Live Music Returns to the City

Isaac Foster
WACKO performing in full clown attire to a living room full of punks who flood out into a Downtown Long Beach street corner.

COVID-19 brought an end to live music last March, putting artists’ and concertgoers’ lives at a standstill for the past year and a half. When California’s venues were allowed to open on June 15, music lovers from around Long Beach flooded to nearby bars and backyards alike to catch their favorite local bands.

Vivian Hernandez, one of the operators at Alex’s Bar in Long Beach has noticed the increase in attendance and has even had a few sold out shows since the regulations were lifted. Over quarantine, she and her son, Alex, have made upgrades to their venue by improving the lighting and sound system.

Although most people know Alex’s Bar as a punk venue because it has hosted legendary acts like X, The Damned, and The Offspring, the venue welcomes an array of sounds. From mariachi to rockabilly, Alex’s Bar is a venue that is not confined to one sound. During COVID-19, the bar moved its operations to the parking lot and hosted acoustic music for the limited audience that was allowed to enjoy it.

Now that bars are open at full capacity, Vivian said that not only her bar is doing well, but all the bars on Anaheim Street are having no problem getting people in the door.

With all the excitement around venues opening up at full capacity, it is a great time to be a musician. Zaine Jakeem, frontman of Long Beach-based punk band WACKO, described how the lack of live music created a sense of yearning amongst his fans.

“People are so hungry for music and entertainment. Especially with punk. I feel like out of all the people who want to see live music after COVID-19, it’s the punks. People want to run into each other and mosh. It’s really therapeutic.”

WACKO’s live show is truly a spectacle to see. The group plays faster than the average punk band and has a lot of tempo changes and stops, which has led to their sound being described as “powerviolence” or “grindcore.” The band is appropriately paired with a group of clowns who join them in their live acts.

They are coined “The Traveling Riot Collective.” They have blessed many unusual stages such as a Denny’s in Santa Ana, a parking garage for a 24-Hour Fitness and the LA river, a show that was broken up by a SWAT team.

Another artist who has been performing recently is Smooth Jas. They are a non-binary musician from Long Beach who makes dreamy music with a touch of psychedelia. With a background in choir, Jas performed live for the first time in 2019. After learning the ropes by playing various bar shows, they were stoked to have 2020 as a year to grind out plenty of live performances.

The pandemic shut down their hopes of performing, but it gave Jas time to grow as an artist. They picked up a drum kit and learned how to play the instrument during the quarantine. This new skill allowed Jas to do the percussion on their upcoming album.

With live music coming back, Jas has noticed the buzz around the Long Beach scene and has been receiving more offers to do shows now more than ever. They told me that “most people I know are vaccinated. At this point, even the people that I know that have been proceeding with an abundance of caution have realized that now is the right time to get back out there.”


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