Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mario Granados of Tikal Restaurant

Darwin Amador and Mario Granados of Tikal Restaurant Cocina Maya (Rafael Orellana)

Mario Granados of


4838 E. Huntington Drive South, Los Angeles (El Sereno) 323-352-9274

One of the top reasons for food lovers to live in Los Angeles is the wide variety of culinary experiences to be had throughout the city. Sometimes you can even find a myriad of different cuisines all on one block. I used to have a Guatemalan co-worker, however, who asked me if I had ever tried any of his native dishes, and I was surprised to realize that I didn't even know of any Guatemalan restaurants in my neighborhood. I have seen some Guatemalan establishments near MacArthur Park in Westlake, but since I would have no clue what to order and don't speak enough Spanish to communicate with a waitress, I'm not bold enough to venture into one of them on my own. But thanks to Tikal Restaurant Cocina Maya opening just a few miles from my house, and its co-owners Darwin Amador and Mario Granados, I am no longer ignorant when it comes to Guatemalan fare.

"That's what we're trying to do, fill the void of Guatemalan options throughout the city," confides Mario, who is also the restaurant's head chef. "It's a challenge to have put the restaurant in an area where there's not a lot of Guatemalans, but you take your chances and risks. To us, it's an adventure, and we see it as our job to represent wherever we can."

As soon as you step into Tikal Restaurant, soothing marimba beats fill your ears while your eyes feast on the colorful artisan goods in the restaurant's shop area. As he leads me to a seat at a table, Darwin tells me that all of the handmade quilts, purses and ceramics, as well as the packaged food items like herbal tea and dried fruit for sangria, in the store are imported directly from Guatemala.

The two entrepreneurs met while in college and became fast friends, sharing a dream of one day opening their own business. After graduating, they decided to save every penny they made at their day jobs – Mario did social work, and Darwin was a math teacher for L.A. Unified School District – towards their goal.

"Five years after graduating, we thought we generated enough to start a business. Food was the main focus for the business because my hobby has always been cooking, and that's what we decided to open a restaurant," Mario remembers. "But we didn't even know how hard it was to start a business, let alone a restaurant. We thought we had saved enough money after five years, but you can never have too much money when starting a business, especially a restaurant. We consider ourselves to be blessed to have found a place that was an existing restaurant that already had a lot of the permits, otherwise it would have cost us an arm and a leg."

Although Mario worked in a restaurant for six months and took every hospitality and restaurant management course that Glendale Community College offered on nights and weekends to fit around his work schedule, he says that some of the major trials they have had as a new establishment stem from not having a strong background in the industry.

"It's hard not knowing some of the terminology, policies and regulations that you need to know, and that's due to the fact that we weren't in the industry to begin with," he admits. "We're learning a new vocabulary, and there's nothing we have to compare it to. For example, depending on your location, summers tend to be pretty bad for restaurants because a lot of people go out of the country. Not knowing things like that about the industry has been difficult. You can study about it, but experience speaks for itself, and we have learned the hard way."

In spite of their lack of industry training, the duo have carved a niche for themselves in the neighborhood of El Sereno, gaining a reputation for deliciously authentic Guatemalan dishes that are based on food from Mario's childhood. He was born in Guatemala and moved to Los Angeles with his family at age 10. Growing up in South Central (aka South Los Angeles), they mainly ate meals at home where chuchitos and black beans were some of Mario's favorites.

"I do remember going to a Guatemalan bakery on Sunday mornings, but we fell more into the homestyle way of cooking. That's the reason why I decided to do this kind of cuisine at Tikal, because it's what I know," tells Mario. "My mom would cook a lot, and she kept it very traditional. Chuchitos, tamales wrapped in corn husks, were my favorite growing up. The masa is actually overcooked, and that's what makes it so unique from the rest of the tamales in the northern part of Guatemala. No Guatemalan household can last long without black beans. Even now, they're a must at my house; I could eat them every single day and not get tired of them."

Tikal's Jamarindo, Horchata, Enchilada and Garnachas
Black beans simmered in vegetable stock are featured in one of the appetizers I sample at Tikal, the Tostaditas. Three fried corn tortillas are each topped with a different sauce: guacamole, tomato and the beans. They're the perfect accompaniment to the refreshing glass of Jamarindo that Darwin recommended I try. Hibiscus and tamarind are blended together and infused with mint and ginger for a red-hued juice that has just the right balance of sweet and tangy. They also serve sangria, Famosa Guatemalan beer and a Horchata that is more heavily spiced than most.

Another small plate, the Garnachas, have become one of Tikal's signature dishes.

"They've definitely been the most popular menu item," marvels Mario. "It's funny because garnachas aren't a traditional Guatemalan dish, you usually find them at street fairs. You're not going to go to Guatemala and find someone making garnachas at home all the time."

Even though they're not that traditional, they are unquestionably appetizing. Akin to sopes, garnachas start with a semi-fried corn tortilla that is capped off with beef, pickled cabbage and carrots, tomato sauce, cheese and parsley. The contrasting textures of the slightly crisp shell, tender meat and firm vegetables make for the perfect bite. It's easy to see why many patrons have found this dish to be so addicting.

As I enjoy an Enchilada, which is nothing like the Mexican version, but rather a fried corn tortilla covered in lettuce, a mix of sautéed beef and vegetables, pickled beets and cabbage, tomato sauce, parsley and grated cheese, I admire the various photos of Tikal National Park that hang on the walls. Mario stresses that the Tikal ruins are an important symbol of Guatemala, thus making for the ideal name for their restaurant.

"What Chichen Itza is to Mexico or what Machu Picchu is to Peru, the Tikal ruins are to Guatemala. Our inspiration came through this park; we knew that we wanted to take this restaurant and make it resemble the spirit of Tikal. I've been there twice, and the first time was overwhelming," he recalls. "Guatemala is considered to be the heart of the Mayan world. That's the reason why we named the restaurant for the park and have the photos on our walls, to have people know that it exists."

Mario's passion for his culture finds its way into the dishes served at Tikal. He takes family recipes and adds his own personal touches to everything, taking away or adding ingredients according to what he thinks Angelenos would like most. Before opening, he and Darwin hosted several tastings at their home, inviting friends and people of different age groups and ethnicities to sample dishes and fill out comment cards. The delectable Pan con Chile sandwich is a prime example of Mario putting a spin on the traditional. A chile relleno (an egg battered roasted bell pepper stuffed with sautéed beef and veggies) is placed into a fluffy roll along with lettuce, tomato sauce, parsley, grated cheese and a mayonnaise spread.

The real standout on Tikal's menu is Mario's version of Pepian Colorado, the national stew of Guatemala.

The Pepian Colorado (Rafael Orellana/Living Out Loud LA)
"When people read that the Pepian is the national dish on the menu they want to try it, and it gets a great response," he says. "In Mexico, there are regional dishes – whatever's cooked in Yucatán isn't cooked in the central or northern parts. Same thing with Guatemala, even though we're small, we're also regional. Certain foods are eaten in one place but maybe not another. With Pepian, hardly anybody will tell you that they don't know what it is, regardless of where they're from. You could find it in homes and even being sold outside of markets. A lot of people cook it a lot of different ways. Some cook it very watery, some very thick, like a sauce. I do it in between."

He simmers chicken in a richly flavored broth with chiles, green beans and chunks of güisquil (chayote squash), and serves it with white rice and a tomalito, which can be added to the soup as thickening agents. The dish is a bowl of comfort, like a hug from your grandma, and you can see Mario's happiness whenever he watches someone enjoy his Pepian.

Both Darwin and Mario take pride in educating Angelenos about Guatemalan cuisine, as evidenced in their special event known as Journey on a Dish.

"We decided to call it Journey on a Dish because we take people on a journey with the different regional dishes that Guatemala has to offer. For the first one, we did the western part, and from there different regions from there," tells Mario, who goes on to explain the premise behind the fourth event, which just happened on Monday night. "During the months of July and August, there are a lot of fairs going on in Guatemala, and like at any fair, food is unique to each one. So for Journey on a Dish IV we decided to do some of the fair food: garnachas, enchiladas, mixtas (a hot dog wrapped in a corn tortilla rather than a bun topped with cabbage), elotes (grilled corn topped with mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, hot sauce and queso fresco), traditional candy and a beverage called Orangeade. We never thought it would have such a great response, but as soon as we announce them people call to make reservations for parties of eight or 10 right away."

What's surprising is that the diners who come for Journey on a Dish aren't just Guatemalans reminiscing over favorite dishes from their pasts, they come from many different backgrounds. In fact, only two percent of them are usually Guatemalan, and this speaks to Mario's most beloved aspect of the city of Los Angeles as a whole.

"It has to be the diversity, it's something you can't get anywhere else. I just love how in L.A., you name it, what are you into, and the city will have something for you. That's what makes it so outstanding," he reflects. "I've been to other major cities like Miami and New York that have the same aspect, but being from L.A. I hold true to what I've experienced since age 10. You just have such a variety of things; the moment you step foot outside your door you learn something new, and you're constantly being surprised. We've had customers who are half-Chinese and Caucasian, but their Chinese mother lived in Colombia so they speak Spanish. I'm looking at them going, 'You're Asian, but why are you speaking Spanish?' Only L.A. has such diversity within diversity. There's so much diversity, and you learn from it every day."

Mario loves to take advantage of this diversity by constantly seeking out new cuisines to try on his days off from the restaurant.

"We've met a lot of chefs since opening, so we try to hit their places. I live in Carson where there's a lot of Filipino and Vietnamese culture nearby, so we're always visiting those places. Indian food is another of my favorites," he confesses. "We like to go to places that are distinctly different from Latin just to try new stuff."

As they continue to explore Los Angeles' culinary landscape, Darwin and Mario are also spreading their knowledge about what Guatemala has to offer through Tikal Restaurant Cocina Maya. If they continue to pour every ounce of their zest for the culture into the restaurant, its future is guaranteed to be as solid as the Mayan ruins at Tikal.

"It's been nine months since we opened, and we're excited about that," Mario says. "We're really looking forward to doing new events and menu items next year. So far we've received a good response, and people have been very welcoming, and we're happy about that."

For more information, visit

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

New Release Tuesday 7/30/13

July 30, 2013


Alela DianeAbout Farewell (Rusted Blue)
Hailing from Nevada City, Calif., but currently based in Portland, Ore., the folk singer-songwriter spent a year putting finishing touches on her latest album, which serves as a firm goodbye to former lovers, including her experiences in a recent divorce. Needless to say, the songs are somber, yet there is beauty in her complete truthfulness as evidenced in the black-and-white video for the title track. The stripped-down tracks are ideal for showcasing her emotional vocals. About Farewell served as her ultimate catharsis and can help listeners let go of their own pasts as well.

Buddy GuyRhythm & Blues (RCA)
It's no secret that Buddy Guy is one of my all-time favorite guitarists, and the Chicago bluesman celebrates his 77th birthday today with the release of a new double album. He co-wrote most of the tracks with drummer/producer Tom Hambridge, save for standards like "Poison Ivy," "Well I Done Got Over It" and "Messin' with the Kid," which is a duet with Kid Rock. Rhythm & Blues also contains guest appearances by Keith Urban, Beth Hart, Gary Clark, Jr. and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, Joe Perry and Brad Whitford. Guy's shows are always amazing, so make sure not to miss the debut of some of these songs when he plays at the Hollywood Bowl on Aug. 21.

Robin ThickeBlurred Lines (Interscope)
Even if you don't listen to Top 40 radio, it's been quite hard to avoid the title track from the R&B singer-songwriter's sixth album, Blurred Lines. The single, which features T.I. and Pharrell Williams, hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 back in June and has remained in the top spot ever since, propelling the crooner to worldwide superstardom. The album also boasts tracks produced by Timbaland and, as well as a collaboration with Kendrick Lamar, the heavily electro club banger "Give It 2 U," that is admittedly not one of my favorites. However, longtime fans will enjoy "Ooo La La, "Ain't No Hat 4 That," and "The Rest of My Life," a love letter to his love since age 16, his wife Paula Patton.

T. Hardy MorrisAudition Tapes (Dangerbird)
The co-founder of Dead Confederate and Diamond Rugs unveils his debut solo album, a collection of songs that he spent the past year crafting from his experiences over the past six years of touring. The singer-songwriter traveled from his home base in Athens, Ga. to producers Adam Landry and Justin Collins' studio in Nashville to record Audition Tapes, which Morris says is "largely about the hometown me and the other guys in Dead Confederate grew up in and the way a lot of the friends we had down there slipped away into their vices." You hear traces of country and new Southern Rock in the album's 10 tracks, from plaintive opener "Lucky" to the straight-forward beauty of closer "Own Worst Enemy."

Also available – AlunaGeorge's Body Music; Backstreet Boys' In A World Like This; Chimaira's Crown of Phantoms; Emblem3's Nothing to Lose; Five Finger Death Punch's The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, Volume 1; Fortune Howl's Earthbound; Happy Hollows' Amethyst; Heaven's Telepathic Love; Joan of Arc's Testimonium Songs; Kendra Morris' Mockingbird; The Mallard's Finding Meaning in Deference; Michael Franti & Spearhead's All People; Missing Monuments' self-titled; Moreland & Arbuckle's 7 Cities; Pastor Troy's The Streets Need You; Robin Nolan's Gypsy Blue; Russell Howard's City Heart +; Tech N9ne's Something Else; Vince Gill & Paul Franklin's Bakersfield


Film – With a screenplay by Mark Duplass, Black Rock stars director Katie Aselton, Kate Bosworth and Lake Bell, as three childhood friends whose girls' weekend on a remote island turns into a deadly fight for survival; Julia Stiles, Melissa George, Taye Diggs and David Harbour in Between Us; G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the sequel to 2009's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, stars Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum, RZA, Adrianne Palicki and Bruce Willis.

TV – The Angry Beavers: The Complete Series; Banshee: Season One; Don Matteo: Set 5 & 6; Kendra on Top: Season 1; Touched By an Angel: The Eighth Season

Music – Bee Gees' One Night Only; Scorpions' Moment of Glory

Also available – 55 & Older; An Awkward Sexual Adventure; Assault on Wall Street; Blaze You Out; Dark Minds; The Demented; Filly Brown; Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox; Flying Lessons; Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh; Night Across the Street; A Night for Dying Tigers; Robert Williams: Mr. Bitchin'; Rushlights; Space Warriors; Teen Beach Movie; Under the Bed; Unlucky Charms; War on Whistleblowers: Free Press & The National Security State

Monday, July 29, 2013

STREET SIGNS - Coyotes and Butterflies

Kim West added some pink-hued butterflies fluttering amidst the carnage of a coyote fight captured in her Welcome to Hollywood, Everyone's Gotta Dream. Some Come True, Some Don't. piece from 2009 for this mural located near the main entrance of Wurstküche Restaurant on Traction Avenue (at South Hewitt Street) in the Downtown Arts District. Doesn't it make you hungry for a gourmet sausage and some beer?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Events for July 25-31, 2013


The Uncluded (Chrissy Piper)


The Uncluded @ First Unitarian Church (Koreatown)

The duo of rapper Aesop Rock and singer-songwriter Kimya Dawson released their first album of collaborative tracks, Hokey Fright, in the spring and are in the midst of a North American tour, stopping in Los Angeles tonight. You might not expect two such seemingly polar opposite artists' styles to mesh well, but his abstract, spitfire raps married with her childlike vocals, but they make for a endearingly quirky mix. They may have started out as pen pals, but they've developed into a harmonious partnership that is sure to be exciting on stage.


US Open of Surfing @ Main Street & PCH (Huntington Beach)
I have so many awesome memories from past outings to this event, and it's the one time of year I truly love returning to my OC roots to be in Huntington. Whether you're there to cheer on your favorite pros in the surf, BMX or skate contests, catch a movie or band (The Faint, Modest Mouse and Matt Costa among others) on the beach or simply to people watch, there is tons of fun to be had for those of any age.



In Theaters This Week
Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine stars Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Louis C.K. and Bobby Cannavale; Aubrey Plaza is so funny, and she's the only reason I would even consider reliving the early '90s through The To Do List, which also stars Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat and Rachel Bilson; The Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, duh) is pushed into the Japanese world of yakuza and samurai as he battles new enemies and the ghosts of his past. Also in theaters: Breaking the Girls; Frankenstein's Army; Stranded; The Time Being


"Chicago" @ Hollywood Bowl (Hollywood)
For all the hoopla surrounding Anne Hathaway's performance in Les Mis, I think UK stage fixture Samantha Barks' turn as Eponine was just as remarkable. Barks stars as Velma in the Brooke Shields-directed production of "Chicago" running through Sunday at the Bowl, and I can't wait to see her version of "All That Jazz." Drew Carey, Lucy Lawless, Stephen Moyer (aka vampire Bill of "True Blood") and Ashlee Simpson also get their 1920s razzle-dazzle on in the musical, which the Bowl promises will steam up the night with "sass, brass and ass!"

"SYTYCD" all-star Twitch


National Dance Day @ Grand Park (Downtown)
Yes, I was one of those little girls who dreamed of becoming a ballerina, and there is one TV show that I never miss, "So You Think You Can Dance," to revisit my childhood fantasies. In 2010, the show's co-creator Nigel Lythgoe launched National Dance Day, an annual celebration encouraging Americans to embrace dance as a way to maintain health and combat obesity. Each year, his Dizzy Feet Foundation creates instructional videos for people to learn and eventually perform the routine together as part of National Dance Day. The dance event starts at 10 a.m., and Nigel will be on hand along with other "SYTYCD" regulars. That night is also a Celebration of Dance at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, featuring several amazing dance troupes, as well as "SYTYCD," Step Up and "Dancing with the Stars" dancers.


LuckyRice Feast @ BookBindery (Culver City)
Hosted by Sang Yoon (Father's Office, Lukshon), the second annual event puts the spotlight on innovative and traditional Asian-style dishes from some of the city's brightest chefs and benefits the Center for Asian American Media. The tasting menu includes Chicken Adobo Tacos and Ube Bread Pudding from Barbara Batiste (B Sweet), Shiitake Sliders from R23 and Chili Crab Gumbo with a Buttermilk Beer Beignet and Black Sesame Panna Cotta/Green Tea Lemon Latte Cookie from the Starry Kitchen mavericks. YUM.


Bruno Mars @ Staples Center (Downtown)
You may try to deny it, but deep down I think everyone is a Bruno Mars fan. Whether you hum "Just the Way You Are" to yourself in the mirror, have one-person dance parties to "Treasure" and "Locked Out of Heaven" or cry yourself to sleep with "When I Was Your Man," it's like his songs are ingrained in our culture's subconscious. Unleash your inner Hooligan with thousands of others during his two-night stand at the Staples Center with the fabulous Ellie Goulding.



Legends of Summer Tour @ Rose Bowl (Pasadena)
Many say that Bruno Mars is the new JT, but I'm sorry, there is only one Justin Timberlake. So this is unquestionably the show of the week. If you don't trust my judgment about JT, then just take a gander at who his partner is for this tour, Jay (no longer with a hyphen) Z, who on his own would make this a don't-miss concert. You probably don't want to wear heels with your "Suit & Tie" to successfully navigate the Rose Bowl steps and grass, but regardless of your attire, you are undoubtedly going to be required to throw some diamonds in the sky.


Chaya Summer Festival @ Chaya Brasserie (Beverly Hills)

The Japanese and French fusion restaurant celebrates its 30th anniversary with a summer celebration that includes fire dancers, DJ Eric Sharp, Taiko drummers, bands, a magician, tarot card reader, photo booth, glitter tattoo artists, festival games and unlimited food and beverages. Yes, I said unlimited!



System of a Down @ Hollywood Bowl (Hollywood)

The L.A. foursome haven't released a new album since 2005's Hypnotize, but they've continued to maintain a presence at music's forefront through Scars on Broadway and various solo endeavors, as well as continuing awareness campaigns for the Armenian community. After reuniting to perform at various European festivals, SOAD are putting on their lone US show here in their hometown, and they couldn't have picked a better venue to show off their explosive brand of rock at than the Bowl.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Stick People

Stephen Duffy, Frankie Anthony, M.'. d'Ziur and Bernie Godwin of the Stick People at Game Changers



At Game Changers

1220 Hermosa Ave., Hermosa Beach 310-798-3932

"I don't like to call this a project – I call it a band," begins Frankie Anthony, drummer for the Stick People. "I hate the word project. If you want a project, go work on a jigsaw puzzle."

"You wouldn't call a marriage a project, and I consider a band [to be a marriage of sorts]. When you say the word 'project,' it assumes that your full focus is not on it, that it's something you do in your off time. With a band, you live, eat and breathe it," agrees the group's lead guitarist, Bernie Godwin. "I've never considered the Stick People a project, it's what I do. When I'm engineering or anything else with other people, that's a project; it's what I do on the side. This is the bread and butter."

"We all have our own studios and do little things aside from the Stick People, but the Stick People is the main consensus of [our focus]," Frankie adds. "When it's a band of these pop players that's just thrown together, people pick up on it. They also pick up on Green Day, for instance, who have been together for a long time. They've been through a lot of stuff together, and it makes for great material and presence to an audience."

The Stick People, which also includes vocalist Stephen Duffy, guitarist Mike Stone and bassist M.', d'Ziur formed in Los Angeles five years ago, and although its members have formerly been associated with other projects – Frankie with W.W. III, Mike with Queensrÿche/Klover/Criss and Bernie did the soundtrack of Bruce Campbell's My Name is Bruce – all five musicians emphasize that the Stick People is their main priority. Currently gearing up for the release their debut album, Madness, Frankie gathers Stephen, M.'., Bernie and I at one of his favorite sports bars, Game Changers, in Hermosa Beach.

"It's a Steelers bar, and I'm originally from Pittsburgh, so I'm a huge Steelers fan," Frankie confesses, provoking avid Houston Texans fan Stephen to proudly proclaim, "I never come here!"

With several banks of flat-screen televisions blanketing its walls, Game Changers is a sports lover's heaven. Just a short walk from the beach and pier, the social house boasts 54 taps, a full menu of wings, burgers, salads and delectable entrees, providing a welcome respite from the hot summer sun. As we take a seat around a table near the bar's four billiard tables, the guys share some of their other L.A. haunts with me.

"I love to jog in Lake Balboa. I love to work and run, that's pretty much my life," admits Valley native Bernie. "I went to Hollywood Palladium and saw the Deathklok/Machine Head concert. That was an awesome show: great bands, and the place was packed. I got to push around some people in the pit, so that was fun. I have a lot of awesome memories from the Key Club, the Roxy's always killer, and the Viper Room. Even just walking down the Sunset Strip to people watch or going to the Rainbow,  you're always going to see somebody there."

"When I was growing up, the only shows I went to were the ones I played at all those places he just named – the Roxy, the Whisky, Gazarri's which became the Key Club – all up and down the Strip. It was my only exposure to venues, these little clubs," remembers M.'..

"I like the food at Canter's Deli," says Stephen. "Especially when we tracked Madness, it was our go-to place after every session, which was usually at midnight or 2 a.m. It's the one place that's always open, and they have a great menu. Whether you want a turkey burger or avocado melt—"

"Or just about anything," continues Bernie. "It's a typical but great Jewish deli that happens to be one of the more famous Hollywood landmarks. Much like Guns N' Roses, it's a Stick People haven."

"Also what we call the Stand, a little taco place on Vine," Stephen adds.

"It's called Cactus Taqueria," corrects Bernie. "You can't go there and have two tacos, you go there to have five or six tacos. You can't hold back, it's just too good."

"We would get out of the studio at 2 a.m., get in the car and go to the Stand," Stephen recalls. "We'd get a plate of tacos, take 'em back to the hotel and pass out."

Madness was recorded at several Hollywood studios with producer Dito Godwin (No Doubt, Kiss, Mötley Crüe) at the helm over the course of a year. When I ask the Stick People what the title refers to, they're quick to respond.

"Madness was the year of having to get the record done," Stephen replies.

"They say there's no such thing as when a record is done, it's just a release date," Bernie continues.

"As far as an artist is concerned, you're never happy with it," clarifies Frankie. "If you're any kind of musician at all, you always go back in and critique yourself, 'I could have done this or this different.'"

"Except for me, I always say damn that's perfect," laughs Stephen. "No, I'm kidding. You constantly listen back, but at some point, you're eventually out of time, and it has to be mastered and be done."

"You just have to take it as inspiration for the next record, and take everything to the next level," sums up Bernie.

Producer Dito, who is also Bernie's father, actually served as matchmaker for the members, playing a pivotal role in the Stick People's formation.

"I started working with Dito, so I met Bernie early on. We jammed together, and he eventually came in on the first original songs that we put together. Dito also brought Frankie in, and we instantly started clicking. A couple of songs later we went this could work, we could form this into an actual band," tells Stephen. "It's one thing when you're in the studio, and we had our differences just like anyone else. But once we hit the stage, all that goes out the window."

Dito also introduced the guys to Mike, but Frankie is responsible for M.'. coming into the fold.

"Frankie contacted me online, and it just went from there," M.'. remembers. "I've been playing music all of my life, but this is the first band that's actually doing something."

M.'. has always been a music lover and clearly recalls buying his first records.

"The first five albums that I bought were all of the Black Sabbath albums from their first one up through Sabbath Bloody Sabbath when I was 9. I saved up my money to buy them all," he says. "Up to that point I was playing piano then I switched over to guitar because I was like, 'How is he doing that?'"

"Yeah man, [Tony] Iommi," sighs Bernie, who was, of course, born into the music industry with Dito as a father.

"A lot of the bands my dad worked with all over the world inspired me in music, but it took me longer to get into it, wanting to make it a profession. I always loved playing music. I did jazz in high school, but for the first 10 years of me playing guitar, my dad would walk into my room and say, 'You're horrible!' He still doesn't sugarcoat things in music; it's very tough love with him. For the past few years I've been engineering and playing guitar for him, so I can take that as a compliment."

As far as cementing his aim of becoming a professional musician, Bernie also attributes inspiration to Black Sabbath.

"When I saw Black Sabbath reunite after Ozzy Osbourne crashed in an ATV and was still alive and killing it, that pretty much told me that if I don't do music then I'm wasting my breath," he says. "Seeing Black Sabbath live is probably what pushed me over the most."

Ozzy Osbourne appears in Frankie's musical history as well.

"I auditioned for Ozzy then got a second call back, but didn't get the gig. At least I got to play with him twice, which was really cool. He's just like you see him on TV, a trippy guy," he smiles. "I started out like Bernie did, though, my father played drums, so from the earliest time I can remember I was always tinkering around his set. I was playing with my dad's jazz and cover bands when I was about 9, he would let me sit in. When I was 14, I went down to Nashville and recorded a gospel album. That was my first experience in a real recording studio and when I learned that there's a big difference between playing live and actually being under the microscope in the studio. Up until that point, I had never played with a metronome or click track. I've always been surrounded by music, everything from country to jazz and big band. I love everything."

Stephen's household growing up was dominated by gospel music, with some classical and country thrown in.

"My uncle conducted the Washington Symphony and toured all over the states, so I got exposed to that. My aunt is a gospel writer, who has had some hits on the top 10. She, my uncle and my father did church tours as a trio," he says. "I was around music from the get-go. I started playing piano when I was 5. My cousin and I would get to church early just so we could play Beethoven and Bach. Growing up I listened mostly to gospel and country (not by choice), and eventually I migrated into reggae and other genres. I didn't really get into rock until the mid-'90s. I was really discouraged to pick up a guitar even though I kept asking for one. I continued complaining, but it wasn't until I was 10 that they said, 'Alright, here.'"

Although they come from different backgrounds, once they were bit by the music bug, determination has been a constant in all of their lives. That drive to succeed bleeds into the lyrics of their first single, "Think About That."

"The basis of 'Think About That' is if you just sit there and never try anything that you're dreaming about, if you don't ask then it's always going to be a no," Frankie tells. "At least if you try, if you go ask, you might get a yes."

"If you get down on yourself, you have to imagine things can always be worse," says Bernie. "There is always someone who has it worse than you – there's so much motivation in that."

The Stick People have hit the road with Quiet Riot and Vince Neil, but a major motivation for going on tour again soon in support of Madness is their change in food choices while traveling.

"With our new tour bus, we're going to be cooking all of our food," M.'. reports.

Frankie laughs, "I can't cook worth a damn, so these guys will take turns cooking."

"We'll not only have a full kitchen, we'll also have a grill we're taking with us," Stephen says. "Prior to that, it's been whatever fits in a bag, like chips, and fast food."

Of course my next question is what their specialties are, to which they reply:

M.'.: I'm really good at soup
Stephen: Fajitas and Carne Asada
Bernie: I'm good with a grill. I love working with vegetables and different kinds of meat. I live for the flame. If I have an open flame and some food in front of me, I'm going to make it happen.

Frankie won't be doing any of the cooking, and he also won't be doing any of the driving when the band hits the road.

"We have some really good stories about cops pulling us over. Almost every fly-in date, if I was driving I would get a ticket," he frowns. "What's funny is, I've never gotten a ticket in L.A. I finally told them I'm done. I'm not driving anymore!"

Even though Madness has yet to be released, the band continues to work on new material. Since they've grown together as a band over the past few years, the writing process has definitely changed.

"Initially I did 90 percent of the writing, and now that's evolved to everybody contributing ideas. I usually start the process, putting together a full thing, then stripping it down to the basic guitar part I've come up with from the vocals. Frankie adds some of the back-end section and percussion, then Bernie will add his pieces and Mike," Stephen details. "That's one of the interesting things about the album we're writing now, that we've been together for a while. Madness is great, and I think one of the reasons it took so long to record is initially we had the first couple of songs down like that, but as we were together longer, like Bernie would come in with a great idea—"

"And we would just go do it. There was initially a first few songs, but as the members came in it started changing the color of the picture that it was going to be, and that's something that I'm really grateful about what the Stick People do. You can take away the colors and just have a blank canvas with black lines, and it's still a great picture. If you take away the colors on other things, and there's not a great picture – the lines don't work then you're building something that doesn't work from the beginning. This, [the Stick People] has a solid base."

For more information, visit

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

New Release Tuesday 7/23/13

July 23, 2013


Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – self-titled (Community)
The L.A. group chose to release their third album as a self-titled effort, and frontman Alex Ebert – also the producer of the 12 tracks – calls the songs the "rawest, most liberated, most rambunctious stuff we've done." For those who are already fans, you'll love the intimacy of "Remember to Remember" and "This Life," while newbies can get acquainted with the 10-member troupe's folksy sing-alongs with "Better Days" and "Two." If you can't attend their Aug. 4 show at the Hollywood Bowl but want to see them perform one of the new songs, tune in to "The Late Show with David Letterman" tomorrow night.

If you've not yet heard of this quartet of three brothers and their childhood friend, their latest album, Hexagon, would be a perfect introduction before delving into their extensive catalog. The album caps off a whirlwind year for the Chicagoans, who in addition to endorsements from the likes of SPIN, American Songwriter and RSL Music, were handpicked by the U.S. State Department to perform in the Middle East as representatives of the "Best of the US Arts Community." From the gorgeous piano intro of opener "New Local" and infectious beat of "Knock Yourself Out" to the searing "Pacific Time" and mesmerizing guitar work on "El Trepador," the album is full of gems.

Kyle AndrewsBrighter Than the Sun (Elephant Lady)
I must confess that the Nashville-based singer-songwriter's new album has been in constant rotation on my playlist since I first listened to it. Aside from the fact that his lyrics are tongue-in-cheek clever and fun, his beats are incredibly catchy and danceable. Exhibit A: "Crystal Ball." It's so hard not to get up and dance whenever I hear that song. Album closer, "The Way to Wonder," is my favorite track, however. I just can't resist the handclaps and Andrews' stripped-bare delivery of utterly sweet words.

Leftover CutiesThe Spark & The Fire
Upon first listen, you may think the Leftover Cuties hail from a New Orleans during a bygone era, but after closer inspection you find that their jazzy sound – complete with upright bass, accordion, piano, brass, brushed drums, ukulele and Shirli McAllen's silky vocals – is tinged with noir. Their sophomore full-length continues to put their unique brand of noir-pop on display with the pulsating "One Heart," catchy "If Only It Could Be" and show-stopping ballads "Clarity" and "I've Been Waiting." The L.A. quartet is in the midst of a cross-country tour in support of The Spark & The Fire, but swing through their home base Aug. 21 at Bootleg Bar.

SombearLove You in the Dark (Trans-)
It's quite hard not to get swept up in the sonic creations from Minneapolis producer and songwriter Brad Hale (aka Sombear), as evidenced in the 10 songs of his debut album. Some may know him for his work with Now, Now or remixes of Tegan & Sara and Antwon tracks, but Sombear breaks out on his own with exploding drum machine beats, a barrage of synth effects and surprisingly intimate lyrics. Give "Incredibly Still" and the title track a spin, and you'll want to consume the rest of Love You in the Dark as well.

Also available – A. Tom Collins' Stick & Poke; Big French's Downtown Runnin; Birdman's Rich Gang; The Cairo Gang's Tiny Rebels; Chamillionaire's Reignfall; Circumambulation's True Window; Counterparts' Difference Between Hell & Home; Drug Church's Paul Walker; Eric & Magill's Night Singers; Factor's Woke Up Alone; Fight or Flight's A Life By Design?; Fuck Buttons' Slow Focus; Gogol Bordello's Pura Vida Conspiracy; Grant Hart's The Argument; Guy Clark's My Favorite Picture of You; Half Moon Run's Dark Eyes; Hands Like Houses' Unimagine; Hunx & His Punx's Street Punk; Jackson Scott's Melbourne; The Jim Jones Revue's The Savage Heart; Joe Silva's Blue; The Love Language's Ruby Red; Lustmord's The Word as Power; Marc Anthony's 3.0; Misery Signals' Absent Light; Nadine Shah's Love Your Dum and Mad; The New Bomb Turks' !!Destroy-Oh-Boy!!; Relient K's Collapsible Lung; Secrets' Fragile Figures; Selena Gomez's Stars Dance; Shot Down Stay Down's Dodge This; U God's Keynote Speaker; Van Dyke Parks' Songs Cycled; Wallpaper.'s Ricky Reed Is Real; We Came As Romans' Tracing Back Roots; Weekend's Jinx; The Winery Dogs' self-titled; Zorch's Zzoorrcchh


Film – Trance, Danny Boyle's follow-up to 127 Hours, centers around an art auctioneer (James McAvoy) who gets mixed up with ruthless criminals. Also starring: Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel; Austin Stowell and Liam Hemsworth are two young soldiers during the summer of '69 in Love and Honor

TV – Dragons: Riders of Berk – Part 1 & 2; How the States Got Their Shapes: Season 2; The Jack Benny Program: The Lost Episodes; Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXVII; Superjail: Season Three

Music – Aerosmith's Rock for the Rising Sun

Also available – Craig Ferguson's I'm Here to Help; Arcadia; The Bitter Buddha; Defiant Requiem; Detention of the Dead; Ginger & Rosa; Hunky Dory; Improper Conduct; The Jeffrey Dahmer Files; Kiss of the Damned; New World; Redline; The Silence; Starbuck; Twixt; Vehicle 19; Viking Saga: The Darkest Day; The Wedding Chapel; Welcome to the Punch; Will

Monday, July 22, 2013

STREET SIGNS - Dance Stencil

Thought I would share this one in honor of the upcoming National Dance Day on Saturday, July 27. It's hard to resist the temptation to follow the directions for the dance moves in this sidewalk stencil whenever I walk by it at the corner of Glendale Boulevard and Reservoir Street in Echo Park. If you're so inclined, feel free to follow the directions and do the steps to turn yourself around at home. It's guaranteed to bring a little smile to start off your Monday morning.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Events for July 18-24, 2013


Run Run Run


Sunset Strip Market @ 8755 Sunset Blvd. (West Hollywood)
Every Thursday night through October, the seasonal market offers produce from farmers like Denny's Organic Farm and Cuyama Orchards and products from local artisans such as Alex's Fruits & Nuts and Farmhouse Kitchen. After shopping, you can grab some dumplings from Red Dot, fries from the Belgian Fry Shack, tacos from this week's visitors Kogi Truck, as well as beverages from the craft beer and wine garden then grab a seat for a screening of Karate Kid at 8:15 p.m. Throughout the night there are also musical performances from Tru Cisco, Xander Smith (acoustic) and Run Run Run.


dineLA Restaurant Week @ Various restaurants throughout the city
Although the event is technically 12 days (running through July 26), dineLA Restaurant Week is definitely one of the best times of year to visit the city's best establishments, especially if you're on a budget. Places from Bouchon, Willie Jane, Rivera and Mo-Chica to El Cholo, Season's 52 and Mohawk Bend are serving prix-fixe meals from $15 to $45. Now is your chance to try a new restaurant or visit an old favorite at a special price.



In Theaters This Week
The terrifying The Conjuring stars Vera Farmig, Patrick Wilson and Ron Livingston; Kirsten Wiig plays a failed playwright who is forced to move back home with her family in Girl Most Likely; Only God Forgives reunites Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn with Ryan Gosling, who stars as a drug kingpin out to avenge his brother's death in Bangkok; Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren and Mary-Louise Parker returns for Red 2; R.I.P.D. stars Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds as officers policing otherworldly spirits. Also in theaters: The Act of Killing; Big Words; Blackfish; Dealin' with Idiots; Grabbers; Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp; The Rooftop; Terms and Conditions May Apply; Turbo

My Gold Mask (Todd Diederich)


My Gold Mask @ Bootleg Bar (Westlake)

The trio, led by vocalist/percussionist Gretta Rochelle and guitarist Jack Armondo, bring their unique brand of dark pop to town via their headlining national tour with fellow Chicagoans California Wives. In addition to their latest album, Leave Me Midnight, which came out earlier this year, My Gold Mask just released a new single, "Dangerous," that is just as menacing as the title promises.

Rogue Wave @ El Rey Theatre (Miracle Mile)
I absolutely love Nightingale Floors, the Bay Area band's fifth studio album that released last month, and since this is their first tour in three years, there is really no reason to miss this show. Just listen to the album's first two tracks, and you'll see what I mean. Whether you love their dreamy, psychedelic, somber or more poppy songs, the night is sure to be a memorable one.


Mean Girls @ Poinsettia Park (Mid-City West)
Street Food Cinema projects Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Lacey Chabert and Amanda Seyfried on their oversized inflatable screen in the 2004 comedy Mean Girls, which had a screenplay penned by Tina Fey. The movie starts at 8:30 p.m., but come early for a set from Elle Rae, a contest hosted by Grant Cotter and food and drink from the Grilled Cheese Truck, Waffles Deliege and Perk Up Coffee.



Jeff Garlin's Reading Group @ Book Soup (West Hollywood)
If you love books and are currently experiencing "Curb Your Enthusiasm" withdrawals, then kill two birds with one stone and join Jeff Garlin's Reading Group for an evening. The subject for this discussion is Gillian Flynn's bestselling suspense novel from last year, Gone Girl, which centers around a Missouri couple, Nick and Amy Dunne, celebrating their fifth anniversary when Amy suddenly disappears. Comedian Garlin is also hosting a conversation with "Breaking Bad" director Vince Gilligan at Largo on Monday, but unfortunately that event is sold out.



Roadkill Ghost Choir @ Bootleg Bar (Westlake)
The folk rockers just released a new EP, Quiet Light, and cross the country from their Florida home base in its support. From the banjo twang of opener "Beggars' Guild" to the thundering bass drum and soothing horns of closer "In the Lion's Mouth," the six-piece pulls from their wide range of influences (Gram Parsons, Nirvana, Fleetwood Mac, Radiohead) to appeal to all ears, and their live show promises to be just as pleasing.




The Postal Service @ Greek Theatre (Griffith Park)
I was lucky enough to catch the supergroup's first tour back when Give Up was released in 2003, and it is hands-down one of my favorite concerts ever. I was so excited when they decided to reissue the album for its 10th anniversary this year and officially reunite for a world tour that includes this two-night stand at the Greek. This is, of course, my pick for show of the week, so don't miss the opportunity to see Ben Gibbard, Jimmy Tamborello and Jenny Lewis on stage together at one of my favorite outdoor venues in the country.



Happy Hollows @ The Satellite (Silver Lake)
Celebrate Hump Day and the July 30 release of the L.A. trio's sophomore album, Amethyst, with a party of a show at the Satellite. You know I'm a sucker for a song with sing-along-able "ooh ohhs" such as "Galaxies" from the album that was recorded with producer Lewis Pesacov (Best Coast, Fools Gold). Vocalist/guitarist Sarah Negahdari is the touring bassist for Silversun Pickups, and it will be fun to see her assume the frontwoman role with Happy Hollows.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

L.A. HAVENS - Chego

Chego's Chubby Pork Belly bowl



727 N. Broadway, #117, Los Angeles (Chinatown)

Warning: Chego's rice bowls are not for the faint of heart. The phrase "rice bowl" tends to bring forth the image of overly sweet chicken teriyaki strips over white rice, but for anyone who is familiar with
Chef Roy Choi's dishes – a short rib taco from the Kogi Truck, the pork terrine Cuban Torta from Sunny Spot or Peruvian-style spin on the American classic Cracklin' Beer Can Chicken from A-Frame – then you know his creations are from from ordinary. He is known for breaking rules, elevating street to fine dining and mashing together cultures all on one plate, or in Chego's case, a bowl.

Choi opened Chego, his first brick-and-mortar restaurant, in Palms three years ago, and quickly gained attention for its flavor-packed bowls that embraced flavors from many of the vibrant cultures that make up the fabric of Los Angeles: Korea, Spain, Thailand, China, Vietnam, Mexico, Malaysia and Japan. Chego moved to Chinatown's Far East Plaza earlier this summer, marking Choi's first venture on the east side. (Westsiders can still get a few of Chego's bowls at the Alibi Room in Culver City.) Its bright orange sign stands out in the bustling center where tourists, little old Chinese ladies and Mexican families pass as you sit and wait for your number to be called to pick up your food.

None of the menu items are over $10, and everything is served in low-waste containers. Starters like the fried 3PM Meatballs and the $12 Salad (which is actually $7) are great options, but my favorite "snack" is the Ooey Gooey Fries. You might get one order to share with your friends, but after one bite you'll regret not having one bowl all for yourself. Beer-battered potatoes are slathered with sour cream sambal, red chilies, cilantro, pickled garlic and Monterey Jack, cheddar and cotija cheeses – dangerously addictive.

There's a vegetarian Kung Pau Noodle Bowl and a half-pound grass-fed burger topped with cheese, mayo, chili sauce (pretty much everything has chili sauce here), fried shallots, arugula and Thai basil, as well as a prime rib sandwich on grilled ciabatta with seared onions, roasted garlic Irish butter, parmesan and salsa verde if you don't feel like eating rice. However, the main stars are, of course, the rice bowls.
Ooey Gooey Fries

Favorites are the Kimchi Spam Bowl with fried rice, scrambled eggs and baby boo choy and the Sour Cream Hen House (grilled chicken, Chinese broccoli, sour cream sambal, red jalapeño, toasted sesame, Thai basil and a fried egg over rice). I love the Chubby Pork Belly with its chunks of Kurobuta pork polished with Korean red pepper paste (kochujang), delicious pieces of pickled radish, peanuts, cotija cheese, bright and bitter water spinach and Chinese broccoli. I let the runny yolk of the fried egg intermingle with the red and green chili sauces over the rice.

It might be hard to save room for dessert, but you have got to try the Piña Krackalada (rings of caramelized pineapple and crunchy puffed rice over a bed of sweet coconut rice), the chocolate, carmel and peanut Sriracha Bar or Chego's version of Tres Leches: devil's food cake soaked in cayenne- and cinnamon-infused leches with spiced candied peanuts and dark chocolate on top.

Although all the different seasonings in one bowl might put off those with simple palates, Chego – like all of Choi's other establishments – are at least worth a try. I'm not usually a huge fan of spicy food, but I just can't resist those Ooey Gooey Fries and piquant pieces of pork belly. Who knows? You might find yourself a convert like me.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

New Release Tuesday 7/16/13

July 16, 2013


BeachIn Us We Trust (Short Story)

Up until this album, Bitch's birth name of indie-electro artist Karen Mould was a secret. With In Us We Trust, the songwriter, vocalist and electric violinist sheds her previous persona and embraces the new moniker of Beach, a place where she describes everything shifts: "Rocks become sand, water meets earth, birds screech, tides turn and colors collide." Mould in turn left Brooklyn, her home of 15 years, behind for Los Angeles, and the city breathes its energy into the album's 11 tracks, from thundering opener "Ibuprofen" and sultry "Love Was a River" to the bubbling title track and ukulele-filled closer "O' Packaging." Change has unquestionably done her good.

Dreamers DoseAt Least We're Happy (Vector)

It's not that surprising to find out how young the four Angelenos of the psych-rock group are after listening to their debut since each track explodes with youthful energy and seethes with angst. Produced by Alain Johannes (Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures), At Least We're Happy puts Dreamers Dose's influences on display – you can especially hear echoes of QOTSA on "The Calm" and garage-rock tones of Black Rebel Motorcyle Club throughout–  and firmly asserts that the band is beginning to make their own mark on the L.A. scene. Catch their performance at the Sunset Strip Music Festival Aug. 1.

Mayer HawthorneWhere Does This Door Go (Republic)
With the release of Where Does This Door Go's first single, "Her Favorite Song," back in May, it seemed like everyone and their mama started jumping on the Mayer Hawthorne train, but I'm not complaining. It's high time the soulful singer-songwriter receives the attention he deserves. The songs that fill his third studio album are the perfect introduction to his modern take on the classic style of his native state's signature Motown sound, Curtis Mayfield and Barry White, and at the same, time they cull from his more contemporary influences like J Dilla and the atmosphere of his current home base of Los Angeles. The album's release show tomorrow at the Troubadour is sold out, so most Angelenos will unfortunately have to wait a while for another hometown performance. They will, however, have plenty of time to get acquainted with the new standout tracks like "The Only One," "Wine Glass Woman" and "Corsican Rosé."

San Cisco – self-titled (RCA)
There's been buzz surrounding the Australian quartet ever since they started making waves in 2011, and they are finally releasing their debut. The members range in age from 18 to 20, and the album reflects their collective sunny outlook on life, whether the lyrics deal with relationships, growth or just life in general. Tracks like "Fred Astaire," "Awkward" and "No Friends" are just a sampling of the fun and carefree times to be had with the Aussies. San Cisco wrap up their current U.S. tour on Aug. 13 at the Echoplex.

White DoveThe Hoss, The Candle (RSRCH + DVLP)
The L.A. trio formerly known as Monster perfectly encapsulate the feel associated with modern California rock on their new album produced by Dave Trumfio (Wilco, Grandaddy, My Morning Jacket). Echoes of psychedelia, classic rock and soft rock can all be heard in White Dove's dark-pop sound. Alex Johnstone's ethereal vocals soar over the wails of a pedal steel on tracks like "I Saw You" and "Come On In To Hell," while songs like "Cold Mountain" and "Old French Clothes" get your toes tapping. Join them for The Hoss, The Candle's release show this Thursday (July 18) at El Cid.

Also available – Ace Hood's Trials & Tribulations; AP.9's Pursuit of Perfection; The Aristrocrats' Culture Clash; BURNTmd's The Green Invasion; Candice Glover's Music Speaks; CARO's Letchworth Village; Cherry Poppin' Daddies' White Teeth, Black Thoughts; Cody Simpson's Surfers Paradise; Court Yard Hounds' Amelita; David Lynch's The Big Dream; Dead Boots' Verónica; Desert Stars' Habit Shackles; Gauntlet Hair's Stills; Hieroglyphics' The Kitchen; La Machine's Phases & Repetition remaster; Luke Rathborne's Soft; Matt Nathanson's Last of the Great Pretenders; Mayday's Believers; Patrick Sweany's Close to the Floor; Pet Shop Boys' Electric; Pony Bwoy's self-titled; Robert Randolph and the Family Band's Lickety Split; Sara Bareilles' The Blessed Unrest; Sarah Miles' One; Soft Metals' Lenses; Tallhart's We Are the Same


Film – Brian Helgeland directs Harrison Ford and Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in 42; The documentary Bidder 70 tells the story of Tim DeChristopher, who disrupted a BLM oil and gas leasing auction in 2008 in the name of the climate justice movement; Evil Dead is the fourth installment of the franchise and was co-written and directed by Fede Alvarez

TV – Alphas: Season Two; Damages: The Complete Fifth Season; Femme Fatales: The Complete Second Season; Hell on Wheels: The Complete Second Season; Masterpiece Mystery: Endeavour Series 1; Misfits: Season Three; Orphan Black: Season One; Regular Show: Season 1 & 2

Music – Rick Springfield's An Affair of the Heart; U.P. Wilson's Live at the 100 Club London 1998

Also available – 5 Shells; Arlington Road; Bert Stern: Original Mad Man; Bullet to the Head; The End of Love; Erased; Eve of Destruction; From the Head; The Fruit Hunters; Good Life; Hecho En Mexico; Hiding in Plain Sight; Ice Road Terror; The Life After Death Project; The Prize - An Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power; Solomon Kane; The Sweeter Side of Life; White Frog; Wild Bill

Monday, July 15, 2013

STREET SIGNS - The Wrinkles of the City 2

A couple of months ago I caught an airing of INSIDE OUT: The People's Art Project on HBO, a film documenting JR's global art project that he created after winning the TED prize in 2011. It reminded me of the moving images that the French artist installed throughout Los Angeles that same year as part of his The Wrinkles of the City series, one of which served as the very first Street Signs. I captured another of JR's elderly faces on the back of the building that houses Angel City Brewery at 216 South Alameda Street in the Downtown Arts District. The eyes on this one are particularly captivating.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Events for July 11-17, 2013




Lucha VaVoom "Cinco in July!" @ The Mayan (Downtown)
Were you totally bummed when you didn't get tickets for Lucha VaVoom's sold-out Cinco de Mayo show? Well, you're not the only one, so the organization decided to meet the public's demand for another Cinco show tonight. Take advantage of this second chance to get your fill of Mexican-style lucha libre wrestling, traditional burlesque and comedic commentary because they won't be back for a while. No other event mixes sex and violence quite as well.


Surfer Blood, Terraplane Sun @ Santa Monica Pier (Santa Monica)
The 29th annual Twilight Concert Series returns to the pier for a kick-off show featuring the Florida foursome of Surfer Blood, who just released their sophomore effort, Pythons. Also performing is local band, Terraplane Sun, and their single "Get Me Golden" couldn't be a more apt song to usher in the pier's free summer series that takes place every Thursday, from 7 p.m.-10 p.m., through Sept. 12.



OC Fair @ Orange County Fair & Event Center (Costa Mesa)
Like most children, the county fair was always a highlight of my summers growing up, so the OC Fair will always hold a special place in my heart. Aside from the carnival games, rides and wacky food concoctions to sample, I loved checking out who was awarded the blue ribbon for best jam or quilt out of the many artists, farmers and craftspeople who enter the various competitions. As I got older, the concerts at Pacific Amphitheatre became the fair's big attraction. This year's lineup includes Colbie Caillat, Weezer, Flaming Lips, ZZ Top and Roger Daltrey.

Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station

In Theaters This Week
Fruitvale Station is one of my most anticipated films of the season. It tells the true story of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) and the tragedy of his experiences on New Year's Eve 2008 in the Bay Area, and also stars Octavia Spencer and Melonie Diaz; Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock and David Spade reunite for Grown Ups 2; I am a Guillermo del Toro fan beyond words, yet I'm not sure if all the giant robot battles of Pacific Rim are for me. However, the fact that it stars Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi could persuade me to check it out. Also in theaters: Bhaag Milkha Bhaag; Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus; The Hot Flashes; The Hunt; Pawn Shop Chronicles; Still Mine; V/H/S/2

Old Pasadena Film Festival
The free film series returns to Old Pas through July 27. Tonight's programming includes Woody Allen's gorgeous 2011 time-travel romp, Midnight in Paris, starring Owen Wilson as a screenwriter who gets to hang out with the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein every evening at the stroke of midnight. It screens at 8 p.m. at Distant Lands (20 S. Raymond Ave.), while Fantastic Mr. Fox plays at 8:30 p.m. in the One Colorado Courtyard (41 Hugus Alley). The 2009 stop-motion animated fantasy-comedy from Wes Anderson features the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, and is based on the classic by Roald Dahl.



Grease Sing-A-Long @ Hollywood Bowl (Hollywood)
The Bowl once again transforms into the world's largest movie theater for the family-friendly tradition, which coincides with the film's 35th anniversary. Hosted by Didi Conn ("Frenchy"), the pre-show features a performance by Sha Na Na followed by a screening of the film, complete with subtitles so that everyone can sing along with the lyrics to each song. From "Summer Nights" to "Greased Lightnin'" and "You're the One That I Want," the entire night is sure to be a blast.

Edgar Wright Double Feature @ Exposition Park (South Los Angeles)
In anticipation of Edgar Wright's Aug. 23 release of The World's End, Street Food Cinema presents an evening dedicated to the director's other works with Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. Up first is a performance from local band Fallen Riviera, then make sure to get a bunch of munchies from trucks like Mercedes Binge, Rollin' Rib BBQ and Ta Bom before settling in for the screenings of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.


Cash'd Out @ Saint Rocke (Hermosa Beach)
If you're a fan of Johnny Cash and have yet to check out the SoCal treasure known as Cash'd Out, then here's your chance. Vocalist Douglas Benson sounds just like Cash as he belts out the Man in Black's hit songs, but the entire band's musical prowess and showmanship pushes their performances from mere tributes to capturing the energy and spirit that is associated with the legend. You don't just have to take my word for it, members from Cash's inner circle from W.S. Holland to Loy Robin and even Cindy Cash have all endorsed Cash'd Out. So head out to the South Bay, and see them for yourself.




Bastille Day @ Bouchon (Beverly Hills)
If you're a Francophile like me, then you know that today is French National Day, otherwise known as Bastille Day, commemorating the storming of the Bastille in 1789. While France celebrates with parades and fireworks, Thomas Keller and Co. pay tribute to the event with a special day at Bouchon, featuring $2 oysters, grilled treats, wine and cocktails, live music and a screening of Baz Luhrnmann's 2001 musical Moulin Rouge in the Beverly-Canon Gardens, part of their ongoing Sunday Movie Nights series.



Mayer Hawthorne @ The Troubadour (West Hollywood)
Even though this show is sold out, I'm hoping you can score some tickets on Craigslist or at the door, because it's definitely the show of the week. My fellow L.A. transplant via Michigan has carved a niche for his thoroughly unique sound and celebrates the release of his third album, Where Does This Door Go, tonight with this hometown show. NPR is currently streaming the album, so you can practice dancing to the 14 tracks, which feature assists from Pharrell Williams, Jack Splash, Oak and Greg Wills.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Amanda Raya

Amanda Raya's favorite spot at the Grove: the water fountain



At The Grove

189 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles (Mid-City West)

At first Amanda Raya may seem like your typical 14-year-old. She loves shopping, Taylor Swift and communicating via Twitter. Once she starts talking about her music, however, it's clear that the pop singer-songwriter is more passionate about her craft than most teens are about anything.

"I love working on my music, creating and recording it," Amanda says. "I am really passionate about my music. I want people to connect with my songs, I want them to be memorable to many people."

Her drive and determination bring her all the way to Los Angeles from her home in Toronto, Canada, during summer break to do promotion for her first single, "Without No Doubt," which released last month. Although, the trip isn't that much of a sacrifice when you ask her: She takes every opportunity to express how much she loves the City of Angels.

"I love L.A.! I have family here, so we visit whenever we can," she shares. "I really like to go to the Americana at Brand, the Glendale Galleria mall and the beach in Santa Monica. When I was here in April we went to Universal Studios, which was really cool."

Today we meet at another of her favorite places in Los Angeles, the Grove. You never know what celebrities you might run into at the retail and entertainment complex. "Extra" is filmed here during the week, and there are free concerts throughout the summer (Sara Evans on July 17, Capital Cities on July 24 and the Backstreet Boys on July 31). Amanda's primary mission when she's at the Grove is shopping, though, and her favorite store is Forever 21.

"I really love the scenery here at the Grove, especially the water fountain when they do the water show with music," she admits. "It's just such a nice place to walk around." 

It's a sweltering day, so we take a seat in the shade to talk about her influences, future plans and even find out what a typical Saturday might entail back in Toronto.

"I would normally try to hang out with some friends. I'm on my phone a lot. If I have a lot of homework, then I would do some homework, but usually I like Saturday to be my chill day, so I wake up at about 12:30 p.m.," she says with a laugh. "On weekends, I sing all of my songs and try to go over them so that I'm prepared for any performances that might come up."

There's that strong work ethic shining through again. A fierce will is something that Amanda has cultivated since birth. Although she is visually impaired, she is far from handicapped. If anything, her impairment has made her even more fiercely determined to achieve her dreams.

"I think my positive attitude helps, but mostly it's my friends and family that have been so supportive with my music," she insists. "It's great to have them around because they're a really big part of this for me. I'm so grateful to them for being so supportive."

One of her sisters lends her voice to contributing background vocals on "Without No Doubt," which, Amanda says, makes the song even more special. Music is a big part of their household, with the sisters singing around Amanda playing the piano or listening to songs together. She first picked up the piano by ear at age 5 and recently started learning the guitar.

"I've always loved piano since I was young; it came naturally to me when I started taking lessons," Amanda remembers. "I play classical piano, too, so I have composed some classical pieces."

Currently she's completely focused on writing pop material, though, and it's usually a melody that will first sprout in her brain before lyrics begin to grow. Such was the case with the beginnings of "Without No Doubt."

"I can't just sit down and say, 'OK, now I'm writing a song.' That doesn't work for me, it has to come naturally like when I wrote 'Without No Doubt' during grade 8," she confesses. "I was sitting in class, and the tune just came to me. I kept on working on it, and then I performed it for our middle school talent show. My former grade 5 teacher fell in love with it and passed it along to who would eventually become my manager."

Aside from promoting the release of "Without No Doubt," constantly practicing and prepping for performances and gearing up to record more of her songs, straight-A student Amanda is set to begin high school in the fall. She has already signed up for vocal class and hopes to continue performing in school productions.

While she loves Broadway musicals like "Wicked" and "The Sound of Music," she is really into pop music, specifically Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Maroon 5, Adele and Alicia Keys. She just attended a Taylor Swift/Ed Sheeran concert in Toronto and came away with a lot of inspiration.

"Taylor Swift said a lot of inspiring things at the concert that I will remember. When she was young she always wanted to grow up because she thought bullying was just a school thing, but as she got older she received a lot of criticism. One critic even said that she couldn't sing, but nothing knocked her down," Amanda tells before reflecting on her own experiences. "It's just like me, even if people might say one bad comment about me, I won't let that knock me down. I won't give up. I will continue putting my music out there and being who I am."

Like I said before, Amanda Raya is anything but your typical teenage girl. She is on the road to becoming a true force to be reckoned with.

"Without No Doubt" is currently available from iTunes. For more information, visit