L.A.’s Greatest Gigs

Drew Tewksbury ’04, LA Weekly managing editor, recalls some of L.A.’s greatest rock performances …

Biography
Drew Tewksbury a Los Angeles-based cultural journalist, editor, photographer and multimedia producer, is the managing editor of L.A. Weekly. He has worked as managing editor and producer of KCET’s “Artbound,” an arts journalism online publication and Emmy-winning television show. He has also worked at Los Angeles Magazine, and written for NPR, Forbes, the Los Angeles Times, Billboard, Hollywood Reporter and elsewhere. We asked Tewksbury to tell us about some of the most seminal concerts to have taken place in Los Angeles.a Los Angeles-based cultural journalist, editor, photographer and multimedia producer, is the managing editor of L.A. Weekly. He has worked as managing editor and producer of KCET’s “Artbound,” an arts journalism online publication and Emmy-winning television show. He has also worked at Los Angeles Magazine, and written for NPR, Forbes, the Los Angeles Times, Billboard, Hollywood Reporter and elsewhere. We asked Tewksbury to tell us about some of the most seminal concerts to have taken place in Los Angeles.

1. Fela Kuti at Citadel de Haiti, 1969
Before the Nigerian founder of the Afrobeat movement became a political and titanic musical figure, he was just another musician trying to make it in Los Angeles. He lived in Hollywood, and his band performed six nights a week at the Citadel de Haiti on Sunset. Here he met Sandra Izsadore, who introduced him to the Black Power movement, which launched Kuti into his revolutionary, political agenda that he’d bring back to Africa. The story is documented in “FELA!” the musical, and those incendiary performances were captured on “The ’69 Los Angeles Sessions” album reissue.

2. N.W.A at Celebrity Theater, March 4, 1989
When the West Coast Rap progenitors took the stage just a few months after they dropped their debut album “Straight Outta Compton,” the crowd got raucous. Budding writer Jonathan Gold reports in his 1989 L.A. Weekly cover story chronicling the rise of the hip hop group: “A melee broke out on center stage, and the cops were called in even as Eazy-E strutted among the turmoil, grinning, finishing out the set.”

3. Dwight Yoakam at Madame Wong’s, Early 1980s
Before he became a country superstar, Yoakam was part of the Los Angeles punk scene of the early 1980s. Instead of sporting the uniform of a mohawk and spiked jacket, Yoakam did the most punk thing of all — he wore a cowboy hat and sang ol’ hillbilly tunes. He became friends with Los Lobos and The Blasters, and they launched their own genre of music: cowpunk.

4. Aretha Franklin at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, 1972
Backdropped by the turmoil of the civil rights tensions, Franklin brought her gospel-inflected sound to a small church in South Central. The result was nothing less than rapturous, a soulful sound captured on her Grammy-winning live album “Amazing Grace,” which went on double platinum.

5. Charlie Parker at Zorthian Ranch, 1952
Turkish-Armenian artist Jirayr Zorthian relocated to the hills of Altadena in the 1930s creating a bohemian commune to showcase his works, present musical acts, and, yes, host an orgy or two. In 1952, iconic jazz saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker performed a blistering after-midnight set, wherein the crowd got naked.

6. Bon Iver Sunrise Show at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 2009
At the crack of dawn, attendees who had slept over on the site’s expansive lawn were awakened by the chants of monks, whose droning vocals cut through a fog that had rolled into the venue during the chilly night. Justin Vernon and his band took the stage, providing a lithe and ethereal soundtrack as the sky turned from darkness to light.

7. Beatles at Dodger Stadium, 1966
When the Fab Four took the stage August 28, 1966, at the home of our boys in blue, the thunderous sound of more than 40,000 in attendance resounded throughout the surrounding Elysian Valley. It was just a day before their final show, which took place at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, but this show was revolutionary not just for being the Liverpudlians’ final L.A. show; it was also where John Lennon made waves for echoing his claim that the band was “more popular than Jesus.”

8. Prince’s 21-night stand at The Forum, April 2011
When his Purpleness descended on Los Angeles for a month of performances, it was as if a mythical creature had taken over our city. He performed a dozen shows at The Forum, a handful of small gigs at the Troubadour, along with one-offs at venues on the Sunset Strip. Friends would report sightings of him crossing the street or playing piano at a bar, like a psychedelic sasquatch spreading funk and love to Angelenos everywhere.

9. Los Lobos opening for Johnny Rotten, Olympic Theater, May 4, 1980
Playing acoustic Mexican folk ballads to punks may not seem like the best idea, but for the East Los Angeles troupe, the opportunity to open for Johnny Rotten and Public Image Ltd was too good to pass up. In “Los Lobos: Dream in Blue,” writer Chris Morris describes the scene: “Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles … took the stage clutching their acoustic instruments, bearded and long-haired, dressed in traditional Mexican guayabera shirts. The audience instantly reacted as one, and launched everything they had in their hands, and in their mouths, at the band.”

10. The Industry in Union Station, 2013 (not pictured)
Unconventional opera troupe The Industry is known for pushing the boundaries with where they perform their multimedia and interactive show. They’ve performed in warehouses and, most ambitiously, enacted a mobile opera in limos across the city. But perhaps their finest was in Union Station, where among the bustle of a working transit hub, they conjured composer Christopher Cerrone’s take on “Invisible Cities,” Italo Calvino’s seminal book, marrying sound with the scenes of everyday life.

11. Mötley Crüe at the Starwood, April 24 and 25, 1981
When Nikki Sixx and his outlandish bandmates took the stage of the Sunset Strip club, they didn’t know that they were making history. It was the birth of hair-metal, the Aquanet-drenched masses who banged their heads to big guitars and even bigger coifs that espoused the virtues of beer, partying and everything in between.

12. David Bowie at the Santa Monica Civic Center, Oct. 20, 1972
It’s hard to imagine a world before Bowie, but the glam-rocker made his U.S. debut right here in Los Angeles, performing cuts from his spaced-out rock opera and expanding minds on the Westside.

13. Led Zeppelin at Whisky A Go-Go, 1969
For their first North American tour, Led Zep performed four nights at the soon-to-be legendary West Hollywood club. A newspaper ad for the show mentions that Alice Cooper was the headliner, and Angeleno audiences were introduced to the English band via their virtuosic guitarist: “Led Zeppelin featuring Jimmy Page, formerly of the Yardbirds.”

14. Nirvana at Rhino Records, June 23, 1989
Before the power trio became the godfathers of grunge. Nirvana was just another band who rolled into Rhino Records for a quick set. Archival video shows the band crammed into a rock-poster covered corner with their amps in front of them, and with a fourth member, guitarist Jason Everman. Two years later they released “Nevermind” and changed rock music forever.

15. Tom Waits at the Tropicana Motel, 1970s
The West Hollywood hangout was where musicians ranging from Joan Jett to Jim Morrison would crash between tours. Bellowing crooner Tom Waits even took up residence, positioning a piano in his kitchen, where he’d reportedly perform for residents like songwriter Rickie Lee Jones, who was rumored to have written “Chuck E’s in Love” on his adjacent ivories.