Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Few Year End Shows

These year end compilations have so monopolized my time I neglected to review three shows from last weekend, starting with Darker My Love at The Echoplex Friday night, December 19, 2008.

This was my third time seeing them recently and each time I've been impressed. There was a good crowd gathered for this hard working band who never seem to stop playing around town or touring. I was anxious to see them again because I knew they were going to be on my Ten Best List and wanted to see again that they are as good live as on record. They are!

I've played their new CD 2 so much the songs are burned into my brain making it fun to hear the subtle differences they bring to the live renditions. Their sound is so forceful and driving, yet with an ethereal beauty delivered through the vocals. It feeds the heart and the soul and the minute they begin you're transported into a dream state. They performed a lot of my favorites from 2, including "Blue Day", with the vocal harmonies slowed down to really appreciate how pretty it sounds, "Talking Words" and "Two Ways Out".

Ran into Kevin Bronson, who was the only other blogger there, most being at Mouse's shindig, Fiend Folio Two, at Echo Curio (which sounds like it was great!). But I had the opportunity to finally meet a couple of Darker My Love band members, Will Canzoneri and Rob Barbato, who actually said they know my blog. They are nice guys and I was flattered. I let them know they'd be on my Ten Best List.

On Saturday, December 20, 2008, I attended one of the year's more remarkable shows at the Masonic Lodge in the historic Hollywood Forever Cemetery. This is where I spend one night each year at the Day of the Dead celebration in a state of hyper-magical realism, so to go there for a concert by Will Sheff (Okkervil River) seemed like a natural extension of that.

Walking into the gorgeous building (another hidden treasure in Los Angeles), located just east of the main entrance, I could tell this would be a very civilized experience. A roaring fire in the main hall upstairs greets you, along with two makeshift bars, and once you enter the concert hall, there are seats. It's a beautiful, high-ceilinged white room with hand-painted ornamental designs on the heavy wooden beams.

The place was nearly filled (I think this sold out almost as soon as it was announced in November), but I got a good seat on the center aisle near the back with a clear view of the stage. Looking around I was surprised to see a display of movie posters of many of the seminal films from my youth. That brief period when the auteur director was suddenly ruling Hollywood and the film industry experienced it's peak as an art form of personal expression.

Beginning with the one-sheets for Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider, they wrapped around the room. Posters for The Godfather, Five Easy Pieces, Taxi Driver, a superb three-sheet of Richard Amsel's poster for McCabe and Mrs. Miller, one-sheets for Brewster McCloud, The Long Goodbye, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and others and ending with Star Wars, which, good as it was, signaled the beginning of the destruction of the art form, turning American film from art pieces into McDonald's hamburgers. Where film lies now... fairly dormant.

But I was here to hear Will Sheff of Okkervil River deliver a solo acoustic set. I love the literary qualities of his lyrics for Okkervil River and expected much from him as a solo. I should have expected even more, because he astonished all of us with a set of smart, funny, caustic and sad tales told by a master storyteller. This man has a way with words few can touch.

He mostly played songs from the extraordinary 2007 release, The Stage Names, some from The Stand Ins, this year's slightly disappointing sequel. In this setting, Will performed the so appropriate "Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe". He excelled on the remarkably sad and moving "Savannah Smiles". It tells of a dad's estrangement from his teen aged daughter in terms so honest and revealing, one wonders how Will can have such wisdom about it, because he can't be old enough to have experienced this. He says his songs are fiction, and if that is true, he is, indeed, a very special writer.

He followed that with "Plus One", another brilliant song! He and Amanda Palmer (at The Fonda) managed to leave me awash in tears, twice this week. It was my honor to be in their audience of admirers. Borrowing the bass player from opening New York band, Bird of Youth, he also had a keyboard artist, so it was Will Sheff and two accompanists. The Tallest Man on Earth was a solo troubadour style singer/songwriter whose set was enjoyable.

I saw Okkervil River last September at the Fonda for the first time and I was impressed, but this show with Will Sheff was even more impressive. He surpassed my expectations and, as he says in the wonderful last line from "Plus Ones"..."No, let's exceed it".

Sunday, December 21, 2008, was the Buddyhead Christmas Party at the Hotel Cafe and it featured way too many performers to mention, or to even get on stage. I'd purchased a ticket way back when and, like Saturday's concert, it looked to be a hot ticket in town. This night was featuring a lot of artists from the previous two decades of rock music and, since I wasn't listening back then, they were mostly strangers to me.

But, touted as a night of heavy rockers courting their softer sides, I was eager to see the newer band I did know that were on the bill. Like Dios Malos, Dead Meadow and Xu Xu Fang. Arriving around seven, when they asked us to show up, we then waited until nearly eight to be let in.

I think the music began around 8:30 and was sporadic throughout the night. I think I was there nearly seven hours and heard a lot of music, but to tell the truth there was so much down time between sets, it tried the patience. Thank god for Dios Malos! I went over and finally introduced myself to Joel Morales, who I've written about, reviewed, corresponded with via myspace, but never met. I sat with him most of the evening and it saved the whole night for me.

That, and the fact that Dios Malos played the set of the night, with energy, passion and sheer talent most other performers had trouble matching. It only proved to me, once again, why they're one of my favorite bands, local or otherwise. They only played four songs, and only one (a cover) had I ever heard before, but each one was special and beautifully performed. All four band members played, brilliantly, as usual, every bit as seriously as if it were a complete concert.

Also Dead Meadow played a set of acoustic versions with Jason Simon performing solo with assist from Steve Kille on bass. Amazing to hear five of their wonderful songs done in this clear, stripped down manner. It was a rare opportunity and I'll always be glad I was there to see that.

I also payed attention to the odd comic poet, Ryan Ritchie, whose diatribe against cell phones was music to my ears. Very talented. And Todd Congelliere of The Underground Railroad To Candyland performed some good songs. I really liked The Underground Railroad To Candyland when I saw them September 1, 2008 at Spaceland, but didn't know Joel Morales plays bass for them. I'm sorry I missed them at Mouse's Fiend event.

Good set by Brandon Intelligator and The Sheriffs distracted me as well, but the parade of '80's and '90's characters made for a pretty interesting, mixed up audience. The night was really long and Xu Xu Fang never got to play, which severely disappointed me, but like I said, thank god for Dios Malos.


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