Ken Harrison 6:41 p.m., Dec. 12
I pulled up to the light in front of Til Two Club and clicked my blinker to the left. Rounding the corner, the white whale appeared: an empty parking spot directly beneath a streetlight, directly across the street from the club. Holy Shit! I swerved instinctively toward the spot with primal emotion. Sliding into the spot gave me an undeserved sense of satisfaction. Awww yeah, look who can park a car. An old service pickup parked directly behind me. Hey man, I didn't snake you. Relax. I half-expected a confrontation when I stepped out, but discovered that he was only delivering something to the building next door. Like I would have been able to defend myself, anyway. The dimly-lit El Cajon Boulevard was quiet; it was Thursday night and all the Cao Dang Pho places and Somalian markets had closed hours earlier. Cars only swished by every few minutes. The only noise was the dull thumping of drums and bass guitar coming from the back of the club.
The Kevin Smith-esque bouncer was reading my ID with a perplexed intensity. It was the zip code, of course. For whatever reason, the DMV had decided to fill in my zip code with a bunch of zeros instead of actual numbers. Of course I immediately called them and asked them to fix this mistake, only to learn that I would have to mail in my licence to them and wait 3 months to receive a new one. Ridiculous. So now the baby-faced kid shows up at the bar with a sketchy looking address in his ID and the alarms go off in bouncers heads immediately. Most of the time they use the black light wand to find out it's real, and I have to tell them why it's like that and make it seem like a reasonable explanation. But on at least two separate occasions, the bouncers had been so paranoid and so unwilling to listen to the reason of the UV wand that I had been flat-out turned away. Sorry, Charlie.
"Lewie. Lewie!" The call was coming from the group of smokers to my left. Chris was standing underneath the flickering yellow lamp in a circle of rocker-dressed smokers. His disheveled hair was poking out from underneath one of those euro bike race hats everyone seems to have nowadays. Despite his Cate-Blanchett-as-Bob-Dylan look, he had a long green snowcoat on with a furry hood. The coat went down to his knees, where two denim-clad sticks with converse shoes stuck out. He grabbed my hand and pulled me toward his chest. We embraced an opposite arm over the others shoulder in a typical white boy fashion. "Thanks for coming out, dog. Glad you could make it"
"Of course, dude. You guys play yet?"
"Naw, naw, we're up next"
We entered the dim red light of the Til-two club to the sound of garage rock in the back. I had only been to this place once, back when it was called Beauty Bar. Other than a new coat of paint and the elimination of some useless hair dryers, the layout was basically the same. The bar was against the left wall, with curved padded booths of black vinyl to the right side. What set the place apart was the empty space in the back. Where most places have a wall, Til-two has what was probably an old mechanic's garage space. The floor lifted a few inches and turned to bare concrete as you walked back. The stage was a ramshackle wooden deal about two feet off the ground. On the opposite wall was the sliding aluminum door that confirmed the building's automotive origins. Til-two definitely has that dive-y atmosphere that so many places are trying desperately to recreate. Thankfully, it wasn't filled with the kind of people who went looking for that.
No, tonight was just about music. Chris's band wasn't well-known, and I didn't think that the other bands were either. I had just caught the tail end of the first band's set - a loud, fast-paced garage rock trio. I sat at the bar while Chris and his two buds (a.k.a Plateaus) set-up on stage. I fiddled with one of their custom matchbooks and got into a conversation with a tall (read: at least 6'5'') blond who was trying to order an organic vegan beer. The bartender scrambled half-heartedly to fill her request. "Yeah, they use fish bladders to filter most wine, so I can't have that. Unless it's labeled organic" "But what if it's a bladder from an organic fish?" "Well, they would still label that. For allergy reasons. Like, there's this web site I can show you..." I started to hear bursts of strings and drumbeats from the stage and excused myself. Saved by the band!
Have you heard Plateaus before? If not, they're a kind of high-energy indie band with tinges of surf rock and punk sprinkled throughout. Mix well, bake for 3-4 hours, and boom, you've got Plateaus. Give them a quick google or facebook search if you want to hear more (I know you have the time. Why else would you be reading this?). They played a fairly quick set to an audience of about 20 people. Chris sang the back up vocals and one of the guitarists (with a cutoff denim vest that was way too small) did pretty well. Once the set was done, the crowd immediately began to disperse. I pretended I had gotten a text and stared down at my phone intently, occasionally mashing buttons. Well, I wouldn't want anyone to see me looking around and assume I was some kind of LOSER, right? I fake-texted my way all the way to the front of the bar and into one of the nice padded black booths. Because I wasn't drinking that night, I didn't feel like sitting at the bar and constantly be waving off the bartender. As if I was seriously watching whatever C-movie they had playing on the TVs above. Who would do that? Finally I saw Chris again, and the awkward spell was broken. "Hey man, great job! Where else are you guys playing these days?" Chris rubbed his chin with his thumb and forefinger. "We got a deal going on at Tin Can in a few weeks...dooooooood, did I tell you the mattress story? About what happened?" He went on to describe some rude houseguests he had that were mutual friends of ours. "...and they didn't even clean up! What the f****s up with that?" "That's rough, man. I wouldn't have put up with it, for sure" "Well, they were already there. So, what're ya gonna do..." It went on like this for a few minutes until we heard crackles of musical life coming from the stage again. "Oh dog, this is the other band, Davila 666. You heard a dem? Ah, dood, come check it out, they're mad good!"
This band had the biggest fanbase out of all of them, and the small garage space was now jam-packed with people. We kind of stood out now, as the audience was mostly hispanic kids, decked out in leather jackets and doc martins. "These guys are from TJ," Chris explained, "they don't come up here that often. It's a pretty hot deal". He excused himself to smoke before the show started. Already I could feel excitement in the room. The band, which had seven or so members, took the stage and was tuning things out, stoking the nervous fire that the audience had in their bellies. All of a sudden, the lepord jacket clad frontman fixed a cable, and these guys went off like a bomb. Zero to sixty, with their fans right along with them. It was as jarring as it was awesome. The guitarists were firing out chords rat-a-tat-tat like they were spitfire planes. The drummer was committing first degree drumslaughter. The frontman, the shortest guy in the group, screamed vocals in a voice twice his size. And this was before people even started to mosh! Once it got going, it was a sight to behold: a hot, dingy room filled with sweating fans screaming the lyrics right along with the guys on stage. Bad-ass latina rockabillies in leather jackets and poofed-up hair smacked down full grown men in the pit, spitting teeth onto the ones pinned under their stilettos. It was chaos, but it was so controlled - the chord changes were clean, the lyrics (en Español) were audible, and the back-up vocals - the back up vocals! These guys harmonized like the were the Righteous Brothers of Mexican punk. It was a high-energy heat-seeking missile of music; focused, precise, and devastating. I was blown away. Dare I make comparisons to The Ramones? The Misfits? I'm sure the purists are yelling for my head for saying so. But, who cares? Chris was right. They were mad good.
I made my way outside, sweaty and half-deaf. Chris was smoking with another group of guys, swaying slightly. "You were right, dude. Those guys were amazing!" Chris looked at me with red, glassy eyes and half-smiled. "Told you"