Tuesday, April 28, 2009

April Wrap Up: A Bunch of Shows, Part I

If I don't do a post entitled "A Bunch of Shows", I'll never catch up, so here goes. It was a marathon run of 9 shows in 12 days, My own mini-Coachella. Beginning on April 9, 2009, when I saw Tommy Santee Klaws and Avi Buffalo (below, photo by Devin O'Brien) at the tiny Parish Room at the House of Blues (reviewed here), followed the next night by the Seasons EP release event at the Echo. (reviewed directly below this post)
I took Saturday off.


Sunday, April 12, 2009, I saw a fantastic performance by Vetiver (at right) at the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts. My review of that show is over at Radio Free Silver Lake, here.

The Henry Clay People, The Broken West, The World Record, Writer

I attended the second Monday night residency of The Henry Clay People on April 13, 2009, arriving early, as reports from the week before predicted a mad house. I got there to find Spaceland nearly empty, with one Henry Clay person seated at the back. Going up to talk to Joey Siara, I learned this was to be a guitar-driven band evening, as, one by one people started filing in. (Photo at left is by Charlie Chu and features Ross Flournoy of The Broken West on the left.)

This was the pre-Coachella show of the week, at least until My Bloody Valentine showed up on Thursday, and a last chance to see friends and fellow bloggers before they took off to Indio. Jordan Huddock of Marvelous Toy was there to join them on stage to play keys.

Writer was up first and played a pleasant set of San Diego indie rock, and being partial to that sound, I enjoyed their set. The music was sunny and surfy with jangly guitars and good vocals.
I'll bet their recorded work is worth a listen.

Next, The Broken West came on and played a terrific set, evenly balanced between older and newer songs. I have to say again, I think the new material shows a growth and musical maturation that the early work only hints at. It's strong and sturdy songwriting that spans styles from rangy indie rock to solid power pop. One of their new songs, "House of Lies", even reminds me of The New Pornographers. Led by Ross Flournoy's easy natural singing style, the band gives really solid support, most of them adding vocals here and there. Their catchy set was a good lead in to The Henry Clay People.

The Henry Clay People were a pleasure to hear again. The last time I saw them was at The Fonda as they left on their first cross-country tour with The Airborne Toxic Event so it was nice to see them in the neighborhood again. They appear to have coalesced as a band from their time on the road together and the set was augmented by Jordan Huddock on keys and Ross Flournoy even sang on a couple of songs. This band induces a party atmosphere just by appearing on stage and playing their music.

By now the club was strewn with various members of The Parson Red Heads and family members, as The World Record (below) is made up of odds and ends from that band. But they are hardly an afterthought. Now, I've been a fan of The Parson Red Heads for years now, but had never seen, nor heard, The World Record.
It was late, but I just had to stay for a couple of their songs. They began and I was caught immediately. It was power pop/indie rock of the highest order. Like The Parson Red Heads, it's guitar driven, strong on vocals, smartly written. It was a polished and perfected sound that just floored me.

Andy Creighton writes wonderful melodies and lyrics that are thoughtful, direct and honest. "Sizzling on a bus bench" is an expression I related to right away. I think he's a remarkable songwriter.

In talking to Sam Fowles over the past year, I knew he was a drummer, but I had only seen him as a guitarist/vocalist with The Parson Red Heads, so his drumming was a revelation to me. He transformed from a singing guitarist to a singing drummer in an instant.

Evan Way is always impressive to me, either as a solo performer or as THE Parson Red HEAD, but to see him fold himself into The World Record as second guitarist and harmony singer revealed an artist willing to step back and let others shine. And his contribution helps make this band as special as they are.

Aaron Ballard handles bass duties and provides the thrust that, when combined with Sam's drums, makes it impossible not to want to dance. I immediately picked up their CD and have played it over and over. It's as technically polished as any CD I've heard this year.

I'm not going to use up all my superlatives on this band now, because I'll be seeing them over and over and want to save some to use later.

Fol Chen

Wednesday, April 15, 2009, was the Wavves, Fol Chen show at The Echo, and I don't like to go more than a month without seeing Fol Chen, so this show I wouldn't miss. I listened to some Wavves on myspace and they sounded good, but I didn't realize what a fan base they have until I arrived at the venue that night.

Fol Chen were scheduled to go on at 9 PM, but there was a line up the block when we arrived. I was happy when Rebecca and Aron of Avi Buffalo popped out to say hello, from the line which crawled at a snail's pace. Once inside, it was easy to see that the crowd skewed young, as Wavves are barely over 20 themselves.

Many bands would blanch at the the challenge, but Fol Chen were very much up to it. Beginning, just as they have the last couple of times I've seen them, with the drummer appearing alone on the stage and, without a pause, pounding out the hypnotic and seductive beat for "Red Skies Over Garden City" over and over for at least two minutes.

The notorious Samuel Bing (at right, in photo by Russell Butner) takes the stage, dark shadows over his eyes, (they're very much into the societal misfit image, and it seems genuine) and begins aggressively strumming his guitar as Melissa Thorne appears at keyboard. And they sing, "God damn your pity", challenging us.

The music spans genres the way a schizophrenic spans moods. But it's so strong and so powerful that it all works. Once the twisted and unpredictable vocals kick in, over the disparate musical instruments, this crazy patchwork of sounds fits together like the pieces of a puzzle. I fall under the spell of Fol Chen everytime I see them perform and this night was no exception.

Wandering around after their set, I realized how different this crowd was from the usual Fol Chen audience. Wavves is obviously a popular band, but by the time they came on I was so caught up with Fol Chen, I barely heard them. The songs were shouted anthems of teen angst that went right over my head.

But I had a great time hearing all the latest news of Fol Chen with Sam/Adam. They're about to hit Europe for their first ever overseas tours. In June they play seven dates in England, where their CD Part 1: John Shade, Your Fortune's Made has become an unexpected hit. Unexpected to who, I don't know. I think it should be an international hit already. I believe they said they're going back and playing around the continent in September. That's great!

Talking with Melissa Thorne revealed that she is a fine artist and an art teacher. She designs the striking graphic artwork on their albums (example at left). I shouldn't have been surprised, for on stage she displays the focus of an artist. We discussed my former life as an artist, working for the legendary graphic designer, Saul Bass. I think we could have talked for hours, but the opportunity arose to escape the crashing Wavves all around us and I beat a hasty retreat.

More in a day or two.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Seasons EP Release Party

Photos by Anita Marto http://akmarto.smugmug.com/ (John of Seasons above)

Friday, April 10, 2009, I went to The Echo for the EP release of Seasons' Spring, hosted by Isgoodmusic and L.A. Underground. I was really looking forward to this, as their 14-song compilation from last year was, for me, one of last years best releases.

I arrived too late for The Hectors' opening set, and was sorry because I enjoy them whenever I see them. But it was time for Karin Tatoyan to take possession of everyone's attention. The music begins, and at first you feel like you've stumbled into the private sessions on the floor of, or under a table in, a psychiatrists office.

But, the more you hear the songs, the more their structure becomes apparent. You realize this art is carefully crafted to showcase the power and fury of Karin Tatoyan's performance and contrast it with the reserve and composure of her extraordinary cello player, Andrew Carter, and the steady pulse of her gifted percussionist, Thomas Greene.
Karin looks like she could have been scraped up off the floor of the Whisky A Go Go (and the glitter came up with her) and Andrew looks like he just stepped out of the philharmonic. It's a wonderful disconnect that's both jarring and enticing.

She's obviously mining some very dark terrain and deeply personal emotions, but it's in the interest of her performance art. Meeting her off stage, she's open, warm and sweet, but obviously, a dedicated and focused artist who can unleash a fearless and ferocious stage performance.

Then there's the voice that is a remarkably flexible instrument. She coos and growls, roars and screams and everything in between. The music can be difficult and challenging, but underneath it all, it is also very beautiful. But she does tend to divide the audience between those who get up close to see what's going on and those who seek the refuge of the back wall. I've definitely seen bands who make me retreat as well, but Karin Tatoyan is not one of them.

Seasons came on around 11 and, with the sound of twittering birds, launched into "India", which is also the first cut on the EP. Also from Spring they played "Empty Spaceships" and "Song that You Know", along with new material that they just seem to keep grinding out.
The highlight was when Corrine of The Hectors (above with Nic) joined them for a rousing cover of Brian Jonestown Massacre's "Anenome". It was an amazing mix because, not only did they recreate the BJM sound, but they still sounded like Seasons all the way through.

They appeared ready to play all night, but The Echo had other plans and cut them off at midnight, due to a dance party set to begin at that time. It was an abrupt ending, but it really didn't matter, Seasons had celebrated and swept the audience up with them and sent us home happy.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Parish Room at House of Blues

Thursday, April 9, 2009, will have to go in my book as a landmark evening. First of all, it was a show that, apparently, no one knew about, in spite of my listing it here and on Radio Free Silver Lake. Tommy Santee Klaws (above, at the UCI Cross Cultural Center) was announced to perform, along with Avi Buffalo, at a room in the House of Blues on Sunset Strip, called The Parish Room. As anyone who reads this blog knows, these are two of my favorite local bands. Hell, they're two of my favorite bands, period. And to see them together was something I could not miss.

Tommy kindly let me know it was a seriously early show with them slated to begin at 8 o'clock sharp. I dashed home from work, fed the cats, grabbed a quick dinner and bussed out Sunset, arriving around ten to 8. Having only been to the main stage of the House of Blues before, I walked up to a woman sitting at a table behind the front gate to learn the Parish Room (and the Foundation Room) are situated on the street level.

Tommy Santee Klaws and his band came trooping out of the venue and got their wrist bands and I was admitted to join them as we walked around to the right side of the building. It all, vaguely resembles (in a Hollywood way) a corrugated metal version of the tree house in Disney's Swiss Family Robinson, passages and walkways and tucked away nooks and crannies. The House of Blues looks to be trying to convince us that the 20 year old building has been there a hundred years.

Walking into the Parish Room, I realize they have done it. Like a top notch Hollywood effect, the result is completely convincing. I am instantly overwhelmed, as the recorded music playing alerts you that you're in a perfect acoustic setting.

The roof is peaked, on which, busts of legendary musicians half emerge from the slanted ceiling, bathed in a blue light. The walls are hung with tapestries and India print wall hangings. When I touched it, I was surprised to find the surface behind, pliant and spongy. The floors were covered with beautiful Oriental rugs and I thought, "Oooh, this is going to sound unbelievable".

Tommy and gang were tuning up, hoping their friends, Avi Buffalo and his band, would be able to get there in time for their set, when in they walked. If these two bands aren't the nicest people I've met, they are certainly among them. Actually, I should say three bands, as Tommy was being joined by Cave Country band members, who became the Tommy Santee Klaws choir.

I talked with Avi, Rebecca and Aron, who were performing tonight without their drummer, Sheridan, who had a school project keeping her sidelined. I knew that would have no impact on their impression on the audience. This band could probably perform underwater, standing on their heads and blow an audience away.

But first, Tommy Santee Klaws began playing and instantly the room turned into a temple of gorgeous sound. In addition to their regular players, they had the Cave Country joining Sam Seree on backing vocals, and The Preacher's Son, David Piorek, on mandolin. The last two times I've seen this band has been in the unmiked Hyperion Tavern and I was getting used to the subtlety and focus required to play under those circumstances.

But in this setting, and with a perfect amplified sound mix, there was a power to the music that made everyone in the room hold their breath. This was Tommy Santee Klaws at the best I've ever heard them and it was like hearing them for the first time, again. But all the extraordinary playing and singing by these musicians wouldn't add up to so much were it not for the uniquely beautiful songwriting.

They began with a song that is my current favorite of theirs, "Dead Leaves and Bumblebees", which starts out simply, with Tommy, a guitar, and Donna Jo on xylophone, building till it reaches an a Capella chorus that, with all the extra singers, was overwhelming. They played "Chasing Bodies", "Lame Dude" and "Methantiphon" among other favorites. Tommy Santee Klaws delivered a perfect set of music.

Once they finished, and everyone applauded till their hands hurt, we took stock of the venue and sat on the 'front porch'(?) and had a great catch up. This band is playing so much lately, they seem to be getting tighter and tighter. I hadn't known they were such good friends of Avi Buffalo and it was fun to hang with all of them.

A singer songwriter from Scotland, I believe, performed a short set next, followed by a couple of songs by a female singer. Both had good voices, but I'm afraid I was too wiped out by the first band for it to sink in.

I had spoken to some Cave Country and Tommy Santee Klaws band member who hadn't ever seen Avi Buffalo and all I could say to them was, "get ready". So when the band got up and took to the stage like a dog with only three legs (they're fourth leg, doing homework, couldn't make it), they ran, and ran fast, as if there were no missing parts.

Aron took drumming duties on the first song, "Summer Cum" which is a song that immediately hooks you into the idiosyncratic style of music you are about to hear. And here they were, player impaired, and they still came off as one of the greatest bands I've ever heard.

Of course, the stunning acoustics and general vibe of the room didn't hurt, either. But as I looked around at the stunned faces, I could tell Avi Buffalo was having an impact. As they played "What's In It For" "Remember Last Time" and "Where's Your Dirty Mind" they won over everyone in the room. In spite of Sheridan's absence, it was one of the best set's I've seen them play. (The photo above is from The Unknown Theatre, the first concert I'd ever seen them play. I was a goner from that night on.)

When they finished, it was gratifying the number of people who came up to me to say, "you were right". It's fun to be right, but more pleasing is the number of new fans the band gained that night. I expect to see many of them, repeatedly, at the Avi Buffalo Tuesday night residency in May at The Echo. Like I said, this was a night I will never forget, and one I will carry with me always.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Great Lake Swimmers at Spaceland

Words flow from the the imagination of Tony Dekker of Great Lake Swimmers, the way water flows across the rocks in a mountain stream. He reminds me of someone who has grown up in the woods, perhaps raised by wolves, but instead of remaining savage, has come to a place of peace and understanding about man's relationship to nature. So he sings, movingly and honestly, about this profound relationship. He also makes me write like this.

Lost Channels, the new release by this Canadian band, is focused heavily on water imagery and was recorded at historic locations in the St. Lawrence River areas of Ontario and New York State known as Thousand Islands. But for all the water, there's a lot of rock on this record.

At Spaceland on Saturday night, April 4, 2009, Great Lake Swimmers entranced a packed house with most every cut from the new CD and they sounded superb live. But before they went on I got to enjoy the performance of Kate Maki, also from Canada, who won over the crowd with her wonderfully written folk songs and her skilled guitar playing. A winning stage personality made her between song chats fun and spontaneous. A substitute teacher, she knows how to hush a talky crowd, and did so by the sheer force of her talent.

You had to stop to listen to her interesting takes on bluesy-country-folk music. Her lovely voice is warm and personable and, accompanied by a bass player and a drummer, the band would alternate between solo acoustic folk or a full rock sound when called for. It was the perfect warm up for what was to come.

The crowd was mostly not local and showed the reach of Great Lake Swimmers fan base. So I was happy to run into Travis Woods who has a great write up on his site: Web in Front , and we settled in down front. When Tony and his band, Julie Fader on flute and back up vocals, Erik Arnesen on guitar and banjo, Greg Millson on drums and Brett Higgins on bass began, you could feel the audience get immediately swept up in the tidal flow of the music.

They rocked a little harder than I've ever seen before and it was great to hear, but unfortunately, being up front I think Tony's vocals were going out over my head, so I couldn't quite hear his voice as I would have wished. There was no problem on the quieter songs like "Concrete Heart" or "Still", but on the songs "Palmistry" and "Pulling on a Line" I probably would have been better served by not being so close. Except the privilege of watching Tony sing, up close, I wouldn't have traded for anything. So there's the trade off.

I was also very pleased to hear then do "Changing Colours", which has got to be one of the most beautiful and profound songs I know. It appears to be a song about a leaf, but ends up cutting deep on the subject of grief and comfort. It contains philosophy one would do well to carry through life.

I loved hearing "New Light" from the new CD, as it specifically recalls some of the harmonies on the wonderful David Crosby 1971 album If Only I Could Remember My Name. But it's Tony Dekker's voice that is a the center of everything. Like a haunted presence coming from another place, there is an other-worldly quality that is both remote and immediate at the same time.

With minimum expression he conveys massive amounts of emotion and feeling. Like the lyric which ends the Lost Channels CD, Great Lake Swimmers are "gentle and forceful".


Monday, April 6, 2009

Robert Francis at The Troubadour

Thursday, April 2, 2009 was the first show I ever got into on a press pass. I could never have pictured that, even a year ago. I walked up to The Troubadour box office and said I was press for Robert Francis and they handed me a ticket. Pretty neat. Thanks to Ashley Jax (Rock Insider) for that.

I got inside as Haim were finishing up, but I could tell, even from a brief exposure, that the three front women (sisters, I'm guessing) had remarkable voices. I ran into various Parson Red Heads here and there, about to go on, when I spotted Ashley, perched with elevated broken ankle, on a bar stool. I guess what happens at SxSW doesn't always stay at SxSW. She said she'll be hitting the stage in a few days with The Monolators.

As is typical nowadays, there were a lot of competing shows Thursday, so it kept the audience numbers in the mid-range, and the crowd response was rather subdued.

The Parson Red Heads took the stage with their latest lineup and played a solid set of their amalgam of '60's psychedelic folk rock and contemporary indie rock constructing something really beautiful that just sparkles. The wonderful voices of Evan Way and Sam Fowles and Brett Marie Way and all the others blend together in glorious harmony over layers of shimmering guitars.

Their live sets have become disciplined and seamless, yet they appear to have so much fun on stage, it's infectious. They sang old favorites and plenty of new material from their forthcoming 7" record, Orangufang. This hard working band deserves all the accolades that will come it's way for their upbeat and thoughtful indie rock. And at the end, with guests joining them on stage, all dressed in white, they filled The Troubadour with a celebratory spirit.

Robert Francis and his band came on shortly after 10 and he displayed the same sense of maturity and assurance I saw during his January residency at The Echo. He performed songs I've gotten to know from his CD, One by One, and I have to say, the depth and range of his voice, together with a worn quality, surprising in one so young, is best heard live. The recording has a slightly too careful quality and the songs really breathe in the live setting, sounding rough-edged and more urgent.

His voice serves well the melancholy he projects singing about dashed hopes and lost love. His band is a tight unit of varied musicians that seem to share his musical sensibility and on this night his sister contributed strong vocal support. She also performed at one of the residency nights I attended and I enjoy the blending of their voices and also her ability to hold back allowing Robert to shine.

I recognized "Mama Don't Come", "Good Hearted Man" and "Got It All" and enjoyed the numbers I hadn't heard before. He writes from a personal perspective, stories of hope and despair, honestly, and without self pity, allowing him to connect emotionally with his audience.

His final acoustic number was performed simply, without fuss, and wrapped up the evening nicely. Now signed to Atlantic Records, Robert Francis appears poised for success and as his songwriting matures, he can only expect to continue to win new fans.

Big thank you to Scott Schultz for the photographs.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Weekend Shows, March 27 - 29, 2009

Spaceland Marquee by Victoria Cecilia (Gliss)

Last weekend was full of music, beginning with the powerhouse performance by Gliss at Spaceland. Friday, March 27, 2009 was my first time seeing them in over a year, but I have a long history with them as I wrote about in my review here:

Chad VanGaalen
It was especially nice to meet up with them again, and then again, as I did the following night when I saw Martin and Victoria at the Chad VanGaalen/Women show the following night, which, as you can see above, took place at Spaceland as well.

Only on Saturday night, March 28, 2009, I walked into a packed Spaceland where the fans were clamoring for Women. I saw this band when they opened for Dungen at The Echo last November and it was a more apt pairing. Women play a loud and sometimes ferocious space-rock with kind of oddball melodies, but it's a lot more aggressive live than on their more quirky recordings.

Just maneuvering one's way around Spaceland was a challenge, but I managed to run into both Randy and Charlene from One Trick Pony, Nick from Death to Anders, Christian from The Transmissions, RFSL colleague, Rachael Ballard, Kevin Bronson, among others. I was glad to see so many musicians I admire into Chad VanGaalen.

I wandered around near the back of the club, during Women, lamenting that I probably wouldn't be able to get any closer for Chad. But when I got around, back toward the entrance, who do I see standing right up at the stage but Martin Klingman and Victoria Cecilia of Gliss, watching the show. I was so surprised to see them again that I walked right up to say "Hi", so when the set ended and the crowd loosened up I was able to slide right over, empty space by empty space, 'till I was dead center, 3 people deep from the stage. I planted myself and vowed not to move. It was perfect.

Chad seems a very amiable guy, who rarely, if ever, stops smiling, but the set up became difficult, and he revealed that his equipment had gotten lost in customs, crossing the border from Canada. Apparently, it was recovered, but it must have been a trying day for him, and then to come into self-indulgent, over-indulged Los Angeles and complain about too many lights (not an unreasonable complaint), he seemed annoyed. I thought, "uh-oh".

But the minute Chad VanGaalen (left) began singing, magic happened, and all angst melted away. All the effort setting up had paid off. The sound was superb. I have become obsessed with his latest CD, and to hear the songs live was just plain euphoria.

Accompanied by an expert drummer/backup singer and a wonderful bass player, each song was an inspired gem. His songs are never less than compelling and his lyrics elevate them to a level not reached by many others. He seems to always see the irony in the commonplace or deal with themes of misrepresentation as in "City of Electric Light", one of the shows highlights.

The only other time I've seen him was at the Avalon in November '06, when he opened, before a restless crowd, for Band of Horses, and the audience barely paid attention. He was most of the reason I attended that night, all because of a music video I'd seen for "Clinically Dead" which contains music and animation by Chad VanGaalen that I couldn't get out of my head. Soon after I saw the "Red Hot Drops" video which clearly displayed his equal talents as an animator and songwriter/musician.

For some reason at the time, I didn't pick up any of his albums, and after the despondent Avalon crowd made it hard to appreciate his performance, I just kind of filed him in the back of my head. Then I read the announcement for this show, bought a ticket, and finally got one of his CD's. Soft Airplanes is the name of it and it cast a spell on me, kept me awake at night and drove me to memorize it's every lyric. If I'd had it when it came out, it would have been on last year's ten best list.

The stark simplicity of his words is in sharp contrast to the deep intelligence and emotional weight of their content. He sings about immediate impressions and their impact on lasting truth. Thing aren't always what they seem in Chad VanGaalen's world. Just as his thin and reedy voice can reveal surprising power live, a jaunty tune will only later show it's dark underside. And sometimes only after multiple listenings.

The whole of Spaceland seemed to fall silent, in rapt attention at this unique performer as he impressed with song after song. "Willow Tree", ""Cries of the dead", "Inside the Molecules" and "Molten Light" sounded especially great. Just having been able to stand so close and really appreciate the work he makes appear so effortless, as if he's still in his basement making this music for no one in particular. It was an honor to witness.

The next day it was off to Space 15 Twenty to see Seasons (above) give a free show in the courtyard of this Hollywood retail space. Every Sunday at 1 pm they have a show in the courtyard and have been featuring some very good local bands. This was the first I attended, March 29, 2009, and it was real pleasant sitting around in the sun with the band, before they went on. Not too many people know about these shows yet, so it was mostly just passerbys wandering through. But they couldn't help but have been impressed by what they heard.

I don't care what incarnation of this band I see, every single time they amaze me. They can just throw together a casual set like this one and make it sound sharp and polished. I feared the sound in the concrete and glass courtyard would be harsh, but it was just fine. It was splendid way to spend a little time on a Sunday afternoon.

They sang favorites "India", "Empty Spaceships", "Song That You Know" and the new "666 - Mark of the Beat". Their next scheduled show coincides with the release of a new EP, at The Echo, April 10th, in a show opened by two more local greats, Karin Tatoyan and The Hectors. That's a night not to be missed.