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Rockin' and writhin' at Crazy Girls

January 10, 2011 |  6:57 pm

Scrappy bands play amid dancers at a kitschy club that served as the setting for Mötley Crüe’s infamous ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ video. 
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For nearly a decade, singer Mick Coogan taught the classics to an Advanced Placement English class of suburban Washington, D.C., high schoolers. All the while he moonlighted in his lascivious pop-rock band the Dance Party and commuted to L.A. for label showcases and booze-blurred weekends of unrepentant vice. At Crazy Girls, the endearingly kitschy strip club on La Brea Avenue near Sunset Boulevard, he found a place where he could pursue both of his interests while recording his band's album “Touch.”

“The classical Greeks had it right: We all succumb to our desires,” he said, reflecting on literature-worthy incidents of depravity he enjoyed during the band's six-month residency at the club, where the Dance Party performed its synth-sodden rock amid writhing dancers. “Things fall apart, man.”

Crazy Girls may not quite rival the ancient houses of Dionysus — the club serves alcohol, so actual stripping goes no further than what Courtney Love does to visit her mailbox. But it has become an unexpected temple to a forgotten L.A. cult of devotion — the one between rockers and lap dancers. A nascent scene of trashy hard-rock revivalists is taking a cue from Atlanta's strip-club-centric music culture and reclaiming the stage's permed and leathered legacy.

“In L.A., people champion you for being animals,” Coogan said. “If strippers want to jump on me while I play and people shove money in my pants, well, all right! The last night of our residency was the closest I've ever gotten to feeling like I was in Mötley Crüe.”

After opening in 1983, Crazy Girls became a favored haunt of rockers in its proximity to Hollywood and the Sunset Strip, and canonized as a setting for the Crüe' s infamous “Girls, Girls, Girls” video. The smudgy floor-to-ceiling mirrors and brutal pink lights suggesting a Hefnerian interrogation chamber remain today, but the onstage staff runs closer to the Suicide Girls varietal than the Tawny Kitaen era.

After the severity of Nirvana, the angst of nu-metal and the sensitivity of indie became rock's dominant flavors, the idea that rock band membership came with overt fleshly pleasures fell out of favor.

“Being a rock star got lost,” said Craig Mabbitt, the singer of the post-hard-core band Escape the Fate, which recently performed at Crazy Girls for the release of its new self-titled album for Interscope. “When I was young I had a speech impediment and bad asthma. But then I'd watch MTV and see four dudes playing and girls going crazy and they're all smiles and I was like, ‘Why can't I have that?'”

For Crazy Girls, answering that oldest question is a growing niche. As the Roxy and the Sunset Strip Music Festival reassert a Westside scene for hard rock, Crazy Girls cultivates a scene to make Echo Park indie kids sweat and stammer. For the last year, Mike Abdelnour, who worked in RCA Records radio promotions and A&R departments, has booked weekly shows that try to apply the scrappy, local-centric ethic at clubs like the Echo or Spaceland. Only he's revisiting the side of the '80s that revivalist rockers have recently preferred to forget.

The bookings can be unexpectedly eclectic — from the raucous female-fronted punk of Killola to the Rapture-ready disco of Jump Jump Dance Dance and snarling rap of Freddie Gibbs. But the one thing they share is a sense of humor and self-awareness about their image, and who their crowd is. “It's all about what the girls like,” said Abdelnour. “It's definitely a sexy scene but it's all about a positive interaction with the girls and keeping a great attitude. Even the indie bands, who sometimes come in here a little embarrassed, always leave with their hair messy and grinning.” Currently, resident bands include the 87 Stick Up Kids, Vintage Trouble and Purple Melon.

Malice, one of Crazy Girls' dancers with quills of dyed-black hair and a spider-webbing back tattoo, agrees. “I really encourage girls to come here,” she said. “It's fun and playful, but there's a line that doesn't get crossed and the girls really pursue their art here. If you go to other rock shows, it's a bunch of dudes watching other dudes onstage, and I'm always like, ‘Where are the ladies?' ”

Labels are noticing the small but busy scene as well. At Escape the Fate's album-release party Nov. 3, the band played a brisk, 20-minute set to a packed room of Interscope Records honchos and an open bar. Decadence was restrained to one wan attempt at toplessness from a single dancer, though restraint may be an asset for curious but skeptical music fans.

“When you come here week after week, you get to know the girls and they're all really cool chicks who just happen to work here,” Coogan said. “They become your homies. It's really refreshing and like any other relationship — only they're half-naked.”

 

-- August Brown

Photo: Escape the Fate. Credit: Lisa Johnson Rock Photo

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