The Cigarette Bums Are Anything But A Drag At The Hi-Hat REVIEW+PHOTOS: Cigarette Bums @ The Hi Hat 9/14/16
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I think I’m in Silverlake or Highland Park or some part of Los Angeles where the two places meet, overlap, maybe Highland Park is in Silverlake, whatever, I don’t care. I just feel off. I had gone home around noon earlier today; left my job; emailed my boss that I wasn’t feeling well and was taking the rest of the day off. The fact was, and still is, I’m not feeling well. Maybe depressed, nutrient deficient, stomach’s all twisted, something with my triglyceride level being too high, or my serotonin level being too low … or maybe my paycheck being too low — most likely a combination of all of the above. Being in a bar isn’t helping, but it’s not the bar’s fault.
I’m at The Hi Hat and the band I’m supposed to cover, Cigarette Bums, goes on at 10:25pm according to a graphic on their Facebook page. I’m about an hour early and there’s another band already on the respectfully built stage. It looks legit. There’s barely anyone here and the lanky and tall lead singer has long blond hair under a baseball cap not for a baseball team and he sounds like 90s alt rock has been a musical influence on his vocals. They finish their set and I’m left with that weird solemness I’ve had since crashing on the sofa about 8 hours ago.
Barely any crowd, motel style carpeting, and a neon Misfits face glowing frosty blue on the brick wall – I’m reminded I’m 42, have a pot belly, and would rather be at home watching reruns of Rick and Marty. Anyway … sulking isn’t why I’m here and at least I’ve been asked to photograph a band and write about them. That is what really got me out of my apartment.
Eventually, after finishing my first beer, a short, young fellow in a black leather patrol cap that would make Fidel Castro envious, starts talking to me. He asks if I’m here to see the bands and I tell him I’m here to photograph The Cigarette Bums. He says he’s never heard of them. He asks my name and I tell him. He tells me his name is Ciggy Bop. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. I remember he’s the lead singer of Cigarette Bums and I immediately like him. (I just didn’t know what he looked like.) We shake hands, yuck it up for about 30 seconds, and when he walks away, I’m relieved that I first told him I like the band. Which is true – I really dug what I heard online. It could have been an awkward situation otherwise.
Anyway, the lighting in this place is a photographer’s nightmare. Just plain dark and I’ve learned a long time ago if I really want to annoy a band, use a flash. They love the distraction. So I push the ASA on my Nikon 7200 to the max and slow the shudder enough to get an image that’s not a blurry mess. I’m already thinking about how I’m going to be unhappy later when I edit the images in Lightroom. I need faster lenses.
Regardless of my mood and concerns with low lighting, I’m still objective enough to realize this venue, The Hi-Hat, is rad (Should 42 year olds use that word? Probably not). Two pool tables welcome denim-clad, Chuck Taylor wearing twenty-somethings when they walk in, there’s a decent sized long bar for patrons to drown a few sorrows in, and the audience area is large enough for a really decent sized audience — maybe 50 people; probably more.
So 10:25pm rolls around and it’s clear to me that Cigarette Bums has made a small name for itself in Los Angeles, because the crowd has thickened and the onlookers are clearly familiar with what’s about to happen. They’re excited. They want this experience and so do I.
The band members carry up a medium-size pool raft either bought at Wal-Mart or found at a garage sale (or somewhere between those shopping excursions) and in it is my sly friend from the bar, Ciggy Bop. It makes me smile.
They plop the raft on the stage and Ciggy clumsily, but charismatically, climbs out wielding his guitar, a Fender American Special Telecaster with what looks like duct tape on it (don’t quote me on that, because I really don’t know shit about instruments), and he takes the mic, introduces the band, and tears right into it.
The Cigarette Bums Facebook page lists “trash pop” as their genre, and it’s the perfect nomenclature to describe this band’s loose, grainy, and distorted sound that’s a landfill of punk, post punk, garage, surf-rock, and proto-punk. My kind of music, even at 42.
They perform for a solid hour, featuring two explosive female back up singers that moved like marionettes at warp speed. They embodied the style and energy of classic performers like Martha and the Vandellas, if the Vandellas had done a few bumps in the bathroom, followed by a six pack of Red Bull, and then got possessed by the ghosts of The Blues Brothers. (Yes, I know Dan Aykroyd is still alive and promoting vodka.) They were exciting as hell and entertaining to watch.
But it’s Ciggy’s allure that really gives the band its identity. His vocal inflections resurrect a sound that’s lost footing in pop music over the last few decades and I’m sure his vocal cords were somehow birthed after Johnny Rotten and Joey Ramone has sex. I could go into all the cliche adjectives to describe it, but I won’t because fuck cliches.
The band’s got something special about them — a vibe and feel that makes you happy, lifts you up, makes you forget about work and getting older, and it’s best if you simply Google “Cigarette Bums, Los Angeles Band” and check out their sound.
With the bands they admire ranging from Audacity to Adult Books, Cigarette Bums are clearly a staple in Los Angeles, many just probably don’t know it yet. So cruise on over to their Facebook page, like them, check out when their next gig is, grab a friend, and go. And if anyone approaches you and you don’t know who he is, but he asks you what you think of Cigarette Bums, just say you like them, because you will anyway by the time their set is over.
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Constantin Preda is a Los Angeles based TV Producer, Music Video Director, and Film/Video Assistant Director who enjoys traveling the world, photographing people, attending concerts, and camping with his mutt, Sandy.