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.


1 comment:

Diana S. said...

hey Brad! I read all your LA Show Lowdowns, can't believe I missed this one. i loved Avi at the Echo w/ Castledoor and can't wait for their May residency.

- Diana