Friday, May 23, 2008

A Study in Contrasts

At The Dresden Dolls concert at the Wiltern Theatre Wednesday night (May 21st), Margaret Cho hosted an evening featuring strong female vocal rock. First, I was lucky enough to get into the pit, which hadn't seemed possible when I first saw the line outside, and second, I'm realizing that if you're not in the pit at this venue you're either crushed against the railings at each terraced level or you're buried so deep in a crowd, you only see the tops of the heads of the performers. But in the pit the Wiltern is perfect!
First up was a band called Smoosh, who are, unbelievably, three sisters, 16, 14 and 11 years old, that play some incredible indie-pop music that had the audience right with them the whole time. Terrific lead singer (17), wild and wonderful drummer (14), and a bass player (11) who all play like they've been doing it for years. In fact I was part way into their set before I realized how young they are (confirmed by some kind concert-mates I was with).
Next came a favorite of mine, Lavender Diamond, to enchant the crowd with her delightful "Snow White-on-acid" persona. Actually she is Becky Stark and she has a gorgeous voice, strong convictions, an open heart and comic-timing to put many a stand-up to shame. And she is the genuine article. There's no pretense or insincerity in her and she truly believes this is "the best planet in the world". They began quietly with "Find Away" which starts simply then blossoms into great beauty as Becky's voice soars off into the stratosphere. The audience loved it and I'm never sure how people will respond to her. Their set included songs from their last super CD "Imagine Our Love" and some new songs which sounded as good or even better than their other material. I can't wait for their next CD. By the way, Becky will be performing this weekend at the Topanga Festival with another group she is a part of called The Living Sisters, in which she is joined by the equally delightful and talented pair, Inara George and Eleni Mandell. Go, if you can, they're marvelous!
She's also hosting an event Tuesday night at the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax concerning the upcoming release of the film "Imagine Our Love" based on Lavender Diamond's last CD.
When The Dresden Dolls took the stage wearing what looked like quasi-Russian military oversized hats and Zorro masks, you knew the fun was just beginning. They plunged head first into a new song and I and the rest of the audience were like putty in their hands. After removing their headgear, they plowed through, at least, an hour and 45 minutes of new songs, old material, and a cover or two. This was my first time seeing Amanda Palmer since she had throat surgery and she sounds pretty much the same. I believe it was the node removal that plagues many women singers when they begin, suddenly, to sing all the time because their careers take off. It happened to Julie Andrews in the 1950's after doing "My Fair Lady" on stage for a couple of years, to Grace Slick in the 60's when Jefferson Airplane got big and to Stevie Nicks in Fleetwood Mac in the 70's. One can always notice a suble change to their voices but never enough to harm their extraordinary talent. Anyway, Brian Viglioni and Amanda enraptured us with their oversized theatrical antics and a bunch of great songs; "Coin-Operated Boy" from the first CD to "Modern Moonlight" from "Yes, Virginia" to material from their new CD, "No, Virginia". Amanda even came down to the pit to stroll across slowly as she sang one number on the floor with us. Thrilling! I love their music and lyrics, the way Amanda boldly confronts human sexuality, without flinching, in all it's ambiguity, complications and pleasures. She is both amazingly insightful and very brave!

Thursday night (May 22nd) found me wandering into the Knitting Factory for a show with The Radar Bros. and The Parson Red Heads. After the high profile show at the Wiltern the night before, the sparse crowd and big living room size of the K. Factory felt like the other end of the spectrum at first, but once The Parson Red Heads took the stage I realized the quality of the performance was at the same level as the big show with the Dolls. This band is wonderful and, being almost a year since I've seen them, I can't say they've improved, just that they have always delivered a top quality set no matter where I've seen them and last night was no exception. Except that the new material they performed shows off Evan Way's songwriting gifts are just growing. They performed songs from their whole catalog but I have to say the song introduced as one they've never recorded was a real highlight. Record it soon, please! Don't miss them when they perform for Joe Fielder's "Let's Independent!" next month at Boardner's, Hollywood.
Next up was The Radar Bros. who really had the crowd with them as they wandered through a set of their lovely, laid back gems. I really like their style and easy stage manner. It was similar to the set they played at Spaceland's 13th Anniversary, but since that set made me a lifetime fan, it was just what I wanted.


1 comment:

Ruth said...

Brad! It was great to meet you Wednesday at the Dresden Dolls! I've enjoyed reading your reviews... can't believe the number of shows you get to! Maybe we'll meet up at another one someday!