Thursday, May 20, 2021

The Police at Madame Wong's

As the 70s made way for the 80s, L.A. was a treasure trove of musical diversity, from the more mellow faction that played the Troubadour (Rickie Lee, Tom Waits) to the Starwood, traditionally the haunt of hair metal and punk, or to the Whiskey and the Roxy, which by 1981 were the venues of the new wave, from the Go-Gos to Siouxsie and the Banshees. There was music everywhere.

The clubs, as well, were in full swing. For me and my crowd, it was the Seven Seas (across from the Chinese in Hollywood) or the Lhasa Club, while the punk scene was all about the Masque, a firetrap in a basement in Hollywood, and Al's Bar or Cathay de Grande. While we'd frequent many of the clubs where we often weren’t wanted, everyone was welcome at Madame Wong's in Chinatown. We'd go on Sundays to see what ended up the house band in the early 80s, Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo.
L.A.'s Chinatown is still unique with neon and Asian architecture mid-Century modern California style), but when Polynesian acts stopped drawing the crowds in the mid-70s, Esther Wong opened her restaurant to punk music. I love her quote, "Before I didn’t think I would ever like punk music. Now, I turn it on and it doesn’t bother me." Among the bands who got their start or at least a bit of fame due to Esther Wong were the Bus Boys, the Plimsouls, the NuCats and X, among a myriad of others. For our crew, we made our pilgrimage on Sundays for Oingo Boingo, and then, on one initially disappointing night, May 17, 1979, we got in line for a new band from whom we’d sparingly heard one song on the radio called "Roxanne," which made it to No. 22 on the Billboard charts. Little did we know that The Police would become the biggest band in the world before the 80s would end.
We didn't get in, but as usual, hung outside with a six-pack of beer and watched as the seemingly staged gig took place – indeed, the event was a marketing and photo-op ploy by the band's label, A&M. Rumor has it that Madame Wong stepped in and had A&M add a second show and in we went. The band played nearly the entirety of their debut Outlandos d'amour, and we were among the first to hear excerpts from Reggatta de Blanc which would seal the band's success later in 1979. I particularly remember the night's rendition of "Bring on the Night." The last two songs of the set were "Message in a Bottle" and, of course, "Roxanne."

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