Raising the Roof for Gardena

What a night.

Last Saturday, the Normandie Casino in Gardena got a sustained jolt it probably hadn't experienced in thirty years-- earthquakes notwithstanding--when the Bus Boys took the stage and rocked out before an appreciative crowd that included fans who've followed he Boys since their debut in the early 1980s. Head Bus Boy Brian O'Neal played some pyrotechnic keyboards, and his fellow band members lent sizzling guitar, drum and additional vocals to a lineup of tunes that were at once classic and indefinable. Back in the day, the Bus Boys got lots of attention--some of it negative--for being a black band that called itself rock, when rock itself is of course a derivative of black music. But that's always been part of the band's tongue-in-cheek attitude towards itself and its would-be critics. Call their style whatever you want, what people got last Saturday was straight-up blues, r & b, funk, ballads, boogie-woogie, church-aisle dancing, wry humor, a bit of reggae and a lot of social commentary where you didn't expect it. It was a complex and consummate performance that certainly gave rock music something to shoot for.

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Entertained as folks were, we were also gathered for a good cause. The show was a benefit for "Freeway City: Portrait of an L.A. Suburb," a documentary Brian O'Neal is executive-producing about his hometown, Gardena. He stumbled into the project when filmmaker Max Votolato recruited him for an interview; the more O'Neal saw of the film, the more he liked it and the more he wanted to be involved. He shares Votalato's affection for and fascination with this modest L.A. freeway city that, despite its singular history of ethnic diversity (and gambling), hardly registers with folks living north of the 105. O'Neal has told me that Gardena was formative for him in many ways, that growing up there gave him a university education that prepared him for much bigger cities and bigger challenges, like the music business. Helping to raise money for the film (and contributing music to it, some of which he previewed on Saturday) is his chance to give something back.

The town certainly taught him well. Launching into one of his last numbers of the night, "There Goes the Neighborhood" (The whites are moving in/They'll bring their next of kin!), O'Neal said he'd very likely be doing this again. Not on Tuesday, either--that's for wannabes, he deadpanned--but on Saturday night.

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