Helen Stellar Live Reviewed by Chaz Bartok

Most clubs these days have like a VIP area or whatever, but for me, the real VIP area is the couch in the alleyway behind the club.

It’s a great spot to pass out after the show, or smoke a few fat ones pre-show. Back in Philly, the best couch in town was clearly the one behind the Electric Factory, where a steam vent blew warm air all over the place. I got more lovin’ on that couch then some bands got backstage.

In LA, my favorite alley couches are behind Spaceland in Silver Lake and behind the Echo in Echo Park. Just the other day I woke up, all crusty with my mane pasted to the side of my head like a vintage shag carpet, a cigarette still in my mouth but unsmoked. The sunshine was hot and air was breezy, and I immediately felt like a million bucks. I felt even better after I lit my cig and took a swig from Early Times wedged inbetween a cushion. I heard a familar voice singing something in Spanish so I knew I must be behind the Echo.

Chaz Bartok

A flyer, stained by asphalt and ash, lay on the ground in front of me. It said that Helen Stellar was playing the Echo every Monday for a month. “Great News!” I thought, “I fuckin’ love those guys,” but then I realized it was Saturday and I had to wait for two days, and who knows where I’d be in two days? I may be an acne-scarred, long-haired metal reject, but freedom is in my blood and I can’t make plans that far in advance. I shuffled off to look for my car.

Once I got to my custom Trans Am with dual built-in bongs, high-watt Hi-Fi system, and eagle decal, I had a sudden realization. The night before had been Sunday night (my usual night at the Smog Cutter), meaning it was Monday. I cruised around town blasting some G n R and some Fugazi for a couple of hours, then stopped by the house of a couple chicks I knew who were up for anything.

We got back to the Echo’s couch at about 9 and smoked a little with the maniacal drummer from Helen Stellar, Clif Clehouse. The girls were getting a little too into his rock star persona for my taste, so I took them inside to check out the opening act, “A Quarter More”. A quarter more weed seemed like the longer version of the band’s name, as these guys play straight-ahead 70’s stoner rock like nobody’s business. Their final song was an 18 minute long freakout jam which was pretty awesome. I was feeling no pain, primed for Stellar.

The smoke machine came on and I ordered up shots of Jameson for me and all my ladyfriends. They wanted to dance so I told them to go ahead while I relaxed, back to the bar.

Helen Stellar took the stage with confidence, going straight into their trademark swirling noise. Their vocalist, Jim Evens, has perhaps the best voice in LA, and even in a small club like The Echo, it soars over the crowd and goes into orbit somewhere in space. The sound was loud and intense, but the solid drumming and bass kept the groove moving just the right way. Several insanely hot chicks in the crowd, including my own, were grinding their hips slowly in time with the music, enraptured by Jim’s guitar and vocals and turned on by the pounding rhythm section. Stellar always brings out a great crowd, there were lots of fine hipster chicks with nice bodies and semi-ironic hats. I made a mental note to hit the smoking area after the show where they would certainly all be hanging out…

The show went through several emotional highs and lows, but mostly the emphasis was on the textures and complexities in the bands’s music. They can play a simpler show but tonight was dedicated to the dreamier, rougher, spacier side of the band. They played with absolute self-assurance and you could see why people always ramble on about their live sites. Naturally in terms of pyrotechnics and audience brawls and that kind of stuff you can’t really compare them to a good metal band, but that’s not the point. I loved it and started to bang my head in time with one of the harder numbers. It felt good to have a head filled with noise and a sweet mane of thick rock n roll hair tickling my neck.

After the fantastic show some new friends and I retreated to the special VIP couch where good times were had by all in the cool Los Angeles night air. I woke up there the next day, and it was sunny and breezy again. 85 degrees in January—yeah, that’s pretty much the tits right there. Someone was singing in Spanish and I felt refreshed and ready for another night on the town.


Photos by Spo

Helen Stellar mp3s

Helen Stellar plays at the Echo every Monday in January, 2005.

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