Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Black Heart Procession

Saturday night, January 31, 2009, I saw The Black Heart Procession for the fifth time and it was one of the best shows I've seen from them. I latched onto this band fairly early in my rediscovery of rock and roll.

Almost three years ago I was trolling the L.A. Weekly for concerts and saw a really beautifully designed ad for an upcoming Calexico concert at the Fonda. I don't usually fall for that, but this ad actually convinced me I would like this band, so after listening to about 10 seconds of one of their songs, I knew they were for me. Of course, Calexico have since become one of my favorite bands.

What was more remarkable though was that I'd never heard of the opening band, The Black Heart Procession. When I researched the band and saw they were from San Diego, I was interested, since I was already a Pinback fanatic and curious about the San Diego music scene.

Then I read that some of the band came from Three Mile Pilot and the synapses in by brain started firing off. Pinback's bassist, Zack Smith had come from Three Mile Pilot, so the connection to Pall Jenkins and Tobias Nathaniel of The Black Heart Procession told me they were all part of the same family of bands.

I immediately bought a ticket to the show, bought the CD's, The Spell and Amore del Tropico and bathed in Black Heart Procession nearly 24 hours a day. It's the kind of music that wakes you up at night and won't let you sleep because it won't leave your head. Get to know the song "Not Just Words" from The Spell and then try not to hear it ringing in your head all day long. It can't be done.

A few days later, on the day of the concert, June 16, 2006, I was listening to earlier recordings of the band on myspace and ran into the song, "Guess I'll Forget You" from the album, 3. It's a slow, languid, dream-like dirge of a song that got right under my skin it's so hypnotically beautiful. I must have played it 4 or 5 times.

So that night, I walked into the Fonda and The Black Heart Procession were already playing. I raced into the auditorium to be enveloped by blue fog everywhere and black lights and a band on stage somewhere in the haze lit only by purple lights and they were playing "Guess I'll Forget You". And I felt like I was being swept down the rabbit hole. I don't know if I ever got out.

They reminded me of my deep childhood passion for Edgar Allen Poe, that, frankly, I had almost forgotten. Within an instant, I became a lifelong fan and each song they played that night only deepened my devotion. I quickly purchased every one of their CD's and each one is a gem of an album, each one contains career highlights - quite an impressive accomplishment.

The next time I saw them was at The Knitting Factory on August 14, 2006 and one of the opening bands was The Devics. That began my appreciation of Sara Lov and when she joined The Black Heart Procession for a couple of songs, it was magical.

Jimmy LaValle was still touring with them then, before his band, The Album Leaf, took off, and the level of musicianship on that stage was staggering. The next time I saw them was at Spaceland in January of 2008. A year and a half had gone by and the line up included a new bass player and a new drummer. They were basically down to four band members, and that was what I saw at the Troubadour on April 24, 2008 and that was the band performing on Saturday night.

They have become a seamless unit, and they perform every song at the level of quality that I heard on that first night back at the Fonda. This was a superb set of songs that covered their whole career, including many of my favorites like "Release My Heart" and "Square Heart" from their first CD, "Guess I'll Forget You" from 3, "Tropics of Love" from Amore del Tropico and from The Spell, "Tangled", "The Letter" and "Not Just Words".

I was right up front and had a great view of Toby Nathaniel as he played the keyboard magnificently. I think he's one of the most gifted pianists I've seen and it was a privilege just to watch his hands. It was mesmerizing. Pall Jenkins was in fine voice and also played his electric saw with great dexterity.

They had their audience of devoted fans dancing, cheering and applauding every song and I think everyone would agree, they are at the top of their game right now. They even sang a couple of new songs which sounded great and I think we're ready for a new CD by The Black Heart Procession.

Opening band, Warpaint, pleased the crowd with a really nice set of their psychedelic/folk rock. They have two terrific female singers in Emme La Fem and Theresa the Piece and a dedicated bassist in Jenny Problemi. Their talented drummer is King Davey. (I didn't make these names up)


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