Cloak & Dagger, Night 1: A festival that’s tall, dark and handsome

The Jesus and Mary Chain at Cloak & Dagger (Photo by Andie Mills)
The Jesus and Mary Chain at Cloak & Dagger (Photo by Andie Mills)

Amid the pulsating emo gloom of local noise mavens HEALTH, downtown Los Angeles does not feel like L.A. at all right now. It’s momentarily East Berlin. There are icy blondes here, and dark tortured boys in asymmetrical haircuts. There are clove cigarettes and rumors of absinthe and a woman in a red scarf and then … a Latin goth, luxuriating in its natural habitat. They don’t have those in East Berlin. A strong sense of deja vu hits, an earlier L.A., of clubs like Scream, Power Tools, Helter Skelter and FUCK, when those in the scene would shop for gear on Melrose and then decimate the ozone with Aqua Net. It’s 1989 again, and guys have big hair and guyliner.

The folks over at Spaceland Presents keep getting it right. Last weekend the promoters partnered with Phil Pirrone and his Moon Block Party for the successful Desert Daze festival in Joshua Tree. This weekend they’ve linked up with provocateurs Adam Bravin and Michael Patterson and taken their night club Cloak & Dagger to the festival stage. What has been left unsaid here has become rather obvious, that Spaceland has happened upon a great formula. First, find someone deeply immersed in a specific scene and give them the resources to expand upon their vision. Secondly, have the keen understanding that where you present a festival can be every bit as important as the acts on the bill. You put a Renoir upon a garage wall and it wilts among its surroundings, however, should you put your kid’s Crayon refrigerator drawing in a gilded frame and hang it upon the walls of MOCA you’d likely see a masterpiece of modern art.

Playing the role of darkened sanctuaries were none other than two of Broadway’s most beautiful old houses, the Globe (opened in 1913) and the Tower (opened in 1927). The Globe has been fully restored to the role of leading lady and she sparkles, but the Tower, well, there is a woman with far more sinister ideas. Her doom-laden French Renaissance design with Spanish, Romanesque and Moorish influences wields such a gorgeous and battered aesthetic that you half-expect Pinhead to appear from the walls and start flaying the flesh from nubile millennials. If vamps had a lair in Los Angeles, it would be within the confines of the peeling stucco at the Tower.

Speaking of the Tower, towering was the 6-foot-4 native Angeleno Andrew Clinco, aka Deb Demure, aka Drab Majesty, a messianic figure representing every gender simultaneously. Clinco has built an alter-ego that defies gender identity and moves past it, as if he’s a new interplanetary species, with a wink and a nod to Genesis P-Orridge. His shoegaze is of the unsettling sort. Preceding Majesty was Mykki Blanco, a rapper who also defies easy characterizations. Her politically charged lyrics about her bold trans evolution and experiences are about as raw as it gets, and is another example of a most positive facet of this festival, the freedom to be out and sexual and loud about it, without judgement. Other highlights included the hardcore punk hip hop of Newark’s HO99O9, bouncy electropop Torontonians TR/ST, and the paint-by-numbers goth of Cold Showers.

Headliners the Jesus and Mary Chain have, well, aged beyond the petulant methamphetamine-fueled 25-minute sets that would end in a fistfight between the Reid brothers. Now they’re a clan of venerable Scotsmen who are 34 years into a career. Typically cool and nonchalant, singer Jim Reid crooned while brother William emitted the sound of a jet engine out of his dual Orange stacks. Particularly amusing was William Reid’s technical ability, which makes Will Sargent look like Eddie Van Halen in comparison. But it’s about the notes and not how fast you can play ’em, and the Lanarkshire lads mix of fuzzbox Stooges meets dry Velvets meets Beach Boys/Phil Spector grandiosity has served them well over the years. “Reverence” cheekily played footsies with the Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” while “Head On,” “Just Like Honey,” and “April Skies” shone bright. I was rather disappointed that “Blues from a Gun” didn’t make the set list.

Cloak and Dagger returns tonight at the Globe and Tower, featuring German headhunters KMFDM, local heroes She Wants Revenge, and Poptone, the latest incarnation from Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins (Bauhaus, Love & Rockets, Tones on Tail).