The Donnas, The Bangles, Michael Des Barres, The Adolescents, White Flag and Cherie Currie
The Knitting Factory
By Lexa Vonn
Photos by: Lexa Vonn
When Sandy West, the powerful drummer behind 70’s all-girl band The Runaways, succumbed to her year long battle with cancer last October. I was deeply affected for many reasons. For one, I have been a Runaways fan since elementary school. For two, I am a female musician.
Role models for girls wishing to play rock n’ roll are quite limited and the number of all-girl rock bands in history is even more limited. One must ask themselves, why? Is it that all-girl bands are less marketable? Less successful? Less talented? The Runaways defunct every one of these myths one at a time, and they were the first ones to do it. Sandy West, along with the legendary Joan Jett, was a founding member of the band that began when she was at the tender ripe age of 16.
There aren’t really any words that can express the loss the music industry will suffer now that she is no longer with us. However, a sold-out tribute concert at Hollywood’s Knitting Factory shows us that her spirit will live on. And when I showed up with no tickets or prior photo pass arrangements and was granted access anyway, I knew that it was more than my cleavage at work in the universe this time.
The main room at The Knitting Factory was crammed beyond capacity with fans from all ages and walks of life. After a few local bands opened the show, Runaways singer Cherie Currie mounted the stage for a touching eulogy. Cherie looked beautiful as ever as she spoke through her tears while I snapped away on my camera, holding back a few tears of my own.
She closed the speech by reminding us that we had gathered here tonight to do what Sandy loved to do the most, rock! With that, punk parody band White Flag took to the stage for the first time in over a decade, since original singer Al Bum was confined to a wheelchair after being paralyzed from a freak surfing accident. Al didn’t let his handicap stop him from paying tribute to his good friend, nor did he let it put a damper on his performance.
Instead he showed up decked out in Ozzy Osborne’s trademark classic black fringe shirt and mega cross necklaces and blasted out a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” like only a punk band can. Next up was The Adolescents, another band that just won’t die. They have been together since the wee early 80’s and still have the spunk and the punk to keep playing shows. Got to hand it to them for their longevity and stamina. Their set was short, as was everyone’s that night to ensure that every band made it to the stage, but it was punk rock in its purest form, nonetheless.
After The Adolescents, the music of the evening went in a different direction with an acoustic performance from Cherie Currie and her friend, singer-songwriter Kat Low, a double drum solo from Carmine and Vinnie Appice, and a soul-licious performance from former Powerstation singer and famous actor Michael Des Barres.
Michael Des Barres appeared with his new project Free Love Foundation. They had a funky sound with a back-up trio of female soul singers. Michael ran around the stage preaching the gospel of love and music. He reminded me of a cross between a white James Brown and an evangelist. It was an interesting way to bridge the night’s music from the hard and loud old school punk bands to the girl bands that were to close the event.
Next up came the ladies. Cherie Currie took to the stage and performed a grab bag of Runaways hits that had the crowd singing in perfect unison. Her vocal performance and stage presence blew away headliners The Bangles, who looked a lot better than they played.
The Bangles girls looked as if they have barely aged, but something seemed off in their performance. Original bass player Michele Steele was nowhere to be seen, and instead was replaced by an unknown. It was an honor to get to witness them up close anyway, but I do wish they had been a little tighter and played some of their bigger hits. I was disappointed that they gave us no “Manic Monday”. After The Bangles and a short intermission came The Donnas, who on the contrary played like old pros.
The Donnas adorned the stage dressed in 70’s style regalia in honor of The Runaways who they cite as a major influence. The girls bounced around the stage as if they were truly delighted to have been made a part of the event. Considering that they are one of my lesser favorite all-girl bands, I have to say that they were pretty spectacular. It’s not easy to crunch a solid performance into 15-20 minutes, but they succeeded.
Most of the crowd seemed to disperse after The Donnas’ set right as The Sandy West band was setting up. I caught a few numbers, but it just isn’t the same without Sandy. She was a pioneer and true-blue rock chick. I think the words of Carmine Appice said it the best when he stated, “Sandy wasn’t a great female drummer, she was a great DRUMMER!”
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