Fingerprints, Fishbone, and Long Beach’s punk past
I saw Fishbone play an in-store at Fingerprints Records earlier this week and it got me thinking about a few cool venues that used to be nearby. At 521 E. First Street, Fender’s Ballroom was just a couple of blocks away from the record shop and the Psychic Temple. It’s hard to believe that where a Best Western now stands, one used to be able to catch first- and second-generation punks as well as obscure British imports playing gigs that cost about ten bucks. Being surrounded by clashing Mohawks, skins, goths, heshers, and cholos was scary for an Asian high-school student from Orange County, but it was also exciting. And among the outcasts, my brother and I never had any problems.
We used to purchase tickets at Zed Records (at the Ralph’s shopping center off the traffic circle where 7th Street and Lakewood meet), where a massive tattooed guy with dyed black hair named Big Frank suggested everything from The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle on bootleg VHS to this then-new band called The Pogues, in addition to local goth-punks T.S.O.L. and thrash metallers Hirax. We actually used to buy records at Zed more often than on Melrose not only because it was closer but because there was less vibing. Long Beach was cool like that even then.
But as punk and post punk got bigger, the bands started playing venues that were less divey and more legit. After Fender’s and its notoriously loud and violent clientele were shut down in 1989 to appease new condo owners, some of the more respectable shows would be booked at Bogart’s. The bar located in a strip mall on 2nd Street and PCH was a smaller alternative to fancier venues on the Sunset Strip. Free parking and a Trader Joe’s, too! It was good while it lasted, and now there’s a Ralph’s in that spot. Cal State Long Beach had some pretty sweet gigs in their student center as well. They might still host music on campus these days, but probably no lineups like early Chili Peppers with Fishbone, Bad Brains with Sick of It All, or Soul Asylum with Meat Puppets. (Some connections to the hallowed, ex-Long Beach-based SST record label in the latter two…)
There’s no reason to be nostalgic because there are still plenty of great venues in Long Beach, from Alex’s Bar (one of my favorite dive bars that books top-shelf punk and garage rock) to the Sports Arena (a much cozier alternative to Staples or the Honda Center, where Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, and the Chili Peppers have recorded shows since the ’70s). I actually caught an early Dengue Fever appearance in Long Beach’s Little Cambodia, too.
And don’t forget Fingerprints!