The Theory of Chaos

Friday, June 09, 2006

They call it “recycled materials” – I call it a bench

There’s a gallery in downtown Los Angeles where, if you’re not careful, you can end up sitting on the art. Paintings hang on the wall and bronze sculptures bathe in loving pools of light, but there’s also couches, tables and mod lamps which have been designed to Say Something, perhaps about The Human Condition. They also have Hefty Price Tags.

Kudos to the artist who named his seating device “Johnny Bench”.

But that’s not why we were there last night – Nowacki, newly-arrived in LA with her pet dork boyfriend, and I. I was answering an invite from Mischievous Mimi – who is usually cryptic when she announces the latest happening, but I find that far more often than not, something cool follows. The fact that we needed a password to get in was most promising.In the basement of this gallery is a genuine speakeasy – lift the up staircase in a back room and you discover a hidden down staircase used during Prohibition. They still open for the occasional event.

It’s dark wood and low ceilings, make-out couches and Christmas lights, faded murals and the smell of marijuana. It is Los Angeles’ interpretation of the state of ultimate chill. When you order a vodka cranberry at the bar, you don’t get enough cranberry to color the whole glass.

The hipsters are here, and the art crowd, and the women who dress like they’re 13 and on the soccer team and not 32. Mischievous Mimi seems to know them all – they’re practically partitioned by room – friends from childhood in Cleveland in this chamber, college mates from Boston there, general LA musicians in the back.

After awhile a kid takes the stage – skinny, Hispanic, with a long lone sprout of black hair pouring out of his forehead and faint fuzzy mutton chop sideburns. He starts stroking an easy blues out of his electric guitar and sings the old standard Lazybones. And soon the room shuts up and turns to see this quiet little kid in the long skater shorts who has suddenly become mesmerizing. Nowacki and I look at each other and we’re both thinking that this song’s the last thing we expected out of this kid’s mouth.

He goes by Xela (pronounced ZAY-luh), which sounds exotic enough until you realize it’s just his name backwards. He has a strong soulful tenor which, if you close your eyes, seems like it can switch gender in mid-phrase. He flutters a little in the way that Adam Levin from Maroon 5 has been making popular lately. He sings I Heard it Through the Grapevine and doesn’t miss a note.

Eventually a trio joins him – a deft bass player, a chain smoker with a set of steel drums, and a bongo player with a ride cymbal. The sound locks in – still blues, but almost sunny and playful. If you can see the kid’s face he’s mugging up a storm. He whistles, makes mock trumpet noises, he uses scat-bop gibberish to impersonate a factory outside Cleveland. Right here and right now there’s not a thing you’d change about it – it’s the absolute confluence of atmosphere and mood and rhythm and a hell of a way to get your mellow on.

There’s a woman selling his home-burned CD’s. While I’m near her she leans to a friend and says of the band – they’ve only been playing together for two days.

Xela sweats through a ninety minute set and seems ready to keep going, but consents to taking a break. Nowacki, the boyfriend and I slip out, there’s a late-night restaurant on the Sunset Strip I want to introduce them to.

Sometimes I think I’m not experiencing enough of the nightlife in LA. Then I look back on nights like this and think I must be doing something right.


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