As The Smell nears some kind of cold end, the final shows being hosted at this iconic downtown L.A. venue are the warm bittersweet send-offs that we all need. And, in the name of everything that any grind or punk band stood for in their dirty floss-stitched jeans, last weekend’s show with Rats in the Wall, Graf Orlock, and Retox was the perfect means to an end.
Rats In the Wall
This Huntington Beach four piece comes in at full speed, and maintains a supreme level of intensity through their entire set. Formed in 2011, and constantly playing around SoCal and other states and cities, the terse bellows of their singer Eva Hall echo the general malaise of those who’ve been gifted previous generations’ mistakes; they also f*cking rip. Their guitarist Brad Logan (Leftover Crack, F-Minus), drummer Donny Morris (Leftover Crack) and bassist Mike Westcoe are no strangers to the fast, stompy, two-steppy shredding that they provide for Eva to yell over. Releasing their first full length in 2015 (Dead End) they have since released two EPs (Skeletal Twins, Estos Dias, split with Fraude), and are always in the throes of writing/playing shows. If you haven’t heard of them yet, you will.
Second on the bill was the Los Angeles staple, and local grind-bois, Graf Orlock. They’ve been together since 2005, and although they’ve seen a few line-up shifts over the decade of their existence, they’ve never failed to sustain the chaos, intensity, and time-traveling story line that runs through the three full lengths and seven-plus EPs that they’ve released over the years. It was also really nice to hear so many of their classics from the original Destination trilogy.
Balancing shrill vocals, devastating riffs and drums, and movie sound-bytes from a sampler tucked between an Orange and a 5150 head, Gorlock brings madness, and everyone is involved. Them, the show reached the peak as they closed with their jurassically influenced “The Dream Left Behind,” and singer “Karl Bournze” surfed the swell of crowd out the back door, into the yellow of alley lights. Other than Karl (Bouquet), Graf Orlock is “Jason Schmidt” (Ghostlimb, Dangers), drummer Sina S. (Adult Books), and bassist Chris C. (for lack of cryptonyms), and they are almost always destroying at a venue near you.
And as a perfect close to the evening, with a bill that resembled a daisy chain of influential SoCal hardcore/punk bands in ascending order, Retox was the last band to take control of the stage. Singer Justin Pearson (The Locust, Head Wound City, Holy Molar) doesn’t need much of an introduction since his prolific musical career and lasting influence on the noise/hardcore/powerviolence genre is known by most enthusiasts of heavier shit. Guitarist Michael Crain (Dead Cross, Festival of Dead Deer) shreds to high hell on his custom Esoterik guitar, while Ryan Bergmann (bass) and Kevin Avery (drums) direct Retox’s erratic and suspended-disgust.
They played an appropriately curt and abrasive set, and Justin sent a reminder to not take a place like The Smell for granted; he reminded us of how much history happened past that roll-up metal door, and how unfortunate it is to lose such an important part of the city. Not verbatim, but around there.
Shows like this one are proof that venues like The Smell are integral to the music community, especially in L.A. Without the influence of corporations or large booking agencies, local promoters like Andrew at Freak Style Booking are able to bring together shows of truly epic proportions, across genres, and for all ages.
The collective DIY mentality creates a sense of family and inclusion that goes beyond just seeing some band for a few bucks. When you’re at a show like last weekend’s, in a place like The Smell, you’re part of history that is larger than yourself. And for many Angelenos, when you’re there watching someone perform, you feel at home.
In fact, there’s probably a show tonight, check their website. #SaveTheSmell