Hittin’: Jeff Friedl @ The Arena


An overwrought and underwhelming hotel sports bar in Simi Valley is not where I expected to find myself on Saturday night. That was exactly where I could be found last night for a last minute and—this part makes me giggle—“secret” performance by Billy Howerdel’s Ashes Divide. As secret shows go, or don’t go, in L.A., this one was bonafide—no viral emails or Facebook blasts days in advance. From what I gathered, a friend of Billy’s was booked at the place; a band canceled; and an offer to get Ashes out of the rehearsal room and onto a stage for a 30-minute run-through preceding some new tour dates was accepted. That’s right: a scheduled 7:45-8:15p set at The Arena Sports Grill (dig the homepage jam) in the Simi Grand Vista Hotel. “Grand” properly modifies “Vista,” not “Hotel.” Let’s just take their word on the vista.

Where Champions Play
“Where Champions Play” is the working motto for The Arena. I’ll generously leave the patrons out of this, but any contrived allusion to the Roman—or even L.A.—Coliseum must be held to account for the giant plastic hot-rod flamed sharks hanging overhead, and the two beer-branded stripper cages stepping up from the dance floor. I pondered the scenario in which one stripper cage wouldn’t suffice.


The most redeeming and presently relevant element of this monument to giant-screen television was the proportionally over-sized stage fronting the room. The band and drummer, Jeff Friedl, were still setting-up and dialing-in when we arrived—clearly, they would be hitting on the dark side of 7:45. It was a true act of dedication to lug all that crap to Ventura County for a half-hour test spin. The unsuspecting handful of regulars were in for a treat and a departure from the keytar bands that, according to one sour Yelp review, have reportedly graced that stage. I enjoyed the discordant tension of the whole thing.

Center Ring
By the delayed first crunch-chords and the layered tracks of Ashes Divide’s set, a respectable, albeit patchy, crowd had amassed on the floor and around the long bar and upper-tier pool tables. The band’s dense, tight, industrial, angular, and conspicuously loud sound turned heads. Along with excited, falsetto hooting, there was noticeable surprise and interest on many previously bored faces. The circus was passing through town and everyone wanted a glimpse of the conjoined bearded ladies. Almost everyone: Evidently, the show was so secret, that some in attendance unwittingly continued shooting pool.

Damn Lefty
Friedl’s an old friend of HollywoodDrum.com, going all the way back to our early days in 2009. You may remember our video interview with him just before he left for dates with Maynard James Keenan’s Puscifer. Oddly, as I’ve known Jeff for years now, this was the first time I’d actually seen him play live. Once adjusted and accepting of the fact that the lefty plays backwards!, he is good fun to watch. The seemingly incongruous primal and mechanical drum parts are a fitting spotlight for his high-swinging, deliberate, and athletic rock chops. He locked in tight with the sequence; still, his playing breathed and bellowed. Here’s the thing that is most evident about Jeff Freidl as a drummer: He is a hard worker. He clearly does his homework and he gives the music everything he’s got on stage. That he has an arresting strange and creative side doesn’t hurt.


Sure enough, Ashes Divide played their 30-minutes and began the thrice-as-long process of tear down and load out. While the sonic attributes of The Arena Sports Bar and Grill were to a proper arena as fried bar food is to the fresh-cooked organic variety, there was an un-fussiness to the affair that approached preferable for me. Not so for potato skins. If you can’t rock a sports bar in Simi Valley, then you really have no business on stage anywhere. It is a fair test, and Ashes Divide passed the audition—for themselves. That was the whole point. Go check them out at a two-star hotel near you. If you prefer, stay tuned for official, non-secret tour dates.

Double Hittin’: Mitch Marine @ Kibitz
Where I did expect to find myself last night, was at the Kibitz Room in L.A. to get loose with Paul Chesne and The Crazy Muther Fuckers. We made our escape from Simi in time to make the 11p show on Fairfax Ave. Another old friend, Mitch Marine, was playing drums with the Muthers when I first got to town a few years back. Chesne instantly became one of my local favs. Clever, infectious song-writing in the stylistic vicinity of Rolling Stones and Johnny Cash; together with great roots/rock players; and the probability of Chesne standing atop a table, with guitar strapped on, pouring a beer over his head, consistently promises a good time. Marine, Dwight Yoakam’s long-time drummer, soon left the band. There are certain drummers who with certain bands create unmistakable and enchanted chemistry. Marine was such a catalyst with Chesne and the Muthers. I was happy to see him sitting in on his old gig, back in their old home base. His playing is informed, swinging, smart, and confident. And at over 6 feet, with trademark cowboy hat and shrunk vintage tee, the rock n roll cowboy drummer just looks right back there.

As Confucius never said: Expect to find yourself where you’ll be.

Steve Krugman

Hittin’: Dan Konopka @ The Tonight Show


I’ve lived in L.A. long enough now that the sublime, the absurd, the glamorous, and the illusory are integrated and normalized elements of daily life. I’ve also lived outside of L.A. long enough to know it’s not normal. It’s L.A. Some days are more L.A. than others.

Yesterday, after a run through my palm-studded neighborhood in the 70° January morning sunshine, I drove just up the block to Universal Studios Stage 1 and was graciously escorted backstage onto the Tonight Show set. It was going to be a pretty L.A. kind of day.

So L.A.
Around 11am, I met up with drummer, Dan Konopka, of infectious pop-rockers, OK Go, as he was preparing to sound check for the 5 o’clock taping. While he was preoccupied helping coach and conduct (stomping his foot and gesticulating enthusiastically—in time, of course) the rent-a-choir through a song arrangement, I took in the Vegas meets alien-mothership façade of the new Conan O’Brien set. I also fired-off a few pics, which would have been fascinating and added compelling visual synergy to this recounting, but I’m pretty sure NBC Universal’s legal team outnumbers ours. And they probably also have actual law degrees. Take a moment, if you like, to visualize minds-eye images of Conan’s Einsenhower coffee mug/pencil holder, Max’s retro marine-pearl four-piece on strobe-lit riser, and a crew guy machine-buffing the stage floor to a high industrial sheen amidst busy gaffers, engineers, producers, and Dan stomping his foot. I’ve got it all.

Properly Windex-ed.

Properly Windex-ed.

There was a guy Windexing the obligatory drum shield protecting sonic-purity from the rude and profane ddrum rental kit. Almost like wearing nothing at all. Once up and running, sound check lasted about 30 minutes. The audio crew—and everyone on these shows—knows what they’re doing. Things are efficient and move on a fixed schedule. By the final run-through, the band was sounding tight, balanced, and clean; camera shots were blocked and lights were choreographed. Dan locked with the sequence and owned the throne as if he’d played in this band for over a decade. He has.

Walnuts And Peanuts
Despite a Vic Firth endorsement and an upcoming tour’s–worth of of sticks…somewhere…Dan showed up with one pair; we headed over to Guitar Center on Ventura for some $8 spares, and then went for lunch. I had the raspberry walnut salad. Delightful. Dan had something with mashed potatoes. He seemed happy. We headed back to the studio by 3pm in preparation for showtime.

Yes, I used <i>this</i> one, Dan.

Yes, I used this one, Dan.

A little Greenroom action; watching Conan run-through and fine-tune the bits in leather jacket and baseball cap; running into Andy and Max; listening-in on the Tonight Show band rehearse in their off-set studio; and other super-L.A. moments ensued. By the time the show began taping, I was hanging behind-set, witnessing Conan and guests enter the stage; and crew and cue-card writers alternately working, checking Facebook, and mindlessly chewing on Red Vines, Blowpops, Cheez-Its, orange marshmallow Circus Peanuts, and other assorted delectables from a well-stocked shelf. They had done this a few times before. But for the odd giant gag-sized tissue box, a unicycle, gorilla cage hanging from the rigging high above, and the kid from Juno, it could have been anybody’s typical day at work.

The Show…
OK Go finally took the stage and got situated during the last “commercial break” in the taping. A stage assistant counted down: “20 seconds. 10…5…Have a good show.” The Tonight Show band winds down. Conan is overheard introducing, “…Please welcome, OK Go!” The curtain opens. Dan pumps his hi-hat foot to the click count-in, and five minutes later I can see him charming Andy Richter center-stage. I never asked him what that was all about. Dan used his confessed pre-show nerves for good. He rocked. He came off stage feeling pumped and satisfied and exhausted. Sometimes a show—indeed a day—like this leaves you feeling like you played a full set. And then mowed the lawn.

Just below Kathy Griffin...

Just below Kathy Griffin...

…Is Over
The band and guests—that Juno kid and a comedian who did a whole thing on sheet thread-counts that was pretty good—were led to the dressing room hallway to sign the wall. A tradition, and some entertaining reading. Besides OK Go’s, I took a pic of one other guest’s wall-entry: Pee Wee Herman—who wrote, “Thanksgiving 2009 Hi! Gobble, gobble!!!”

Dan and the band were leaving for Europe the next day for a month of shows to promote their artful new album, Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky, being released this Tuesday, January 12. Nothing left to see here. Leaving the lot, it was back onto Lankershim Blvd. and onward to home, quickly re-integrating and normalizing along the way.

Also L.A.
Watching the DVR of the show the next day, I recognized one of things I like about living in this town: being behind the curtain is always more interesting than a front row seat. We know this empirically as musicians, but there is something more to it. Reality trumps fantasy; it is endlessly more satisfying and meaningful. I’d rather know there is some middle-aged dude with a pot-belly, warming his hands in front of a space heater, and eating orange Peanuts just behind the thin wooden structure of Conan’s union-built backdrop, than to see the thing on T.V. where prism-taped paneling looks like mother-of-pearl inlaid mahogany, blemishes are pancaked, and pre-show nerves are obscured with heroic camera angles. There is richer and more lasting meaning in a parent delicately and tenderly reaching under a sleeping child’s pillow, than the illusion of some freak, elfin-fairy with a wand. Just a thought. Goodnight, Everybody.

Dan Konopka recently moderated a poolside L.A. alt-rock drummers roundtable video for HollywoodDrum.com with the drummers of Silversun Pickups, Motion City Soundtrack, and She Wants Revenge. Watch for it here soon!

Steve Krugman