MICHAEL LEE’S NOTES FROM THE ROAD: EIGHTIES ADVENTURES IN HOLLYWOOD!
For the Love of 80s…
The Lost Boys were born in La La Land, while I was working at E! Entertainment Television and soaking up the So Cal lifestyle.
It was there that I was exposed to incredible 80s cover bands all over the place. Every week I hit the clubs and saw the bands that were rockin’ The Strip and rollin’ out the 80s to the masses.
My all-time favorite cover band there was Metal Shop, originally called Danger Kitty. Metal Shop used to play every Monday night at The Viper Room, that dark enclave notoriously known for what happened to River Phoenix on the sidewalk outside after a drug overdose. In later years, Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae rocked the room relentlessly.
But in the early 2000s, Metal Shop ruled the roost. These guys had a comedy routine worked out to perfection. Every show was scripted with impeccable comic timing and parody precision. Through the course of a regular evening, fans are exposed to every bit of ugly but hilarious band drama there is: the drummer gets shipped off to rehab, the prima donna singer has his hissy fits and tantrums, the insecure guitarist has a meltdown and storms off the stage, the self-absorbed bass player can’t take his eyes off “himself.” The band will break up and get back together again at least a few times before the night is over. It was absolutely brilliant! (Of course, we do the same thing in The Lost Boys every night–only we’re not acting.)
You have to love the extra touches the group employs, too, like the bass player holding up his hand mirror and blow dryer in-between every song. When the guitarist has his fit and quits in the middle of a set, the band always has a ‘plant’ in the audience to take his place. The singer will call out, ‘Is there anyone out there who can play guitar?’ Then, none other than a guitar legend like Slash will come up and say, “I play a little.’ They’ll go into ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ and by the end of the tune, the guitarist who’s been sulking in the corner comes crawling back on stage, begging the band to give him another chance. It’s tour de force rock-n-roll comedy executed to perfection!
The band does it all, from monster covers of Van Halen, Poison, Ozzy, and Aerosmith to jams by Def Leppard, Motley Crue, and Whitesnake. They do a rip-roaring rendition of ‘Cum on Feel The Noize,’ by Quiet Riot. The thing is, because this is LA they also get spectacular guests every week like Quiet Riot’s guitarist or Faster Pussycat’s or even C.C. DeVille from Poison. I’ve seen rock legends like Slash, Gene Simmons, and Joe Walsh jump up on stage and jam the night away with these guys. Other celebs who are flavors of the month often join in, too, like the time I watched Kelly Clarkson go up and sing ’Sweet Child’ with the guys.
After a dispute with LA’s original Metal Shop, the band became Metal Skool. That name didn’t have much bite, though, and they later settled on Steel Panther, which is what they are called today. The band became so popular that they quickly outgrew the small confines of the Viper Room and moved up the street to The Key Club. Then, farther down the Strip, the House of Blues became their residence for many years.
In a sense, ’Steel Panther’ just may be the most successful metal cover band of all time. There are plenty of cover acts that morphed into full-fledged original bands and hit it big. Heck, The Beatles are easily the greatest act to do that. But closer to home, even in So Cal many cover bands became legendary acts….like Van Halen, No Doubt, and Sugar Ray— just to name a few. In No Cal, Train is a perfect example of a cover band that leapfrogged to the big time! But even though Steel Panther has its original songs, the group has never lost sight of who they really are: perhaps the country’s finest cover band!
To be sure, these guys are comedians who also happen to possess great musicianship. Like Spinal Tap, maybe the band started as a joke and became something much more. But Steel Panther can go toe-to-toe with legends— and do it all live. Not many bands can pull that off. They created unbelievable entertainment value in the ‘Entertainment Capital of the World!’
The Metal Shop guys dominated LA’s Sunset Strip for 14 years straight! And even today, Steel Panther still plays the Strip to packed houses and their consistent superfans like Joey Fatone and Hal Sparks. These days when they aren’t on the road, you can usually find them at The Roxy still shaking things up.
But they weren’t the only act to make a deep impression on me in LA. I also used to catch two other acts that were LA’s finest 80s cover bands— and both performed weekly just down the road in Santa Monica.
On Friday nights, I hit the club Lush on Wilshire, where every week was a packed-performance by Fast Times. This was one of my favorite cover bands because they did everything well and really knew how to attract a crowd and keep them pumped. They were a bit gimmicky by having each member represent a particular 80s ‘type’ character, but nowadays that gimmick plays out in about 90 percent of all 80s cover bands. So, maybe these guys were just trendsetters. They were fun and loose, and their energy was contagious.
These guys did great versions of ‘One Way Or Another,’ ’Obsession,’ ‘Walking In LA,’ ’Whip It,’ and ‘Come On, Eileen,’ which always got the entire joint jumping and singing along in a drunken stupor. They did everything from Journey to Def Leppard, and never missed a beat. They had a gal in the band back then, and their ‘Chinese Fire Drill’ in the middle of a set was always classic! The drummer used to sing a really cool cover of ‘Just Like Heaven’ by The Cure as well.
They also did a tune by INXS called ‘Don’t Change’ and a song called ‘Anything, Anything’ by Dramarama— both these tunes brought down the house like nothing else! In other parts of the country, both those songs are considered pretty obscure hits from The Me Decade. But in So Cal, these tunes rule!
On Saturday nights, I used to head to Santa Monica’s hole-in-the-wall joint called The West End, where The M-80s held court over another packed house of 80s-obsessed fans. The M-80s did great covers of The Cars and anything punk— especially The Clash and The Ramones. The intimate club always made this 80s experience an unforgettable night and constantly spontaneous.
The one thing you could count on is the M-80s closed every show with a rousing rendition of Blink 182’s ‘Please Tell Me Why.’ It seemed to be the perfect prescription for ending a perfect evening…albeit at 2am!
Living in Brentwood, I often made the short hop over to Westwood where the party was always hopping. The W Hotel bar was a hot spot where one night I even got hit on by none other than cougar-in-waiting Faye Resnick. Yes, THE Faye Resnick from the OJ case. But I digress…
The real crowd-pleasing joint was O’Haras Irish Pub in Westwood Village. A DJ behind the bar kept this place jumping, and there were three songs that always brought the house down. (One was ‘Santeria’ by Sublime, but since we don’t practice it— The Lost Boys don’t play it.) Another tune was ‘Living On A Prayer’ by Bon Jovi. Literally the whole entire bar would sing along and go nuts as they closed the night out with that one. And finally, there was ‘Blister In The Sun’ by Violent Femmes. ‘Blister’ brought the house down- plain and simple. Girls would start dancing on the bar, and everyone danced around the rest of the joint, no matter where they were or what they were doing.
Today, O’Hara’s is no more. It closed last year and became a chain Italian restaurant. But the many nights it reigned supreme as O’Hara’s— the place to be— will live on as legend.
And the #1 80s night in Hollywood for nearly two decades was ‘Beat It’ at The Ruby on Hollywood Blvd. Every Sunday night was a dancing spectacle at The Ruby. Beat It included three different rooms with pumped up music and 80s videos, interviews, and performances projected on the walls. It was a one-of-a-kind 80s multimedia experience.
Naturally, ‘Billie Jean’ always got a rousing welcome from the crowds, but ‘You Spin Me Round’ by Dead or Alive, ‘Sex’ by Berlin, and ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ by New Order were also fan favorites.
Here, too, “Anything, Anything” was a song that brought the house down. (Yes, it’s definitely a So Cal thing.) But another classic that did the same was “Dancing in Heaven” by Q-Feel. That might be an obscure tune to most people today, but few songs are more 80s than this one. It’s so campy and quirky-especially in the classic 80s video, it’s sickening. But it’s also definitely one of the best dance tunes of the decade, hands-down. (Pun intended, if you’ve ever seen Q-Feel’s video.)
‘Beat It’ was a world-class dance club night— wall-to-wall, jam-packed with young, energetic dancers and 80s aficionados. An amazing event each week, to say the least. The only thing close to compare it to around Houston is ‘Classic Numbers’ night at Numbers in Montrose. But ‘Beat It’ was in a league of its own, until it bit the dust a couple of years ago.
I’ve also been blessed to do a fair amount of traveling in my professional career. I basically spent five straight years living out of a suitcase. All the while, I was exposed to incredible live acts in all 50 states— and I soaked up every minute of that rock-n-roll lifestyle!
As a result, another major influence on me developed from many trips to Arizona, where I became an instant fan of Martini Ranch in Scottsdale. Martini Ranch was THE place to be in the Phoenix area to experience incredible live music.
Sadly, the owners bet the farm on The Ranch— and they lost that bet when the landmark closed in 2013. In its last year of life, The Ranch experienced some violent crimes, including two stabbings—one of which was fatal.
Still, Martini Ranch was one of my personal favorite nightlife spots in all of America! (And that’s saying something when you’ve been to as many dives, door stops, and dead ends as I have.) But I digress…
Martini Ranch used to feature several house bands that were dynamic cover acts, including The Chadwicks (which has roots going back to the Gin Blossoms from Tempe), Metalhead, and Rock Lobster. It was the late 90s version of Rock Lobster that really effected me, since they did fantastic covers of ‘Love Shack,’ ‘We Got The Beat,’ and ‘White Wedding.’ They also did incredible covers of No Doubt, Sixpence None The Richer, and even the 90s sing-a-long classic, ‘Tubthumping,’ by Chumbawumba.
That original lineup of Rock Lobster is probably the closest thing to our Lost Boys band. They occasionally had two girls in the group (just as we occasionally do), and they had unbelievable versatility. Some members were in other acts that frequently played The Ranch as well, including Boogie Nights (a 70s tribute) and the aforementioned Chadwicks.
Today, the original guitarist from Rock Lobster is now a member of The Chadwicks, an alt rock group/cover act that has been around since 1994— believe it or not.
Every time I made it to Scottsdale, I hit the Ranch. The energy and vibe of the electric crowds there was contagious and inspiring. Years later, we strove for that kind of vibe at Pub Fiction in Houston’s Midtown. And we delivered.
When Martini Ranch finally closed in October 2013, the owners issued a statement saying, “Before we say good-bye, we wish to extend our gratitude to our amazing patrons. Without your passion and energy this amazing run would not have been possible.” It was certainly a sad day for all of Arizona. No doubt the final tune played at The Ranch was likely the 90s classic ’Closing Time’ by Semisonic.
So, the 80s have been a big part of my travels across the USA. I’ve put a lot of that into The Lost Boys, for sure. But we don’t believe in gimmicks or copycat gags. We believe in the music. We believe in the 80s!
As the great Robert Earl Keen put it, ‘The road goes on forever, and the party never ends.’ Of course, all great things face ‘Closing Time’ eventually. But as long as The Lost Boys are around, the 80s will never die. After all, our roots run deep.
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