Los Angeles and architecture have a shaky history. While structures in Europe can date back to thousands of years, and the East Coast to the 1700’s, a building in L.A. is considered “historic” if it was built before WWII. Thus, it’s not surprising that the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip barely made it past two decades before being slated for demolition.
As is often the case, the reason for the venue’s closing is to make room for “urban development.” A hotel/condo/retail project is much more lucrative financially than a music venue. Even though the HOB hosted concerts from some of the biggest names representing all genres (Prince, Aerosmith, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Guns N’ Roses, Joan Jett), money always win over nostalgia.
Anthrax had the honor of being the last heavy metal band to play the venue, while Steel Panther will close the place down on Monday, August 3. (Look for Screamer’s review and photos of Anthrax’s show soon).
As for Anthrax, for a Los Angeles venue to have made such a strong impression on a New York-based band is…well, let Frank Bello, the group’s bass player tell the story.
“Three weeks ago, my agent called me because we always get everybody in the band to agree on a show. Out of nowhere, the House of Blues had called him up. We’d be the last heavy metal show, hard rock band, whatever you want to call it, at House of Blues in Hollywood. And of course, it has to be because we ought to fly, need the right money, all that good stuff. And man, for me, it was a no-brainer just because I’ve seen great shows there. Look, I think if you really think about it . . . you live in LA, right? The way I’m looking at it, do they really need another hotel on Sunset Boulevard? Everybody wants to go to California. It’s great. I wanna go to California. I love LA. I love the whole game there. But man, if you keep taking away these great places to see bands and just events, what’s the reason that you’re gonna be wanting to stay in that hotel that you’re building in place of the House of Blues? I just don’t understand. On Sunset Boulevard, there’s a string of hotels. And I get it. They’re all being sold out. But all of a sudden, where do you go to see a band now? I know there’s a few places. But I’m telling you, that was one of the cool places that had the great light show. Everything was easy. The bars are right there. There’s food if you need it. I’m going to miss that because, hey, if you stayed on Sunset, you just walked right there. I thought it was a great vibe, and I’m going to miss the place.”
Bello knows from experience about historic music venues being lost. He talks about two such venues in his home city. “The Roseland Ballroom, I was at one of the last shows that Lady Gaga did before they tore it down. We had to say to good-bye to CBGB’s and a lot of great, great small clubs in the city, in the Village, all of that has a lot of historic value in music. And of course, the House of Blues doesn’t have any of that kind of history, but it’s just a really sad thing that, oh my God, they needed these condos right there and then. And you talk about the grief factor. In New York City, man, if they had a corner, they’re gonna put a condo or some kind of massive building in now. A place like Roseland Ballroom with a historic significance of it all, I’ve seen so many, so many great bands. And if you look into the history of New York, which I love, that place should never have been torn down. It’s just one of those iconic places that should be here forever, and that’s gone. And it’s all gutted now. You have to see it. It’s just so sad when you walk by it now. Torn down, it’s just very, very sad. But that is the nature of the beast with this thing. It’s all about your LA, New York. It’s all about money and all that stuff. It’s just nothing is really sacred anymore. It’s kind of sad because there’s this stuff we’ve grown up on and grown up with. And it’s the sign of the times because these properties are so expensive now. And that’s the reality of it all. It’s so sought after, specifically New York, LA. And anybody who deals in real estate . . . not that I even deal with real estate. I just know it. I have a lot of friends that do it. But it’s insane. It’s insane, the prices. But that’s where all these things are going.”
The conversation turns from mourning the loss of the House of Blues to what Anthrax will do to celebrate the life of the club. What do they have planned? A special set list? Special surprise guests? (Note: This interview was conducted prior to the concert).
“To be quite honest, I have songs that right after this phone call I have to go learn again,” laughs Bello. “Because we did pull out some fun stuff to just make it a little more special. And as far as that special guest, the crazy thing about special guests, that always happens the night before or the night of the gig. People give me a call, ‘Hey, I’m in town’ because nobody knows when anybody’s in town, right? Everybody’s on tour. So for us, we have a lot of friends obviously in LA, and it would be great to just bring up people who are in town. As of now, I don’t know what’s going on, but you never know, man. You look at backstage at an Anthrax show, it’s chaotic. It’s crazy. Especially LA; LA and New York.
Depending on the amount of prior rehearsal (if any), “special guest” songs can be magic; they can also be sloppy. It’s all part of the magic of a live concert. “You know what’s great when you have special guests and stuff like that? Well, I’ve gotten up as a special guest. We would just wing it. Oh my! And there’s a debacle and we’re just laughing it off. It’s all fun anyway. But you know what, sloppy is part of the fun–for me, man, it’s metal! It’s like ‘everybody knows this song, right?’ So if a guest comes out, look, sometimes you really don’t know the song! You make a bum note, everybody makes them. We’re all human. I’ve done it. Everybody does it. It doesn’t matter. So I adjust the event, and look, believe me, I wanna see what’s going on. I hope some cool people are in town. The week before the show, I don’t know. But I do know we will have a great time because we’re pretty pumped. And it’s always a great show in LA, specifically the House of Blues. And saying good-bye to that place, it’s really, really sad and at the same time, we want it to be a great show. But I just feel bad that it’s going, quite honestly. I do.”
Music is music and business is business. The “music business” has always been an uneasy alliance; a forced marriage of sorts between the artists and accountants.
“Yeah, because I think all the middlemen and all the . . . I mean no disrespect to anybody. Everybody has their gig and their job. I respect that. But I always think sometimes there’s too much of that. For me, I just wanna write a good song and I wanna go play it. In a nutshell, that’s what we do. All you wanna do is write something from your heart that you believe, and hopefully you make people hear it, and hopefully they feel the same way in their way about the song that you wrote and create a vibe together. And that’s really all that I ever wanted to do with music–write a catchy melody and a good song, and make people feel something, bring some emotion from their perspective. And then the business that would all get in the way. Some music exec would say ‘What is this?’
“This isn’t how I want things to work. I just wanted to write this song and connect with somebody. That’s all I wanted to do. And all of a sudden this business thing, it becomes that. After all these years of doing it, I’m going right back to the writing. In fact, I’m doing it more. It’s a ‘cut to the chase’ kind of vibe with me. I’m talking to you. I just like talking to people one on one. I find it works a lot easier, and it makes everybody’s life a lot simpler. I know agents and all that stuff, but I’ve said, ‘Look, are we playing or not? Are we doing this or not?’ There’s no roundabout. Just keep going straight ahead. Go right to the point, instead of all the nonsense. And that’s what I do with music now. So I’m like, ‘Are we going on tour or not going on tour?’ That’s it, man. If the money’s all right, good. We can afford to go. Let’s do it. And cut to the chase.”
So that spirit will apply to their final HOB gig. For both the band and audience, it will be a night of crazy abandon. Tear down the stage, tear down the club, so to speak…what have you got to lose? You’ll never set foot on that stage, you’ll never walk through those doors again. In a year’s time, there will be a hotel, condos and retail where bands once played.
As for Steel Panther, lead vocalist Michael Starr expresses similar emotions–albeit with with colorful language right out of the Panther playbook. The band gigged there so frequently a case could legitimately made that they were the unofficial house band of the House of Blues Hollywood. Says Starr: “Well, we played there more than any other band ever! So yeah man, we were the House Metal band that got signed and now we are fucking stoked! Plus, No one can ever break our record now,” he winks.
While it’s a great honor to be chosen to be the final band to play the club, it will undoubtedly be bittersweet for Starr as the final note of the final song rings out, knowing that he will never stand on that stage again. Starr gets uncharacteristically quiet as he says “You know change can be difficult and I personally don’t care for it. But, it’s been my experience that change can be alright, and sometimes even better.” However, he rebounds quickly with “I heard they are tearing down the Hustler Store as well, now that’s fucking change I’m not good with.”
Definitely a quote that Steel Panther fans can relish–and probably relate to.
Going back to Bello, his intention going into the show is “complete energy. It’s just energy, and from both sides. So I’m really looking forward to this and having a drink and say farewell and all that. And it’s just, anytime I hear a cool club close, man, it bums me out, but I just wanna say, ‘Thank you. Thank you for being there. Thank you for all the great shows, not only that we’ve played there, but what I’ve seen there.’ And I know it’s only been around since 1994, but, man, it was substantial. There were some substantial shows there. I’m telling you, dude, there was times I was just walking down to Starbucks from the hotel, and on the way, I’m looking who’s playing that night and I looked at the marquee and thought ‘I didn’t know they were playing tonight.’ And you know what, that’s how I found out. And I wound up going to see some great bands that way. I didn’t even know what they played. I just thought it was a cool vibe that people landed in LA and had a great place to play. I think it was cool, man.”