Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Calexico at the Fonda, September 29, 2008

Monday (September 29) was Calexico and The Cave Singers at the Fonda and they sent a near capacity crowd home satisfied and happy.

I didn't know anything about The Cave Singers who were already into their set when I walked in, but their music drew me right down front. Pete Quirk's voice is somewhere between gravel and sandpaper, which is perfect for the blues influenced, southwestern indie-folk-rock his three-piece band plays. He can also sing quite sweetly if called on. The more I listened, the more I liked. From their focused concentration I could tell these are dedicated musicians who take their music seriously. The Seattle band is on the Matador label and I think they're worth checking out.

Taking the stage at 10, Calexico wowed the audience with their perfectly played renditions of songs, both old and new. They are one of those bands I consider to be more of a music cooperative than just a band. Like Arcade Fire, Beirut or Broken Social Scene, they seem like a small orchestra. All members seem so accomplished, most of them can step forward and play a leading role on certain songs. They all seem to be multi-instrumentalists as well. With seven band member, two trumpets, a violin, bass, keyboards with piano and organ, drums (which have that wonderful kind of hollow sound like on the recordings), slide guitar, etc. etc. it was hard to keep up with it all.

Joey Burns has such a fine, strong voice, he sounds to me quite like one of the best singers I've yet heard. I thought the same thing last time I saw them. And the mix was so superb, his voice rang out, supple and commanding, and yet every whisper could be heard as well. He even commented on the great sound and I wondered if it spurred them on to play longer.

I began the concert right down front and even close the Fonda doesn't let the lead singers vocals get lost being projected out over your head, like so many venues. But why do the perfect asses somehow manage to find me and stand right next to me? At Okkervil River I was next to someone who felt the need to howl like a dog during and after each song. At Calexico I'm by someone who thought this was Riverdance and stomped to the music. Stomped loud and hard! Fortunately the Fonda is big and there's room to move away. I lost my up-front position but still enjoyed viewing the show from a few different vantage points.

I saw them for the first time two years ago on June 13, 2006 at a landmark concert at this same spot when they were out in support of the Garden Ruin CD. Monday they sang songs from earlier recordings, but I was most anxious to hear selections from Carried To Dust, their new CD. I think it's their best work yet and they performed "Bend In the Road", "Two Silver Trees", "The News About William" (such a haunting lyric), "Writer's Minor Holiday" and "Man Made Lake" all sounding beautiful. "Inspiracion" by Jacob Valenzuela, featuring his terrific trumpet work, was a highlight. And "El Gatillo", with Martin Wenk's trumpet and Morricone inspired whistling made me expect to see 'the man with no name' riding up on horseback.

The new material perfectly encapsulates the Calexico sound. The swirling dense sound evokes the American southwest with its dry deserts, rolling tumbleweed, hot sun, orange skys and red rocks. The lyrics are rich and deep, filled with melancholy, hope and longing, reflection and aspiration.

John Convertino and Joey Burns acknowledge and appreciate being surrounded by first class musicians and what a display of talent. It must be a great band to be a part of. Each one is given an opportunity to shine and they really appear to enjoy playing and singing. I mean, this was the last night of the tour and there wasn't a hint of fatigue anywhere.

Coming out for a couple of encore numbers, including the new CD's first track, "Victor Java's Hands", the audience roared it's approval. Joey told us how much he loves L.A. and it's great people. One could see he was both moved and thrilled at our reaction. Another great concert, another great audience, another great night.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

My Top Ten September 22 - 28

Here are the CD's I've listened to the most this week:

1. The Broken West - Now or Heaven (Merge) This CD is incredible!
2. Calexico - Carried To Dust (Quarterstick Records)
3. Sara Lov - Three Songs (self release)
4. Darker My Love - 2 (Dangerbird Records)
5. Okkervil River - The Stand Ins (Jagjaguwar)
6. Gangi - A (self release)
7. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)
8. Silver Jews - Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea (Drag City)
9. Thailand - The Remote Controller Absorbs the Place (self release)
10. The Western States Motel - Painted Birds Flying in the Orange Mirror Sun (Firebird Fields Recording)


When Art and Music Collide

Saturday night (September 27, 2008) was the last in a run of six concerts and it may have been the most fun of all. For one thing, it was my first trip to Echo Curio. In a storefront, a few blocks down from the Echo, a shop described as a curiosity shop and art gallery that "strives to funnel local creative energy" (as described on their myspace page) funnelled it like crazy on Saturday night!

I walked in after 9 and The Guppies had just played their first song, so I stepped to the back to listen. This place is very small and people sit around on the floor or on the many available pillows, and sit in rapt attention of the musicians. And the music was this delicate, gentle melody that suddenly exploded into a furious crash of sound, as the band attacked their instruments. After pounding it into the backs of our heads, just as quickly, they scaled it back down to a whisper. They played a terrific set of songs and I could have heard more.

The first person I saw who I knew was Matt from Manhattan Murder Mystery, bouncing to the music in the corner, so I went over and bounced with him. This really is a good band and had the audience eating out of their hand. I was very impressed and introduced myself to The Guppies lead singer, Leo Coronado, who was really nice and shared that they're from all over the southland, not really centrally located.

The venue gets pretty hot during the bands, but everyone piles out onto the sidewalk between sets and it's a great, festive atmosphere out there. What a great audience, everyone so into the music. And inside there's just so much to look at. Art pieces on the walls, handmade clothing, self released CD's, books, and on and on. Got to talk to the people operating the space that night and they make you feel so welcome. It's a very special place.

I didn't know what to expect when the next act set up just a keyboard and assorted equipment. Very is the name of the act and it's actually Brian Cleary of the bands The Movies, Tables & Chairs and Adeline & the Philistines. Beginning with a low rumble, he first built a deep foundation, then slowly added layer upon layer of heavy background ambiance until it flooded your head completely. Just as you're beginning to go numb, he brings in the piano and suddenly your mouth drops open as these cascading rolls of piano work wash over you in waves. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. One could almost visualize these enormous structures being built before your eyes, structures tall and heavy, yet floating in mid air, like in Magritte.

His piano playing is astonishing and I was lost in it. The music is part movie soundtrack, part modern classical, part ambient world music and yet completely unique. It was like a mix of Ravel and Cage, or Morricone and Sondheim, if you can picture that. It made all sorts of music swirl through my head. It was music as art.

Had a great chat with Brian after his set and I asked if he had studied piano his whole life and, when he told me no, he's self taught, I could have dropped down dead! His piano rivalled the best I've ever heard. He also said much of what he plays is improvised. O.K., this was a landmark performance I'll never forget, and that's all there is to it. I got his CD from him and it's filled with wonderful music.

Thailand were on next and this set was accompanied by the Thailand Exotic Specialty Dancer. As they began their set with my favorite "Homeland Insecurity", an unembarrassed and loose limbed dancer provided interpretive movement to the songs. Instead of ruining the set he actually added a new dimension to the artistic nature of the evening as a whole, so, I figured, why not accept it and enjoy it.

I could still enjoy Thailand and their great music and this night all the drumming was handled by a drummer and it gave some songs a rawer feel. It was a real energetic set and they managed to stay focused in spite of the sprite.

Wrapping up the evening was Manhattan Murder Mystery, who performed a brilliant set, not only accompanied by the whirling dervish, but actually blending him into the act. Not like they had much choice, but all transpired with great good humor. I suspect Matt could handle any crowd, but he truly was a master showman this night. The way he positions his mike right out in the crowd makes you feel like he wants everyone to feel like they're in his band. And it works. It also doesn't hurt that his song are really good, too. They feel like such a party band, yet there is nothing sloppy about their playing. Matt has it both ways. Flailing like a madmad and yet never losing sight of the music.

At the end of the evening I was in a state of euphoria...again. After a week like this, filled with incredible artists making incredible music, I begin to think that, that's not such a bad way to live. And as my blog gets read and appreciated by people, I realize I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. This community has been so supportive and nurturing, I hope I can give something back. So I just write down what I feel. I'm only pretending to be a writer. Sometimes I feel like it's my pencil that does the writing and I'm just here to hold it.


Silver Jews at Echoplex, September 26

Silver Jews made their second Los Angeles appearance ever on Friday (September 26, 2008) at the Echoplex, and it was spellbinding. Suspenseful, frightening, and fraught with great rewards.

We got right up front and when the band came on they took us on a strange and vaguely unsettling trip throught the mind of David Berman. He begins seemingly emotion-free, as he drones into the microphone. But as the words become clear and his delivery intensifies you willingly follow him.

The band is so much more powerful and rocking than on the recordings, they surprise with their amazing sound. The country influence receeds to the background and they really rock out. I haven't been able to get into the new CD, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, as easily as Tanglewood Numbers, but hearing the songs live I could really appreciate them and now I love the new CD. They play so beautifully, the music seems richer, fuller and grander, creating a powerful background for David's ironic and probing poetry and his legendary storytelling.

David Berman, nattily dressed in a brown suit, tall and thin, is a commanding presence. It was great to be up so close, because he comes right out to the edge of the stage to sing to you and often engages in eye to eye contact with his audience. Especially after he removed his glasses and you could look right into his eyes. He seemed to me more relaxed (less tense?) than when I saw him at the Fonda on his first concert tour two years ago on September 12, 2006. But I wasn't as close there.

I would decribe him as mechanically challenged as he wrestled with microphones, stands and wires throughout, but without (except once) losing his vocal contribution. His wife, Cassie, provides a calming and soothing presence for both David and the audience, contributing superb vocal support in addition to her musicianship.

His voice is somewhere between a grumble and a growl, but as soothing as a purr. David Berman took us through "What is Not But Could Be If", Strange Victory, Strange Defeat", Aloysius, Bluegrass Drummer" and "Open Field" from Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea. "Punks In the Beerlight", "K-Hole" and "I'm Getting Back Into Getting Back Into You" represented Tanglewood Numbers, and random early works rounded out the set.

The whole show flew by in record time. I was floored when I realized they played an hour. It seemed like fifteen minutes! The crowd was overjoyed and David and the band seemed very pleased. For all his awkwardness, he was extremely charming.

I didn't see anyone I knew there, except I was real happy to see Rob Danson of Death To Anders. I should have known he'd be a Silver Jews fan. There's a similar musical and lyrical aesthetic at work in both bands.

This was another very special show in a week full of very special shows. How much can one person stand!


Saturday, September 27, 2008

So Much Local Music Talent

I spent Wednesday and Thursday (September 24, 25) with local musicians at a couple of terrific shows. Guess I'm not going to see any bad shows this week.

Wednesday night I finally caught one of Aaron Embry's resident nights at Tangier, this week with Eleni Mandell and Sara Lov, and it was a lovely, quiet evening of singer/songwriters, sharply contrasting with the crowd euphoria at the Fleet Foxes show and the super-enthusiastic bunch at the Okkervil River Fonda gig. This was intimate and civilized, in the best sense.

Seeing performers in the front dining room area of this venue is kind of unique, as I said when Inara George and Van Dyke Parks played here in July. The windows to the street with all the foot and car traffic, just reinforces the notion that the music is part of the communitiy and the community is part of the music. Passerbys peer in the window and we inside, look back.

Sara Lov was already on when I walked in and, in an instant, she was able to transform me from a harried individual rushing from the Vermont/Sunset subway station up to Tangier, into a relaxed, mellow music lover. I've been a big fan ever since I saw her at the Knitting Factory with her band, The Devics, a couple of years ago. They were opening for The Black Heart Procession, and she actually joined them for one song. I had just gotten into The Black Heat Procession and was kind of obsesssed with their music for a while (still am) but to hear a female vocalist added to their already extraordinarily beautiful music was thrilling. I just love their dark, dour, funereal, Edgar Allen Poe music.

So, I saw Sara again last April 30 as a solo artist with a back up band. This was during the Fol Chen show at Tangier and she performed all new material I didn't know with a whole new band. I loved the songs, but, at the time, none of it had been recorded yet. I finally got up the nerve to go up and introduce myself one night as she was DJ-ing at the Echoplex during the Sea Wolf show June 19.

Enough backstory. In her characteristic style Sara Lov lured the listener to a deeper, more reflective place with her haunting melodies and the romantic-unsentimental dichotomy of her lyrics. Accompanied by a talented multi-keyboard artist, they played beautifully together, allowing me to hear some of the same songs as with her band last time, but in a simpler form so you could really notice the quality of the writing. The set was bewitching, and I was happy to be able to tell her at the end of the evening how much I admire the consistent thematic thread that flows through all her music. The rueful sadness in her music and the maturity and assuredness of her lyrics make a potent combination.

Eleni Mandell was on next, contrasting nicely with her witty, sophisticated songs that have a slightly country feel. But not too much so. She sings in a clear, strong voice and plays guitar well. Where Sara in more pensive, Eleni Mandell in more uptempo, but the study of romantic entanglements from two perspectives was interesting and instructive. She has such a winning personality that she seduces the audience into appreciation of her musical gifts and I look forward to getting to know her music better.

Aaron Embry took his turn around 11 and this was a stunner for me. To hear the wonderful Amnion song I have come to love so well in a stripped down, solo version, only showed me that they're better than I thought. I am overwhelmed at Aaron's songwiting. Each song contains so many chord and key changes, not to mention the time changes, it should sound like a mess, and yet, Aaron makes it all sound as natural as water cascading down a rolling stream. It's irresistable!

It wouldn't mean much if he weren't such a consumate piano player and superb singer. I was amazed at how easily he could handle he material alone. As a band, Amnion makes the songs seem a complex as a Mozart symphony, but solo they become feats of musical gymnastics for the single performer. He performed songs from the Amnion CD Amen Namo and "Better Day" and a couple I didn't recognize, but all were perfect.

It was late and I am seeing a lot of music this week so I had to get home, but this was such a comfortable, informal music experience with friends I hated to see it end.

Thursday night I went over to KROQ's free "Local's Only" show at Safari Sam's. Arriving well past 9 I had missed The French Semester and Light FM were already on. I'd seen them last April 4 when they played with The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra at Spaceland but they didn't sound like this.

The sound at Safari Sam's is really super and Light FM had a lot more punch than I remembered. Their sunny, California pop songs come at you, one after another, until they lift you with their solid craftsmanship. Josiah Mazzaschi's lead vocals are front and center in their sound, but the rest of the band play so tightly it all meshes together perfectly.

I've missed this band many times over the last year but I'll try to see them again soon.

The Western States Motel celebrated the release of their new EP Painted Birds Flying in the Orange Mirror Sun by playing all the songs plus a sample of songs from the self titled CD that I've had for a long time. Actually, I've seen Carl Jordan's band nearly a dozen times, but only twice with the new line up. They sound just great, and it's interesting for me to hear the old familiar songs with readjusted arrangements. Carl is a talented songwriter and it was the quality of writing that first attracted me to his band.

I got the new EP from Carl and I love the songs. A lot of people have described his music as sounding like riding along a desert highway during magic hour with the windows down, and I couldn't agree more. These songs also have that quality, that particularly southwestern United States sound I like so much. More Mexican-influenced than country-influenced. I'm seeing Calexico Monday, and they personify that genre to me. But I'm glad that we have The Western States Motel right here in Los Angeles for us.

Music is such a comfort in difficult times, and it's just nice to hear a singer say it out loud, "We're living in a fucked up world, and it's one I don't understand!"

Don't forget to vote.

Not crowded, but a nice bunch of fellow bloggers and band members made for a congenial atmosphere. Highlight for me was to get to meet Ashley Jex (Jax) of Rock Insider. Also the great bassist in The (Triumphant!) Monolators. She filled me in on a lot of history of the Los Angeles blogging community and I'm so grateful to be a part of it. But were it not for her, we might not be here at all.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Okkervil River at the Fonda, September 23

My second in a run of six consecutive concerts continued Tuesday night (September 23) with the Okkervil River show with Sea Wolf and Zykos at the Fonda. There was such a mob outside the theatre it took a long time to get in. Security is tight at this venue, but doesn't involve a strip search like the House of Blues almost does. (By the time I got through their security once, I felt like I was being admitted to Guantanamo) Once inside the Fonda, it wasn't too crowded, but I'd completely missed Zykos.

I watched Sea Wolf from a good vantage point and they delivered another of their characteristically terrific sets. The band is rather quiet and there's very little between song activity, but that seems to be indicative of their reflective nature. They just leave room for applause before launching into the next song. Opening with "Black Dirt", you begin to bob your head, almost involuntarily, to the addictive beat, and you don't stop until their set is done.

This band has such an easy, laid back manner and their music is so satisfying you feel like you're floating on top of a calm ocean with the sun pouring down. From their CD Leaves in the River , they played "Winter Windows", "Song For the Dead", "Middle Distance Runner" and the truly beautiful "Black Leaf Falls" which features that lovely piano part by Lisa Fendelander. Alex Church's vocals are always crisp and clear and I love the way he sings, what is for me, the emotional highlight "I Made a Resolution" from their EP Get To the River Before It Runs Too Low. That song has a powerful narrative that I'm not sure isn't autobiographical, and it's very emotional.

Aaron Robinson provides guitar and much wonderful vocal support, Catherine Odell plays a stunning violin, Theodore Liscinski provides solid bass and Joey Fricken's drumming is the foundation the whole band balances on. Sea Wolf have every element where it needs to be. The audience was most appreciative and cheered loudly at the conclusion of their set.

Okkervil River took the stage just after 11 and played for close to two hours. I'd tried to see them last year when they sold out the Troubadour and now they're selling out the Fonda. The place was packed full of enthusiastic fans.

Will Sheff is a spellbinding performer with a great expressive voice. The six-piece band played songs primarily from The Stage Names and The Stand Ins CDs but included a healthy sampling of earlier work as well. I was happy the sound was so well balanced you could understand Will's lyrics clearly. And with this band, that is imperative because, as another critic has noted, Will Sheff writes lyrics like a novelist. After each song you feel you've finished a short story. Many songs tackle romantic issues but he also isn't afraid of weightier topics, like damaged or destroyed lives or the relationship between the artist and the world at large.

Songs I recognized from The Stage Names included "Unless It Kicks", "A Hand To Take Hold of the Scene", "Plus Ones" and "Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe" where the audience provided the "whoo-whoos" in the middle of the song, making it sound just like the recording. The crowd went crazy over "John Allyn Smith Sails" especially when it turns into a twisted version of The Beach Boys "Sloop John B". They also did "A Girl in Port", which is such a stunning, heartbreaking song the audience was lost in rapt attention.

The newest CD, The Stand Ins, was represented by "Lost Coastlines", "Calling and Not Calling My Ex", "Singer Songwriter", "Pop Lie" and "Blue Tulip" for one of the encores. Not being familiar with their earlier work, their other songs were strangers to me, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Quite frankly, coming the day after the phenomenal Fleet Foxes concert, any band is going to have a lot to live up to, but Okkervil River acquitted themselves very well.

Will does almost all the singing, with occasional assist from other band members, as he hangs off the microphone, and interacts nicely with the players. His youth surprised me, which belies the maturity of these sweeping sonic vistas and profound lyrics. I was particularly impressed with the piano work of Justin Sherbourne and Scott Brackett's trumpet, which add a lot to both the recordings and the live versions. (Thanks for the correction, Suzanne. Justin replaced the former player. Damned myspace!)

Great lighting and the wonderful, cool, open space in the Fonda, even when it's crowded, made for a really great concert experience. Nice way to see Okkervil River for the first time. I would be happy to see them again.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fleet Foxes at El Rey Sept. 22

I've witnessed nirvana and it's called Fleet Foxes. At their first sold out show at the El Rey on Monday, September 22, 2008, they left their audience in a state of sublime ecstasy not easily shaken off. When the set concluded, the whole room seemed to be glowing and vibrating as people wandered around dazed and happy.

Since I knew I wanted to be up close, I pressured my co-concerteers into getting to the El Rey by 8:30. Walking in, there was already a cluster in front of the stage so we headed right down front and planted ourselves about 6 people deep from center stage. As close as we could get and it turned out to be perfect, both visually and aurally.

Frank Fairfield opened the show and he easily captivated the unsuspecting crowd with his extraordinary gifts as a musician and singer. I wasn't sure how his singular presence would translate in a venue the size of this one. I needn't have worried because, beginning with fiddle, he lulled us into an hypnotic state and transported us to the dust bowl of the 1930's. His intense, authentic sounding vocals perfectly compliment the beautiful drone of his fiddle bowing. Then onto banjo where he excells to a greater degree, and mesmerizes the audience who were shouting and whooping their approval. Picking up the guitar, he played "Hesitation Blues", which I love, and another favorite, "Old Paint", which tells a poignant little tale of a cowboy and his horse.

The audience was nicely respectful (except for some gabbers way in the back) and enthusiastic for this unusual, truly unique artist and I was grateful. Having seen him twice before and having spent some time chatting with him on those occasions, I could tell he was pleased by the crowd's genuine and generous response to his stunning recreation of early American roots music.

During the break the people packed in around us. Like I said, it was sold out. But the crowd was of a mellow and gentle sort, so, even packed in like sardines, everyone was cool (attitude-wise... temperature-wise the place was warm).

The curtains opened just after 10 and the Fleet Foxes blew everyone's mind within fifteen seconds. Robin Pecknold strums a note, and first he, then all the singers tune their voices to that one note before launching into their a capella opener, "Sun Giant". They sing at a glacial pace, compared to the recorded version, that renders the song even more beautiful. Those harmonies sailed out into the El Rey, perfectly miked and perfectly balanced. This was some of the best sound I've ever heard.

They segued into "Sun It Rises" next and the band kicks in full force. That ringing, chiming sound beneath some modern Gregorian chants that are played with a power and intensity that makes their recordings sound tame. I love the recordings because the songs are interpreted precicely and carefully, giving the listener the opportunity to get to know the music in a clean, uncluttered way. But it also enables the band to knock an audience out with the surprising "wham factor" of each song live.

They played almost all the songs from their EP Sun Giant and the Fleet Foxes CD. As the evening flew by, they performed stunning versions of "Drops In the River", "English House", "White Winter Hymnal", "Ragged Wood', "He Doesn't Know Why" and "Your Protector". The band left the stage as Robin performed a couple of acoustic numbers. He played the song I was most sorry not to hear in their sets last June at the Echo and Spaceland, "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" which is one of their most beautiful songs, both lyrically and musically. The way Robin sings out with passion, grit and such discipline, he never hits a false note.

The band reassembled to finish out their set, ending with "Mykonos". On the EP the song ends in a fade out, but live, they extend the ending to it's lyrical, logical conclusion with some of the most beautiful layered harmony vocals I've ever heard in my life. Exiting the stage to tumultuous applause and cheers, Robin came back out a few minutes later and the audience went wild over his solo,"Oliver James" with it's a capella ending. The other Fleet Foxes joined him for two more songs, one, a new one they had never played before an audience, was practically a highlight of the whole set. And then it was over.

The band seemed so comfortable on stage with far more between song banter that I'd yet seen them engage in. It was almost like listening to how they might interact during a rehearsal, so easy and unforced and unpretentious. Obviously, this is the character of the performers themselves. Even after the set they came out to greet their audience and I got to meet Skyler, the lead guitarist. He was speaking with longtime friends fron the Pacific Northwest, Evan and Brett Marie Way of our now local fabulous Parson Red Heads. Then I met Casey, their keyboardist, who was very gracious as I gushed.

This was a night I'll never forget! Looking around at all the young people in the audience, it was heartening to see them so intently focused on this beautiful music. As I said to my friend, Sue, at a certain point, it felt like falling in love. She agreed. Robin speaks a lot in the liner notes of the CD's about the transformative power of music. If that's what Fleet Foxes are after, they have succeeded brilliantly.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

My Top Ten - September 15 - 21

Here's the CD's I've listened to the most this week

September 15 - 21

1. Calexico - Carried To Dust (Quarterstick Records)
2. Earlimart - Hymn and Her (Majoromo)
3. Darker My Love - 2 (Dangerbird Records)
4. Thailand - The Remote Controller Absorbs the Place (self release)
5. The Broken West - Now or Heaven (Merge)
6. Okkervil River - The Stand Ins (Jagjaguwar)
7. Gangi - A (self release)
8. Jefferson Starship - Jefferson's Tree of Liberty (The Lab Records)
9. The Veils - Nux Vomica (Rough Trade)
10. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)

What a week of shows coming up. Beginning with Fleet Foxes, Okkervil River and Sea Wolf and ending with Silver Jews and Thailand and Manhttan Murder Mystery. In between there's Aaron Embry with Eleni Mandell and Sara Lov and Pop Levi at Amoeba, The Western States Motel, Aushua and French Semester. I won't even mention the shows I have to miss. There's just more and more all the time. What a time to live in L.A.!


Liam Finn and The Veils at Echoplex

Saturday night (September 20) I imagine much of the Los Angeles music community was at the Hollywood Bowl seeing Beck or at the Lobster Festival down in San Pedro with it's great line up. I was happy to have the opportunity to see New Zealand's The Veils, for the third time, at The Echoplex opening for Liam Finn. This band is so good I think they may end up in the Bowl one day.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it was another amazing night of music in a perfect setting. I know people bitch and moan about The Echoplex, and I have had some issues with overcrowding and heat, but when the audience size is just right and the music this seductive, the place is electric.

When I walked in the place was already pulsating to a wild, throbbing caterwauling. This was Karin Tatoyan, and she sent me reeling to the bar at the far end to get as far away as possible. Getting a drink, I slowly wandered toward the source of all the noise. As I got closer I realized, "that girl can really sing", and closer still and I noticed, "that guy is playing that violin beautifully". Then I saw the other guy playing a French Horn. I got up close. What intense, unique orchestrations sitting on top of that throbbing beat that rearranges your organs. Meanwhile her thrilling vocals kept rearranging my head. I only saw 4 or 5 of her songs but by the end I was flabbergasted by this raw talent. Her screaming, shouting, moaning, but beautifully sung ending left me speechless.

Karin looked to have an eye mask of glitter spray painted directly on her face, while the band had black eye masks sprayed on their faces giving the band a kind of '60's Manhattan discotheque/'70's disco from Mars appearance. In the vivid red lighting and with the fluttering backdrop they appeared to be enveloped in flames at times. Karin Tatoyan and her band are very striking! How wrong my first impression was. There's a lesson there.

I was right up front for The Veils and pretty damned excited when they came on. Finn Andrews just exudes charisma in spite of his genuine shyness. As Elaine Layabout pointed out to me, she'd never seen him happier, and it's true, he seemed both overjoyed and bashful about the crowd-love he was receiving. I was so glad to be so close because he is someone to watch, and when I saw him at the Hotel Cafe I was kind of across the room.

He sang "Advice For Young Mothers To Be" which was how I found out about The Veils in the first place. Back when cable TV music video channels used to occasionally feature videos of low budget independent bands, I videotaped the video for this song. It's the one with the floating babies and it's sensational. I researched their other music and was stunned at what I heard. I got the Nux Vomica CD and played it fanatically, so when they came to the Hotel Cafe on August 16 and 17, 2007, I was smart enough to get a ticket for each night. They turned out to be two of the best concerts of 2007!

He also sang "Not Yet", "Calliope!", and the fabulous "Jesus For the Jugular". There are very few people on earth I like to hear screaming, but he is one of them. Because unlike most all of them, he knows when to stop. He's also quite the accomplished lyric writer. One of my favorite lines, "No man alive has earned the right to save me!" is from "Jesus...". That is so true. Incredible! Some new songs were also performed and they were as good or better than the older material. This man is such a powerful, emotional singer he can bring you joy or make you cry, I even think he could exorcise demons.

He looked to be backed by the same band as last year, and that's good because they're great. My only complaint was that, at first, I couldn't hear Finn's vocals like I should, but that seemed to get better. Sometimes that's just a function of being up too close, as the vocals can be coming out over your head and you have to be back a little to hear them. But I was willing to sacrifice some clarity for proximity.

They played for close to an hour and the whole set was perfect. Finn was a charming host and the audience was ecstatic so he returned a big old compliment about how he loves L. A. and the audiences. It was easy to see he meant it!

Finn Andrews was the headliner and I'd never seen him so his set was kind of a revelation, too. He's a talented singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist from Australia. I was pretty astonished at the range of his songwriting skills. He was accompanied by a fantastic female vocalist who was also making music via a few instruments and computers. I couldn't tell what was what, especially when she started recording and playing back her vocals, layering them over and over each other. It was pretty heady stuff. He has a beautiful voice and is a highly talented drummer as well as guitarist. It's amazing to see him play guitar for part of a song and then switch to drums mid song. I need to pick up some of his CD's.

Toward the end of his set, I was standing near the back of the open audience space when I saw Finn Andrews head over to the merch table. And he was all alone so I went over and introduced myself and he was just as one would expect. I shook his hand and told him how great his set was and could only babble "'welcome to L. A." But I really meant it.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Wedding Present and Earlimart at Troubadour

Friday night (September 19) there was a great show at the Troubadour with the English band, The Wedding Present, who started up over 20 years ago, but still sound as fresh as a newborn band. They were preceeded by a local band who are, to me, the very definition of of what the Silver Lake/Echo Park music scene is about.

Just entered the club as Earlimart began their first song, "God Loves You the Best", Aaron Epinoza's beautifully ironic lyric set to a slowly chugging melody. This song is one of the highlights of their new, great CD, Hymn and Her and when Ariana Murray adds her vocal, the song just washes out over the audience in waves. It's not a song I would expect them to open with, yet it turned out to be perfectly appropriate, as the whole set seemed to be geared to highlight the dual vocals that are this bands hallmark, which this song really shows off. And their vocals seemed perfectly balanced at this show. I've seen crowds swoon at their sound and that is pretty much what happened Friday.

We were right up front. In fact I was standing next to David Gadge, leader of The Wedding Present, who was swooning right along with the rest of us. Aaron guided us through samples from Earlimart's entire career and not one song was less than excellent. We got "The Hidden Track" from Treble and Tremble, "Song For" and "Face Down in the Wrong Town" from the new CD and some early pieces which were stunning. For the last song, we got "Happy Alone" which shows off Ariana's writing skills. They're currently joined on tour by Brian Thornell on drums. He is quite a remarkable musician in his own right with his own band Wrong Way Driver, but here he supports with terrific drum work.

For the last few years, I've been so moved by Aaron's, and now Ariana's, songs, and the way they deal with the human condition. Even at their most optimistic, there's a thread of melancholy underlying everything. They sing about good times, hard times, moving on, learning acceptance, even those times we humiliate ourselves. I've learned from them and I don't think there's a higher compliment than that.

Thematically, their music has always made me think of that brilliant Cat Stevens song "Trouble", whereas, musically, their sound often took me back to the sound of Fleetwood Mac, during the Danny Kirwan years. If you listen to the songs "Woman of 1000 Years" or "Sands of Time" from the 1971 album Future Games, you'll hear what I mean. It's a sound I always missed and Earlimart has filled that void. I often think of Christine McVie when I hear Ariana sing, the way she brings perfect harmony, balance and a sense of calm to the proceedings. (A kind reader, John Demetry, corrected me that Danny Kirwan, and not Bob Welch, was the force behind Fleetwood Mac's Future Games and Bare Trees. Bob Welch's influence begins with Penguin. Thanks, John)

When they finished the place packed in with rabid The Wedding Present groupies, who follow the band around from city to city in their red tee shirts. What's interesting is that these are not what you think of as everyday groupies. They all seem to be around the age of the band which I would place at early 40's, and they all had British accents (English, Scottish, and Irish) so these are well travelled fans!

David Gadge and his band, The Wedding Present, played a fantastic set of sure-fire, crowd pleasing rock and roll. Having only recently become acquainted with them, I only knew material off their newest CD, El Rey, but every song was a winner. They play and sing with such skill and enjoyment, it's hard to believe thay have such a past. Apparently, from what I've been told they began around 1987 and disbanded in the early to mid nineties, reforming as the band Cinerama for a period, then regrouping around 2002 as The Wedding Present again, the only constant being David. Whatever they've been doing, they've also been writing good music.

I was with people who've seen then many other times and they said it was one of the best set they've seen them play. David performs with such gusto and passion he looks like a kid up there. The whole band was right on the money and of the songs they played, I knew and enjoyed "I Lost the Monkey", "Boo Boo" and the gloriously titled, "The Thing I Like Best About Him is His Girlfriend" from the new CD. I'm so glad I went.

Got a chance to speak to Aaron afteward, and they're only in town briefly before going up the coast and into Canada with TWP. These guys have been touring a lot lately, but touring with a band like The Wedding Present will open them up to new audiences. Also caught up with my friend Dave Dupuis from Film School who is on tour with these bands doing sound. He said this upcoming European tour with Film School is his first time through Europe as a band, not as a sound man. They should be a big hit over there! He also introduced me to the Earlimart drummer Brian Thornell. Hi, also, to Michael Orendy, helping to set up, who is working on a new Fankel CD. I love the last one, Lullaby For the Passerby.

Also, the fabulous new blogger in town, Kevin Bronson was there, fresh from seeing Cold War Kids on the Kimmel Show, which I watched later and it was kind of fabulous.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"Let's Independent!" September Edition

After a show that was as much fun as Death to Anders' Monday night at the Echo, my sensible side says, "you were out till almost two, get some sleep". My incautious side (the dominant one) says "that was so much fun, I want to do it again!". Guess who always wins. My sensible side spends a lot of time in a box at the back of a closet. But I can find it when I need it, otherwise I wouldn't still be here.

Tuesday was the September 16 edition of Radio Free Silver Lake's "Let's Independent!" at Boardner's, which I wouldn't miss because it's at one of the most comfortable spots in town. Everything about it is conducive to making great memories. The way it's just steeped in old Hollywood mystique, circa 1940. And is there a more attractive stage setup in town?

I'd seen the name Tenlons Fort playing around town many times but didn't know that it's basically just one guy, Jack Gibson, armed with a fine, strong voice and prodigious guitar gifts. He's also a talented songwriter. I listened to "Forever is a Long Time" on his myspace page today and I think he performed it at the show, but in any case, it's a terrific song. On his recording of "First Strike", where he's backed by a few instruments, he even sounds a little like Arcade Fire's Win Butler, which I didn't hear in his voice on Tuesday.

He performed with a keyboardist, who, when I finally, focused on him, was Aaron Embry of Amnion. Well, that was a big bonus. I guess it could be called a surprise guest appearance. He played gentle backing keys and sometimes also played a computer with his other hand...at the same time! They played beautifully together.

Jack has a voice that works great as a solo troubadour-type singer, but I can also imagine him backed by a large band and his voice carrying over everything. Like Guy Garvey in Elbow. I introduced myself to him afterwards to tell him how much I enjoyed his set and talk about his tri-city lifestyle (Portland, Austin and L.A.). He said he'd be out here later in the year, perhaps fronting a band. In any incarnation I will look forward to Tenlons Fort's future performances. I marvel at Joe Fielder's ability to keep finding amazing local talent month after month, and, like so many others he's presented, this guy will not remain little-known for long.

The second band was Manhattan Murder Mystery, who, I'd been warned, could perform an unorthodox set. In a situation not unlike Monday night with The Transmissions, the lead singer, Matt, and I have been bumping into each other at a bunch of shows for months, but I'd never seen his band! But I'd appreciated how he always took the time to have a chat, so it was long overdue time for me to see the band.

It's just great when the band turns out to be as great as The Transmissions were the other night and how Manhattan Murder Mystery killed me Tuesday. What a show! The band is a curious blend of guitar, bass, drums and three tambourine playing dancer/backup singers. But the sound they create is a neat amalgam of classic rock and gnarly, raucous, but surprisingly disciplined post-punk. It's hard to describe, but singer Matt is not.

He climbs on stage in his green helmet and imposing presence and sings in a sweet groan. He remained there for maybe a couple of songs. The helmet hat flown off early on. Then, lowering his mike stand down to the floor in front of us, he decided to sing in the audience. He moans, shouts, pulls his hair and generally adopts all manner of expressive torment, never losing the song. I think the guy may be a great actor. And his gimmick of coming down into the audience works, because it's done with a complete lack of self-consciousness, as if it's something every band does. No big deal. But it's just a thrill to stand next to the guy while he's performing. Not something I've experienced often.

I was surprised at how focused and structured the songs remain, even as Matt is having convulsions on the floor in front of you. And you gotta love a band that sings songs with titles like "Pancho Villa" and "Sex and Communism".

Lastly was The Poor Excuses, who are also a band whose members I met at shows, before I heard them. This band is fronted by Andrew Lynch, who I had seen numerous times playing with Earlimart and whose name is on many of the CD's I own as a back up player or sound engineer. So I know the man is talented, but this band is not what you expect. It is the total opposite of Earlimart, it is full bore garage punk. Loud, noisy, jangly and full of energy. I thought Andrew might blast off into orbit a few times. This really isn't my favorite genre of music, but they perform it with real feeling and play really well so it's hard not to enjoy it. And I do try to acquaint myself with as many styles as I can...(within a certain narrow range).


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Death To Anders Continues Echo Residency

Monday (September 15) was the second installment of The Echo residency of Death To Anders and it was a night to remember. I knew this would be a stellar evening with four highly touted local bands and I didn't want to miss any of it.

I also knew there'd be a lot of people I've lately met there, but this was ridiculous. I've met and spoken with Christian Biel any number of times over the last year and he's aquainted me with some bands I didn't know, but when I walked in and saw him on stage with his band The Transmissions, I was transfixed. He is one hell of a guitarist and his emphatic and assured singing style caught me by surprise.

It's a whole other approach to music. For the first time, I meet people at shows and get to know them a little through repeated exposure, and then I see them with their band and see the artist inside the person. That's pretty special to me.

The place was like old home week of Death To Anders fans and friends. After greeting Mary (Monolator), Rob Danson, Kevin Bronson, Elaine Layabout and Andrew Spitser, I made my way to the middle of the floor to fully take in The Transmissions. Each song lifted me highter until their final number, a blazing version of "Safe", had Christian twisting, turning and jumping, oddly resembling one of those snakes in India that uncoil themselves out of a small basket. Weird...but that's what he reminded me of. It was a wild display of guitar gymnastics and explosive self expression. I was impressed (I got the new EP, Greater Imperfections, which is seriously great).

After that I met up with fellow bloggers, Travis Woods (Web In Front), Mouse (Classical Geek Theatre) and the evening's presenter, Joe Fielder (Radio Free Silver Lake) and then nearly all to The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra, Eli (Monolator) and even Sarah Negahdari of The Happy Hollows (even though she's not performing until next week, acoustic).

Radars To the Sky took the stage next and delivered high powered set of the crowd's favorite Radar's songs and a new one, said to be unfinished, and with no name. Andrew later told me he was making up words by the end of the song, but, my god, it sounded completely polished to me. In fact it's my new favorite Radars To the Sky song. I think their writing is becoming as superb as their live performance and it's just a joy to see this band blossom.

Andrew is becoming such a showman with a stage presence so appealing, and he doesn't even seem to be trying. When he sings, he appears to be trying to stretch himself taller, he jumps, points, rolls his eyes and sometimes sings to the ceiling (Maybe he does get taller with each performance, like The Amazing Colossal Man) all the while maintaining a gracious interaction with the other four band members. His wife, Kate Spitser, is an anchoring presence with her solid keyboard work and the occasional vocal harmony, helping to keep things grounded...and Andrew earthbound.

Also met Dave, their new bass player, who I'd first seen with them at Sunset Junction. He seems a real asset to the band and you can tell he's been welcomed into the group like family.

Continuing this night of really high powered, high energy rock and roll, Death To Anders were up next. Like last week, they were lit from below, giving them an nice, eerie, horror-movie glow. It gave their set a ghouls-in-the-haunted-house feel to compliment their ghostly carnivalesque tunes. Sometimes I think this band needs a calliope.

They mixed it up from last week and included a couple of the acoustic versions I'd loved at their "Let's Independent!" show last month. Even with the unfortunate pause from guitar problems, Nick's song was a highlight for me because the song is just so beautiful and haunting. Rob performed his acoustic number, "Detective Surgery", which has yet to be recorded, and it contains some of their best lyrics I've heard from them.

The final band was The Monolators, and although I've seen them a bunch of times, it's been a long time and I wasn't prepared for how great they've become. Eli just freaked me out with his onstage performance. The whole band is just so tight now, they delivered definitive performances of songs I've heard them do before, but not like this.

Mary is amazing to watch on the drums... and that concentration. It's hard to pull your eyes from her long enought to take in Eli, flying all over the stage. They're also another band that genuinely seem to love playing with each other. That stuff shows and it can't be faked.

This was another amazing night of live music in L.A. and thanks to Radio Free Silver Lake and The Echo and Death To Anders.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


On Satuday (September 13) my intention was to go see a band called My Secret Alphabet, who had extended an invitation for me to come see them sometime. I didn't know their music, but when I listened to a few of their tunes on their myspace page I was impressed. They play the kind of shoe-gaze, psychedelic indie rock that I'm instantly partial to, and they play it well. Well, I feel like a fool because I went to all the trouble to take the train to Union Station, another train to Highland Park and walked over to Figueroa St. only to have brought the wrong address with me. And no one I asked had heard of the Legion # 206 I was looking for, so I had to turn around and go home. I'm sorry to have missed the show.

It's just as well as the rest of this month is one of the best extended periods of live music since I've been back into the music scene. For local bands as well as some of my favorite national bands, too. Monday night's Echo residency starring Death to Anders is an all star lineup of 4 of the very best bands around, period, hosted by Radio Free Silver Lake (see link below). The Monolators, The Transmissions and Radar To the Sky will see that The Echo is packed on September 15. It doesn't get any better than this and I will be there early to be sure to get in. And it will be a late night.

Tuesday (September 16) "Let's Independent!" by Radio Free Silver Lake's Joe Fielder begins it's third year with some bands I'm reallly anxious to see. The Poor Excuses are playing and they're fun and loud and I liked them live, so they should give the night a lively jolt. Manhattan Murder Mystery and Tenlons Fort are both bands I've been meaning to see for a long time. I expect greatness. As usual.

Wednesday night (September 17) brings Aaron Embry, Edward Sharpe and The Deadly Syndrome to Tangier for a set of freaky, hippie, folkie and some garage rock music. But don't let that scare you off, they're all so talented it could be an impressive evening.

Friday (September 19) at the Troubadour are The Wedding Present and Earlimart. I'd never heard of The Wedding Present, but a couple of friends said they've been around a while and thought I'd like them, so I bought their new CD El Rey and it's pretty good. The lead singer's style sounds like it could have influenced Andrew Spitser of Radars To the Sky and they write good, poppy, melodic songs. These friends are going with me and I'm excited to introduce them to Earlimart who, I'm sure, will knock them out. It will be my 12th time seeing my favorite local band. Theirs was the first local music I heard and they were the magnet that drew me to so many of my other favorite bands so I will always feel indebted to Aaron Espinoza. Treble and Tremble was their current CD then and I played it to death, wondering if I'd ever get to see them live. On March 22, 2006, I got to see them for the first time at a club in Hollywood called King King, and they were everything I could have hoped for as live performers. I was just getting used to the fact that these bands usually sounded just as good live as on their recordings and it taught me just how much the technology had improved in the 25 years since I had been to a concert. Anyway, thanks Earlimart.

Saturday (September 20) is a real highlight for me because New Zealand's The Veils are coming to town to open for Liam Finn at the Echoplex. The Veils are fronted by Finn Andrews who is, without question, one of the most electrifying artists I saw anywhere last year. They played two nights (August 16 and 17, 2007) at the Hotel Cafe and I knew enough to get tickets for both nights. He sings blues so intense it can curl the hairs on the back of your neck, or croon a ballad so heartwrenchingly it brings you to tears, or a sunny pop ditty, or a jazzy number. You name it, he seems able to master it. I've never stopped listening to their CD Nux Vomica. I'm not familiar with the music of Liam Andrews but I expect anyone with the good sense to appear on a bill with The Veils to be worthwhile.

Fleet Foxes have sold out the El Rey on Monday night (September 22) so I was glad I got my ticket a long time ago. I've already said so much about this band, I'll just add that I understand they're working on their next CD already, since they've had a whole two and half weeks off. This band gets bigger every day so I'll always be grateful for their early concerts (The Echo and Spaceland), because, I fear, one day, you won't be able to get near them. Can't wait to see Frank Fairfield again, too, because he's as intense as Finn Andrews. Unfortunately, I have to miss Death To Anders doing their fabulous acoustic set at The Echo that night and I'm sorry for that.

Tuesday (September 23) I see Okkervil River for the first time, and I have to say, I'm really excited about this one too. I've been loving their last CD The Stage Names for long months now, in fact, since they last played in town at the Troubadour and sold it out in about one hour. When I couldn't get tickets, I was so mad, I decided to torture myself by buying the CD and I was right. It was torture because that CD could be considered some kind of literary masterpiece and I couldn't get in to see them. Will Sheff is one hell of a lyric writer. I found myself completely caught up in the stories he tells. Some sad, some funny, some revealing, all brilliantly realized. I just got his new CD The Stand Ins and it may not be as readily accessible as the last one, but with writing of this quality, sometimes you have to give it time.

Wednesday (September 24) is Aaron Embry's residency night at Tangier which I'm hoping to attend.

Thursday (September 25) has both Pop Levi playing an in-store at Amoeba and a program at Safari Sam's with The Western States Motel, Aushua and The French Semester which sounds very good.

I have a ticket for Silver Jews at the Echoplex. I love David Berman's off-the-wall, tilted version of alt-country rock. I was lucky to see his show a couple of years ago at the Fonda when he was on his first tour (after recording for, what, 12 years?) and it was a wonderful show. Friday (September 26) is only his second time in L.A. so I didn't think it wise to miss this. Haven't heard his latest CD yet but his songwriting skills rival Okkervil River's Will Sheff, or is it vice versa.

Saturday (September 27) brings a current very favorite local band of mine, Thailand, to the Echo Curio with
Manhattan Murder Mystery, and since I haven't been to the Curio yet, I think I'll be there. Thailand's last few show that I've seen have been so good that no one should miss this.

Monday (September 29 ) rounds out the month for me with Calexico and The Cave Singers at the Fonda. Calexico is probably on my list of favorite 20 bands (this list doesn't exist, by the way) and I've only seen them once. As a fan of their last two CD's, the new one, Carried To Dust is my number one CD this week (see list below). I think it's a terrific achievement and I'm just a sucker for Joey Burns' voice. And that great southwestern American sound. I'll never forget the night I saw them for the first time on June 13, 2006 at the Fonda when The Black Heart Procession opened for them and I saw two of the best bands I ever saw. Both bands are among my top 20 (if there was such a thing).

I'm going to have trouble peeling myself off the ceiling of many of these theatres after some of these shows so I don't know how much time I'll be spending on Earth the next couple of weeks. This is why I live in L.A.!

Someone asked me to and I thought it might be fun to post the top CD's I've been listening to this week, so here goes:
For the week of September 8 - 14:

1. Calexico - Carried To Dust (Quarterstick Records)
2. Okkervil River - The Stand Ins (Jagjaguwar)
3. Darker My Love - 2 (Dangerbird records)
4. Gangi - A (self release)
5. Jefferson Starship - Jefferson's Tree of Liberty (The Lab Records) note: the old dinosaurs go back to their folk roots and produce a potent collection of beautifully sung standards, classics, new material and protest songs (Boy do we need them now!). I can't believe I'm listening to them again. Grace even appears on the bonus track.
6. Earlimart - Hymn and Her (Majordomo Records)
7. The Veils - Nux Vomica (Rough Trade)
8. The Stevenson Ranch Davidians - Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs (self release)
9. The Wedding Present - El Rey (Manifesto)
10.The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra - Escapements (self release)

Anyway, that's what I've been playing.


Friday, September 12, 2008

A Couple of Midweek Concerts

Wednesday, September 10, was the Amoeba in-store by The Parson Red Heads and they performed a tight set of some of their best songs to a highly appreciative crowd. The turnout was good for this favorite local band who are so good at transmitting their joy of performance directly into the audience, I always feel a little better after one of their sets.

Performing as a band of eight on this occasion, Evan Way led the band through some of their prettiest and most danceable tunes. How anyone can stand still during this music baffles me. The enjoyment these guys get from playing together seems so genuine and is so strong you can't resist it.

Performing many songs from their newest EP Owl and Timber, "Crowds" had Evan and Erin Way singing together in a delicate chorus so stunning it could have wrung tears from a stone, and when they're joined by Sam Fowles on vocals here and in "Out To Sea" they sing some wonderful 3-part harmonies. I love the economic density of their compositions, everything in it's place, and not one superfluous note.

Sam told me it was a little nerve-wracking playing in front of his Amoeba co-workers, but his stage manner betrayed no stress. From their trademark white attire to the white flowers strapped to the mike stands to Erin's dancing tamborine moves during "Got It All", this band is always a pleasure to see. The Parson Red Heads are also appearing at Tangier on Friday night, September 12.

I was glad that the Amoeba shows always get me home early because I knew that Thursday night was going to be a marathon. I wanted to see two shows and four bands. On September 11th Gangi and Lions of Panjshir were playing at Tangier amd The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra and Avi Buffalo were at that legit stage space, The Unknown Theatre, off Santa Monica Blvd.

First I raced over to Tangier to see if the show started at 8, which was about right as the first band started at about 8:15. They were called Jeff Ramuno 'n the Gunslingers and I thought they were pretty great, though I'd never heard of them before.

I was there early so there were only about 7 people when the band started, but they immediately caught the attention of everyone in the room (and the room did start to fill up). Jeff Ramuno plays in a kind of hippie/folk-rock, alt-country style, but is very strong vocally as well as creative in his songwriting . I really enjoyed "Five Curtains" and "The Wait" with all it's backward samples. A really good back up band of drummer and bass player along with a violin player and back up singer who had never played with them before, after only one night of rehearsal. But she had complete command of the songs and offered strong vocal support that I can't imagine them without.

I really loved the way the three back ups would sometimes add their harmonies unmiked, and in a delightful room like at Tangier, they could not only be heard, but their voices possessed an incredible warmth. Kind of like analog as opposed to digital. Fronted by the the passionate and heartfelt vocals of Jeff Ramuno this group seems to be fully formed and ready to go out and have an impact.

I got to enjoy some time with Matt Gangi and Lyle Nesse before the show and share some thoughts as Lyle tinkered with their equipment. He explained how much of their sound is blended together on stage in front of us as opposed to just pushing an on and off switch, out of which comes a prearranged back up track.

And watching them onstage you realize how much work both of them have to do to create their sweeping soundscapes. Lyle becomes a whirling dervish of activity, practically dancing while seated. Matt, a figure of intense concentration, playing guitar, playing samples (headphones half on, half off), even drums and then singing with precision, the difficult melodies he composes for himself, creates an hypnotic atmosphere. I think these guys take what they're doing very seriously.

They opened with "Ground", my favorite, and continued with the song "Commonplace Feathers", which they were recently in New York to shoot a video for, and "Animals" among others. Watching the audience reaction and seeing that phenomenon I've witnessed a few times, where the audience rushes the stage after the set to grab the band's CD's, I could see that this band is on to something. They're about to leave on their first cross-country tour which I feel sure will bring them legions of new fans.

By now it was 10 and I had to miss Lion of Panjshir to get to The Unknown theatre by 11. Shortly after arriving Avi Buffalo went on and I was completely overwhelmed. I was told that he is a 16 years old guitar prodigy and I can attest to that, because he is, without question, one of the finest guitarists I've ever seen. He also sings in a strong, distinctive voice and writes complex and interesting music and lyrics. He is joined on stage by Rebecca Coleman on keyboard and vocals, Arin Fazio on bass and Sheridan Riley on drums.

I've been hearing about this band for a while now, but this was my first exposure to their music and for the duration of their set I felt completely transported. Listening to the selections on myspace the next day, I was able to really appreciate how good the songwriting is.

The theatre seating in this venue and the stage and lighting, together with the terrific acoustics, make this one of the most comfortable places in town to hear music. I was sitting with my Flying Tourbillon friends and spoke to Matt of Manhattan Murder Mystery and every one was as blown away as I was. This was instantly one of the music high points of the month.

For a band so young, they possess a professionalism and seriousness you rarely see, even in long established bands. This is a band I will not miss again! The sad, speculative realism of songs with titles like "I'm So Exclusive" or "Your Dirty Mind" deal with simple themes like life and death and junior high school uniforms. They are stunning compositions. I feel lucky to have seen Avi Buffalo at this stage of their career.

The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra took to the stage around midnight and, in spite of having been cursed by the gods, they managed to keep their professionalism intact. First Adam's guitar amp failed, then Ethan's keyboard amp was crackling and popping, adding an interesting additional percussion to the songs. Kelli and Hunter bravely mustered forward, singing and playing and keeping it all together. They deserve the fortitude award for the evening. I really wanted to hear this sonically excellent band in this great venue, but alas, on this night they were The Walking Tourbillon Orchestra. In spite of the problems I was still glad I was there.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Death To Anders Begin Echo Residency

Death To Anders launched their September residency at The Echo with a great line up Monday night (September 8, 2008). A nice crowd of friends and bands were there to show support for one of L.A.'s hardest working bands. And the hard work is paying off with increasingly impressive performances as evidenced by this polished set.

First up, though, was The Henry Clay People, who, I was quite ashamed to admit to people, I had never had the chance to see yet. And they play all the time all over the place in L.A. so there is really no excuse, except that in the tidal wave of bands I'm trying to learn about, some get by me. Sorry. I really was sorry because they are great. They hyped up the audience with a first rate set of numbers including a bunch of covers, which, it was said, the band had barely rehearsed. WOW! They are a solid band of flat out rock and rollers, singing out, playing loud and delivering superb musicianship. It was fun and informal and set the tone for an evening that was much more party than concert.

Next up, Robert Francis, a local band who stunned everyone with a terrific set of literate, folkie-indie rock. Stongly sung, Robert Francis has a voice matched by his super guitar playing. I understand he plays a wide range of instruments. His sister joined on harmonies and they sound like they've been singing together for years. They're surrounded by a terrific band of players and I was surprised I'd not heard of them before. They played a nice full set, too.

Death To Anders were pretty stoked by the time they came on and they rewarded their faithful fans with a rocking set of old and new and newest songs. I loved that they started with older material I'm not really familiar with. The older material is just as quirky and angular as the new stuff and yet even their familiar material surprises you with it's odd trajectory. It makes the music sound both classic and futuristic at the same time. I never feel I can describe their music properly and maybe that's part of their achievement. Their musical knowledge seems so sure that there doesn't seem to be any musical influence they can't call upon.

Rob Danson and Nick Ceglio have such different voices that each takes the band in a different direction and yet when singing together it makes perfect sense and the disparate elements all congeal. A song can lull you into a gentle reverie and then suddenly spray out all over the place with vein-popping intensity in a mad cacophany of noise before bringing you back down. Their shows are a lot of fun. Also picked up their new Enigmatic Market EP download. Can't wait to hear that. And I'll be there next week.

I couldn't stay for Manhattan Murder Mystery, but it was late and I will see them next Tuesday, Sept 16, at Joe's "Let's Independent!" at Boardner's (go to Radio Free Silver Lake for details)

Now it's Tuesday and there's a bunch of new CD's "dropping" into stores (I get a charge out of the term "drop").
Like Carried To Dust by Calexico, and The Stand Ins by Okkervil River, and the new one by The Wedding Present, who I don't even know, but am seeing next week at the Troubadour when Earlimart opens for them on Sept. 19. Friends have assured me I will love them. We'll see.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Xu Xu Fang Hypnotized Audience at Spaceland

Spaceland on Wednesday (September 3, 2008) became a murky, swampy, dark vortex into which we were drawn by a band called Xu Xu Fang.

Before that happened, The Black Pine played a set of terrifically orchestrated rock and roll. I like the sound of this band, but I think lead singer Mitch Cichocki's voice takes some getting used to. But I may be getting there. This was the third time seeing them and they're winning me over.

I chatted with Mouse (Classical Geek Theatre) and we compared notes on the speech earlier in the evening by Sarah ("hypocracy is my middle name") Palen. The next two months are going to be tense.

The moment the fog began to billow and the atmosphere altered, all conversation ceased, cleaving the evening in two. There was before Xu Xu Fang and after Xu Xu Fang. And in between, this spell was cast and it was like folding space in Dune. Basically, they pick you up and then deliver you back to earth at the conclusion.

I'm not even sure the band even knows the power they wield. They're not just a band, but performance artists and do they ever know how to put on a show without even trying. Led by drummer Bobby Tamkin, they began with an instrumental before Barbara Cohen even took the stage. As the fog swirls thicker and the music pulsates and Barbara appears at the microphone, they create the visual equivalent of a narcotized hallucination...without drugs. By stimulating the aural and visual senses they induce a state of euphoria as the audience leans forward trying to see if there's really a band on stage somewhere in the gauzy haze.

I'd never seen the band before Barbara joined them, but I can't imagine a better line up. Even without one guitar Wednesday, I heard that same intense wash of sound coming from them, defined by that blistering drumming, making it impossible not to move.

They sang "These Days, "The Mourning Son" and "Good Times Have Gone Away" from the CD The Mourning Son and the brilliant "7 Days Now". That's the one where Barbara's voice just soars near the end so intensely it makes your heart race, as she slowly raises both arms. Like that alien at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I'm not sure we weren't victims of a mass hypnosis.

The fog cleared and the lights became brighter and The Human Value took a turn on stage. Their music is kind of wild and punky and loud, but lead singer Turu is a sight to see. A one-woman spectacle, she dances, yelps, moans, pulls her hair and practically does a flamenco dance. She reminded me of a hopped up 'Anita' from West Side Story. I thought she was a star; lot's of charisma, charm, raw talent in a high-explosive package. The music's a bit rough and edgy, not really my favorite genre, but there's no denying this band's tremendous talent.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sons and Daughters - Troubadour - September 2

Sons And Daughters blazed like a hot fire at the Troubadour Tuesday night (September 2, 2008). This band goes way back to when I first got back into music in '05. Their video for "Dance Me In" was featured on the second or third Refused TV I videotaped and it instantly intrigued me. In it Adele Bethe is photographed to look like a roadhouse Jodie Foster at this dirty, dank underground kind of prom from hell. The way she spits out the lyrics in a talk/sing style so fast you can only catch every 6th word she says, except when she ends the line with an emphatic "truth", and you instantly get the gist of what she's saying.

Anyway, I loved the video but when I went back through back issues of L.A. Weekly, I found out I'd missed a series of shows they'd played at Spaceland and The Echo in mid-2005. Being from Scotland, I realized they wouldn't be coming back for at least a year, so I put them to the side.

Three years later I see they're coming to the Troubadour, so in preparation I bought the CD The Repulsion Box last weekend. Well, it's a pretty great CD so I was really looking forward to the live show. I love their blending of '50's/B-52's/Punkish/New Wave styles. Did I miss anything?

Adele looked incredible in a '60's go-go dress (like gold chain mail) and Cleopatra eye makeup and prancing around the stage, feeding off the audience's energy and supplying plenty of her own. She's got a fabulous voice and she can purr out the words or let loose with a piercing howl. She seemed thrilled by the crowd's response to the songs, as did the whole band. She's beautifully balanced, vocal wise, by Scott Paterson who also plays the blistering guitar.

They played songs from other CD's I didn't know and "Dance Me In" from The Repulsion Box but I liked everything they played. The highlight, for me, was the song "Rama Lama", which is so steeped in Ennio Morricone you can almost see the tumble weed rolling by. The twangy guitar, the staccato beat, even the whistles. It's a terrific song and it was beautifully performed.

The audience was super enthusiastic , even though the place was not packed, but everyone was bouncing around, their music is so danceable. Adele told us the reason the other girl wasn't there was because she's pregnant, so a superb bassist was filing in, but because Ailidh Lennon is the one who plays the mandolin, they couldn't do the mandolin songs. I'd love to see that one day, but for now this was a great line up, and I was soaring from their set.


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Dios (Malos) - Spaceland - September 1

September could turn out to be the busiest concert month I've ever had. I think I'm trying to test my endurance. Beginning on Monday (Septemner 1, 2008) I decided to take in Dios (Malos) in their first night of a much deserved residency at Spaceland. Unfortunately the two dueling Monday residencies this month are by two bands I love: Dios (Malos) at Spaceland and Death To Anders at the Echo begin their engagement next Monday (Sept. 8). I hope to take D. To A. in both next week and on Sept. 15. I have tickets for Fleet Foxes on Monday, Sept. 22 at the El Rey, and one for Calexico at the Fonda on Monday, Sept. 29 so Mondays are gone this month.

I was happy to see a good crowd assembled, on a holiday no less, and Dios (Malos) gave back a solid set of their shambling, amiable rock and roll. This was my sixth time seeing them and they are definitely one of the most polished, professional bands I know and they deserve a much bigger following. I have never seen them deliver anything less than a focused, beautifully constructed set of songs. I have a feeling they enjoy putting together their set list as much as playing.

Joel Morales was in incredible voice last night, maybe the best I've heard him. His clarity and volume together with the natural warmth of his voice are at the core of each song. They can go off on instrumental detours and meander around, but the minute Joel adds a vocal the whole thing comes into focus.

The other musicians play an integral part in the perfection of their sound. You can't imagine this group with one extra or one less player. J. P.'s amazing harmonies and great bass work, the irrepressible Patrick whose drumwork seems like modern dance and Ed's skilled keyboard playing (and then he played guitar for the encore).

As in their other recent shows, they string together their songs to flow seamlessly into one another, barely stopping for applause 3 or 4 times. and they never stop tinkering with the arrangements; some songs are different each time I've seen them performed. Every song was a gem, but "Feels Good Being Somebody" really stood out for me.

I hope the remainder of their residency goes as well as this evening. If you've never seen this band, you should check them out.