance of the evening in the comfort of my seat. The Palace is basically an old theatre, with an open floor where there might have originally been seats. The bulk of the crowd was standing down there, a big mob.
[Rock history review: The Palace is where they used to tape the "Hollywood Palace," an Ed Sullivan-type variety show. It was here that emcee Dean Martin made snide remarks about the Rolling Stones on the occasion of one of their earliest US television appearances. A few years ago, drummer Charlie Watts returned to the Palace with his jazz group and staged a respectful tribute to Charlie "Byrd" Parker that even Dean Martin would have approved of.]
Despite purposely arriving late, I still had to sit through an all-too-long set by a shitty opening band. I'm not sure which of the two advertised support acts it was, and I don't care. A three-piece, they were trying hard to be the Clash, but completely lacking in talent. Their stage act consisted of jumping around alot and yell-screaming dumb lyrics, with a very bad sound mix thrown in for good measure.
The only good part was when the guitarist pulled a guy out of the audience in mid-song and handed him his guitar, and it turned out the guy was a confederate who played even better than the "real" guitarist. Meanwhile the guitarless guitarist was trying hard to do a James Brown act, but it wasn't enough to rate an encore.
During the very long set change-over, roadies taped down two large zebra-pattern carpets in the middle of the stage.
As the Cramps walked out (no curtain for this show), Lux Interior, the singer, was wearing what appeared to be a mylar t-shirt with matching pants, both shiny grey. Guitarist Poison Ivy was wearing a hunter green hot pants outfit, which went nice with her red hair. Another female played bass, which may have been a 6- or 8-string because she often made it do guitar-like sounds. The drummer had a basic kit, played hard and steady, but was not a show-stealer.
The Cramps played most of the songs they are famous for, including my favorite, "Sunglasses After Dark," and one of the very best cover songs a band can do, "Psychotic Reaction." The one song I wished they hadn't omitted was "All Women Are Bad," but maybe Lux couldn't pursuade the two women in the band to play it?
In the interplay between Ivy and the bass player, it was sometimes difficult to figure out who was playing what, since the bass often took on a guitarish tone. The effect was probably inspired by the very treble-heavy sound of old records the Cramps listen to, especially Hasil Adkins, whose instrumental sound consists of just guitar and drums, both played by him - simultaneously. [Try to track down a copy of Julien Nitzberg's interesting 1993 documentary film The Wild World of Hasil Adkins.]
After only 67 minutes, the main set ended without a big crescendo, just another great song, "Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?" It was surprising when the band abruptly walked off stage.
The encore started with "Human Fly." Great song. But on either side of the stage were some blinding lights aimed at the audience, and during this song those annoying lights flashed on after every eight beats. So I ended up watching the entire number through a slit between my two upraised hands. I always knew that rock & roll could damage your hearing, but now I find that it can be bad for your eyes, too.
"Human Fly" ended cold. In the silence Lux suddenly began chanting, "Well, everybody's heard about the bird..." and the crowd went nuts. Who could have guessed that "Surfin' Bird," a song so dumb that even the Ramones did it, could be such a barn-burner. The mob on the floor was instantly churning like a human washing machine. (Body-surfin' bird?)
About five minutes into the song, things dissolved into a surreal blur of feedback guitars and vocal echo effects that went on for another ten minutes of amazing theatre the likes of which I haven't seen at a rock show in years. I've seen the Who smashing up their equipment in the 60s, the Sex Pistols in the 70s, a hard-rocking Elton John opening for the Kinks at the Fillmore, and I was lucky enough to see the original Stones line-up (with Brian Jones) twice. The climax of this show ranked with those experiences.
Looking like the guy Jim Carrey has been trying to be all these years, gawky Lux appeared to be playing the part of an insane movie monster on a rampage, climbing the P.A. stacks like King Kong and looking down on the teeming masses below like the Hunchback over Nôtre Dame, all the while making avant garde vocalizations that played against the feedback of the guitars. Atop the speakers on stage right, Lux trashed mike stand number one. It was bent in half by the time he climbed back down.
Back on the ground, Lux crouched atop a tilted monitor speaker like a jockey, and went from one monitor speaker to the next until he had crossed to the other side of the stage. Grabbing a reserve mike and stand, he was quickly atop the opposite bank of P.A. speakers, taunting the crowd on that side of the room.
I halfway expected to see him breath fire. Or blood. But that would have been too easy. That would have been Kiss, a band that resorts to theatrics because they don't have enough talent to be dramatic.
Finally back at centerstage, Lux upended one of the monitor speakers, perched atop it in a crouch, placed both vocal mikes in his mouth (still vocalizing), and flapped his arms like a demented bird. Amid the howling guitars and flashing lights, it was a stunning image.
Although the Cramps have been around for some twenty years, this was the first time I had ever seen them on stage. I talked with Ivy once at the Palomino, and thought I saw saw Lux coming out of Ametron one time, but never saw them perform. I don't know how this show was for longtime fans, but I can't imagine the band could have ever been much better than this. Given the choices of the current touring season, I would pick the Cramps over the Stones any day. And U2 - are they still together?
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Last updated: June 20, 1998
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