Friday, June 2, 2017

R.I.P. Sunset Strip landmark House of Blues

The House of Blues is going down. Photo by Alison Martino for Vintage Los Angeles

My favorite night there was September 5, 2000, an evening I memorialized for

Editor's Note: Dennis Wilen, webmaster for Harry Shearer, and Bunezuela, who paid $510 for two tickets to the film premiere, reports from Spinal Tap's triumphant return in Los Angeles, September 5, 2000

No fooling those Sunset Boulevard scenesters!

Despite the House of Blues marquee showing TUES NITE: SUSSMAN BRIS, the can't-fool-me crowd of hepsters packed the HOB for the tour-opening gig of Spinal Tap's 16th anniversary premiere.

The hard rockin', Spinal Tap t-shirt wearing-crowd was like totally ready for an extremely rare appearance by one of England's loudest bands. With tickets to the uber-private HOB "industry preview" gig reportedly going for up to $300 on eBay and September 7 David Letterman taping tickets in the $3K range, there was no question this was the hottest show in Hollywood.

I myself with my own eyes saw swinging stars like Carl Reiner, Al Franken, the inimitable Hef (no ascot tonight!) with two matching blonde bimbettes, and my old Philly homeboy, bass-playin' Freebo, whose mysterious presence was only explained by the show's encore.

There were lots of other celebs, I am told, plus many industry weasels in attendance. Surprise opening act was The Folksmen.

Dressed in matching khakis and vertical red and white candystripe shirts, the group played their one hit, what had once been several traditional ballads, and, to show they're no strangers to that rock and roll music you kids like to listen to, closed their set with a rousing version of Boston's More Than A Feeling.

Even if you think you've heard this rock classic in every possible setting, you would have probably been as dumbfounded as the audience was upon hearing it on string bass with two acoustic guitars. Stunning.

Finally, as the velvet curtain rose on the laser lit, smoke-filled club stage, the thundering intro to Hell Hole, cut one side one on Tap's debut LP, filled the room, and Tap was Back from the Dead, in a mighty big way.

 From left to right, dark, hairy and menacing Derek Smalls, as always, on bass. In the center, on vocals and rhythm, blonde and beautiful David St. Hubbins. On the right, as flashy as ever, Nigel Tufnel sent out the soaring leads on his artlessly played Japanese Stratocaster copy with lots of buttons.

The band never stopped to rest or chat much or even tune up as they hammered hit after hit across the proscenium to the screaming horde. Bitch School. Christmas With the Devil.

Whatever that song was during which Derek had gotten trapped in the pod, but not this time. The British Invasion hit that started it all off for Tap: Listen to the Flower People. And then, unbelievably, as the lights flashed and the thunder rolled, a prop Stonehenge is lowered to the stage. It was easy to forget, at that moment, the huge, bald spot in the middle of Derek's flowing tresses, the crusty cold sore on Nigel's lip and the fact that St. Hubbins was made up like a geisha whore on crack.

The magical musical tale began. This was Progressive Rock at its perige! Or is it apogee? I never remember.

And, apparently as part of a personnel compromise that got the band back on the road, the part of the midget was danced by a woman (Jeanine?) who might have been St. Hubbins' bird, ya know watteye mean wink wink nudge nudge? But I'm not sure.

As the epic ended, the crowd was silent. The 'Henge retreated into the lights. What could possibly follow this? Cheers. Cheers. Cheers as Freebo, carrying a goddamn tuba, and a famous bass player with a bald head, wire-rim specs and a long gray ZZ Topish beard (I am spacing on the name) came on to join the Tapsters, and, in a fitting finale, together they layed down the bottom-heaviest version of "Big Bottom" you'd ever want to hear.

And I don't say that lightly. My ears are still ringing. And my mind is still spinning — in a good way.

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