Rock Revue: Hollywood Alley's "20 Years of Rock" party
By Benjamin Leatherman
The crowd of Hollywood Alley fans who gathered for the show. See more shots in our slideshow.
I know I’m probably going to take some shit for saying this, but Hollywood Alley in Mesa is probably the closest thing to a CBGB’s that Phoenix will ever experience.
I make this declaration not because to long-running rock club/dive bar is more than a little dirty or rough around the edges, but because of the sheer number of bands who’ve played there over the past two decades. I was struck by this thought as I attended one of the venue’s “20 Years of Rock” shindig on Saturday evening. In my apartment’s bathroom, I’ve got a shower curtain from CBGB’s that I bought when I visited the (sadly) now-defunct landmark NYC club in 2005. If you’re familiar with the curtain, you know it’s covered with more than a hundred different legendary rock and punk bands who’ve performed at CBGB’s during its heyday – including the Ramones, Killdozer, Blondie, and Television, just to name a few.
I was reminded of said curtain when I was looking at the various walls of Hollywood Alley, which are covered with countless stickers of local and touring bands who’ve passed through the joint since it opened in the summer of 1988. They serve almost as a badass monument to the club’s longevity, as have the “20 Years of Rock” parties that have been going on during the month of August.
This particular affair was considered to the main fete, as it was organized and attended by Robert “Fun Bobby” Birmingham, the affable longtime bartender/booker/mascot/institution at the bar (who moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2006). A few of his favorite bands and musicians were recruited to perform at the show, and they didn’t disappoint.
I’d unfortunately gotten there later than I’d hoped, but was able to catch the end of funk-rock outfit Chocolate Fountain’s dynamic performance, where guitarist D.L. Harrison was in rare form and was playing and moving about the stage with plenty of energy.
After the set, I sought out Fun Bobby, as we’d been conversing much over the telephone during the past couple weeks for an article I’d written about the party, as well as compilation of people’s memories of the bar. It wasn’t hard to pick him out from the growing crowd who’d turned out for the event, as the 6-foot-6 beanpole towered over most in attendance. I sidled on up to the dude as he was hanging out with Page Davis (the hilarious comedy rocker known as Page the Village Idiot), who’d performed earlier in the evening.
Fun Bobby was even friendlier than usual, as he was more than a little lit at the moment, owing to the fact he was a little nervous at having to perform in less than an hour with Bourbon Witch, the “supergroup” he’d assembled from the members of such local bands as Blanche Davidian and Tom Reardon of Pinky Tuscadero's WhiteKnuckle AssFuck. It was actually the second time he’d tied one on that day. Besides admitting he’d be doing the set in costume, he spoke about how liquid courage had helped get him through the day.
“I had my first band practice earlier today. It was sweaty and it sucked. No wonder I’m a booker and a bartender and not a musician,” Birmingham says. “After a few Miller High Lifes I felt better and I was like, ‘Okay, I can do this.’ But I can’t find my lyrics sheets right now and I’ll need them to sing.”
Fun Bobby wouldn’t specify what kind of songs he’d be singing that night, nor would he reveal exactly what kind of costume he’d be wearing during his set. He did, however, discuss about how he longs for Hollywood Alley, which is why he takes time off every few months from his current gig booking/managing Porky’s Café in Longview, Washington to comeback to his old stomping ground.
“And every time I come back to this place its kinda sad, because I don’t realize how much I miss it until I’m standing here at the bar,” he says.
So does that mean he’s gonna eventually comeback for good?
“Never say never,” Birmingham says with a smile.
I let Fun Bobby go get ready for his performance and checked out the musical efforts of Pinky Tuscadero's WhiteKnuckle AssFuck, who’d taken the stage. The punk sixsome had taken the stage and were proceeding to blow the doors off the place with their grinding sound. Their 30-minute set consisted of a lot of fun material, including songs about Sponge Bob SquarePants, Scottsdale assholes, and other hilarious topics. Frontman Tom Reardon (who also plays with the North Side Kings) took time out between songs to thank Hollywood Alley owner Ross Wincek and his family for all the hard work they’ve put into keeping the bar running for two decades. Reardon wasn’t the only one dishing out kudos to the Wincek’s, as the other musicians in attendance did so as well.
There was some other between-song chatter, as one PTWKAF guitarist beckoned for someone to serve them some drinks.
“We need 20 shots of Jäger right now,” he says. “Oh wait, our other guitarist isn’t here? Okay, we need 19 shots then.”
Needing to give my ears a rest from PTWKAF’s thunderous rock (as I’d forgotten my ear plugs), I headed outside for a smoke. There, I ran into the illustrious Serene Dominic (a Phoenix New Times contributor for more than a decade) and he told me he’s about to launch a new variety show at the Ruby Room Lounge in downtown Phoenix that will go down one Wednesday a month. During my numerous smoke breaks, I also got a chance to speak with Jamie Monistat VII of Blanche Davidian fame, who told me there’s a good chance his former band (which broke up a few months back) might release another album.
Jamie was also a part of the Bourbon Witch ensemble, which took to the stage after PTWKAF. Well, most of them at least, as Fun Bobby was nowhere to be seen. Reardon began repeatedly paged Birmingham to join them, including getting the audience to start yelling out “Fun Bobby!” at one point. Their first song was a cover of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades,” and after a few minutes went by with no sign of Birmingham, Page the Village Idiot jumped up, grabbed a mic, and started doing a weird improvised impersonation of Lemmy Kilmister to everyone’s amusement.
Clutching a plastic devil’s pitchfork, Birmingham launched into the drunken cover of the Motorhead song as audience members started to mosh.
The Bourbon Witch show only lasted for three songs, but also included a hard rock rendidition of Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas,” with Jamie Monistat VII handling the vocals. Follwing the set, Birmingham got on the mic and unleashed a adoring (and drunken) 10-minute monologue to Ross and Hollywood Alley, describing how much the bar had meant to him the days he started working there as a security guard in 1992.
The evening was capped off by a powerful performance by punk/metal outfit Greenhaven, who’re going to be touring Germany next month. Lead singer Matt Strangwayes seemed to be taking things up a notch as he busted out the lyrics in powerful fashion on the microphone, fueling some additional moshing from the crowd. After about five songs, my ringing ears had had their fill, so I headed home for the night.
One last edition of the “20 Years of Rock” series is planned for this coming weekend, featuring Dead Hot Workshop, the Chuck Taylor All Stars, and Quarter Inch Crown performing on Saturday, August 30. Visit www.myspace.com/hollywoodalley for more info.