Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Is The Red Cortez the Best Band in L. A.?

For some reason, I was really primed to hear some great music Monday night, January 12, 2009, and the Robert Francis residency at The Echo was the perfect solution.

The Red Cortez was my primary motivation for attending. I feel slightly ashamed of not getting into this band much sooner, when they were known as The Weather Underground. Especially since now they're pushing forward with a lot of great press, superb live shows and a new EP, In the Fall, which is stunning.

I'd bumped into portions of their sets a few times, but I was never there to see them, so I paid little attention. My loss. It was watching the great videos taken of their acoustic garden performance last summer that made me see what I was missing.

In spite of, or maybe because it was a rare acoustic performance by the band, I was really taken by Harley Prechtel-Cortez' singing and piano playing. That performance showed off his impressive basic talent and that of the rest of this great band.

Determined not to miss them again, I began attending their every show. The show at The Silverlake Lounge on October 29, 2008, where they appeared as The Red Cortez for the first time, was the wild and frenzied display of a ferociously talented band. I was wowed!

The next time at The Echoplex Indie 103.1 Check One...Twosday event starring Earlimart, was a structured, more formal performance and showed that these artists can be a very disciplined band as well. This was a performance I couldn't shake off. I thought it was perfect.

Monday's show convinced me to throw my full support behind The Red Cortez and declare them the best band in L.A. From beginning to end the whole experience was one of sublime satisfaction. Harley and the rest of the band, Ryan Kirkpatrick, Calvin J. Love and Diego Guerrero performed a perfect set of some of the standards I've come to love and threw in some new songs as well. I didn't hear a false sound or see a false move during the entire set.

Harley Prechtel-Cortez seems to possess perfect vocal control and sings with a kind of morning-after hoarseness, but with a great tremulous vibrato that he employs sparingly and most effectively. This is matched by his dizzying piano skills. He can tap out a gentle melody or sometimes he simply slaps the keys like some demented seal with flippers.

I picked up their first EP under the name of The Red Cortez called In the Fall and it contains versions of "In the Fall", "World at Rest", Laughing Streetcar" and "All the Difference". It so far surpasses their other recordings because it sounds just like their live shows. Indeed, two of the selections are live, but recorded so well you can't tell the difference. I can't stop playing it today and already suspect it will be on my best of the year list in 11 months.

They're the kind of band that make me aspire to be a better writer.

It took all of Robert Francis' powers to distract me from the perfection I had just witnessed, but he did just that. This extraordinarily gifted singer/songwriter shocked me again, like the week before. I'm just getting into this artist so I'm not real familiar with his material but it doesn't seem to matter when he performs with such command and assurance that you just go along with anything he wants to sing.

His voice is such a supple instrument he can seemingly flex it in any direction without ever appearing forced. I enjoyed this weeks selection of songs better than last week as they highlighted a wider variety of styles. There's still a large helping of alt-country, but he also rocked harder and when his sister came up and joined in with harmony the sound was pure beauty.

I introduced myself to him afterward and he was most gracious and humble. A real genuine guy on the verge of a lot of recognition, if I can believe my eyes and ears. I will probably see him again before his residency is over.

A perfect capper was applied to the evening in the person of Evan Way and his solo set. As a huge Parson Red Heads fan and friend, I always love the opportunity to see Evan solo. He's a very talented solo artist who sings Parson songs and his own solo compositions accompanied only by his guitar and yet it's all the sound you need. He has that great troubadour/storyteller style I've found in so many an artist from the Pacific Northwest. What happens to these people in all that rain and woods.

Sam Fowles and Brett Marie Way joined for a song or two and added a beautiful dense background harmony to the proceedings. It was a fitting end to an exhilarating night of music that I won't soon forget.

Nice to see familiar faces all over the place and especially nice to talk to Harley, Diego and Ryan of The Red Cortez and get to know them a bit. I've just seen a sudden posting about another show for The Red Cortez at The Echo this Friday night, January 16, 2009 at 9:30. If I were you I wouldn't miss it.


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