Ryan McDonald

Jamming econo on Pier Plaza

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Former Minutemen bassist Mike Watt performs with guitarist Peter Distefano and drummer Stephen Perkins at Waterman’s last month. Hellride, as the group is known, was brought to Hermosa by local promoter Reid Clow. Photo by Michael Artega.  

by Ryan McDonald

One Thursday last month, patrons of Watermans’ on Hermosa’s Pier Plaza had a chance to catch a free show with Mike Watt, the former bassist of legendary San Pedro punk rockers the Minutemen.

It was thanks to the efforts of Reid Clow, founder of Swear Jar Presents. (He said decided on the name because “a punk could like it, but so could a Christian mom.”) Clow is an L.A. native trying to make his way up the rungs of the South Bay music promotion business.

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But Clow is not going about it in the traditional way. He’s brought acts like Hellride, which teams Watt with guitarist Peter Distefano and drummer Stephen Perkins, to Watermans’, Patrick Molloy’s and the Standing Room. Each of the venues is on or near Pier Plaza, where patrons are more likely to find DJs than punk rock.

“I’ll book anything if I think it’s good. But usually, the last thing I’ll book is DJs. But I know, House and [electronic dance music], that’s where the money is,” Clow said.

Clow cut his teeth in the music business working at Saint Rocke, where he says he learned a lot from talent buyer Adam Spriggs. But Saint Rocke, a larger venue with a built-in stage, typically can rely on ticket sales to subsidize food and drink sales.

In some ways, the appearance of premium musical acts is a return to form for the Pier, rather than an innovation. The Lighthouse is one of the most storied venues in jazz, and the old Insomniac Cafe once hosted folk legends like Dave Van Ronk and Odetta. But more recently, it has taken some convincing for Plaza establishments to get on board.

Patrick Molloy, owner of the tavern bearing his name, said that the economics of booking bands like Hellride is tricky and that the restaurant may lose money on a given night. But he said that the acts give customers the idea that there is always something happening there. And, by having fewer nights with DJs, he is also hoping to appease residents and elected officials who complain about the residual effects of an intense nightlife. Molloy said that bands often draw people between 35 and 55, as opposed to the 20-somethings who favor DJs.

“We’re focusing on acts that are local and bring a quality crowd from the South Bay. This is the clientele that the city wants to see down there on the Plaza,” he said.

And while an act like Mike Watt may be more expensive — or, for some listeners, abrasive — the switched up shows also have the possibility of bringing in new people who might otherwise not come to Hermosa. Several attendees at the Watermans’ show said they rarely if ever came to Hermosa Beach. One, a tall man with a nascent mohawk, said that he lives in San Pedro and often catches Watt there or in Long Beach. Another attendee said he lives in Encinitas and was in downtown Los Angeles for the day on business. He was planning to head straight home, but he decided to meet up with a friend who lives in the South Bay when he heard Watt was playing at Watermans’.

“I’d never heard of this place. I can’t believe this show didn’t have a cover,” said the Encinitas resident, who gave his name only as Shane. He threw on a jean jacket as he stepped out into Parking Lot A behind Watermans’. He was surprised at how close he was able to get to the act. “Man, that was great. But my hearing, it’s a little flat right now.”

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