May is a good month for fans of LA punk veterans who’ve gone to roots. Sean Wheeler, whose bands Mutual Hatred, Sun Trash and especially Throw Rag have kept him at the forefront of the desert punk and rock community since the 1980s, will be trekking into town from the Coachella Valley each Wednesday for shows at the Redwood Bar in Downtown LA. Last week Gabriel Hart opened, and next Wednesday the decibels are guaranteed to spike with Fatso Jetson; like Wheeler, FJ bassist Mario Lalli (who ran Sierra Madre’s music-friendly Café 322 for several years in the early ’00s) is also revered in the desert rock scene. Other friends slated to join Wheeler & Co. in coming weeks include Generation X guitarist Derwood Andrews (May 16), Lightnin’ Woodcock and the Bad Muthafuckers (May 23), and Spanish band Bala plus Best Western (May 30).
Wheeler will be backed by his Reluctant Messengers, a cheerfully bad-ass combo of veteran sidemen who have also traversed the highway connecting punk to rootsier realms: bassist Greg Boaz, a groove master still affectionately remembered as “Smog Vomit” from his ’80s days with Tex & the Horseheads, before he joined Dave Alvin’s Guilty Men; Social Distortion keyboardist Danny McGough, an invaluable musician whose astute playing tends to elevate the creativity of any project; and Billy Pitman, whose tasteful tones backboned 2017’s “Sand in My Blood.” Released last year, “Sand in My Blood” was the first album to be issued by Wheeler as a solo act, and followed his 2011 duo recording with Circle Jerks alum Zander Schloss, “Walk Thee Invisible.” (On a side note, the inimitable Schloss is conducting his own May residency at the Redwood, on Monday nights.)
Watching the fedora-hatted Wheeler smoothly balance passion and polish at the mic, and listening to his open-throated pleas during Captain Beefheart’s “I’m Glad” and his own “Now That You Know (Funky Wicked World),” the mind is tickled by the thought of him crooning a Sinatra-style torch song. He’s drawn more than a few comparisons to Tom Waits — but, no offense to Waits, who as an artist reigns in ravaged splendor over his own surreal area code, Wheeler’s yearning rasp still carries full, intelligible melodies. At recent club gigs he’s performed material from “Sand in My Blood,” a discerningly choice collection of blues, country, gospel and jazz by the likes of zydeco king Clifton Chenier, the Rev. Gary Davis, James Hand, Gil Scott-Heron, Blind Willie Johnson, James Montgomery, Washington Phillips, and Geeshie Wiley. That’s a deep setlist in anyone’s hands, and Wheeler and his Messengers give it a gutsy edge.
Sean Wheeler & the Reluctant Messengers perform with Fatso Jetson 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 9, at the Redwood Bar, 316 W. 2nd St., Downtown LA; $5. Info: (213) 680-2600. facebook.com/seanwheelerodc, theredwoodbar.com