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.
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.
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.