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California Institute of Abnormal Arts ~ 999 Eyes of Endless Dream Sideshow ~ North Hollywood

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11334 Burbank Blvd. ~ North Hollywood, CA 91601 ~ (818) 506-6353 (TACO Map)

It's pretty friggin' hard for an art-space or club to upstage a freak show, but CIA (California Institute of Abnormal Arts) did just that when the 999 Eyes Sideshow came to the venue last Friday night. 999 Eyes is a lot of fun, full of enthusiasm, haunting Gothic blues, corny jokes, plus occasional thrills and chills, but it needs to load up on more and stranger freaks, and add a fine polish to its shows. The posters promised a slew of skewed bodies that never materialized and frankly, we see more freaks and human horrors on one block of Hollywood Blvd. or 4th St. on Skid Row.

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CIA is jam-packed to the rafters with curios and oddities. Floor tiles and walls bear skulls and wide, high-colored pinstripes, displays are formed from siamese twins and mer-men in jars, shrunken heads, abnormal brains, circus signage, fucked up doll-heads, man-eating monsters, decaying body parts y mucho mas, while pirates, mad scientists, and cut-throat clowns lurk around every corner. There is a wild bar also covered in death imagery and freaky-ness, as well as a garden with screens showing warped clips of shitty sci-fi and horror films and video projects that resemble the worst mescaline trips, dotted with occasional performances from Tom Jones and Gary Glitter mainlined into the mix for fun. Among the space's greatest treasures are the skull of the smallest freemason, the preserved body of a 'fairie' from England, and most impressively and creepily, the hermetically-sealed corpse of a failed U.S. clown leased by the owners, still in greasepaint and a shiner's cap.

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We talked to co-owner Carl Crew, who resembles Sting if he was a Goth member of Seargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, under a shock of platinum blond hair and a pitch-black military band-style jacket. He is a former mortician and current amiable business owner, as well as a fervent collector of the morbid and unusual. He also played the title character in Jeff Dahmer: A Secret Life, which I think he wrote too. The place used to be literally underground and contra la ley, 'til the jakes busted in and shut 'em down. Carl and his partner, Robert Ferguson, also a former mortician who was busy slanging Kirin behind the bar, re-opened the legal way and now feature a lot of under-the-radar rock bands, burlesque shows, strange theater performances, plus truly hoffiyingly bad D-movies that make Ed Wood look like David Lean. Check out CIA's website for a schedule, it is a place you need to check out. Private parties can also be rocked here if you talk to Carl...nicely...

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These days when a baby is born with horns or a tail, it's probably hacked off at birth. We've all also had those people in school with some sort of physical deformity that we learned to live with. So maybe dwarves, giants, bad skin, and deformed hands aren't that shocking in 2006. Or maybe seeing the half-woman carting around in her wheelchair before the show or having a beer with Lobster-Bro (who showed us his wicked Richard Pryor tat) make them seem like just another one of us trying to survive the tough life here in Babylon.

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999's smiley, stiffly-acted skits take one out of the feeling of an old time sideshow. There is a sense that the human oddities are just a gimmick for some gifted Burning Man fans who wanted to explore old tunes live on stage with old school circus instruments, though the troupe does have a passion for what they do all-around. Whatever it is that keeps them from being perfect, 999 Eyes is still recommended and perhaps in time, they will add more mystery, slickness, and build-up to an otherwise entertaining show. The music takes you back in a chilling time capsule and the washboard player is incredibly mezmerizing, flawlessly keeping rhythm on his chest and tins cups.

In CIA, the freak show found its perfect venue. For a stomach full of cold beer, an ear full of hard rocking notes, and an eyeful of surprises, CIA is a dope party spot and a spooky place to wander around.

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The washboard player was off-the-hook for reals. I'll try and get a video up here soon.

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Just as I had conquered my irrational fear of little people, this Gillian Welch-resembling dwarf tried to punch me in the balls after the show. Twice. Hard. She seemed drunk or crazy...

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...Or maybe that's what eating glass does. It seems to work for TACO's massive stable of pitbulls.

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The half-woman is pretty doable...Eva Ruiz asked me, "Do you think she has a booty hole?"

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This was from a part of the show called True Stories from Real Freaks, which further demystified the characters of 999 Eyes. This man is pretty huge and was once arrested by a dwarf, his case got thrown out cuz it made the judge laugh so hard.

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This is the real corpse of Achile Chatouilleu, a clown who died in 1912.

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And the offerings from the funeral service held for him in 2002.

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Black, or Lobster Bro, is fucking cool and from Texas. We shook his hand and tried to be all normal about it n' shit.

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Gary Glitter bitches! Freakier than a six legged sow.
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