Friday, October 31, 2008

Echo Curio and the Soloist Sandwich

I was really looking forward to catching Avi Buffalo for the second time on Thursday (October 30, 2008) at the Echo Curio. I'd seen him once before at the Unknown Theatre in September when he performed with his four piece band and I was totally unprepared for the talent assault I was subjected to. He had me from the first song on.

It was also a chance to return to the Echo Curio. Hell, I'd move in there if they'd let me. It's one of the most arts-friendly and welcoming music venues I've ever experienced. Justin and Grant are to be commended for making this possible.

I made sure to arrive around 9:00 because I figured every act would be worth a look. That was true, even more so. Grant aptly called the evening's program 'a soloist sandwich' when I asked him about it.

Them Darling Deers would appear as a solo act, followed by the full band, Tommy Santee Klaws, and ending with a solo Avi Buffalo with his guitar. I was very excited at the prospect of seeing Avi sing and play without any accompaniment. To be able to really focus on his extraordinary guitar playing gifts.

And to hear his songs that way, it would be something like seeing Aaron Embry doing Amnion songs solo at Tangier. That was an amazing show I'll never forget!

Them Darling Deers soloist came out and I haven't been able to find out his name. He appeared on stage armed with only a guitar and a suitcase. Putting down the unopened suitcase he played what he described as "Puppet Therapy" songs. I think it's something about having a surrogate voice your deepest desires. They're little psychological, sing-songy kind of ditties with very dark roots.

But when he sat on the floor, hidden behind his open suitcase, you were left to wonder what in the world was making those other-worldly, unidentifiable sounds coming out at you. A probable mix of pre-recorded samples and sounds produced by, I don't know, whistles, bells, tongs, xylophones perhaps?

Anyway, it all builds to one giant cacophony of combined sound elements making a sound like a spaceship leaving earth, leaving me plastered against the back wall. It was very impressive. Experimental, mind-blowing music has always intigued me and this was no exception.

A highlight of the evening was talking to Avi Buffalo. I appreciated his kind words about this blog and his understanding about how music has changed my life. It's hard for me to express what a huge impact this has had sometimes, and he just seemed to understand.

I hadn't known he's been lately collaborating with Aaron Embry of Amnion and I can't imagine a better fit. It sounds like he has a pretty exciting rest of the year planned.

Tommy Santee Klaws was up next and I really didn't know anything about their music. So when they began with that gorgeous sound and those stunning vocals, I was transfixed. They reminded me immediately of Fleet Foxes, with that folky sound, but also of Dios Malos and their beautiful high lead vocals, and a little Le Loup, with the plinkity-plunk use of bells, horns, kazoos and anything else they could get their hands on.

Beautifully orchestrated melodies contrasted with ironic/sardonic lyrics always get my attention, but these were done with an uncommon quality of writing and performance. Tommy Santee has a voice that could melt glass and it is complemented by perfect harmonies from other band members.

Their songs tend to be short and right to the point, but all different. "Chasing Bodies" with it's mariachi-style guitar and careful, deliberate vocals. "Smoke Spells" and it's beautiful funeral dirge tempo, supporting lyrics like, "you'll look better when you're dead". "Pickle Jar" and the tribal beat complimented by Donna J. Ryan O'hara's assorted sound effects from bells or whistles or her voice.

They sound casual but with a technical professionalism that can only come from playing together a long time. The wonderful comtribution of the upright bass only makes it even more beautiful, in a set where not one element felt out of place.

I enjoyed meeting Tommy and the band and their fans who were on hand. Picked up a couple of their CD's which are just great. I really like their gentle songs flavored with occasionally brutal lyrics and the honesty of their approach. Tommy Santee Klaws goes right on my 'must see again' list.

Avi Buffalo completed the sandwich with a solo set that ably demonstrated why he's one of the best guitarists around. To hear the songs I'd heard from the full band done solo was revelatory.

Certain people can make the guitar sound like the most beautiful sound on earth. I think Kaki King did it for me last Saturday at the Troubadour and, here, Avi Buffalo did it again.

With only his guitar and some pre-recorded accompaniment he astounded the assemble crowd with a set of songs that showed the range of his songwriting. I especially enjoy this version of "Where's Your Dirty Mind" and it's great melody, kind of profound lyrics and the expressive vocals. In spite of all the attention payed to his guitar playing, he certainly doesn't neglect his voice. It has a remarkable flexibility and manages to stay ahead of the unpredictable melodies he writes.

A few of his songs would extend into long guitar reveries that were hypnotic and stopped time. It could have gone on for hours. I look forward to any recordings he will put out, but in the meantime the five songs on his myspace page are great to have. Do not miss Avi Buffalo if you ever have the chance.

This has been a remarkable week for seeing great singers, from Seasons and Fol Chen, to One Trick Pony and Thailand, to Red Cortez and Tommy Santee Klaus and Avi Buffalo. Thank you, Los Angeles.


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