New Music Venue in Venice – The Stronghold

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By Carol Gronner

Did you know there’s a new live music venue on Abbot Kinney Boulevard? You may not. I didn’t. But I think that’s about to change. You can’t have as great a space as the upstairs of Stronghold and not have the word get out. Yes, the Stronghold (1625 A.K.B.) that sells spendy custom jeans and dapper gent hats, suspenders, fly shoes and so forth. But UP the side staircase is a wonderful new space to hear live music! And it’s big and classy and – Wow.

My enlightening came last Saturday when I got an email from my pal Tom Freund saying he was playing a local show (REAL local), so see you there. “The Stronghold?”, I thought. Where are they gonna squeeze in the Freund Fans there? I had no idea there was a speakeasy style venue going on right under my nose! So I biked on over there Saturday night, just in time to catch Christopher Hawley treating everyone (and it was packed) to his Johnny Cash-ish vocals and strumming. Most of my pals were already there, enjoying the open bar – which curiously became a $5 “donation” – something the poster did not share. There must be some permit-type problems to deal with regarding alcohol sales, but you probably shouldn’t lure people there with a $15 cover that includes drinks, and then sneak the “donation” thing on them. Not in this economy, Sirs. But I’ll digress back to the super-positive now …), and the LOCAL music scene.

It’s a big room, centered by a huge iron circular staircase. I have no idea where it led, but it was a very cool backdrop for the stage, that’s for sure. There were other little rooms off the main room, with leather couches and chairs, a little more darkened in case you wanted to make out or just chill with less elbows bumping you.

A black door on the side, opened up into a MASSIVE backyard (Seriously huge. You could practically have the whole Street Fair back there), set up with tables and couches and candles and tons of people on a smoke break. A fire escape style stairway led down to the concrete yard, and more people hung out on it than the big area below. Because people are funny like that. Much like how we all squeeze into the kitchen at a house party. Something homier about it, maybe.

After that bit of exploring, the next duo came on, The Leftover Cuties. They were a boy and girl team, she singing and he playing a darling ukulele. They were very retro, nostalgic even, but with a NOW vibe of Cool. I bet they turn up on a noir-style film soundtrack very soon. In the meantime, why not catch a preview of their jazzy cuteness at: http://www.myspace.com/leftovercuties and I’ll bet you a $5 donation at the next show that you’ll be in a better mood after.

By the time Tom Freund and his band took the stage, I was in a GREAT mood. I hadn’t seen Tom play in a while, as he’s been busy with stuff like opening for Ben Harper around the world, releasing his album, Collapsible Plans (http://www.tomfreund.com/disc.htm – Enjoy!), or else playing East of Lincoln venues. So now we were ready for some jams from the man that COULD be a one-man band (Guitar. Piano. Mandolin. Stand Up Bass. Harmonica. Ridiculous.) but this night he had with him the amazingly haired and vastly talented Chris Lovejoy on drums, Gabe Noel laying down the electric bass lines, Matt Pzsonak ripping up the electric and lap-steel guitars, and the sublime and powerful backing vocals of Ms. CC White. We felt lucky.

They tore through a set list that covered songs old (Classic, rather) and brand new: “Business of Knowing”, “Collapsible Plans” (as recently seen on The Carson Daly show w/Ben Harper), “Unwind”, and the gorgeous “Copper Moon”. Next was “Why Wyoming”, and then the Stand Up Bass came out. You get credit just for lugging it around, but when you can pluck it apart like Mr. Freund, it is EXTRA credit. Phew. He treated us to Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” first, and then had the whole audience snapping along like old school hepcats during, “Leavin’ Town.”

It was great to glance around and see so many familiar Venice faces, but also a whole lot of new ones. One girl from San Francisco said, “I had no idea Southern California could be so cool” – you know how they can be when they don’t get all the sunshine we do. I was happy she’d go back North with fresh tales to tell about our town (as long as they don’t want to move here and build more ridiculous condos).

A personal favorite (because I’m a Viking), “Trondheim”, came next, followed by a stint at the piano for Tom on a lovely, though thought-provoking tune called “Concessions”. I was standing next to Tom’s wife, Francie when the opening notes to her namesake tune began. “Francie” is not only crazy-catchy, but also features the sickest mandolin solo you’ll ever hear. Tom’s hand is an absolute blur when he strums that thing at the end, and you can see peoples’ eyeballs leaving their heads to see such a little instrument shredded so hard. And CC’s vocal instrument was probably shredded as well, after the acrobatics it showed off. It may just have been my Freund Favorite of the evening.

Now that the kids in the hall were a little more greased, it was time for a Dead cover, “Tennessee Jed”, which found Tom back on the Stand Up Bass. “Summer of ‘92” brought us back to a time when the biggest worries we had were whether we had Lollapalooza tickets. It was all good again, and the band left the stage.

Some shrill whistles and rhythmic clapping later, the boys and CC returned to lead a sing-along on the classic Beatles number, “Help From My Friends”. I might have stopped right there, as everyone was dancing and all happily riled up, so much so that there had to be mad shushing for the very cool, but very quiet, “True Mellow”, that was to be the last song of the night. Kind of rude, but fairly understandable too, after being all rocked up right before.

More whistles, more yelling, more Jack – but alas, the music portion of the evening was over. As we filed out to continue our Saturday night adventures, people were all talking about how great the show had been, how cool the space was, how they can’t wait until the next event there. I talked to a manager of The Stronghold, and he said the goal is to become sort of The Hotel Cafe of the West Side.

That is fantastic news to someone who often makes that pilgrimage to the East side venue. If we can lure some of those Hollywood bands to the beach, I may never have to drive in L.A. again.

Fellow citizens of the People’s Republic Of Venice … things are looking up already! Check it out. To get yourself on the mailing list for future events, sign up at [email protected] See you there!

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