Friday, January 30, 2009

The French Semester CD Release Show

I thought Wednesday night (January 28, 2009) would be a great chance to catch up with The French Semester at their CD release event at the Silverlake Lounge, and also to see Tigers Can Bite You and Divisadero, who I don't see enough.

I'm especially glad I went as The French Semester and Dividadero are Isgoodbands and as Jon Hershfield has pointed out on his site, Jan 22nd post, Isgoodmusic, I am going to be contributing coverage of the Isgoodbands show that I attend. Which are plentiful! I really look forward to this opportunity. The home page is here: Isgoodmusic

Tigers Can Bite You are just a band of three but their sound is huge. Lead singer, Dave, makes his guitar sound like at least two or three guitars, jangling away beautifully while Cindy provides a dense undercurrent of throbbing, pulsing bass with her keyboards which filled every particle of space, both inside and outside the head, making me feel like I was underwater. And none of it would make any sense were it not for the steady drumming of Andrew, which gave the whole thing definition and direction.

Their songs are short, tight and to the point. Nothing sounds superfluous and yet their sound is grand in scope. They are a band worth following.

And they were followed by The French Semester. I shouldn't have gone so long without knowing this band better. They play the kind of echoey, jangly rock and roll that reminds me of Southern California in the '60's (from the perspective of a snowbound East coaster, which I was at the time). The sound is of the sun and the surf and the sand.

Their music instantly transported me back to the time when rock and roll was experiencing the growing pains that occurred between The Beatles early, empty-headed pop ditties and the music that resulted after they dropped acid and became intellectuals. The years 1965 and 1966 when bands like We Five, The Turtles, The Byrds and the like were turning to folk music to try to add relevancy to the genre. The times demanded more than songs just about crooning at the moon in June, which was all popular music had been about for decades.

I was too young to understand Dylan at the time (his music was not played on commercial radio in the mid '60's) so I didn't comprehend the revolution he was spearheading. But I was exposed to more mainstream folk music through Peter, Paul and Mary, The Kingston Trio and even Joan Baez, and immediately recognized the value of socially conscious music and it's power to move people.

This isn't to say that The French Semester write political songs. Just that their music reminds me of a time when change seemed possible and necessary. Not unlike now. It's not in their lyrics, it's in the hollow, slightly haunted and distant sound of their music.

The lyrics are often cryptic and unsettling, yet always thought provoking. Riaz writes with just the right combination of irony, wit and truth. His vocal style is plain and simple, no artifice or pretension and after talking to him, I realized he sings as he speaks... naturally and without hype. It's the lyrics themselves that make your head spin, trying to wrap your brain around what he's saying.

Though evocative of the sixties, I don't want to give the impression that they're copying anyone. They have managed to carve out a niche of their own in the local contemporary scene and sound unlike anyone else. There are elements that remind me of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, or a little Grizzly Bear, some Stevenson Ranch Davidians. Even Buffalo Springfield or The Byrds. But after listening to their new CD, Good Friends Only I Could See, I'm more impressed than ever. In fact, I can't stop playing it.

I got to spend some quality time with Divisadero's Josh McCool and Pauline Lay. Josh was telling me how their CD, Lefty, came about and I am glad I got a copy because it is a beautiful piece of work.

Even though I had to get home, I wanted to stay for a part of their set and was very impressed with the sound mix, as Marco Montesclaros was able to compete with the lush orchestrations this band writes. His vocals were miked just right so the balance was even better than at the American Legion Hall last weekend.

I will be seeing Divisadero again soon at the 'Hella Hipster Hoedown' on Feb. 6, and I'm rapidly becoming hooked on their album. Turned out to be a pretty great night.


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