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SMMOA Benefit @ Bergamot Station 3/1/09

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As part of the opening weekend festivities for the Robert Berman Gallery’s Rock, Paper, Scissor exhibit, Bergamot Station hosted a benefit for the Santa Monica Museum of Art on Sunday, March 1. Where the exhibit focused on visual art by famous musicians (Daniel Johnston, the Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes and most of Sonic Youth are among the contributors), the benefit turned the tables, featuring musical performances by some famous artists: Ron English and Raymond Pettibon, along with Pettibon’s pal and collaborator Mike Watt with his all-Pedro trio the Secondmen.

With multiple bands and a high-end open bar, the festive afternoon gathering had the relaxed vibe of a backyard party with unusually surreal decorations. Rock at Bergamot Station seems to be a guaranteed good time, every musical event I’ve seen there has been memorable, the highlight probably a sweaty and irritated Devo crashing the LA Class Of ’77 punk reunion marathon for ten foaming minutes back in 2002.

English’s band the Electric Illuminati kicked off the proceedings with some mid-tempo power pop, kind of restrained for a fellow who seems to have a Kiss fixation. But things got a lot more oddball with the changeling crew that followed them. A group of players switching instruments and genres from song to song, I found it hard to keep up with what was what and who was part of which one, but I believe we saw the Hootenanny All-Stars (old-timey as they sound), followed by the Slings (drony like the Velvets), followed by the Niche Makers in the course of about an hour. The latter is Pettibon’s group, his first musical project since the Raymond Pettibon Supersession in 1990. (I saw that band’s Al’s Bar debut which was pretty funny - lots of folks expected the artist most powerfully associated with SST Records might put together a “super session” with some SST people and indeed he did, but instead of musicians from Black Flag or Saccharine Trust, it was people who worked in the SST office.)

This crew - which includes gallery owner Berman among its ranks - is just as downcast and deadpan, though Pettibon’s mumbly delivery has become a bit more distinct, and as with his visual art, the flow of words now seems to be endless. With singer Ashley Lyn Saks putting melodies under a few key phrases, the band uses Pettibon’s lyrics as the basis for some druggy French jazz jams, low-key and hypnotic, a pleasant soundtrack for a kickback afternoon.

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As for Mike Watt's set, a few factoids: the trio, with drummery Jerry Trebotic and organist Pete Mazich, did not play any of the songs off it’s one LP, “the secondman’s middle stand.” Nor did they do any of their previous repertoire from Madge-tribute act the Madonnabes. Instead, they tore through a handful of Watt originals, one Minutemen tune, and a few covers, before some of Watt's previous "side mice" joined him on stage for the last four songs, finishing up with The Pop Group’s “We Are Time.”

Rock, Paper, Scissor remains on exhibit at the Robert Berman Gallery (2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica) through March 21.