Although a bookstore/caf? tucked away in a San Fernando Valley strip mall might not be where one would expect to see two of East Los Angeles? most celebrated 80s punk acts, that?s exactly what happened last Saturday when Los Illegals and The Brat tore through rare live sets at Tia Chucha?s Caf? Cultural in Sylmar.
Billed as ?Chicano Rock ?n? Roll 1980 to 2006,? the show was moderated by "Land of A Thousand Dances" authors David Reyes and Tom Waldman. The two presented a multimedia crash course on the subject via period photographs by artist Diane Gamboa, vintage video footage, unreleased audio recordings and testimonials from band members and scenesters.
And then there were the live performances. Playing to a standing-room-only crowd in the sweltering caf?, the night?s bill offered a diverse sampling of sounds that have bubbled up from East Los Angeles? underground over the 26-year period showcased.
Armed with only a guitar to accompany her, Angela Flores, former member of 80s new wave band Odd Squad, kicked off the evening?s musical festivities with a set of solid originals evocative of her more recent work with acoustic group Las Tres.
With a stripped-down, spare lineup, (invited guests) Quetzal, offered up a soulful, almost bluesy blend of rock, son, jazz and world music rhythms to promote their upcoming CD, "Die, Cowboy, Die", to be released in September.
The night, however, belonged to The Brat. Starting off with some early video footage and a brief question and answer period, the band soon roared through a short but sweet set that included crowd pleasers like ?Attitudes,? ?High School? and ?The Wolf.? Singer Theresa Covarrubias and guitarist Rudy Medina were in fine form and demonstrated that they?ve lost none of the graceful fire that propelled them two decades ago. A CD retrospective is currently in the works, which hopefully means more shows will be in the offing from one of East Los Angeles? most venerated acts.
If the Brat scored the evening?s winning run, Los Illegals (pictured) threw the biggest curveball. Best known for angry, politically astute punk-pop, the band began their set with a video homage to friend and producer guitarist Mick Ronson, who produced their Internal Exile L.P., along with cheeky anecdotes on the band?s storied history courtesy of singer/keyboardist Willie Herr?n and bassist Jesus Velo.
Their live performance ? following a video of the band performing their best-known song, ?El Lay,? to shocked Mexican hosts on a long-gone Spanish-language Pop program ? began as a wall of synthesizer-generated white noise incorporated with heavily processed beats. A few minutes later when drummer Bill Reyes joined in on Indian tablas, things got progressively less electric and more structured, and eventually with the addition of Tony Valdez on acoustic guitar, the 10-minute piece morphed into an all-acoustic Sonic Flamenco deconstruction of the 100 year old Spanish standard ?La Llorona.?
That performance topped a night filled with bands proving that both Chicano rock and the desire to challenge conventions that fueled East Los Angeles? punk scene are very much alive and well.
James Alvarado is a journalist who is currently writing a book on the History of East Los Punk, 1970's through the present.