Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Upcoming Shows - Late Summer

So we had an earthquake today in Los Angeles. The first in a long, long time...but it's good to get the reminder, every once in a while, since there seems to have been no damage or injuries. The building I was in rocked and rolled real good.

August will get very busy with a lot more shows than I've listed here, but gotta start somewhere.

Monday August 4 I have a ticket to see Amanda Palmer solo at the Troubadour. As one half of The Dresden Dolls I've been lucky enough to see her four times before and it's never less than completely riveting. Beginning her career as a street performance artist (a heritage kind of shared with Frank Fairfield) she's used to delivering under any circumstances and it does tend to make an artist fearless. I first learned of them nearly three years ago from their music video for "Girl Anachronism" which I thought was outrageous, over the top, punky, grandly theatrical, and funny as hell. But I also thought they must be so extreme, I could never see them as a favorite band. Little did I realize the scope of Amanda Palmer's and Brian Viglione's talent until I dropped into the Virgin store on Hollywood Blvd. on April 19, 2006, the day after the CD Yes, Virginia was released for a live in-store set. They blew me away, so anyway, I'll look forward to what Amanda has to offer as a solo performer.

Hope I get home in time that night to catch Fleet Foxes on The David Letterman Show around 12:20AM.

Also already have a ticket for Film School and The Pity Party at Spaceland on Wednesday, August 6. What a great bill! Film School have really been playing a lot shows, doing a lot of touring and getting noticed this summer (see The New York Times) and they really deserve it. Anxious to see these old friends again. The Pity Party I haven't seen in a while, but they never disappoint. This show is sponsored by Indie 103/Club NME.

Thursday, August 7 I'm seeing Amnion, who I haven't seen in the longest time, open for Darker My Love at the Troubadour. There's been a lot of buzz around Darker My Love lately, so I'll look forward to that. But Amnion haven't played lately so I can't wait to hear some of their new material as well as their (already) classics. Can't recommend this stunning band highly enough!

Saturday, August 9 Gliss play at Boardner's in Hollywood. This band blends spacey, sparkling washes of jangly guitar with breathy vocals creating an altered-state trance. I've seen them four times before but not since last year, so I look forward to hearing some new material from one of my favorite unsung local bands. Why more people don't know about them escapes me.

Chairlift is a band I met when they opened for Everest and Two Sheds at the Silverlake Lounge on July 12, 2007. They perform a sort of perfect sounding indie/pop rock, very catchy, witty lyrics and with really strong musicianship and voices. They're opening for Ariel Pink at the Echo on Tuesday, August 12. It was so refreshing, when I talked to them last year that, coming from Brooklyn, they had none of that resentment or rancor towards the Silver Lake scene that other out-of-town bands display. Maybe it's because Brooklyn is currently such a hotbed of musical creativity (so many great bands) they don't need to envy the Los Angeles Indie scene, so Chairlift seemed genuinely interested in what local bands I liked and would recommend, and asked all sorts of questions about local clubs. I liked them a lot and their whole attitude. Come out and meet them. Also their new material up on their myspace page is great!

Ordinarily events like Sunset Junction would have me resting comfortably at home the night before, conserving energy. But when a band like Thailand plays Pehrspace on Friday, August 22, I have no choice. They made such an impression on me when I saw them at the Silverlake Lounge June 25 and I'm so into the new EP that I have to be there. They have such solid songwriting skills that I really look forward to a full CD from them.

Sunset Junction is on Saturday, August 23 and Sunday, August 24 this year and if the last two years are any indication, this will be one of my favorite events of the year. Maybe I'm lucky I never attended before 2006 because I never knew it as a free event (I can understand long-time local's resentment) but, to me, it's worth every penny, just for the experience. It has to be one of the most pleasant, friendly street events I've ever attended.

Two years ago it featured bands like Great Northern, Monsters Are Waiting, Lavender Diamond and the Eels, last year it was Division Day, The Pity Party, The Parson Red Heads, The Broken West, Sea Wolf and Autolux.

This years Saturday lineup is the one I won't leave: Radars To The Sky, Happy Hollows, Castledoor, Bodies of Water are all local bands I love and wouldn't miss. But when you add Menomena and Broken Social Scene to the bill it becomes a can't miss.

Menomena completely blew my mind when I saw them at the Troubadour on June 12, 2007. This is one of those bands, like Arcade Fire, Beirut, Andrew Bird, Grizzly Bear, or Calexico, or Elbow, etc, etc, etc that just perform at a different level than most bands. There's only three of them, but they are each such multi-multi-instrumentalists they are often holding and playing more than one instrument at a time. It has to be seen to be believed. Their CD is great, but doesn't quite capture the genuis of their live show. And the night I saw them, one of them was so sick with the flu he almost passed out, mid-song, at one point...and it didn't affect the show at all!

Another band that seems to be at that other level is Broken Social Scene and no matter which conglomeration of artists Kevin Drew brings to town this time, I love this band live. It's always a wonderful celebration of music! And that's what Sunset Junctions is, so it is a perfect fit of band and event.


Monday, July 28, 2008

What Brad Thinks, Reads and Writes

Thursday night (July 31) is rife with competing shows. I'm going to try to get over to The Scene in Glendale to see Castledoor and The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra and O'Pioneers. If that fails, I can always see The Parson Red Heads with Grand Ole Party at The Echo or The Health Club at the Echo Curio or Imaad Wasif and The 2-Part Beast at The Smell. What a choice!

Actually I was hoping to figure a way to get to Costa Mesa on Thursday to see Pinback at the Samueli Theatre, but since I'm planning a trip to visit family back in Boston in October and they're playing at The Paradise on October 5th, I can coordinate my trip around that Boston Pinback show. And I haven't been inside The Paradise in thirty years, June 1978 actually, to see Laura Nyro, two months before I moved out to Los Angeles forever.

Sorry to miss Radars To The Sky at Spaceland last Friday (July 25). I was all set to leave the house when my bathroom sink sprung a leak leaving me most unhappy. Travis at Web In Front gave it a great review and since I'm not going to be able to see them open for The Airborme Toxic Event at the El Rey I wanted to catch them here. At least they'll be playing at Sunset Junction which is only a month away.

Speaking of The Airborne Toxic Event, try to catch Mouse's columns at Classical Geek Theatre on his travels with the band through the Pacific Northwest. It's terrific reading and I especially like when he and Mikel were driving together, introducing each other to music each thought the other may not have heard. I love details like that and , yes, The National is a great band. Also great is the discussion they had with a woman who was trying to minimize the L.A./Silver Lake/East Side Scene. I understand outsiders suspicions that anything that positive can happen in jaded L.A. in the jaded 21st Century. But, there you go.
I've even, occasionally, seen it in some bands that are not local, when they play Spaceland or The Echo with a chip on their shoulder. Other bands seem to enjoy it and I can't even remember how many times in the last couple of years I've heard bands say how surprised they are by how terrific the Los Angeles audience can be. And I don't believe all of them are trying to blow smoke up our collective asses. Some of it has gotta be genuine.

Finally, congratulations on more local bands breaking out. The Happy Hollows opening for Deerhoof at the Avalon on October 4 and The Parson Red Heads opening for Everest on their August West Coast tour. Great exposure for two wonderful bands.

People have asked me to post upcoming shows I'm planning on seeing, or already have tickets to see. I'll try to put that together tomorrow, but now that I have a home computer, I'm going to try to post as close to every day as I can.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Conversation with Frank Fairfield

Saturday night (July 26), Spaceland had added Frank Fairfield to the Howlin' Rain/Crystal Antlers bill, and since he was the opening act I decided I couldn't miss the privilege of seeing this amazing guy for a second time.

I arrived at Spaceland way too early, which always feels a little awkward when only 5 people are there. Except that this time it gave me to opportunity to sit with Frank for a while and chat.

I was so curious about his influences and how long he'd been listening to this music. He said he's been a fan of early 20th century blues/folk since about the age of 17 when he was first introduced to it and has since amassed, what I understand is, a pretty huge collection of rare and authentic 78's. Much of the music comes from the Deep South and the Memphis area and was recorded by tiny local record labels. I couldn't help but compare it to the spirit that, today, has independent musicians seizing control of their product from the vast conglomerates, except that those old 78's were barely distributed, where today the internet gets the music to the people.
Frank reeled off names of musicians, some vaguely familiar, some not at all and I confessed my ignorance of much early music and told him he provides a gateway for me to learn more. Me and the whole audience. He also has a history of busking in the streets, singing for the people of the streets. His is a story of affirmation and overcoming obstacles.

He took the stage around 9:40 and the crowd had grown to a small, intimate gathering, and Frank Fairfield blew everyone's mind. People stop, midstep, mouths open, staring intently at this artist bowing away on his fiddle. And that voice, so full of passion and raw emotion.

Again he picked up his banjo for the second number and the blurring fingers, the incredible sound and the rhythm of his movements (his feet provide the only percussion) all became a transfixing experience. You begin to wonder what century you're in. Such intense concentration from a performer demands equal concentration from the audience...and he got it!

He sang some of the same songs as last Sunday at the Echoplex, and some different ones. I was especially pleased to hear a 'true-to-the-source' version of "Hesitation Blues", as that's always been one of my favorite songs by the great band Hot Tuna. But Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady do a rocking blues version that I love, but here I felt I was hearing the original version, once removed.

He ended with "Old Paint", an old western song, which was the song his bow strings broke during at he Echoplex, so I wasn't sure I'd heard the whole thing before, but it's a beaut! This was a stunning set by a gifted artist.

Frank also said he is recording a couple of songs for a 7" single, hopefully to be completed in time to be available for his Fall cross-country tour opening for the Fleet Foxes. I really enjoyed my talk with him and it made the evening even more memorable.

I stayed for Crystal Antlers set. They are a ferociously energetic garage/punk rock ensemble who pleased the large crowd assembled. Led by a roaring lead singer and including a hyper-kinetic percussionist on bongos and cymbals. I enjoyed their set and was bouncing right along.

This is a very hectic weekend for some reason, so I couldn't stay for Howlin' Rain, but I will catch up with them somewhere soon.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Two Remarkable Concerts in One Night

Wednesday night (July 23) I was lucky enough to have a ticket to Tangier to see Inara George and Van Dyke Parks at the second of two sold out shows they performed here over the last two weeks. Arriving well before the appointed start time of 8 PM I was ushered into the first dining room where people were dining on what looked like very elegant food. Were it not for the instruments and sound equipment set up in the corner I would have sworn I was in the wrong place. Every time I've been to Tangier it was in the back room, but when Van Dyke Parks walked by and said "Hi, how are you" to me, I knew this was the place and I was on another planet. I've seen the guy performing with (and arranging) Joanna Newsom and her magical brand of hypnosis, but besides that, he's just a legend, so I felt pretty humble.

The room really got filled up by the time Inara took the stage. Van Dyke Parks got things started by playing a lovely overture on the piano, accompanied by Joe Carnes on bass violin and the equally talented Grant Geissman on, I believe, the mandolin. Ms. George introduced a bunch of new songs from her forthcoming release, recorded with Van Dyke and featuring his arrangements. Inara is such an enchantress; her personal style, stage presence and manner all meld perfectly into the easy style of her singing and the subject of her lyrics. The sunny, breezy sound of the music contrasts nicely with the clear-eyed, no nonsense approach to lyric writing. Like a contemporary Astrud Gilberto, she makes you feel like your on a beach somewhere sipping a pina colada or in a cafe in Paris. Superb orchestrations made the mood more cabaret-style than rock show, which was lovely.

The informality of the setting added an extra dose of atmosphere as Hyperion traffic flowed by the window reminding us that so much music is flooding this city now that they have to tuck shows into the corners of dining rooms. After a 15 minute intermission, Van Dyke played an entr'acte before Inara sang another set of songs from the CD The Invitation to be released August 12 and this new material is terrific. It's like a mix of '60's jazz/pop, orchestral and chamber pop with a little Kurt Weill and the more free-form Joni Mitchell thrown in.

My mood was somewhat elevated anyway because earlier in the day I'd learned The Stevenson Ranch Davidians were playing at 11 PM at the Three of Clubs on Vine St. for free, and if my energy held out, I'd be able to catch them on my way home from Tangier. Well this worked out perfectly. I walked down to Santa Monica Blvd. and caught the bus to Vine and walked into the club 5 minutes before the band went on.

The Three of Clubs is a small venue about the size of the Viper Room, but with a far less dilapidated appearance. It was very dark, but it almost looked posh (comparatively speaking) with a comfortable table/chair arrangement around the edges of the room. Taking a seat, I chatted with the fellow next to me who'd never heard this band, and, (I'm so comfortable wth this opinion) I confidently told him if he likes Brian Jonestown Massacre he'd love this band. After the first song I could tell he agreed. Since first seeing them at the Echo July 3 I haven't stopped listening to their CD, so this time I'd be a lot more familiar with their music.

Not only did The Stevenson Ranch Davidians not disappoint me, they blew my mind all over again! Song after song seduces you and when they build up to such gorgeous crescendos of pure beauty, I just melt. I can't believe it takes only 4 people to create their massive sound . Their music has such a sparkling quality and such memorable melodies, I find it's still playing in my head long after I've gone home. That night sitting there, I couldn't help feeling like some bacchanalian, feasting off the banquet table. I'd seen some light jazz/pop by the stunning Inara, taken a nice stroll through Hollywood in the dead of night (really 11 PM) then seen some super-solid rock by a superb band. I was satiated from a very rich head feeding.

By the way, if you get the chance, you must check out Classical Geek Theatre to read Mouse's blog while he's touring with The Airborne Toxic Event this weekend in the Pacific Northwest. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, this guy can write! It's smart, witty, informative, has some terrific photos and, sometimes, it's just laugh-out-loud funny.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Frank Fairfield and A Hawk and A Handsaw at the Echoplex

Coming home from the show at the Echoplex Sunday night (July 20) I had the same feeling of rich reward that comes from time spent in an art museum. All the senses were fed... the head, the heart and the soul.

I, frankly, wasn't surprised by the small turnout at this show with the competition all over town from Feist and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings at the Bowl, Jesus and Mary Chain at the Gibson and Eleni Mandell at Tangier, not to mention the fabulous Flying Tourbillon Orchestra at Little Radio's Summer Camp.

The Echoplex can be really comfortable with just a small gathering of serious fans and this was one of the best experiences I've had in this place (and there have been many others). You could wander about in the pitch-black, cavernous middle space of the club and go to the bar, sit a while and still meander right up to the stage at any point of the evening. Though everyone was clustered up at center stage for A Hawk and a Handsaw.

I've already posted about Frank Fairfield, but just to reiterate, he's the interpreter of traditional folk/blues americana of the early twentieth century who opened for Fleet Foxes at the Echo on June 28. Unfortunately I missed his set that night, but it was all anybody was talking about when I got inside. Even Robin Pecknold mentioned it a few times during Fleet Foxes set, explaining how Frank just rode his bike over from Glendale with a banjo, a fiddle and a guitar on his back, got up on stage and recreated a perfect, authentic, original roots music to a stunned crowd.

Robin wrote me last week that Frank has signed on to accompany them on their upcoming Sept. Oct. cross-country tour and he couldn't be happier to get to introduce this incredible talent to the rest of the country. To see him perform is to understand why!

Frank Fairfield just saunters out on stage, looking vaguely like some Dorothea Lang portrait from the dust bowl, come to life. He sits in a chair, puts his fiddle across one knee and begins bowing insanely, like a man possessed. Just as you become mesmerized by the bowing and the sound, the bow strings snap and the spell breaks. He quietly states, "Oh Wow, I broke the strings", gets up, gets another fiddle and bow, sits back down, begins again, and BANG...you're right in his spell again.

He performed a range of old traditional folk, railroad songs and blues numbers like "The Cigarette Blues" in a voice that seemed so 'of another era', you'd swear you could hear scratches of an old 78 in the background.
I haven't really seen a lot of banjo players live in my life, but if this guy isn't one of the best, I would fall down dead if I ever saw a better one. Hypnotic doesn't even come close to describing what I felt watching his fingers blur into complete abstraction, so rapid was his picking. It lifted you right off the floor!

I introduced myself to him before his set and he said he hoped I wouldn't be disappointed. Afterwards I could only burble to him something like, "great, amazing, terrific, wonderful". I must have looked like a happy idiot. Wait a minute, that's exactly how the Echo audience looked that night in June.

Benjamin Wetherill was next up, in the unenviable position of having to follow Mr. Fairfield, but playing a set so different he was able to stand on his own as a singer/songwriter. It was easy, in the context of the other two performances, to see him as a more standard folk singer, with just his lilting, ultra-rapid vibrato singing and a guitar. But after listening to some recorded selections on his myspace page where he's augmented by clarinets, oboes, horns and things, it has much more in common with the Balkan-style frenzy whipped up by A Hawk and A Handsaw. With only a guitar, I'm afraid I didn't pay close enough attention, but I couldn't help but notice his remarkable voice. It's quite an expressive instrument and he flexes it with confidence and ease. I was also surprised to read he is from England as there was no trace of a detectable accent in his singing.

The set provided a great audio resting point between the vivid voyage to the past provided by Frank Fairfield and the carnivalesque vibrancy of A Hawk and A Handsaw, who came on stage next. The audience gathered at the front of the stage as four truly gifted artists took their places. I don't know for certain, but I think they all play with Beirut, they certainly all looked familiar. Leader of the band is Jeremy Barnes, who plays percussion in Beirut and here plays the accordion, while his feet handle the percussion. He is most ably assisted by Heather Trost, who is a stunning violin virtuoso who also sings occasional harmony. Ross Condon (who I feel certain is the brother of Beirut frontman Zack Condon) plays mandolin, violin/fiddle and clarinet. He not only resembles his brother, but appears to have the same instrumental proficiency. The fourth member, who's name I don't know yet, is an extraordinary trumpet player (who also plays violin and sang his own composition as the first encore selection). I am such a huge fan of Beirut that they could have been a carbon copy and I would have loved it, but instead, they adhere much more closely to authentic Balkan/gypsy music, the result being a facinating offshoot of Beirut that stands comfortably on its own. It's like being at a great eastern European wedding reception, only better... there's no wedding! The audience was entranced and demanded encores.

There seems to be no limit anymore on what influences can be comfortably fit under the umbrella of indie-rock. Classical, ethnic, world music, jazz, blues, folk, old rock, psychedelic rock, new rock, every rock. Who knows what's next. That's what makes a concert like this one so mind-expanding.
Great night!


Saturday, July 19, 2008

For Kevin Bronson

It's hard to believe there could have been a better line-up of music Friday night (July 18) in Los Angeles, in spite of competition from the likes of Wolf Parade, Darker My Love, Xu Xu Fang, Hearts of Palm UK.
The Movies, Hocus Pocus (Dios) and Earlimart played to an ever expanding crowd till Spaceland was almost bursting at the seams.

The Movies started things out with singer Tim James seated on a stool (but no less hyper-active) growling out his deep baritone as the rest of the band swirls around him. They are such an audience favorite, they seem to feed on each other. Tim ups the energy, the crowd ups its response, and so it goes from one audience favorite to another. He delivered an impassioned set of songs dedicated to Kevin Bronson, who, in a lunatic decision by the L. A. Times, has been let go in a staff purge that occured there this week. Lunatic because his was often the only voice in the mainstream media to champion the growing local music scene. And now, with the scene exploding, it seems particularly wrong-headed. Kevin was the man of the hour as friends, like Travis Woods of Web in Front, fans and bands gathered round to wish him well.

Bumped into Russell Pollard of Everest between sets, back from their 7 week European tour which sounds like it was really awesome. I'm sure it will come to be known as their First Triumphant European Tour. Great to have them back.

Hunter Costeau and Ethan Skoczylas represented The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra's regular appearance to support all things local. Same with Michael Orendy of Frankel...and on and on, too many to mention, or even recognize!

The next band called themselves Hocus Pocus, but bore a striking resemblance to Dios (or Dios Malos in 2007). In fact it was Dios and they took the audience on that wild ride of unbroken songs I described at their Troubadour show on May 18. I was happy to go along again. They play such proficient classic sounding rock and roll it would have fit quite naturally into the music I was enjoying around, say, 1971. Great guitar, keyboards, vocals and harmonies with magnificent drumming all add up to a quintessential rock show. And they do mostly new material that nobody knows and the audience treats them like old favorites, swaying right along. For a band that's been through all they've been through these last 2 years, they always deliver a highly professional, polished set of top quality music.

Spaceland seemed like a writhing mass of people as Earlimart took their turn for the first night of their 3 week cross-country tour. Aaron Espinoza and Ariana Murray played a range of songs spanning their entire career featuring some of the best off their new "Hymn and Her" CD, including "Song For" and "Before It Gets Better". Just Aaron, Ariana and a drummer and some pre-recorded backings and they reproduce their rich, dense, lush sound with apparent ease. I thought Aaron sounded particularly strong and assured vocally, with Ariana's icy-smooth voice providing perfect balance. The sheer beauty of it transports you to a trance-like state. The crowd cheered each song as they brought to a close a magnificent night of music and a fitting tribute to Mr. Bronson.

I am so looking forward to seeing Frank Fairfield open for A Hawk and A Handsaw at the Echoplex on Sunday (July 20). I have the feeling it's going to be a special show and I've never even seen either band, but I would highly recommend attending. Frank Fairfield will be opening for Fleet Foxes when they swing through town on their Sept. Oct. U.S. tour so here's a chance to get ahead of the curve.

By the way, Fleet Foxes are set to appear on David Letterman on Monday, August 4. Set your VCR's. This band will be very big, very fast.

Wednesday night (July 23) is Inara George and Van Dyke Parks at Tangier. I expect memorable. (Learned on Mon. July 21, that it's sold out!)


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Silverlake Lounge and "Let's Independent!"

Monday night (July 14) was another of those shows where you feel as if this whole music scene is about to explode. I arrived in time to hear most of the set by I Make This Sound. I've seen them before and I like their indie-friendly, pop music. Some great harmonizing by the two lead singers around tightly constructed melodies

People started to pack in when Fol Chen took the stage delivering one of the best sets I've yet seen from them. This super-talented team of players just gets better and better, and the joy they obviously get from playing is infectious and irresistable. The festive atmosphere intensifies as the band raises the excitement factor with each song. Switching instruments and vocal duties, sometimes all five are singing at once, they trade places with ease as each player seems a multi-instrumentalist. Their sets are always characterized by sublime moments that make you stand back and say, "it just doesn't get any better than this!". They reached that point again Monday.

When Princeton started their set the crowd was overflowing into the street and totally pumped up. Princeton gets a different audience, like one that comes from more mainstream radio airplay. Kind of clean-cut collegiate types but an attentive admiring crowd. Many locals appeared to be looking around wondering, "who are all these people?". And this was a Monday night!

The audience enthusiastically cheered the 21st century Kinks-like rock. And they play it really well. Terrific lead singing from twins Jesse and Matt Kivel. Like their inspiration they combine sharp, witty lyrics with quirky melodies and some songs feel barely two minutes long.

All in all, a pretty electrifying evening with lots of great bands and bloggers in attendance.

Tuesday's "Let's Independent!" installment from Radio Free Silver Lake was a chance to catch three terrific and different sounding bands in that great setting, as Cocteau's "La Belle et la Bete" played on the wall above us (with Japanese subtitles).

The Black Kites played really pretty indie-rock with great vocal and keyboard work by Evelyn Reyes. The band of four, singer/guitarist Alan Petherick, bass player Nikki Nevlin and drummer Marcel Feldmar delivered a really tight set of tunes you couldn't help but bounce or sway to.

Second up was Exit Music who played a real diffused, atmospheric rock - kind of reminded me of Xu Xu Fang crossed with Broken Social Scene. Lead singer, Aleksa Palladino, begins in hushed tone, just coming up through the bottom of the music, finally asserting herself and the song coalesced around her vocal. Nice abstract stuff. Liked the use of the bow on the guitar by Devon Church, too.

Boardner's was pretty packed by now. One of the larger crowds I've seen there in some time and Joe Fielder can be proud so many showed up and were more than willing to pay the nominal admission. And once again it was a beautifully organized event.

I'd seen The Black Pine a couple of years ago at the Echo, but it was also the night I first saw The Parson Red Heads. They dominated the evening, so strongly with their set , that I'm not sure if The Black Pine played before or after but I wasn't paying attention, obviously, because this is an impressive band. It was great to see how good they are live because I've been listening to their recorded work lately and really enjoying it. Some gorgeous, droney-rock, with beautiful violin work. The band of six play a variety of instruments well, loved the drumming. I must get my hands on their CD.

Another great local music night.

I've added a Sunday night concert to my schedule (July 20) as it's A Hawk and a Hacksaw at the Echoplex and I'm just learning about this band led by Jeremy Barnes, percussionist with Beirut. This band plays a similar brand of Balkan-influenced, gypsy-instrumental music and it's brilliant and inventive. I can't wait to see it live. The reason I'm going is because Frank Fairfield is the opening act and he opened for Fleet Foxes the night they played the Echo in June but I got there only in time to see the stunned faces of the audience and to hear Robin Pecknold go on and on about him during Fleet Foxes' set. Naturally that sparked my curiosity and I've since heard from Robin that he's going to open for their September U.S. tour. Check out his myspace page to hear something amazing.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Upcoming Shows thru July 18

This looks like it's going to be a pretty good week, show-wise, and just wanted to recommend a few.

Today (July 12) is the Arts District Downtown Music Festival going on at the corner of 5th St. and S. Hewitt St. beginning around 2 and going till 8. Bands include Death To Anders, Radars to the Sky, The Changos and others and it's free.

Monday's free residency for Princeton at the Silverlake Lounge provides another chance to see the phenomenal Fol Chen create their special magic and other great local acts, Willoughby and I Make This Sound. This show usually gets going around 9 or 9:30.

Tuesday is this months installment of "Let's Independent!" at Boardner's which I always look forward to, not just for the music but the great audience this Radio Free Silver Lake event always gathers. I listened to myspace samples of each act and it looks like Joe Fielder has come up with 3 winners again. The Black Pine, Exit Music and The Black Kites are the band names and you should check them out. The event is now $6. (next to nothing) and Dewar's drinks are $3. and it's always worth every penny.

Wednesday is part of Inara George's run at Tangier, and with or without her band, The Bird and The Bee, she is always worth seeing. Collaborating with Van Dyke Parks, who helped create her forthcoming album, and Grant Geissman on guitar and Joe Karnes on bass, Inara will perform, with Parks on piano, material from the new album. Should be a really lovely evening. Last minute note: Looks like this week's advance tickets are sold out, but they're also performing next Wednesday, July 25 and advance tickets are available. I just got one.

Then comes Friday night and Earlimart at Spaceland. Based on their last show at Amoeba (July 8), this should be a terrific show, highlighted by lots of new material. Also appearing will be Hocus Pocus (featuring members of Dios, who are a favorite California band) and the local legends, The Movies. I feel certain this will be a remarkable show and it's on a Friday night!
And, just a note, I can't stop playing "Hymn and Her". Is it Earlimart's best yet?


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Retribution Gospel Choir, Earlimart at Amoeba, Fleet Foxes first video

aThe Retribution Gospel Choir played the Troubadour Monday night (July 7) and I didn't even know until late in the day that I would attend. I am so glad I did. Since I've been a big Low fan for a while now, it would seem natural to go to this show as Alan Sparhawk is allowed to cut loose and really rock with his wonderful band in this side project. He's joined by Steve Garrington on bass and the very talented drummer, Eric Pollard, who also sings beautiful harmonies. Apparently, they're not too well known yet, as there was only a small crowd on hand. Sometimes this can make a concert seem sad, but this time it was perfect, giving the set a lovely, intimate feeling. So comfortable, in fact, it felt like we were in Alan's living room listening to a rehearsal.

They play a collection of original songs interspersed with some reworked Low numbers. Alan's singing is strong and beautiful...sometimes he reminds me of Gruff Rhys' smooth vocal work in Super Furry Animals and the harmonies provided by Mr. Pollard knock me out. How does one sing so finely while drumming away, which I see a lot lately! Especially gorgeous was "They Knew You Well" with it's stunning descending vocals. Steve Garrington provided the steady bass work, anchoring each song. Interesting to see how the more extreme the songs, the more diffused the atmosphere, Alan's playing only becomes more careful and delicate, making the most bombastic sounds lighter than air. Pick up their self-titled CD if you can. It's great!

Adding to the evening for me was the chance to catch up with Mike Griffin of Tandemore, who I haven't seen in ages, since he was one of the first musicians to befriend me when I began this musical odyssey, almost three years ago. He said there's new Tandemoro music ready for release. Yea!

Tuesday (July 8) was Earlimart's in-store at Amoeba celebrating the release of "Hymn and Her", and it was well attended. Hard to believe this Los Angeles institution hasn't done Amoeba before but they made up for with it with a sparkling set by Aaron Espinoza and Ariana Murray and a drummer. What a wise move to open and close with less familiar songs from the pre-"Treble and Tremble" era which eased you in and then back out of some wonderful numbers from "Hymn and Her" including "Face Down in the Right Town", "Song For", "Before It Gets Better" and "Cigarettes and Kerosene". "Happy Alone" represented CD "Mentor Tormentor" and typical Earlimart between-song-atmosphere was provided by crickets and Chopin.

I had out-of-town relatives with me to whom I was anxious to show what's going on in this town musically (independent-wise) and Earlimart provided the better than perfect example. The great audience provided another...musicians, fans, bloggers, friends all demonstrating the great support and sense of community that is thriving here right now.

So sorry to have missed the first "My Little Underground" event hosted by Web In Front and Classical Geek Theatre at Bordello later that night. I hear it was an amazing show and I wanted to support these guys. I won't miss the next one!

On a side note, Fleet Foxes introduced their first music video, available for viewing on their myspace page or at Web in Front . It's for the song "White Winter Hymnal" and is directed by Robin Pecknold's brother, Sean Pecknold. It's a beautiful piece of stop-motion animation, also designed by Sean, which has stunning images of seasonal changes as witnessed by a bunch of long-haired, bearded men of indeterminate age, ruefully witnessing the passage of time. I found it very moving and thought the character expressions perticularly remarkable and meaningful, subtly rendered. Special mention to the little clothes the characters wear, the dark and mysterious lighting design, and those dancing mushrooms. Oh, and by the way, the song is brilliant, too.


Monday, July 7, 2008

Backstory and Earlimart "Hymn and Her" CD review

I first learned of Earlimart in 2005. It was August that year I rediscovered rock (indie-rock specifically) and developed such a voracious, unquenchable need to discover more of this incredible new music. Each band I learned about kept opening doors to other bands, and, not being a radio listener (I'm more of a full album listener, not a random sampler), I turned to music videos which I kept seeing on TV shows like "Refused TV" (What happened to this extraordinary show and it's swearing robot!) and "Subterranean" on MTV2. That was how I learned about music all through 2005 and 2006. I just kept video taping all the videos I saw that I liked and ended up with a list of at least 100 bands I found intriguing and about 30 hours of music videos. It seemed like even the smallest band could make a music video if they had access to a cell phone camera, and I saw some amazing, inventive filmmaking.

Now it seems corporate America has put a stop to it, as all windows of access for these videos seem to be presently slammed shut. Even "Subterranean" and "The Dive" have vanished from MTV2 and FUSE-TV. Are the major record labels squawking again?!

The first video I saw was "Rebellion" by Arcade Fire, and within three minutes, my life had changed and my future direction took a radical turn. It was that sudden. I saw people...artists, really...singing, playing musical instruments (a great variety of musical instruments), heard compositionally complex songwriting with lyrics that had deep meaning. I was flabbergasted! Certain as I was that rock was a long dead art form.

Each video opened a new pandoras box for me and I eagerly looked forward to 11 o'clock each Monday night when "Refused TV" was on Public Access. Among the videos I taped was "Heaven Adores You" by Earlimart. Right away I knew I was hearing a song I would regard as an all time rock and roll classic. Apart from being incredibly moving, it really rocked! The video is just a series of snapshots of various band members layed over each other over and over and I was hypnotized, not only by the song, but by the people in the photos. They looked like real people, not the heavily artificial creatures I' d been seeing stalking the earth for the last 20 years, but genuine human beings I could relate to. Their music was telling me what's inside these people. I remember thinking at the time how great it would be to actually meet people like this. Two years later and I number many of them among my friends. Life can be very amazing.

Earlimart released their new CD "Hymn and Her" (Major Domo) last Tuesday (July 1) and I wouldn't ordinarily write anything about it so soon. I think,as a rule, I'd rather let an album work its way into my psyche before reviewing it. But this album has already made an impression.

Where "Treble and Tremble" dealt with loss and coming to terms with the anger, blame, hoplessness and ultimate power of forgivness, it remains, all these years after it's release, moving, honest, and deeply personal. The raw anger in a song like "Broke the Furniture" is positively catharcic.

"Mentor Tormentor" is a giant, enthralling achievement, that I still play all the time even a year after it came out. Many songs have a grand symphonic sweep yet retain that core Earlimart song style. It was such fun to see them all those times last year touring behind this CD with the String Dream Team. This album has songs of reason and acceptance (to a degree) that I love including "Answers and Questions", "Nevermind the Phonecalls" and "700>100". I think Aaron Espinoza is pretty good at looking life in the eyes and calling it what it is. I admire his ability. The album also introduced Ariana Murray as a songwriter of considerable skill, both musically and lyrically with "Happy Alone".

On "Hymn and Her", Aaron and Ari decided to write quickly and record quickly in contrast to the long process involved on "Mentor Tormentor" and the results are astonishing. Beginning with "Song For" which I've heard live a few times, recorded it comes off as a perfect Earlimart song. "Face Down in the Right Town" features a beautiful vocal performance by Aaron, straightforward lyrics and a haunting harmony. "Before it Gets Better" is Ariana'a first contribution and, I think, it's one of the best Earlimart songs ever. I love the rueful, matter-of-fact lyrics and the gorgeous counterpointal composition. She seems to establish a melody then drop in her main theme over, under and around it. Another of her songs is "Time For Yourself" which is a rumination on solitude and features beautiful piano work. "Cigarettes and Kerosese" is a real rocker about the combustibility of youthful misbehavior that should get you up and dancing around your room (do I hear a hint of Bollywood?). "Teeth" and "Town Where You Belong" are two more standouts.

The artwork is simple and appropriate and the production is perfection, right up to Aaron's usual standards, with inestimable support from Andrew Lynch. Finally, there's a resolution and peace in this CD that indicates, if not the end of a troubling journey, at least the reaching of a comfortable (temporary?) resting place (within the context of the larger journey). I trust I make myself obscure. Plainly put, I think this is an extraordinary work of art.


Saturday, July 5, 2008

Release the Tourbillons!

Thursday night (July 3) was a three-in-one home run at the CD launch party for The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra at the Echo (probably four if I had been able to stay for the last band). Terrific line up sponsored by L.A. Underground, Radio Free Silver Lake and Web In Front began with Fol Chen firing up the audience with their unique, endlessly genre-bending program effortlessly inducing the audience to a state of jaw-dropped attention. I love the new songs they keep doing, which spin them off into even other genres. I'm baffled that anyone could stand still while they played. They just dig right into your bones and make you move. Adam sometimes seems as much magician as musician with the spell he can weave...I feel privileged to watch. And they're all such great singers, I love their little acappella parts. Keeping up with all the sudden shifts in their music makes it challenging and exciting to me. The only other band I can think to compare them to is Starlight Mints with their shape-shifting musical style. They announced an upcoming CD release in January which will be highly anticipated.

I'd heard the name Stevenson Ranch Dividians for a while now and kind of loved the name...and all it's implications, but had just been too lazy to research on myspace or to listen to them at all. So when they started up and I heard that sound, I became instantly transfixed. The guitars, the voice, that rhythm...I thought, "Oh my god, it's Brian Jonestown Massacre, but without the face-kicking!" Yet it was different, too. It had it's own style and sound, it sounded new and different. The beautiful, dreamy, languid motion of the music was echoed by the movement of the crowd in response and enhanced by Dwayne Seagraves remarkable vocals. Each song sounded like a fully formed rock and roll classic. Incredible! Clear, straightforward, unpretentious lyrics make each song interesting.. All through this I observed dazed audience members leaning forward, listening intently, as if hanging on every note, eyes wide as saucers, mouthing the giant word "WOW!" to each other. This band was making an impression and that's a really great moment to witness. O.K., their music reminded me, among a lot of things, of a jangly, loopy Lovin' Spoonful, of a Grateful Dead jam, and indebted to, but not a copy of Brian Jonestown Massacre (I even think their second song was a Jonestown cover), but they're just carrying on the tradition of solid rock and roll songwriting into the 21st century. I'm sorry I've missed so many of their local shows but I can promise, I won't miss any more. Also bought their CD and it represents their sound perfectly.

A really good crowd was on hand for The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra, since there's been a bit of media buzz around this show, and the band responded with an uptempo, robust set. The playing sounded more forceful than usual with lots of punch. Performing songs off their new EP "Escapements", their upbeat, pop songs about death and the impossibility of survival (after all, nobody gets out of this alive) warm the heart with their ironic honesty. Coupled with Hunter Costeau's other "I love you, but..."-songs, you get an idea of the band's take on fate. They're either pessimistic optimists or optimistic pessimists... I haven't made up my mind.

I love this band and its individual members and it's great to see the local community so supportive of those who give so much back already. This band is a really choice bunch of human beings. Also, splendid vocals by Hunter and Kelli Noftle...everybody, great job! Congratulation on the CD and it's beautiful artwork. It sounds AMAZING!

Thanks to everyone that makes me feel welcome at these events. It's an honor to be with you.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Tuesday at Spaceland

Tuesday night (July 1) KXLU, Filter Magazine and Classical Geek Theatre presented The Mae Shi at Spaceland with opening bands Light FM and Death To Anders. I arrived just as Light FM went on. I'd seen them a few months ago at Joe's Boardner night but Tuesday they sounded even more impressive. Many familiar songs and a few new ones had the crowd in constant motion. I'll look forward to their new CD and I will definitely see them again.

During the break had a nice talk with Eli of The Monolaters who said they have a show coming up at the Echo on July 16. They are so great live!

Death To Anders went up next and they were ferocious. Tearing through, both favorites from their latest CD "Ficticious Business", and new material, Rob Danson is so much fun to watch as he seems to chew the words out, rolling eyes or raising an eyebrow for emphasis as if it helps his particular enunciation. I don't know when I've seen them better than this. They all played fiercely, great vocals by Nicholas Ceglio on a couple of numbers. Their genre-defying sound, augmented by Charlene Huang's violin for one number, had the audience hanging on every note.

The place was pretty packed by this time, and I had a chance to chat with friends and bloggers: Travis from Web in Front, Joe of Radio Free Silver Lake, one of thea events sponsors, Mouse of Classical Geek Theatre and a Squaregirl (Erica I think she said her name was...sorry, I'm trying). I couldn't help but rave about the new Earlimart CD, "Hymn and Her", which I had just picked up at Amoeba on the way over and listened to on the bus trip. I want to review it but I need to digest it's stunning beauty a little more first!

The Mae Shi... what can one say. You either like their music or you don't, but one thing is for certain, they put it over with an energy, a style and a passion just this side of goofy delirium...no over the other side of it. It was shattering! They spill off the stage into the audience occasionally and even spread a giant sheet out over the crowd which began undulating in time to the boisterous music creating an otherworldly, theatrical image. I can hardly tell their songs apart but like "Run To Your Grave" as a standout.


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Fleet Foxes (Night Two)...and More

Seeing Fleet Foxes at Spaceland on Sunday night (June 29) was a very different experience than the Echo the night before. First of all the crowd seemed more local, and, when I arrived, wrapped around the building. Soon they let ticket holders, of which I was one, into the delightfully cool and not yet crowded club. I wanted to be sure not to miss the opening set by Evan Way, who was encouraged by numerous members of his band, The Parson Red Heads, who were in attendance, including Sam, Brette and Erin and some whose names I have failed to remember. We all planted ourselves near the stage, where I intended to stay all night, to keep my position in the mad rush of Fleet Foxes fans. Running into Robin Pecknold at the back of the club, I had the chance to say hello and tell him how wonderful the Echo show had been and he thanked me for coming twice. He was just as one would expect; courteous, genuine and friendly. It felt like an honor just to shake his hand.

Evan Way took the stage and sang some of his folk compositions I'd never heard before. Very nice, simple acoustic set anchored by his sure, steady vocals and beautiful guitar playing. Sunny, with a touch of melancholy, is how I'd describe his music. His wife, and Parsons drummer, Brette, joined him for two numbers offering pretty harmonies and nice vocal variety. I was particularly pleased with the last song, whose title Evan told me, but I've forgotten, which displayed an impressive vocal discipline and control. It was also a really pretty song. Everyone near the stage was focused in rapt attention. Good job!

The crowd swelled rapidly as Spaceland threw open the doors to as many people as legally allowed. I had staked my ground near the front, maybe three people deep from center stage and wouldn't relent. I had no intention of being all the way in the back like at the Echo. I'd had enough of being a football field away from performers in the '60's and '70's, thank you. Tonight I would really see, up close, how Robin achieves that amazing sound.

The same opening band from the night before, The Duchess and The Duke, set up to play, as I had a nice chat with Erin Way, who kindly shared a little of her and brother Evan's background. I'm always curious what draws a person to music and everyone I meet seems to have a facinating back story. But then, doesn't everyone in L.A. have a back story? It's why we all moved here (us non-natives).

After The Duchess and The Duke played a pleasant set of bluegrassish rock, the place packed, Fleet Foxes took the stage amid screams and cheers and Robin apologized for a sore throat he'd just developed. They launched their fleet of harmonic wonders, playing basically the same set as the night before, which I didn't mind, as they played almost all their songs. Robin sounded just as good as at the Echo, despite having to cough and recover after each number. You could tell he was just this side of the flu, yet his mood still seemed ecstatic at the reception his music elicits from an audience and he couldn't contain the occasional, hopelessly uncontrollable grin that lights up the room. And to be up close in a room that was a good 20 degrees cooler than the Echo, I was overjoyed! This night I was able to enjoy the camaraderie of this band, how much they appear to enjoy each other and sharing this moment in their lives. I wouldn't be surprised to see them playing The Greek or The Hollywood Bowl by this time next year, so the chance to see them these two nights will remain a special memory for me.

I dashed back to Spaceland last night, Monday June 30 for the set by The Happy Hollows who were opening for Afternoons final night of residency. Of course, there was a great crowd to see this band since Sarah Negahdari is one of everybody's favorite people. And with good reason! Her heart appears to be as enormous as her talent. She and Charlie Mahoney and Chris Meanie deliver some of the hottest, rawest, driving rock and roll around. And they make noise beautiful! Few bands can get this out there into noise-rock territory without flopping over into boredom, for me, but this band does it with such style, ability and fearlessness while adhering to a basic song structure and never overindulging...they just floor me. What a gift!

I've seen them a lot, but last night was especially excellent, fueled by a super-loyal following, as they blazed through their set at breakneck speed and left the audience breathless. Spaceland can be an enchanting place!