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.


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