Saturday, August 30, 2008

Rogue Wave at Hotel Cafe

I felt really lucky to have had the opportunity to see Rogue Wave in the intimate confines of the Hotel Cafe. Zack Rogue explained at the onset that the band was trying to find the time to play small shows in some of the major cities they were swinging through on tour. Playing for "more people than god", as he said, needs to be offset with something to "keep it real". On Friday they were playing the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre (I can't even stand to type that name, let alone go there). So on Thursday night (August 28) they had a 10 o'clock show in front of a full house and it was magical.

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.


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