(And Why I'll Never Go There Again)
999 at The Whisky A Go Go (July 1, 2001)
I got to the Whisky A Go Go at just after 8:00 p.m., which was when the doors were supposed to open. But, of course, everybody had to wait outside anyway. The line for buying tickets stood dead still for at least 20 minutes. I could understand not letting people into the club if the soundcheck was still going on, but why hold up ticket sales?
Finally reaching the ticket window, I was surprised to find that tickets were $15, not $12, which was the ticket price on the Internet. (I had passed on buying the tickets from RipoffMaster because of their $7.50 in added fees - a 62.5% commission for dropping a ticket in the mail!) I asked why the price difference, but the ticket seller claimed ignorance. The ticket itself listed no price, not even a date - all it said was “MASTERDOME” - which made me wonder if someone at the club was pocketing the extra $3. Eventually, some supervisor type leaned in and glared at me, as if to say if I didn’t like it I could get lost.
From there, it was off to another line and still more waiting around. Eventually, fans were allowed into the club. A sign at the door listed the set times. 999 wouldn’t go on until 11:00 p.m.
This is one of those clubs where they pat down the audience before allowing them into the club. It’s bad enough being treated like a criminal, but they were even confiscating pens. I remember thinking that the only difference between here and jail was that they didn’t take my belt. The security goon tossed my two pens into the crack between the open door and the wall (that's right, on the ground), and told me I could retrieve the pens there after the show.
Not wanting to spend four hours standing up, I headed for the balcony and found a seat at the railing. The first band up was Last Chord. They were actually pretty good, once they got past the opening two songs. They had that old “oi” sound. The only bad part about it was that the drummer occasionally got out of sync with the band.
During the set change-over, a couple of girls joined me at my table. Now that I had somebody to guard my seat, I decided to go down to the bar and get a drink.
There were two lady bartenders. I told the one with long curly blonde hair that I wanted three Coronas (I figured I’d be a nice guy and buy the girls a drink, too). She told me they were $5.15 each (or maybe she said $5.50?) and looked at my hand. She explained that I need to go back to the door and get my hand stamped. It was an all-ages club, and the door people were the ones in charge of checking IDs.
I had obviously passed the legal drinking age decades ago, but that wasn’t good enough for her. So, all right, I went and got my hand stamped. I wondered how this detail had been missed when I first arrived. Any other club (e.g., Coconut Teaszer) would be sure to give you a stamp or a wrist band before letting you in the door, anything to inflate the pool of liquor-buying patrons.
Back at the bar, I once again tried to buy three Coronas. But there was still more red tape. The lady told me that she needed to see the hand stamps on the other two people. Not wanting to make two more trips up the stairs, I gave up and said, “Forget it.”
As soon as the next band started, the two girls left and spent the rest of the show down on the floor. Good thing I didn’t waste my money on them.
The next band was called Letdown. Another variation on the punk theme.
It was during the first song or two that I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was a security goon. Behind him was the lady bartender. She had dragged this guy all over the club, hunting me down. She had convinced him that had I told her to “Fuck off!” He insisted that I apologize to her, saying that we all need to show each other respect here, she was only doing her job, etc.
By that point, the bartender had disappeared back downstairs. I vehemently denied having ever said “Fuck off!” But the security goon kept standing there, and made it plain that I needed to go downstairs and apologize. (Never mind the First Amendment.)
Not wanting to get thrown out - which is what I assume they had in mind - I trudged down the stairs and, with a smile on my face, I explained to her that I had never said “Fuck off” - I said “Forget it.” She just stood there grinning. I’d like to think that at any other club, the lady would have admitted there had been a misunderstanding, and maybe even given me a free drink to compensate for the ill feelings. But all she could do was stand there and gloat.
Letdown were pretty good, but by that point my attitude was so sour that I didn’t clap for any of the songs. I just wanted to see 999 and get out of there.
According to the flyer and the LA Weekly listing for this show, there were four bands on the bill. But it turned out to be five. As if having to sit through three unknown bands to see the headliner wasn’t bad enough. It’s no wonder that through the early part the evening, the club was nearly deserted. But, whoever booked this show, at least they had enough good sense to pick bands with compatible music styles.
Blue Collar Special were next. Another pretty good band.
Then came Mad Parade, a band that has been touring with 999. They had a very charismatic frontman, a tall guy with a big Jack Ruby hat.
By the time 999 went on, it was 11:30 p.m. and the show had already been going on for three hours.
These days the band consists of three original members, plus a bass player (originally from The Lurkers) who joined the band eleven years ago. The singer, who also played guitar on some songs, looked like Fred Mertz with a shaved head. The lead guitarist reminded me of Al Bundy (actor Ed O’Neill) from “Married With Children.”
At first, there were some technical problems with the bass amp, but that was fixed within a few minutes.
Meanwhile, security goons could be seen going around checking anyone who had a camcorder, verifying that they had permission to tape at the club. One guy who was spotted recording audio on a Walkman was made to stop. So it was ironic that throughout 999's set, the soundman was constantly ignoring the mix (the kick drum was completely inaudible during the first half of the set) so that he could check up on his camcorder, which was sitting on a little tripod on the floor in front of the sound board.
There was a fair-size crowd by the time 999 played, but still not a full house. All the people were spaced apart. Considering that by now hardly anybody was upstairs, I’d say the club was only half full. I wondered if it had anything to do with the club itself. When patrons are consistently treated like crap, word gets around.
There wasn’t much mosh pit nonsense until the headliners. During the first part of the set, there were a few scuffles, and some people were led away and presumably thrown out. One girl had blood on her neck. She reappeared later, all cleaned up, and remained for the rest of the show.
I think that the oppressive mood of the club itself contributes to such aggressive behavior. I know, the way I was treated, I was in a foul mood all evening. And, had I been a violent person (and bigger), I could easily have hurt somebody.
I wasn’t familiar with 999's material, other than a single I used to have called “Hollywood.” But they seemed to be doing most of the songs the crowd wanted to hear, including “Homicide” and “Nasty Nasty.” There was also a heavy version of Sam the Sham’s “Little Miss Riding Hood.” And, of course, they did “Hollywood.” Overall, their sound was similar to The Damned. Once past the technical problems, they played well and put on a good show. The set lasted an hour.
Upon leaving, I had half a mind to stop and thank the bartender for saving me so much money, since I had gone through the entire evening without spending a dime on drinks and tips. But there comes a point where being mean only helps prove their contention that you really are a jerk. Being the passive-aggressive type, I just left.
I made sure to stop and retrieve my ballpoint pen and my Sharpie. Otherwise, I calculated that the cost of the show would have included $2 in lost property. The ballpoint was easy to pick out, it was pretty unique. As for the Sharpie marking pen, there were about five of them lying there on the ground, so I just grabbed one, not even bothering to check what color ink it had. It was all very degrading. Any other club would have put the pens in an envelope, or something. I can't imagine this happening at the House of Blues or the Viper Room.
It’s too bad that such a venerable institution as the Whisky A Go Go, with all its history, has become such an impersonal, oppressive place to see a show. They can claim that it’s because of being an all-ages club. But I think it works both ways. Adults won’t put up with being pushed around - I know I’ll never go there again - and so the club has to let in kids. Kids don’t know any better. Kids can’t go to another club, since most clubs only admit adults.
Ironically, one of the best songs of the entire evening was “Fuck the Security at the Roxy” by one of the opening bands. I don't remember which one. Not having a pen, I couldn’t take notes.
--- Earl Reinhalter
AUGUST 2001 UPDATE:
A month later, I saw Patti Smith at the Roxy, and it was a totally enjoyable experience.
JANUARY 2010 UPDATE:
Eight and a half years later, I still have not been back to the Whisky.
This page established: July 1, 2001 Last updated: July 12, 2008
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