The Central: Social Aid & Pleasure Club – Santa Monica, CA
Words/Photos by Reverend Justito/concertconfessions.com
For years, the Northwest corner of Santa Monica Blvd and 14th St has been an eye sore. The vacant building with a faded paint job, a broken marquee and boarded up windows crushed my heart every time I drove past. I am not sure when 14 Below went under because I rarely blessed the establishment with my presence. It had a bad vibe, the acoustics were crap and the place was simply a dump. I am glad to report that I will no longer be avoiding the Northwest corner of Santa Monica and 14th as an exciting new venue has refurbished what was once 14 Below. Now known as The Central: Social Aid and Pleasure Club, I walked down the street on a sunny Sunday afternoon in January to not only check out the venues great selection of $4 microbrews, but to witness Southern California’s premiere Grateful Dead tribute act Cubensis.
As a fan of Jambands I have been familiar with the name Cubensis since moving to Southern California in 2001. I always had in the back of my mind that I would check them out at some point, and as it turns out that point was January 16th, 2011. After paying my cover charge to an authentic 1960’s flower child (she still has dirt in her nails from the original Woodstock festival, it’s rather remarkable) I took a seat at the bar to get started on those $4 pints and catch the tail end of Tom Brady going out like a little bitch to the New York Jets. While I did not realize this at the time, most of the bar was made up of members of Cubensis, getting warmed up for a two set Sunday afternoon throw down in Santa Monica.
Set I started at 4:20 pm sharp. I found a perfect spot where I had the band right in front of me, but could look to my right and watch the end of the season for the Patriots. The five piece band kicked the set off with a rocking cover of the J.J. Cale classic “After Midnight.” As keyboardist Tom Ryan belted out the vocals, fans who were not dancing greeted each other with hugs and kisses. It was clear that everyone knew everybody and as I watched I almost felt like the new kid sitting alone in High School. It’s safe to say that Cubensis does not have a fan base as much as they have a family.
The first set was packed with Dead favorites that were solid in execution, yet never fully took flight. Nate LaPointe was robbed of a Golden Globes for his portrayal of Bob Weir during “Little Red Rooster.” You could close your eyes during “You Win Again” or “Dire Wolf” and easily forget that you were listening to guitarist Craig Marshall and not the late Jerry Garcia. The high water mark of the first set was the bands voyage through “Get Together.” The band had a sweet jam in the middle section of the Chet Powers masterpiece. The set clocked in at a little over an hour and closed with a spot on rendition of “Ripple.” Before the band could finish the last verse many from the near capacity crowd had rushed to the bar with the quest to obtain another tasty pint.
Set II kicked off with a nice 1-2 punch of “Scarlet Begonias>Hell In A Bucket.” Any fears I had from set I regarding Cubensis not taking flight were long gone by the sets third song “Sugaree.” The band stood back and allowed the music to take control as the Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia composition stretched to nearly 15 minutes. A major set II highlight was the bands take on The Dead’s most requested number – “El Paso.” With his acoustic guitar strapped on tight, LaPointe lead the crowd in a giant sing along of the oft-covered country western ballad. My personal highlight of the show was the set closing “Bird Song.” By this time, I had moved from the second row to the back of the tiny room. I stood back for a moment and just let the energy of the room take control. The lasers, the music the crowd dancing as one; Cubensis may not be the Grateful Dead, but they sure as hell can trigger the same feelings insides one soul when the music hits.
With The Central having no back stage area, instead of climbing off the stage and walking through the crowd only to return a few moments later the band just announced that it was encore time. While many yelled for their favorite Dead classics, it was the gal who screamed “Alligator” that got her wish. Stretching well past 10 minutes, Cubensis closed out gig three of a run that features the band every Sunday in January at The Central. The band exited the stage and most wound up back at the bar for some fellowship with fans. A successful inaugural outing to The Central: Social Aid and Pleasure Club if I do say so myself, I have the feeling that I will be back to see Cubensis on a Sunday afternoon in the near future.
After Midnight, You Win Again, Little Red Rooster, Dire Wolf, Get Together, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Ripple
Scarlet Begonias>Hell In A Bucket, Sugaree, Tomorrow Never Knows, El Paso, Run For The Roses, Lazy River Road, Bird Song