So last night I headed out to Late Night Snack at Betalevel. The online description of the event seemed cribbed from those spam e-mails I always get at my old work account: you know, gobbldegook dummy text that somehow, someway, probably actually contain the encoded secrets of the universe:
“…abreaction noun Psychology the discomfort you full permission to increase the Cabaret’s stage. Miss Manners has an appalling idea of pate and contributions of World War I raging around it a previously repressed emotion, the expression and contributions of beer, pictures, and forget bearing grudges…” Uh?
I had no idea what to expect. It was a total crapshoot, which kind of intrigued me. As much as I’ve been a rabid fan of what Betalevel does–and C-Level before it–I’d never actually been there. D’oh! Plus, I wanted to go and talk to people, be social–and I was recently informed that if you go to these sorta things alone, people think you’re [wiggles hands in air over head] craaaaazy. Who knew?! I’d always prided myself on being a badass babe who went and did things by herself and didn’t need to always drag a buddy with her, but it came as a revelation that having a pal with you actually enables you to socialize more.
Sometimes I’m a little slow.
So I brought my buddy Ben with me and we followed the convoluted directions to Betalevel, which are so wacked-out they merit the trip in and of themselves (they include “notice the dumpster to your left” and “behind a red door, down a black staircase”)…
Betelevel is one large subterranean room tucked away in the ragged back alleys of old Chinatown. It’s subdivided into a small theater-style section with long benches, and an adjacent office area crammed to the proverbial gills with mismatched Borg-like assimilated electronics and tech gear. It’s immediately welcoming, with warm light and a close ceiling.
Turns out Late Night Snack was a poetry-ambient/experimental-cabaret affair, and a helluva lot of fun. Poet Ara Shirinyan read from his “Great Dictators Series.” This included poems such as Belarus Is Great, Stalin Is Great (“Stalin is great. In linguistics / He’s the boss”), China Is Great (“China is great. We saw China when we adopted our child. China is so clean. Everybody waves hello. Hail Mao Tse Tung”), and my personal fave, Hitler Is Great (“Everyone can agree / He is someone it’s ok to shoot at”). During Hitler Is Great I observed the young man seated next to me with art-punk tribal ink on his arms and a yarmulke on his head laugh at approximately half the poem, which I thought was pretty good for a poem that could be construed, by the brutally humorless, to actually groove on the Hitler thang. He was cool enough to get the joke. Ara’s poems were actually a really hard-core slam of the cultural mores he grew up inside.
“I really did grow up thinking Stalin was great,” said Shirinyan of his boyhood in the former Soviet Republic (I’m sorry if I’m erring on the details, I’m not quite recalling where he was from). “It’s all about context.” The room–full of people who seemed to mostly be a hybrid breed of tech-geek, art-punk, and anarcho-intelligentsia–cracked up.
Next came a duo playing ambient strings on their guitars, using bows to play; this was pretty cool, ‘cuz they turned off all the lights (“Is this where someone comes into the basement and shoots us all?” asks Ben) and projected trippy, oozing lights on the rear wall. The music was fascinating, but started to get a little old after ten minutes of vibrating layers of sound and blurring minimalist aural watercolors; so we elected to bail. We’d wanted to stay for what apparently would be more poetry and singing, but that much ambient noise is something I have to be a little more mentally prepped for. (Don’t get me wrong, it was really very good, and I even own a Terry Riley album, but I guess I just had ADD last night.)
After dropping Ben off I swung by Spaceland, where I haven’t been in about two years; the valet guy opens my door and exclaims, “Long time no see!”
(the really uneven pool table in the smoke tank at Spaceland)
Ahhh, Spaceland–my old home. I used to spend two, three nights a week here. I’d stopped by tonight to see a friends’ band play, but it turned out they’d gotten bumped; and I was sorta stunned to walk in and find Devendra Banhart shredding on guitar in a surprise appearance with a folky trio, backing a gal named Malleah Baim (sorry, can’t find any info on her). Sweet. While there a mysterious phone number from the 310 text-messaged me: “Women and Children. El Cid. 11:20.”
I stopped and thought about it. What the hell–I’d give it a shot. (Still have no idea who texted me.)
The El Cid show was a nice surprise; the lead vocalist of Women and Children has an amazing set of lungs and reminds me of Neko Case–not quite the range, but certainly the timbre and resonance. Thank you, mysterious text-messager.
All in all a good night. Driving between Spaceland and El Cid, windows down, the lights of Sunset Junction streaming past and my hair whipping around in the cold air, I thought about how much I love living here, that I can just catch a bunch of great shows all in one night, not have the faintest idea what I’m walking into–and still have a fantastic night out on my own.
And I didn’t even have to have a buddy with me for the last half.