Los Angeles vs. New York: Babylon's Whores Keep Battling

Chris Robbins

Los Angeles

At 7 p.m. last Friday the mighty wheels of IMPOSE’s touring van sat motionless on the 101. We were two miles away from our accommodations, 2,000 miles from rationality. Not a single driver honked.

Comparing Los Angeles and New York is how bad comedians on VH1 warm up before insulting the 1990s. The ensuing discussion is unoriginal and often mean-spirited. But the comparison remains necessary because both cities embody two vastly different visions of The American Dream.

New York is a bowl of Lucky Charms, the bright marshmallow kernels of culture and vitality crammed next to bland cruelty, all bobbing in a sickeningly sweet broth of humanity.

LA is a hologram of an omelet, an omelet of sunshine, tolerance, and the radish circles they put on tacos; a perfect omelet shaped like plump letter C, or the beast of Manifest Destiny curled up on a reptilian heat rock next to the Pacific breeze. There are bleached strip malls and fat-necked men in black shirts and Blutooths and shrub-dotted outcroppings and many wedge sneakers between you and the omelet hologram, but still it sits just 15 feet away. All you have to do is hop into your car to get it. A fork and knife are another six exits down the road.

Several prominent musicians have recently made LA their home, including Ty Segall and John Dwyer. Thee Oh Sees' booking agent succinctly explained Dwyer's rationale for moving South, away from San Francisco’s gentrifying Mission District: “He’s over it.” This phrase (unintentionally) makes the move feel less like premeditated renunciation and more of a Tinder swipe worthy of a city that often seems as superficial and outrageous as all the reality shows promise.

The upside to LA’s freakish devotion to Abracadalifornia is that it’s freakish. And huge. The endless sprawl induces the law of averages—there has to be some cool shit to do here. We just wouldn’t do it on Friday night. Drained from the drive from San Francisco and engorged from the limitless platters of animal flesh and house music from a Koreatown BBQ joint, IMPOSE curled into a ball and fell asleep to freeway white noise.

Saturday’s show was at The Church On York, which is exactly how it sounds: an old church on York Street in the Northeast part of town. The stage is in the basement, which also features the obligatory mildew reek and bake sale bartender sitting at a card table in front of a small hill of canned beer and earplugs. Tonight that bartender happened to be Mish Way of White Lung, who moved here from Vancouver three months ago.

While the basement is properly grimy, the ground level maintains all the religious accoutrements of the building's previous tenant. Rows of pews face a small blank stage that feels more suited to host a fourth grade talent show than weekly consecration. Big block letters and numbers that had been hung to let parishioners know which hymn they'd be singing are now employed like letter magnets on a friend's fridge: “SOULJA BOY TELL EM.” Coffee machines that survived years of donut socials and AA meetings now keep punks and well-heeled scenesters in denim awake.

Like K Records' synagogue headquarters, The Church's ground floor has the musty, baked-in smell of religiosity. It's a tonic of mothballs and hands, fellowship and solemnity, one that awakens the transgressive qualities of rock and roll that can seem rote with overuse. Humans may get intoxicated with sound and booze and bare legs, but God's name is still on the lease. These spaces inspire a tantalizing daydream: what will we do with all the churches once America stops going?

The IMPOSE-curated bill of fare featured Screature, PUP, Creative Adult, and Solids. Both PUP and Solids hail from Canada, which means nothing until you meet them and understand that whatever city they’re in, they are the nicest people existing in it. PUP has their brand of full-throated beer foam rock down to a satisfying and technically stimulating (hey was that an actual guitar solo?) science. Solids’ appeal continues to be their ability to cram more sound into a set than seems possible for two humans.

Creative Adult stood out. Their set felt dark and wizened. Lead singer Scott Philips barked and mumbled through melodic screeds with titles like “Public Transportation,” wry nods to punk didacticism. As Philips swayed and slurred, sometimes staring directly into the stage light, he reminded me of an old roommate who was shambolic and insane but rarely wrong.

After the show, IMPOSE emptied onto York Street, which has a nice strip of bars, bookstores, billiard halls, and taco stands. The air was warm—it was the same warm air that just a few miles away was tickling Jack Nicholson's goatee (probably) and brushing against the flip-flopped toes of the teenagers and tourists on the Venice beach boardwalk. Our aversion to LA had been successfully tempered. If that omelet hologram performs at Coachella this year, we might even watch.

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