Saturday, August 30, 2008
This is one of those bands that I just walked into without any idea who they were. This requires a little history. When I first backed into music three years ago, I watched underground videos as much as I could on Refused TV and each week I would get introduced to at least 3 or 4 new bands I didn't know, who were great! At the beginning (we're talking Aug. 2005) I saw videos by Arcade Fire, Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, Caesars, Death Cab For Cutie, Sons and Daughters, Matt Pond PA, The White Stripes, The Dresden Dolls, and more and stated videotaping them to watch over and over. I bought all their CD's, read comments on Amazon and quickly realized something unusual was going on. Music was having a profound effect on people again. Bands were writing with more relevance. Historically, times were (are) in a turmoil and the writers were reflecting that and, boy, do we need help getting through these times. And I couldn't stop listening to music or being attracted to styles I didn't even know I liked. My musical taste has been so reshaped and redefined by all this, I don't even recognize myself anymore.
Sons and Daughters seemed more punky than I should like, but their video for "Dance Me In" is a stunner. Dresden Dolls seemed more theatrical than I like for a rock band, but you can't deny that tidal wave of talent, and seeing them you realize the pose is authentic. It is who they are! The "Girl Anachronism" video freaked me out. And Mewithoutyou. How does one explain why I love this band. The guy is a screamer, and I'm not partial to screamers. But Aaron Weiss is a poet. I love the video for "Paper Hanger". The lyrics alone are exciting and haunting. "I was a basket filled with holes and she was the sand I tried to hold that ran out behind me as I swung in some invisible hand." It's so cryptic and mad, I love it. The guy just seems to ramble on like a street mumbler, but when you hear the words you think, I'd better listen. They're amazing live.
By late fall I realized, living in Los Angeles, that I could go out and see these bands live. And it wouldn't be at arenas or stadiums like the olden days, but medium sized theatres or clubs like the Troubadour where I might even be able to see the band up close. So I saw that Super Furry Animals were coming to the Avalon on November 29, 2005 and I could go. I'd videotaped and watched their terrific video for "Lazer Beam" a bunch, seen wild photos of their live concerts and thought it looked like fun. The people who wrote comments about their CD's on Amazon seemed like intelligent people so I figured the audience could be pretty good. And I loved their CD's: Rings Around the World and Love Kraft. You need to know I hadn't been to a theatre to see a rock band since The B-52's at the Hollywood Paladium in September, 1980(!) so it was a big step. I didn't know if the audience would heckle and ridicule me out of the place.
Obviously it was a life changing experience, because I have gone back to recreate the experience 283 times since then. And here's the amazing part: I have been disappointed by a show, maybe only 6 or 7 times out of all that.
I try not to see bands I know I won't like. And the number of shows I've seen that have left me soaring for days afterwards are far too numerous to try to count. It changes your whole outlook.
This show did that. Of course I got there over an hour before the first band, Caribou, went on, not knowing anything about scheduling, but I just soaked in the wonderful atmosphere inside the Avalon. There was hardly anyone there so I wandered down onto the floor and right up to the stage, realizing, if I staked out a position and held it as the crowd grew, I'd be right down front. That's what happened and I had a great time. I had fun chatting with the other Super Furry fans around me, and when the band went on, I was transfixed. I really felt I'd spent time on some wonderful, alien planet. The lightshow, the staging, the amazing music and Gruff Rhys' incredible voice, all blended into one big psychedelic swirl. I think I went online the next day and bought as many tickets for upcoming shows as I could find.
I was also glad to see how important it was that I had bought three of their CD's and played them to death because I knew nearly every song they played, even the lyrics. I was surprised how much I'd retained. That's a habit I've tried to keep up with, knowing the music before I see them, but with Rogue Wave it was just the opposite. There...I've wound my way back to the subject at hand.
Two weeks after that show I had my second concert encounter, which was rather unexpected and kind of serendipitous. I'm cooking dinner in my kitchen and all of a sudden from out my window I hear a familiar sound. In fact it's Death Cab For Cutie warming up "Soul Meets Body", the hit from their new CD Plans, which I had (I'd loved their video for "The New Year"). I stopped the dinner, slammed on my shoes and took off up the street to where Jimmy Kimmel shoots his outdoor concert segments. I'd always wondered what all that racket I'd heard around 8 of 9 o'clock every few nights was. Theres a chain link fence on the street that borders the north side of the Hollywood High School sports field and you can stand right at it and see the band from, like, the back of a very big theatre. The sound is good, too. So the band performs the hit for the cameras and after the show ends they come back and do 5 or 6 songs for the audience. So. in essence, it's a full mini-concert. And they played all the best tracks from that CD plus "The New Year". It was pretty great. And free. That was December 13, 2005.
A couple of concerts later I was seeing Helio Sequence for my very first trip to Spaceland on January 13, 2006, which, for someone who takes the Sunset bus, is a bit of a trek up Silver Lake Blvd. I didn't really even know where I was going, but I found it. I also discovered a home away from home. I'd never seen the set up with the stage at the opposite end of the room, but this set up was nicely inviting, and, since I still smoked cigarettes at that time, I loved the upstairs lounge.
I had the video of "Everyone Knows Everyone" and liked their sweet sound and pretty melodies. Helio Sequence were great that night and Spaceland freaked me out because you could be four feet from the performers and I had never experienced that before! Also glad I had memorized their latest CD. The opening band was called The King of France and they shocked me with how good they were. They're a terrific New York band singing a kind of sophisicated pop song with sharp lyrics and interesting melodic hooks. I was lured right up to the stage by their set and bought their CD the next day. And I loved Spaceland. No one treated me like the old guy at the back of the room (I didn't dare speak to people yet)... even though I was the old guy at the back of the room.
O.K., here's where the story comes back to the point of all this. I see The King of France are opening for Nada Surf at the Fonda (where I hadn't been yet) on February 22, 2006, so I buy a ticket. I had a video on my tape of music videos of "Always Love" which seemed pleasant and I'd heard another song of theirs, but it wasn't until I saw them that I realized, I don't like them. I won't bring them up again.
After The King of France had performed their set, which had sounded much more dynamic at Spaceland, but I enjoyed enough, I took in the fabulous theatre. The upstairs/outdoor lounge, the smoking area, the balcony. Great Theatre! I went back down just as the second band started and it was Rogue Wave and I was hooked from about the third note. What was this incredible sound. What gorgeous melodies. Faultless singing by, sometimes, all five band members singing at once. It was overwhelming, and I had never heard a note of it before that night.
By this time, that winter, I was beginning to realize that this wasn't about maybe dozens of bands, but about possibly hundreds of bands. Everywhere I turned was another new sound and each band led me to 3 or 4 other bands. It was like this tree growing with all these incredible branches. It was a feast, and I wasn't even close to full. I wondered where all these creative people were coming from. Where had they been hiding? What was causing this great uprising of young creative talent?
What made them take what my generation had left behind in the '60's musically and decide to run with it. They all seem to have their roots in one '60's band or another, and yet, for these new bands, it's all about taking that foundation and creating something altogether new. That's why I admire so many of these great bands. No two of them sound alike and not one of them sound like their mimicking the classic bands. They're altogether originals. Think Arcade Fire, The Airborne Toxic Event, Amnion, Amandine, Arab Strap (defunct), Album Leaf, Afternoons, Andrew Bird. And that's just some of the A's. All totally different. All incredibly talented.
Rogue Wave played a fabulous acoustic set at Hotel Cafe. Zack Rogue is a charming host and he was obviously thrilled to be playing a cozy venue in front of an adoring audience, including his mother. Thursday night was a pretty great night to go out because everyone was high from Obama's speech at the Democratic Convention. When Zack referred to it the place erupted! So it was a receptive audience.
The sold out crowd was treated to an array of songs from their career, including highlights "Bird On the Wire", "10:1", "Publish My Love" and "Love's Last Guarantee" from Descended Like Vultures, the CD I bought the day after I saw them the first time and have listened to about a hundred times, at least. "Ghost", "Lullaby", "Like I Needed", "Lake Michigan" from their latest CD, Asleep At Heaven's Gate were other highlights, as was the cover of Neil Young's After The Goldrush song "Birds", done beautifully. Bands cover that album so much, and I find it so gratifying to know I saw Neil Young on his acoustic concert tour for that album in Boston when I was 20 years old.
The whole band was there, which I wasn't sure they would be, but they played toned-down, unembelished versions of these songs that revealed their fine construction and the intricate vocal work that goes into their sound. Zack has one of my favorite voices, but they all sing well and it sounded especially good in this venue. Like I said, it was a very special night and I feel honored to have been there.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
In 2006 I went to see Great Northern because they were one of the first local bands I followed around and had met Rachel and Solon a few times (I've seen them a dozen times by now), but I knew almost no one else. I had recently discovered the Eels and was anxious to see them too. That day I stood in the hot sun and enjoyed The Minor Canon, G. N., The Little Ones, Monsters are Waiting, Darker My Love, Lavender Diamond. I took a break and wandered around the fair and ate and came to realize that the whole event is what makes the festival special. I came back in the evening to see Eels and The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. I loved the Eels! I only attended Saturday (August 26, 2006), they always book the bands I most want to see on the Bates Stage on Saturdays, each year.
In 2007 I went to see almost all the Saturday (August 18, 2007) afternoon bands: Division Day, The Pity Party, The Parson Red Heads, The Broken West and Sea Wolf. That night I saw the terrific Autolux and part of the Blonde Redhead set. It was also a hot-as-hell day (Thanks for the Indie 103 misting tent), but again I took in as much of the festival as I could and it left me feeling great about Los Angeles.
So this year I was a little surprised by the snag in the planning that resulted in the first band taking to the stage an hour late. And it was Radars To the Sky, one of L.A. most conspicuous rising star bands. But they are professionals and they just threw out song after song, each one luring you further into their spell. This band keeps on getting stronger and more assured each time I see them. Andrew Spitser, showman that he is, showed no annoyance at the late start, playing and singing with intensity and passion. Strong backup from the band and lovely keyboard and a vocal by Kate Spitser made their short set count. Admittedly, I got so caught up in their last song I wanted them to go on.
At this point, some friends and I needed some food so we ventured down Sunset in search of sustenance. The Happy Hollows were up next but since the organizers had decided to try to catch up to the schedule, they cut the afternoon bands sets down to 4 or 5 songs each, so I missed their set completely. Caught most of Castledoor, who gave a good show, though rushed they managed to shine with their energy and craft. I managed to stop Nate afterwards so I could buy their new 3-song single. Then Bodies of Water performed their folk-rock anthems to a pretty responsive crowd, but I had to go home for a couple of hours to feed my cats and myself and get back in time for Menomena.
Menomena, from Portland, was my primary reason for attending the Junction at all. I saw them for the first time last year (June 12, 2007) at the Troubadour and they blew the top of my head off with one of the best concerts of the year. I arrived back at the Bates Stage as they were setting up, managing to get up really close. It can be frustrating when a band takes forever to set up, but with a band of the quality of Menomena you want them to take all the time necessary to recreate their complex tapestries of melody and rhythm. This band has talent pouring out of them and they display it without pretention or any air of self-importance. They are so inventive and so creative they just leave me breathless, starting with the first song, which was a new one, and one of the best songs of the entire set. And I'd never even heard it before. In fact, their whole set was transporting, especially "Weird" and "Evil Bee" from the fabulous Friend and Foe CD. All three band members possess voices that would lead in any individual band, but they all share lead duties. I don't even know how many instruments each one plays, but I will say the drummer is one of the best I've ever seen.
Coming back to the festival when I did, it seemed everyone I knew was gone, so after Menomena I thought I'd stroll around a bit waiting for The Broken Social Scene. But the place was getting packed and you had to move in herds, so I stood off to the side to see if anyone I knew went by, and lo and behold friends, Aaron and Megan of the Flying Tourbillon family, came by just then.We tried to get up to Broken Social Scene but it was wall to wall people (though they sounded good) and seemed hopeless so we ducked into El Cid. At least I've seen them a couple of times before and El Cid was offering it's own program of three bands and a calm, comfortable atmosphere after all the chaos outside. We got to settle into one of the great booths in the balcony.
Aaron knew one of the bands and the headliners were Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, made up of members of Amnion, Ima Robot and The Airborne Toxic Event and others, so we decided to stick around. I enjoyed the first two bands and wish I remembered their names, but Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros had 11 or 12 performers on stage, all striking musicians in their own right, but I'm afraid all they produced was a big mess. It was interesting to hear and I'm glad I saw it but not one song came together and it really most resembled a big messy jam session. I'm sorry, but anytime Aaron Embry is on stage and you can't distinguish his piano and he is not asked to sing, is a crime. They did look like they were having fun though, but I need more than that.
Nonetheless, it was a great day and I wouldn't have missed it for anything.
It's ridiculous the length of time it took to get this post together but it's a direct result of the Democratic Convention, which grabbed my attention every night it was on. It was facinating witnessing history being made.
Monday, August 25, 2008
They ran through a set of songs, including one I'd never heard before, that showed how precise their live shows are. But this time, with the benefit of the perfect sound of Pehrspace, they had me grinning ear to ear the whole time.
Marc's vocals are just as on the recordings, only more so. He's a superlative rock vocalist, and when Staci Roark adds harmony, wow, what a gorgeous sound. And underneath all this is the great chugging throb of the songs themselves. Every one of their songs has burrowed its way into my subconscious and I believe their songwriting is some of the best in town. There isn't a bad melody or bad lyric in their whole repertoire.
This night they had assist from someone accompanying the usual drum machine and they worked together really well. Every song was great, but my particular favorites "Favorite Sun", "Heartland Failure" and "Control, Control" were played to perfection and great to hear live since I've become so familiar with them.
The audience was ecstatic.
I was happy to meet the band again and talk to Marc about the Thailand's previous recordings and plans for the future. I'll enjoy watching this much deserving band grow.
Nice to catch up with Mike Griffin of Tandemoro, who've been spending most time recently writing and recording rather than playing shows. But, he says, that will change and we'll be seeing more of them. Based on the show Friday, that will please their devoted fans, of whom as many as you could pack into Pehrspace were there. They jumped, danced (even slow-danced) and sang the lyrics back at the band during their high-energy set.
Their current lineup of five played solidly and sang well. The two Mikes, Griffin and Schanzlin, trading most vocal duties, sounded great, separately or together. They're both great singers. They sang many terrific cuts from the CD The Movers and The Shakers and some new ones, fueling anticipation for their new CD (currently available for download).
I had to leave before they finished because I knew Saturday would be a HUGE day at Sunset Junction, but I'll enjoy seeing them again soon.
The other band that night was The Hectors, who also play a very proficient indie-pop song featuring an arresting lead singer, Corinne Dinner, (who reminded me of Carrie) and a talented band. I don't really know the band's music well enough to offer an opinion except to say I liked what I heard.
All in all, a good fit with the other bands. Pehrspace has got to be one of the best venues to see and hear a band up close, almost in a living room environment. Also, special note to Joe Fielder (Radio Free Silver Lake), who handled DJ duties with his hallmark good taste.
And an addendum to the Boardner's writeup. I've had a chance to see some video of Xu Xu Fang that night shot by the great Elaine Layabout and it triggered my memory and brought it all back. What an extraordinary band and I'll just echo what Mouse said over at Classical Geek Theatre, this new lineup has made the band their own and Barbara Cohen is an incredible singer. We definitely need more recordings of Bobby Tamkins' visionary Xu Xu Fang.
And the remarkable song that Rob Danson sang during the Death to Anders acoustic set is called "Detective Surgery" and it has some of the srongest lyric writing I've heard this year.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Maybe their songwriting is just getting stronger, or their stage manner more confident, but whatever it was, from the moment Nick Ceglio took the stage to begin with a solo, the audience was enthralled. That first song, it may have been "Man of 100 Regrets", sounded so different from what I'm used to from them, the background atmosphere so hypnotic and Nick's plaintive voice soaring above it all was a perfect beginning.
Then Rob Danson came on to do a solo, which I think was a new song which really showed off Rob's skills with a guitar. The whole band assembled for the rest of the set which was a mix of new material and hits from Ficticious Business. The singing and playing was superb, but the highlight for me was Rob's final song. It was a solo and had a really compelling lyric, sung with real conviction and urgency. It was a beautiful set. And I really like their new songs, "Corduroy Stitches" and "Radio". See Death To Anders at their residency at The Echo every Monday in September.
The Savages played next and took the evening a step in the direction of Xu Xu Fang. The band that plays a conch shell, The Savages blend it into their massive soundscape, and I was enjoying their set when the drink someone had bought me for my birthday kicked in. I'm afraid the rest of the evening was lost in the memory hole.
I recall Xu Xu Fang coming on and from the opening song on, I must have been entranced. I recall they sounded great, but for me to say more wouldn't be fair. Sorry I missed them.
But thanks, Joe, for another unique night at "Let's Independent!".
Monday, August 18, 2008
The next time I saw him was at the Troubadour when he opened for Mando Diao on May 22, 2007. That whole evening was geared to the glam/disco crowd and I didn't enjoy it. Pop Levi played a set so smothered in excessive dance beats that the sound mix was entirely off and he sounded awful. I feared the worst.
The Parson Red Heads opened and they played with their usual professionalism and style and it was great. Seven band members participated that night and delivered a range of songs both old and new. I especially liked hearing "State Lines" with it's great vocals. In fact all the singing was particularly strong, the playing superb and on some of the extended instrumentals they even entered Jefferson Airplane territory, which makes me very happy.
They're about to embark on a series of dates with Everest and if their playing is as tight and polished as they were Saturday night, they will win over many new fans. Be sure to pick up their latest CD Owl and Timber. It's terrific.
Pop Levi came on and he was back to the Pop Levi I saw the first time at the Echo. With an accompanist, he launched into his insistently danceable pop tunes that he wants you to take seriously with his dark and dangerous sounding lyrics. Eyes rimmed in black, he presents an 'edge of madness' persona as he leers, grimaces and twists his face to punctuate his screaming guitar and eerie, ethereal vocals.
It's definitely not my usual fare, but he draws you in with his unmistakeable talent.
I was really looking forward to seeing Gangi for the second time on Saturday night (August 16) at Spaceland. When I saw them back on July 31 at The Scene I didn't know their music so after I enjoyed their set I bought the CD called A. This time I'd know the songs and I looked forward to hearing them live again.
They began with "Ground" which is the song I'm currently obsessed with and it sounded just as good, if not better, than on the CD. It's a wonderful, hypnotic song that seems to deal with their recurring theme of navigating your way through a difficult world. It has a melody that locks itself into my head, sometimes disturbing my sleep.
They played "Waiting On the Line", "Shift', the wonderful "Animals" and another of my favorites "Commonplace Feathers" (also addictive). I just love this woven tapestry of sounds, dialog samples, the mystical eastern influence and the tribal drums. It's a gorgeous mix, both heady and intoxicating.
I look forward to much more Gangi music from Matt Gangi and Lyle Nesse. They're off to New York already to shoot a video and based on the highly evocative nature of the music, I expect a pretty interesting video. They're playing at Tangier on August 31 and I highly recommend paying them a visit.
The opening act was a singer/songwriter named Amanda Jo Williams who sang simple, brutally honest songs about relationships, and "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash, in a voice that seemed to be channeling one of Sybil's 16 personalities (Peggy, I think it was...the little girl one). She also sang one of the most direct songs about fucking that I've ever heard, as if she were singing about washing dishes. Hilarious.
The Muslims played after Gangi, but I'm housesitting this week and had to go tend animals, so I missed them this time.
I'm trying to conserve energy this week so I can expend it all at Sunset Junction next weekend, so I'm going to have to miss the Classical Geek Theatre Fiend Folio show with The Mae Shi on Wednesday night (August 20) at the Echo Curio. But everyone else should go.
Also happy to see Tandemoro are jumping on the bill at Pehrspace on Friday, August 22, cause I was disappointed Fol Chen had to pull out because Adam has been called to play guitar with Liars opening for Radiohead on the West Coast leg of their tour. Wow! Also sad Fol Chen's next show is on the same night as the Calexico show at the Fonda, September 29, which I'm going to. But Tandemoro I haven't seen in forever and they have new material so I'll look forward to seeing Mike Griffin and gang. Also looking forward to Thailand that night. The Hectors and Kissing Cousins round out the bill.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Caroline has an amazing 'classically trained-sounding' voice. She can whisper and coo, then let loose with yelps and howls or just a strong, clear, bell-like voice and at the same time as she is playing a beautifully accomplished keyboard. Aaron compliments with wonderful wailing guitar and occasionally great vocal support. Patrick is their excellent drummer, who also steps out from behind his drums to play guitar sometimes. Each song was a gem that would consistently surprise you with its sudden shifts featuring tambourine, maracas and struck cowbells. Real serious musicians who also manage to have fun, too. Add Chairlift to the list of Brooklyn bands I really like.
Friends of theirs from back east, who have recently transplanted themselves here are Gangi. I didn't get to meet Lyle Nesse when I saw them play at The Scene in Glendale on July 31, so it was great to get the chance to speak to him at this show. He kindly told me he was pleased by the post I had written on their set, and, suddenly, I realized what is so different in my love affair with music this time around. It's the breakdown of the barrier between the musicians and their audience. No longer do they seem like these rarified individuals living in a parallel world unable to be reached or even approached. They come down and mingle with their fans and even develop friendships.
Maybe it's only the fact that we live in the same city, but it's more than that. The internet is probably most responsible by allowing a kind of running conversation if you choose to participate. Bands talk to bands, bands to fans, fans to bloggers, bloggers to bloggers, bloggers to bands. It's pretty great!
I was happy to get to tell Lyle how much I love their CD (I'm currently obsessed with their song "Ground", it's beautiful, sad and uplifting at the same time) and how often I listen to it. How strong I think the songwriting is. How grateful he was to hear it and how grateful I was to have the opportunity to say it.
I feel lucky to be here to experience this because it seems like there's an inordinately large numbers of extrememly talented artists around right now. Just keeping up is almost a full-time job. Especially as new bands keep emerging from all over the world.
Anyway Ariel Pink came on too late for me to stay so I only saw a couple of songs but it really wasn't my thing. But judging by the reaction of the fans, I was in the minority.
Just heard Fleet Foxes are coming back to town to the El Rey on September 22. Like I said before, see them now, because I predict by next summer, they'll only be able to fit in the Hollywood Bowl.
Looking forward to next Tuesday night's Second Anniversary of Joe Fielder's "Let's Independent!" series. Radio Free Silver Lake is directly responsible for at least a couple of bloggers I can think of, He certainly was the first music blog I read with any regularity (It's gotta be over two years ago or more) and I'm proud to say I was at the first "Let's Independent!" on September 6, 2006 to see Great Northern, The Movies and The Western States Motel. All bands that I have gone to see over and over and over.
This months show looks to be another winner with Xu Xu Fang, who's EP I've been playing into the ground since seeing them at the Fonda May 31. Also can't wait to see a paired down Death To Anders play an acoustic set which should be startling. And The Savages who I've only seen once before at another great Boardner's show. Admission is $6. which goes to the band and there's the Dewar's $3. special. Come out to support one of L.A.'s best monthly music events.
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Nikki Embry was radiant, and pregnant...and a twirling, dancing sprite. They began with "Aton", as Aaron Embry's sinewy vocals weave into his mellifluous piano seamlessly and Nikki pantomimes the lyrics with interpretive dance. Amnion had grown to six for this show, adding a great second drummer, and a superb singer named Rocco Harris. All the beautiful backing vocals that grow in that song on the Amen Namo CD were present here and maybe more. Sometimes all six band members were singing, creating some of the most beautiful sound I've ever heard. You feel like you're floating on air when, suddenly, the drums come bubbling up from somewhere underground and the song turns into pure funk, pulling you in.
The tonal shifts and sudden genre changes within each song, that keep you in constant anticipation, are the hallmarks of this band's particular genius. I don't know if there's anything they can not do.
The audience, as always, transforms into an undulating mass of swaying souls; the uninitiated stare in wonder at the unique band of artists onstage, while the loyal fans grin in recognition as Amnion creates new magic with familiar songs.
Every live show I've seen of theirs is different, but never less than awe-inspiring. They performed the newer songs, "Better Day" and "Right Where You Are", along with the always welcome "All the Way" (the singing in this number was truly astonishing). The sound mix at the Troubadour was superb and the band has never sounded better. This was as good as the first time I ever saw Amnion at Joe Fielder's "Let's Independent!" at Boardner's March 18, 2008 (combined with Fol Chen, that was a night I will never forget!). Also happy to hear about their upcoming residency at Tangier every Wednesday in September. Imagine seeing them every week for a month!
When they finished you felt adrift in space. As if they'd taken you into orbit and left you there. But it's a wonderful feeling. By this time I was hanging with The Flying Tourbillons and they were as stunned as I was.
Spoke to Nikki's mom, Sandy, who I'd met before. She's, perhaps, their biggest fan, and admitted wondering if she was just prejudiced in their favor, being family. So I reassured her that, no, her feelings are justified...they are one of the best bands on the planet.
I have to admit I was too stunned to pay much attention to the next band, Eulogies. They played a nice sounding set of solid indie-rock, well sung, well played, but I had to wander around to get my bearings. At one point I spoke to Rocco Harris, a new Anmion-ite who I really enjoyed getting to know a little.
I told him how amazing I thought his vocals were and asked how long they'd had to rehearse together. He said only 4 times. I was floored! They had all played and sung with such precision. He said he and Aaron had spent a lot of time perfecting their vocal, though, which was evident.
I wanted to let him know how important a band like Amnion, and this whole music scene, is to the world right now. I told him how similar the feeling is to what I felt in the '60's, when people were eager to connect on some level deeper than the superficial. The way everyone has become increasingly isolated by their cars, computers, and portable devices. Even movies, which used to seem like communal experiences, have become such sonic assaults on the senses, you can't even notice the person sitting next to you in a theatre anymore.
So the shared group experience of a live music event seems to be something people are starving for. In the nearly three years since I started going to concerts again (after 25 years of NO music concerts, at all) I've watched the crowds steadily getting bigger and bigger and the enthusiasm level rising. I mean, my god, with all the free residencies on Monday nights in L.A. you can choose between 16 - 20 bands every Monday night, nowadays! And people stand around and talk to each other, without the aid of any technology at all! It seems remarkable.
The place was packed when Darker My Love began and, I must say, the longer they played the more impressed I became. At first I thought they sounded kind of ordinary, but when the vocals and harmonies kicked in, I took notice. Here was some extraordinary singing. When the interesting range of the compositions got through to me, I realized this was more than just a Beach Boys/Led Zeppelin mix, with a kind of wall-of-sound vocal and sweeping orchestra style which reminded me of Rogue Wave or the singing of The Byrds.
I was glad I had their CD sitting in my pocket, which was free for the price of a ticket (which was only $9.99). From the few chances I've had to play it yet I know it will be a favorite. Here we go again...another goddamned great local band! And they got a crowd like this even though The Airborne Toxic Event had sold out the El Rey across town.
The two lead singer/songwriters, Tim Presley and Rob Barbato, have a nice, unpretentious stage manner and just get on with the business of playing music. Each song impressed me more than the last and by the end of their set I was a big fan. I'm sorry I missed all their residencies at the Echo last month.
Friday, August 8, 2008
Mouse was back in town after joining The Airborne Toxic Event for the Northwestern leg of their tour - also happy to be back.
M. (of The Pity Party) was happy to be reunited with his life after nearly losing it in a motorcycle accident last week which put his left hand into a giant mitten-looking cast.
The first band, chosen in a line up selected by Film School themselves, was The Meeting Places, reuniting after a couple of years hiatus. Led by Scott McDonald , the band plays a gauzy, ambience-soaked shoegaze rock whose sound has inspired and been inspired by bands like Film School, Division Day, Xu Xu Fang, In Waves and the like. It's a great sound that I'm rather partial to anyway so this band sounded good to me. Many in the audience seemed to know their songs and were obviously happy to see them together again.
Next up was The Pity Party and Heisenflei told the story of the last crazy week of the accident, of the scrambling to figure out what to do about the show date. Three terrific local bands offered up guitarists to play M.'s part so M. could play lounge lizard and just sing. And sing he did. His vocals were amazing, as guest stars from The Deadly Syndrome, Human Value and Eskimohunter took turns playing a few songs each. Heisenflei became a blur of arms, hands, drums and hair while wailing away with her powerful voice. It wasn't typical Pity Party but a great experiment forced by necessity and interesting to hear other's takes on M.'s guitar parts.
Talked to Greg Bertens for a while before Film School went on. Their cross-country tour was great and this was the last night of it. They have a month or so before going on a short tour of Europe. Took a minute to recognize Jason Ruck with his haircut and Dave Dupuis stopped to tell me he enjoyed reading my blog on the road, which made me feel pretty nice.
Hunter Costeau of The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra was there, writer Kevin Bronson and Rob Danson of Death To Anders told me they've got a September residency at the Echo. Good job! You know they'll pick some great local acts to open for them.
Film School played an amazing set of their powerful rock which had a grip on the audience from the first song. Greg thrashed around with his guitar creating huge washes of reverb and feedback that practically lift you off the ground, then lead you back into the melody. His energy was impressive, his singing strong (they always benefit when his vocals are miked appropriately) and his harmonies with Lorelei bring the perfect etherial balance to all the bombast below.
I love this band and as much as the CD Hideout is the signature release of Film School, I'm always glad when they include "He's a DeepDeep Lake" (one of my favorite song titles, ever) and "11:11" (with it's amazing ending) from their first CD. Those are two extraordinary compositions, and the two selections from that self-titled CD that show the direction the band was ultimately to take. I owned Hideout first and that was how I knew the band. I went to their myspace page sometime last last year because, being a film scholar, I was intrigued by the name, and, liking what I heard I got the CD.
Then they kept playing in town on nights when I already had competing concerts so it wasn't until February 18, 2008 when they played one of The Pity Party residencies at Spaceland that I saw them for the first time. As soon as they finished I was so overwhelmed I dashed up to the stage and met Greg. Their phenominal bassist, Lorelie Plotczyk, urged me to buy the first CD and I'll always be grateful I took her advice because, as different as it is, it's fun to hear the band play around with different styles. One song, "Sick of the Shame", even sounds like a song by Elbow, but they do a lot of styles on that CD equally well.
They could have gone in a number of different directions, but I love the direction they chose. I applaud the courage and commitment it took to make that decision to pursue a specific musical style that could have alienated first generation fans, but obviously didn't. It's great when a band is willing to risk everything to realize an artistic vision. My hat's off to you.
I've been remiss in not mentioning their drummer, James Smith, whose drumming , sometimes, is the only element pulling all the surrounding swirl together, as his drumming provides the backbone on many songs. Sometimes he's the only one standing between you and chaos.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
But before she got to the stage on Monday night (August 4, 2008), I walked into the Troubadour as opener Vermillion Lies were on their first or second song. And I was immediately drawn in by these two women, one dressed as the Mad Hatter (complete with drawn on moustache), whose bold, theatrical, Kurt Weill-informed, cabaret/punk is highlighted by astonishingly sweet harmonies that, amazingly, stay just this side of sickening. Zoe Boekbinder plays guitar and accordion, an extraordinary kazoo and turns her lips into a trumpet which had the audience roaring. Oh, and she sings, beautifully, bitter little ditties, sardonic in nature, that aim high and always hit their mark. Songs with titles like "Circus Apocalypse" and "Global Warming" give you an idea of the epic nature of their themes.
Once the Mad Hatter removed her hat, Kim Boekbinder demanded the audience repeatedly ask her "what's in the box". She pulled a progression of unlikely musical instruments from it, including a typewriter, a barbecue (which she played beautifully) and a wooden marionette she forced to tap dance for us to provide taps and percussion for one song. She also is the vocal equal of her sister and, together, they create an unearthly sound. She also plays an accomplished keyboard.
First exposure and I fell in love with this band, so open, honest, liberated and just plain fun. Probably my favorite song of theirs was the one about the sisters connected by the ends of their "Long Red Hair" with it's great narrative flow and it's ironic and moving climax. It felt a little like going to a haunted house and seeing two high spirited ghosts entertain each other and any other corpses that may be present.
They even taught us some Russian for one sing-a-long.
Even though I had a pass to the upstairs lounge, I was so intrigued by Vermillion Lies, I didn't want to leave the stage area, so I missed a chance to say hello to Amanda, who was upstairs mingling. But I'm not sorry to have seen this remarkable band.
When Amanda Palmer came on stage to roars of approval, she held up placards which...slowly...revealed...how happy...she was...that we...had come. Then stepping to the microphone, she began with a song by Ben Folds, except it was Ben Folds voice coming out of Amanda. She lip synched the entire song. Perfectly. Then, as Amanda, she sat at her keyboard and just relaxed. She cajoled, proded and seduced the audience with the sheer audacity of her talent. If she were to only play the piano, I would be satisfied, if she only sang, that would be O. K. too, she could just keep telling stories and I would have listened for hours. but to put it all together in proper measures, that's a remarkable talent.
Performing songs from her forthcoming CD Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, to be released September 16, half the crowd already knew "Ampersand" and "Astronaut feat Zoe" from the internet, (Amanda saluted the internet for getting music to the people) and they went wild for "Coin Operated Boy", which always gets that reaction. Her song about the needle was both disturbing and tragic.
You realize, as you're listening to her new unfamiliar material, that you're hanging on every word to see where the story goes, much like reading a novel when you can't stop plowing ahead to see what happens next. When you read her blog you realize what a gifted writer she is.
Between songs she pulled questions the audience had written from a box which, naturally, were a little weird, but which she addressed with wit, candor and intelligence. Like: "What's your favorite opera? And no Mozart!", which perplexed her, I mean, Mozart! She admitted to not being a fan of opera (which I can relate to and understand), but said she loved Philip Glass' Einstein At the Beach with it's bizarre opening with people singing numbers over and over in repeated patterns and rhythms. Figures! She told a funny story of being in a dormitory and putting the CD of that opening on repeat play and leaving the dorm house...often. She must have been a hell of a dormmate. She also said Brian Viglione, her compatriot in The Dresden Dolls, sent his regards on the first night of this solo tour. He said, "Party like Hell" or something like it.
One particularly favorite moment came during "Runs in the Family" when I recognized myself in her situation of an artist trying to survive family. The rapid, staccato delivery reminiscent of "Girl Anachronism" and appropriate to the tumble of emotions here.
When she brought out her father, Jack Palmer I believe is his name, to sing and play guitar with her on Leonard Cohen's "The Night Comes On" the evening reached an emotional climax I'm hard pressed to describe. I was so moved by the obvious love between these two, combined with the rush of words of one of Mr. Cohen's finest lyrics and all the memories his music evokes, I was a little overcome. Mr. Palmer sings a little like Leonard Cohen and a little like Johnny Cash and when Amanda came in with a "Suzanne"-style harmony it was gorgeous. Even the whole McCabe and Mrs. Miller connection came flooding in on me.
The evening has to go down as one of my favorite concerts. But I'm making that phrase meaningless because I see unforgettable concerts sometimes a few times a week and say it so frequently at work, they just roll their eyes. But this concert was inspiring. It makes me want to be a better writer and, I think, that's high praise indeed.
I wish I had this concert in a box to give as a gift to all the people I care about.
Had to rush home to videotape the incredible appearance by Fleet Foxes on The David Letterman Show. Tough to sit through the crap around it, but their performance was, dare I say, starmaking.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
I grew up on the beaches just north of Cape Cod, in a town whose population tripled in the summer. When I saw the first ad for the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival and the line up of bands, I knew this was something I must not miss. Two friends and I got parental permission and car priviledges to drive to this festival in upstate New York in August, so we sent for tickets and received three tickets for all three days. Each three day ticket was $18. and I still have mine because nobody was collecting them by the time we got there.
Before that, though, I went to two July concerts at a nearby summer theatre called the South Shore Music Circus where I'd been taken many times to see musicals with my family. These theatres were open only during the three summer months and were called the 'Straw Hat Circuit' and were everywhere in the East back then to bring Broadway quality shows to us suburbians. By the late '60's they were offering rock, jazz and folk concerts on Sundays when the theatres normally were dark between shows.
On July 13, 1969, I saw Arlo Guthrie there, as he was on tour promoting, not only his own music, but the upcoming release of Arthur Penn's film of Alice's Restaurant. I thought, what better way to prepare for the movie than to see this concert, plus, I liked his music. Alice's Restaurant was Arthur Penn's first film after Bonnie and Clyde and that movie had completely blown my mind when it first came out and I was a senior in high school. So, I was highly anticipating Alice's Restaurant, which, unfortunately turned out to be kind of a mess of a movie and a good lesson in over-high expectations.
The concert was good, but paled in comparison to what I saw the following Sunday, July 20, 1969, in the same theatre, which was a seminal event in my life with music, not to mention a seminal moment in the history of the human race.
Friends I worked with that summer said I should come to this concert by a great new folk singer who had written "Both Sides Now" which was on the Judy Collins Wildflowers album everybody loved. I went 'cold' to see Joni Mitchell, knowing only that one song and the Tom Rush version of "Urge For Going", one of my favorite songs in 1966.
We sat in the third row and I saw what can only be described as the perfect performance. The most perfect match up of artist and material I had ever seen. I remember every song and every feeling I had that evening in that tent in Cohasset, Massachusetts. She sang "Chelsea Morning", "Nights in the City", "Both Sides Now", "For Free", "That Song About the Midway", she blended "Marcie" into "Nathan La Franeer" and did the same with "Rainy Night House" and "Blue Boy" and so much more. She even apologized when she sat at the grand piano saying she'd only been playing that instrument for six months publicly and to forgive her any mistakes. I was 18 and feeling that life was spread out like a banquet before me. The possibilities seemed endless.
Oh, and I need to mention, this was also the day that Neil Armtrong became the first human being to step foot on the moon. After leaving the concert and having dinner in Boston's Chinatown, we convened at some parent's house to watch the history-making "first step" live on television, as Joni Mitchell's music rang in the back of my head. These things you just don't forget!
And then on the morning of Friday, August 15, I set off for Woodstock with two friends and my introduction to live music was complete. Four days later I turned 19 and life was never the same again.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
Growing up with parents who loved live performance, we were taken to circuses, ice shows, concerts, but most of all, lots of theatre and that fostered my craving to see artists live. So when I got into rock and roll as a teenager in the late '60's I couldn't wait to see bands live, too. Of course, livng in the suburbs outside Boston, that wasn't realistically possible and in 1968, when I graduated from high school, the world was a pretty daunting place, and a concert could have been, actually, dangerous. I was a wimp.
Going off to college in September, 1968, leaving home for the first time (otherwise I would have been drafted and sent to Viet Nam - student deferment time) the world I was going out into had, just since January, seen the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the escallation of the war and the anti-war movement, and the people in the street rioting at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. Oh, and the hippies were everywhere, offering me the opportunity to escape the sraight-jacket society of the '50's I had grown up in. I don't think I would have survived otherwise. Actually, in spite of everything, I couldn't have been more excited about joining the real world then, because there was also the great music exploding out of everywhere, the movies were reaching their peak as an artform (I still believe this, and this period of great American movies lasted almost 20 years before the artform began to collapse from corporate takeover) and life's possibilities seemed endless.
Now, at my age, I realize some of my strongest life memories are of live performance, even from as far back as when I was 6 or 7 years old. Those memories really stay with you and enrich your life, so I feel I'm making lots and lots of more memories.
O.K. back to the present, I take the subway and a bus to Glendale. It feels weird to be in the subway so soon after an earthquake, I'm just not anxious to be buried alive under Los Angeles. I get to The Scene around 10 and see it's a nice little club divided in two by a central bar; pool table on one side, stage and audience space on the other. Have a chance to chat with Ethan and Hunter of The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra, they both want to hear about the Inara George/Van Dyke Parks concert from last week. I feel so lucky to have gotten in to that show!
Gangi went on around 10:30. I'd been listening to their myspace selections and liked them a lot, but live they sound even better. It was just Matt Gangi, mixing, sampling, playing guitar and singing, accompanied by Lyle Nesse on drums and keyboards and a whole host of other apparatus. But together they presented one beautiful composition after another. A sort of psychedelic stew of sound samples, prerecorded backgrounds and guitars washing over nervy, high-wire vocals defines Gangi's sound. The songs reveal a real attention to melodic detail and never meander around aimlessly but have an evocative, atmospheric glow. I picket up their CD from Matt and have been enjoying it ever since. A few listenings show a nice attention to lyrics, which sound intelligent and relevant, I'm still picking them up.
Between sets I got to spend some time with The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra's Kelli, Adam, Aaron and Daniel, who then got up to deliver a great set of their polished indiepop songs. Arranged nicely, I especially liked "Audry", and Kelli sang beautifully, in spite of feeling a little under the weather, she rose to the occasion. Hunter led the band in a performance that topped their CD release party even. I see this band going places and their professionalism will pay off. Nice stage interaction shows a band that really like each other, and it's infectious.
Got to chat with Aaron Embry of Amnion and Eli Chartkoff of The Monolators before Castledoor came on and once again wowed the crowd with an energetic set and a mix of old and new material. Nate Cole was in great voice and the whole band matched him with precise playing and beautiful harmonies. Gabe Combs, Joel Plotnik, Coury Jane Combs and Lisa Cole all helped deliver a solid uptempo performance that had most of the crowd bouncing. Together with the other two bands I saw this was a well thought out lineup where the bands really complemented each other.
It was a night of really solid music performance.