Alices Got a Brand New Bag

Photo by James BunoanThe Distraction, Stay At Home Bomb
Chain Reaction
Friday, Aug. 8

You either know who Alice Bag is—something to do with Mr. Clean?—or you don't. If you do, you were at Chain Reaction to see her new band, and if you don't, well, she was one of an entire generation of unjustly not-famous first-wave rock N rollers, a fire-breathing dominatrix singer whose band the Bags could still burn the Yeah Yeah Yeahs back into an opening slot. And if you don't know who Alice Bag is, well, her new band Stay At Home Bomb might not be the most generous way to meet her. “Is Alice Bag really here?” some wide-eyed nubbin of a punker was asking before their set. “She's baaaaaaaaad!” Except that Alice Bag is really, er, goooooooood now. Like wholesome good, perky and quirky enough to sidekick a cable-access kids' show. This is weird because the last time we saw the Bags on a TV screen, Alice was ricocheting off the stage monitors and wearing a shredded shirt reading SEXUAL OUTLAW. But this isn't 1978 and Stay At Home Bomb are neither sexual nor outlaws; instead, they're unabashedly smiley-faced pop-punk—and it hurts to write this—like when the Go-Go's went to seed. It's good but too-clean fun, like an elementary school sing-along—which makes sense, because last we heard, Alice Bag actually was an elementary school teacher. But when singer Lysa smiled down at the crowd, handing out Twinkies as the band rolled out a positive-self-image song (“I'm fat! Get over it! Just go with it!”), it was just . . . so . . . mom. This is the perfect band for your little brother or sister: easy to like, lots of bubbly energy, the same big-hearted idealism you'd get from a Sesame Street sketch where the littlest monster finally finds a friend, and nothing scary or unpredictable or overstimulating at all. And they barely have Alice sing—sure, it's fun to play guitar, but she's Alice Bag. She was born with a duct-taped microphone in her hand, and when Bomb really lets her rip—like on the song “Stay At Home Bomb”—only then do they get the least bit explosive. But the kids still love her, which is easy because she's still got an irrepressible charisma, even in pigtails. Outside in the parking lot, people were posing for pictures with her like she was a cartoon character at Disneyland. Which, in a way, she sort of . . . nah, that's just too bizarre.

But maybe that's where we're gonna find members of the Distraction 25 years down the line. They've always been on their own evolutionary track, anyway: while all the other bands are sucking front and center every chance they get, the Distraction have been slinking around the back end of Orange County, quietly buying up ugly plastic sunglasses at the thrift stores and nursing some cataclysmic lineup changes—like losing half the band's songwriters. Usually when bands go this low-profile, it means someone's got a warrant out—when the Distraction do it, it means they're plotting something. And this is their coup, of sorts, especially if you happen to be an undernourished, arty high school kid with too much colored vinyl: the newest member of the Distraction is . . . the artist formerly known as Hot Rod Todd. Once presciently voted one of OC's scariest people, Todd is one of the most storied frontmen in recent local music: ex-Le Shok, ex-Neon King Kong and ex-mortician, he's the only person for two area codes who can take a Mark E. Smith comparison without even flinching. And he's been even lower profile than the Distraction for months and months. Warrants? We fear to ask.

But they really are a whole new band now, even if the schism between the pre-Todd songs and the post-Todd songs—they were so reinvigorated once he came aboard that they cranked out a whole new set!—is unmistakably apparent. Which is okay because the new songs are the best they've ever done, a step away from the cutesy new wave-y Rezillos-y punk they used to dress up for and toward a rawer, more Todd-friendly shtick—Avengers instead of Adverts, if that means anything to you record-store clerks out there. Everyone will hate them for it, but with time and a new single, the Distraction might just escape OC for famouser climes. They had a three-song CDR they were trying to give away for free and people insisted on paying for it—up to $8, even! You crazy kids—don't you know there's a recession on? And when they finished playing, guess what happened in that parking lot? Of course: some dewy little punk zygote who probably gets kids' admission at Disneyland crept up to Todd with a copy of the Le Shok LP and a Sharpie, a scary portent of things to come.

“Will you sign this?” he asked.

“Um,” said Todd. “Do you really want me to?”

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