Saturday, May 22, 2021

The Smiths - The Hollywood Palladium - 1985

Of course there isn't complete disregard of historic venues; while many, like the Fillmore, live on, in spirit or tribute, many have been recognized for their cultural significance, others have just been lucky. The best example in L.A., more so even than The Whiskey or The Troubadour (their significance in rock history unparalleled), is The Hollywood Palladium. The Palladium building is a cornerstone example of L.A. art deco architecture. It was designed by Gordon Kaufmann, the legendary architect who also did the L.A. Times building downtown, the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills and, most famously, Hoover Dam. The venue opened in 1940 and traces its history from the big band era through the filming of The Lawrence Welk Show in the 60s and on to decades of pop music concerts. From the 70s through the teens, the venue has hosted landmark performances by everyone from The Rolling Stones to Chuck Berry, The Smiths to Jay Z. In 2008, the venue was closed temporarily for renovations, and the front marquee and main "blade" signage were restored. In my youth, Hollywood was indeed a land of dreams – movie palaces and C.C. Brown's, Pig and Whistle and Musso and Frank's; the Walk of Stars. Growing up instead, Hollywood Blvd. was hustlers and drugs, Hari krishnas  and Scientologists. While the Seven Seas was my haunt, Hollywood was haggard and dangerous. It's nice to know that glamour has returned, that the Chinese and the Egyptian and the Cinerama Dome are safe, but unlike Times Square, there’s still a grit to it, a seedy Tom Waits feel.

For me, The Hollywood Palladium fit right into my new wave sensibility. I could easily see the evolution from Sinatra to Morrissey, from Zappa to Talking Heads. 

A Ho-Hum Interlude: While I regret the loss of what once was, from The New Florentine Gardens to Madame Wong's, I guess purgatory is worse. Just a brief history of what I still refer to as The Aquarius Theater. Opened in its art deco setting in the 1930, The Errol Carroll Theater was one of golden Hollywood's icons, like the sign and The Magic Castle. The theater's slogan is a gem of a by-gone era: "Through these portals pass the most beautiful girls in the world." The signage out front was a 39 foot neon of one of those beautiful girls, Beryl Wallace. When Errol Carroll died in 1948, the club became the even more famous Hollywood Moulin Rouge. By the 60's the club became the ABC studio for Hullaballoo, a teen dance program, before it was transformed into The Aquarius Theater for the musical Hair. The Doors played their most famous shows at the Aquarius (and also under its former banner The Kaleidoscope, which only lasted for a few months). The theater would have bursts of energy throughout the 80s, but, and here's where ho-hum begins, it was transformed in Nickelodeon's L.A. studios in the mid 90s. Today Nickelodeon has all but abandoned the property and the famous building's fate remains unknown.

Back to the good part: The Smiths played the Palladium in 1985. While the L.A. Times didn't appreciate the show, stating, "For someone who preaches an intense relationship between artist and audience, Morrissey was pretty remote," they still acknowledged the intensity of the band: "The Smiths are trying to be more than just a rock band. Under the leadership of the fragile flower known as Morrissey, the English group has taken on the air of a crusade, waving the banner of musical simplicity, naked emotion and fierce independence.

"Rejecting punk's rage but embracing its rebellious idealism, replacing the image-making and show-biz manipulation of kindred acts like Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Boy George with a cultivated innocence, the Manchester quartet has built a following of fans seeking something that the cold synthesizer bands aren't providing: human contact."

Despite the so-so review, this writer, meaning me, only remembers an atmosphere that must have resembled that of the crowd surrounding St. John the Baptist; spectators, like me, emotionally drained and yet somehow fulfilled.

How could it possibly be, then, that Morrissey's ten day stint at The Palladium twenty-two years later was that much more transplendent (is that a word, or just something I heard in Annie Hall?). I found it impossible to take my eyes from him, and as a displaced Angeleno living outside Philadelphia today, I could feel how much of an L.A. vibe Morrissey exuded. Songs like "How Soon Is Now" and "Stretch Out and Wait" had me ugly crying. Ten years later, I have my Morrissey tickets in hand for his show at The Philadelphia Fillmore. Guess I better bring tissues.