LOS ANGELES — Twenty-five years ago, things were a lot different on the Sunset Strip. Big-haired rockers in tight leather pants stomped about like glammed-up Godzillas, smashing and crashing their way through clubs like the Whisky A Go-Go and the Rainbow while armies of girls with even bigger hair and even tighter pants followed in their wake. The air was heavy with booze, the streets and alleyways were dark and dangerous, and things were threatening to spin out of control every hour on the hour.
Back then, rockers didn't make grand gestures (aside from maybe publicly exposing themselves), and they didn't attempt to assign higher purposes or deeper meanings to their lives or their music. They lived like they played: hard and fast. And because of that, everything on the Strip was exactly the same, sexy and brutal and debauched; an endless blur of bottles and punch-ups and excess.
Of course today, all of that has changed. Now the Strip is a mixture of shopping centers and Asian fusion restaurants. Most of the scuzz has been pressure-cleaned away. The feeling of danger is gone, and the sexiest thing out there is the Hustler store. And they have a coffee bar.
Venues like the Whisky are still going, but the biggest, brightest concert spot on the Strip is now the House of Blues, a multimillion-dollar club/restaurant made up to look like an old Delta shack. And in place of the swaggering rock monsters that once prowled the night — Mötley Crüe, Guns N' Roses, et al — we've got Internet-savvy, humble-as-pie emo-punk acts like Fall Out Boy, who, 25 years ago, were prowling nursery schools in the Midwest.
Which brings us to Monday, for FOB's sold-out pre-Grammy gig at the House of Blues. It was about as far removed from the Strip's heyday as you could get; a corporate show in a state-of-the-art venue, packed with 16-year-olds munching on chicken fingers, and industry suits downing Budweisers. Taking the stage to the strains of Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer," and under the watchful eyes of Ashlee Simpson and Babyface (both stuffed in the HOB's VIP section), Fall Out Boy quickly huddled up to exchange high-fives, and then blasted into the opening riffs of "Our Lawyer Made Us Change the Name of This Song So We Wouldn't Get Sued," much to the delight of the fist-pumping crowd.
And they didn't really let up for 75 minutes. Bassist Pete Wentz and guitarist Joe Trohman superballed around the stage, pulling off synchronized pirouettes and flinging their guitars skyward. Frontman Patrick Stump — baseball cap pulled low — closed his eyes and belted out the tunes, and drummer Andrew Hurley pounded his kit, his arms a blur of tattoos. FOB eschewed tradition and played their breakthrough hit, "Sugar, We're Goin Down" (which Wentz introduced as "the reason why we don't play small venues anymore"), way early in the set, sending crowd-surfers helicoptering through the air and sparking up a junior mosh pit by stage left.
While Fall Out were incredibly goofy throughout — Wentz introduced "Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner" by telling the crowd that while they might call in sick to work, they should "never call in sick" on their lives — they did manage to muster a few moments of genuine rock-star bravado. Wentz and Trohman gobbed enough spit skyward to make even the crustiest punk happy, and when the two took turns licking each other's fret boards, the audience nearly had a collective heart attack.
Though they made repeated claims about being "honored" to be playing the House of Blues during Grammy week (click here for the complete 2006 Grammy nominees list), it was pretty obvious that FOB knew they deserved to be there. They dropped F-bombs like it was nobody's business, stared confidently into the faces of the kids in the front row, and even invited their roadie up onstage for an impromptu pop-and-lock routine during "Dance, Dance." But perhaps the biggest tip-off of them all came as they were wrapping up their set, when Wentz strode to the mic and told the crowd that just one year ago, this very same House of Blues wouldn't even let them through the front doors, and that tonight, they weren't playing for the suits, or for the Grammys, or even for their fans.
"Right here, this is something different," Wentz laughed. "This is for revenge."
And maybe it was just the Sunset Strip location, or perhaps it was the fact that Fall Out Boy — with sales of their album From Under the Cork Tree surging past the 2-million mark — are finally realizing that they are, in fact, rock stars. Whatever the reason for their behavior, it was more than welcome. It was completely necessary.
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