Saturday, February 28, 2009

Pushing Boundaries

It's always interesting to go to see a show that I know will, perhaps, be a challenge, but also test the boundaries of my musical taste. I'm no big fan of sludge-rock, but I will allow Rob Crow to take me to the edge of the precipice so I can peer in. Thus I went to The Knitting Factory on Friday, February 27, 2009.

Rob Crow and Zack Smith are two of my greatest teachers in this respect. First, because Pinback will always amaze me and I will follow them anywhere they've been, or wherever they go from here. But, even when I was a teenage rock fan in the sixties, I let the artists I most admired lead me wherever they wanted.

These guys have me listening to Three Mile Pilot, Heavy Vegetable, Thingy, Systems Officer and other bands they're involved with, who I ordinarily wouldn't bump into. And now Goblin Cock.

Actually, this is the third time I've seen them and I enjoy their satiric take on the genre. Also, they have a new CD out, the subtly titled Come With Me If You Want To Live, so there'd be new material to be heard.

Most times I've seen them they've had opening bands that are more straightforward in their approach. Warship was just such a band. Extreme sludge, with lots of screaming, both vocal and guitar and a sad lack of irony. When they did come together for me was during two of their quiet songs which had a hint of melodic flavor similar to parts of Pinback, and I suddenly saw a connection. But the loud avant-rock stuff is as difficult for me to listen to as John Cage. Just give me the corny old concept of melody, once in a while, for me to grab on to.

Unlike other Goblin Cock shows, the band came out and set up in street clothes, Rob being assisted by his two-year old son, so it was the first time I've really seen who's in the band. Donning their Druid robes and hoods for the performance, filling the stage with fog and flashing seizure-inducing lighting effects, the entire atmosphere shifts suddenly and you're sitting at the bottom of the world, someplace.

Rob's voice growls obscene sounding noises at you and the wall of sound commences. The difference is that the songs have shape and structure, and a life-saving humor that keep it from ever falling over the edge into self-importance.

I wasn't familiar with the new songs, but was happy to hear fresh material along with "Stumped" from their first CD and that great Tears For Fears song they always do, "Head Over Heels". But most of all I relish the honor and privilege of watching Rob Crow's hands as he plays his guitar. This is the 14th time I've seen him perform and I honestly don't think I've ever seen anyone play like he does. Not one false move. I also think he's one hell of a singer.

This was the first show I've been out to in two weeks and that's probably part of the reason I had such a good time. Goblin Cock pokes a big hole in the pomposity and pretension of usual sludge rock with great humor and insight, but with a scholarly knowledge of the genre they're sending up. All played with the authenticity of genuine musical talent.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Under Covered at the All Star Lanes

I'm still in the process of clawing my way back to the land of the living after spending a week with the flu. Missed work, missed shows, missed blogging and I'm sick of it. I can finally begin to recall the show I saw last Sunday night (February 15, 2009) at the All Star Lanes in Eagle Rock.

It was Joe Fielder's fabulous "Under Covered" show with four bands playing five songs each, from five different current local indie rock bands. I had been really looking forward to this for a long time and it did not disappoint.

I have only been to the Eagle Rock All Star Lanes once before, when the stage was set up in the bowling alley, at the far end, and the periodic shattering of bowling pins punctuated every song. They've moved the music into the bar, where I've been told it used to be, and it's a much better arrangement. The room is cozy and intimate and the sound is good.

Apart from the music itself, the highlight for me was to see the song's authors, watching and reacting to hearing another band put their spin on the material. Hunter and Adam grinning their way through The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra song as done by Marvelous Toy, who opened the evening's program.

They also did songs by Divisadero and The Henry Clay People, but I especially enjoyed watching Fol Chen hear Fol Chen's "No Wedding Cake" as performed by Marvelous Toy. Jordan Huddock was in fine voice and he and his band made these songs sound like part of their own repertoire.

The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra, with guest singer Angela Correa, came up next and showed why they're such a good band. Their versions of songs by Radars To the Sky, Divisadero and The Movies were tight and polished, and Hunter and Angela's vocals meshed beautifully. Rob and Nick were jumping around near me when they heard the Death to Anders song, and everyone sat up as they sang the beautiful Avi Buffalo song "Where's Your Dirty Mind?"

It was great to hear Radars To the Sky play such a varied set, as they picked song from bands as diverse as Rademacher, The Little Ones and Death to Anders. Andrew, Kate and gang did an especially great job on the Thailand number and Death to Anders' drummer, John, filled in on one number so Radars' drummer could step up to a microphone.

Singer Randolph, of One Trick Pony seemed pretty overwhelmed hearing his song interpreted wonderfully by Death to Anders, as they performed the last set of the evening. They played a really eclectic variety of songs, including "Driver" by Sarah Negahdari and "Parking Lot" by Manhattan Murder Mystery, which nicely showed off Andrew Teardrop's songwriting skills. Death to Anders sounded just as solid as they always do and brought a serious interpretation to all their numbers.

This evening was the amazing conception of Joe Fielder, one that bore enormous rewards, and he is to be congratulated. In fact, no one could have come out of this evening without a new found respect and admiration for the quality songwriting going on all around us every day. It's kind of overwhelming.


Friday, February 13, 2009

The Airborne Toxic Event Launch Second National Tour

What a triumph for local and semi-local Indie Rock bands took place at The Fonda on Thursday, February 12, 2009. The Airborne Toxic Event are beginning their second national tour and their second stop was Los Angeles. On this tour they're joined by local heroes, The Henry Clay People, and local/Fresno favorites, Rademacher. It felt great to be part of the local crowd gathered to wish them all well on their way out of town.

Let me begin by saying that, for the last three years, The Fonda has been my favorite medium-to-large size venue for seeing national bands. It's tall and cavernous, leading one to expect muddy, echoey sound, but, on the contrary, I usually find the sound well balanced and immediate. This has been the case for everyone from Rogue Wave or The Polyphonic Spree to The Black Heart Procession or Amanda Palmer.

Also, with that high ceiling, it allows the place to become incredibly packed, but never airless and claustrophobic the way the El Rey or The Wiltern are when over crowded. The difference on Thursday was that, as opposed to being surrounded by strangers, it was as if a Spaceland audience had been multiplied tenfold. Everywhere one turned were familiar faces, a great juxtaposition of one of my favorite music spots and some of my favorite people. So packed, in fact, I never even saw Ben of Classical Geek Theatre or Travis of Web in Front, who rumor had it, were way down front.

Rademacher began almost as soon as I arrived. Much to my discredit, I'd never seen them before, but this set was all it took to make me a fan. They play amiable, shambling indie rock with the genre's characteristic smart, incisive lyrics wrapped around sharp melodies that grab you with their deceptive simplicity. They have a natural, unforced stage presence and a sound big enough to translate to a concert hall setting.

I knew enough about the band to know that they lost a guitar player a few months ago, leaving Rademacher a band of three. They sounded complete as they are. Admittedly, during the first two songs they sounded like they were playing to the proportions of a Spaceland, but by the third song the sound got big as they appeared to relax into the space and ramped up their performance to fill the entire space.

It was really remarkable and gratifying to see these bands, two of whom I've seen over and over in small east side clubs, blow their sound up to fit a capacity Fonda crowd, yet lose nothing in the translation. In fact, as in the case of The Airborne Toxic Event, even gaining from it.

At The Fonda, if I can't be down front, I like to position myself near the center of the floor, where the sound is at it's absolute best. Taking advantage of the break between sets, I could circulate a bit and speak to members of so many bands in the audience, I lost count.

I worked my way back to the center as the curtain rose on The Henry Clay People. They began their first number by singing and playing large and a little self-consciously, but soon found their comfort zone and the resulting revelatory performance easily brought down the house.

Like Rademacher, they quickly adapted their delivery to the demands of the theatre. Joey Siara's easy rapport with an audience is a tangible thing, and he instantly won over the crowd and soon had the whole place bouncing to the music.

During their set they were joined by assorted guests and former band members making it seem like just another night at Spaceland, blown up to epic proportions. They played a broad selection of material including early songs and highlights from the For Cheap or For Free CD including great renditions of "Something in the Water" and "Andy Sings!". But the high point of the entire evening for me was watching the whole place rock out to "This Ain't a Scene".

The Henry Clay People were obviously feeling sentimental about this break out concert tour and leaving their friends in Silverlake for a while (frankly, I'm going to miss bumping into them every few nights out at a club for the next few weeks). Joey and Andy also had a few acres of family out in the audience.

They acknowledged many friends in the audience and gave a particularly sweet shout out to The Monolators, who were easy to spot as Eli Chartkoff stands out like a lighthouse in the ocean.

I have seen The Airborne Toxic Event a bunch of times at Spaceland and The Echo, and, frankly, had various impressions of them, so I only intended to stay for a couple of songs. That was not to be, as they completely bowled me over with the power and largeness of their sound. They enthralled me from their first song on, and I couldn't tear myself away.

I think they're made for a larger space as the songs build and build to shattering beauty, with the string section vigorously sawing away, Mikel Jollett's strong, deep voice and the music lifting you up. Your brain is engaged by the literate poetry of the lyrics, reminiscent of The National, but with their own distinct sound.

It looks to me like this band had grown very strong over the last year, and I will be paying a lot closer attention to them in the future. The Airborne Toxic Event are a band that shine a very positive light on the local music scene and it was impossible not to feel overwhelming pride in them as they commanded the stage and the audience on Thursday night.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cat Power at the Avalon

I finally had my chance to see Cat Power in concert on Tuesday, February 10, 2009 on the first of two nights she had scheduled at the Avalon in Hollywood. I've admired her work from a distance for a few years but heard the legends about her erratic live performances. Lately, after the release of her recent recording of covers, Dark End of the Street, she's been a reliable concert artist and her reputation appears restored. I decided to take a chance.

I came away with a somewhat conflicted reaction to her performance. It's difficult not to be a bit overwhelmed by her remarkable voice, and as she started with The Animals' "The House of the Rising Sun", which fits her persona like a glove, I was quite moved.

Next she launched into Jimi Hendrix' "Purple Haze" and I just settled in to enjoying this nostalgic trip through the music of my youth. It was a weird feeling to be seeing this contemporary artist interpret some pretty seminal songs. She even covered Joni Mitchell's "Blue".

It was curious to watch Cat Power's stage persona stalking the stage like a "cat". She spends a lot of time standing off in the wings and then prowls to center stage to deliver her signature growls and hoarse crooning. She's electrifying and a little dangerous seeming. But, instead of reminding me of other rock singers, she mostly brought to my mind the fragility of Judy Garland. There's this sense that the whole thing could fall apart at any moment. And a certain apparent desperation.

All this could have added up to a riveting evening, but, alas, after six or seven songs done in an identical style to one another, including her own composition, "Where Is My Love", a wearying sameness crept into the proceedings that kept getting stronger with each song.

I bailed after about 11 numbers, feeling I'd seen it all. I will grant that she is a powerful singer and performer, but I think I would have preferred to see her doing her own material. She seems braver and more daring with her own compositions, instead of forcing a bunch of old songs into a framework that doesn't always fit.

Lastly, I would see Cat Power again if the opportunity arose to see her in as comfortable a space as the Avalon, doing her own stuff. I would not go to the Hollywood Bowl or the Staples Center to see her as I think she thrives in a more intimate surrounding.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Art Rock

Fol Chen released their CD, "Part 1: John Shade, Your Fortune's Made" at a most memorable evening of music Saturday night, February 7, 2009 at Pehrspace. Melissa Thorne (Fol Chen's keyboardist) had spent the day redressing the venue and turning it from Friday night's Hoedown barn into a cozy, intimate womb-like space. Bolts of fabric lined the two white walls and warm house lamps hung in two bunches from the ceiling, while the band performed on a few oriental throw rugs.

In this setting, Avi Buffalo Music, Karin Tatoyan and Fol Chen delivered sets that sent me reeling to the back of the closet to haul out the much maligned term "Art Rock" and attempt some rehabilitation on the concept. So it's Art Rock. So what! These groups of musicians seem determined to raise the bar on what constitutes popular music.

It was a perfect opportunity to get to know Avi Buffalo Music because they performed a flawless set of their most extraordinary music. I arrived just as they were getting ready to begin and I was happy to see that a lot of people had made the extra effort to be there as early as 9 o'clock on a Saturday night just to see them.

In this relaxed and casual atmosphere, we in front just sat down on the floor as Avi Buffalo began their set and within moments everyone was mesmerized. We witnessed a live performance of such high quality and musical integrity it would make you weep if you weren't laughing from the sheer joy of it. The songs are so musically inventive and fresh they create their own genre. Intensely personal yet universally understood, whether singing about the trauma of high school life or the movement of the planets, the lyrics are always sharp and incisive.

One by one your could see the audience become entranced, mouths agape in amazement. How can this band be so young and so accomplished at the same time, everyone seemed to ask. Every one of the band members bring invaluable contributions to the mix. It's just stunningly beautiful music and it expands the art form.

When Avi Buffalo Music finished their set, the room had filled out considerably and everyone had the same dazed look on their face. I'd seen it before a couple of weeks ago when they played at The Echo. And a special thanks to Aaron Embry for joining them for this set as well.

By the time Karin Tatoyan took the stage, Pehrspace was packed, but unlike any other time I've been sardined into this place, it was nice and cocoon-like. I can't explain why, just maybe something about the positive energy put out by the three bands.

I've seen Karin Tatoyan before, but nothing prepared me for the impact of her performance Saturday night. Perhaps it was my vantage point. The place was so packed, I found a space in that funny corner near the entrance, under a speaker, with a clear, front-row view of Karin and her band and it felt like spying on someone going through a personal catharsis.

The rich, dense sound garden Karin creates, offset by her emotional, fiery, electrifying voice, and lulled by Andrew Carter's gorgeous classical cello, keeps the listener on edge, like some great suspense movie. The lyrics are obviously deeply personal and intense, but I'll have to wait until I have some recorded work to really understand what she's singing about. But the emotion comes across, loud and clear.

Karin Tatoyan stretches the boundaries of what's acceptable public behavior and recalls everyone from Janis Joplin to Bjork (though she seems to me a bit less self-conscious than Bjork). She seems simultaneously theatrical and genuine, like Amanda Palmer, were she a little madder. Like I said, "Art Rock".

By now the audience was reeling from the one, two punch of Avi Buffalo and then Karin Tatoyan and was ready to be putty in the hands of Fol Chen. That's a good way to approach Fol Chen because one never knows what style they'll begin with or where they'll end up.

I assumed the same position I'd had for Karin, under the speaker, with a direct view of the band and Samuel Bing and company launched into "The Believers" and proceeded to thrill the audience with their unique approach. Fol Chen pile genre on top of genre until they build this great wall of music highlighted by their idiosyncratic singing style and blaring horns. It's a heady mixture and I am never less than fully engrossed. A special nod to Ethan for the great sound on all three bands.

The new CD is so sonically superior to their old EP that the songs sound brand new again. And the more quiet, thoughtful pieces reveal a side of Fol Chen I haven't seen live and didn't even know existed. "You and Your Sister in Jericho" is a particularly lovely song. I'm glad to finally have a full length CD from this band.

Looking back over their set and the two earlier ones by Karin Tatoyan and Avi Buffalo Music, it was a remarkable night of genre-bending, boundary expanding, mind-blowing art. It felt like the world grew a little larger that night.


Monday, February 9, 2009

Hella Hipster Hoedown

Friday night, February 6, 2009, was Elaine Layabout's first Hella Hipster Hoedown at Pehrspace yet there were so many competing shows that night that crowds were distributed randomly throughout the dark and rainy city. But I doubt there was a more warm and inviting atmosphere than the barn Elaine had set up for the Hoedown.

There were bales of hay strewn throughout the space and homemade cornbread and cupcakes. And it smelled like a barn (minus the manure), a bit dusky from rain soaked clothes, but that just added to the flavor.

What I really liked were the freshly painted white walls that opened up Pehrspace like I've never seen before, and the reconfiguration of the performing space to the other corner thereby opening up that funny walled corner as audience space. Very smart move.

Death To Anders played a rousing set that sounded especially good, and each time I see them lately, they play a cohesive, well thought out set list that is never the same twice. Rob, Nick, Pete and John are becoming a seamless band and all their hard work is paying off.

I've really been enjoying the Divisadero CD, Lefty, recently, especially it's ambitious concept. I wanted to stay for some of their set even though it was late and I heard a couple of songs that recreate the lush sound of the recorded work. I'll spend more time with them at a later date.

I was glad I got to see two Isgoodmusic bands that night, Death To Anders and Divisadero, because I had to miss the Isgoodmusic show Jon Hirshfield was hosting over at Mr. T's Bowl, featuring Seasons. And congratulations to Elaine Layabout for a terrific launch of her new regular event, Hella Hipster Hoedown.


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Fruit Bats (with a Special Guest) at The Echo

After three shows in three days, I'll admit I was kind of tired on Tuesday night, February 3, 2009, but I wasn't about to let my second chance to see Fruit Bats slip away. This is another band I learned of early on this musical trip.

Back in 2005, when I knew no one in the music scene, had no acquaintances into this music and didn't listen to any radio, my only avenue to discover indie rock was the tiny TV show on public access called Refused TV. They specialized in showing videos none of the big music channels would show.

Among the videos I saw was one for "Lives of Crime" by Fruit Bats from their CD, Spelled in Bones. It was a witty, clever video and the song was full of great melodic hooks and smart lyrics. I bought the album and liked all of it. I saw them the first time at the Troubadour on April 12, 2006 and thought they were a great live band as well.

After that, nothing... no new CD's, no concerts. Then I heard the lead of the band, Eric Johnson, was joining The Shins on their tour promoting their 2007 album, Wincing the Night Away. I attended their show at the Orpheum, downtown, on April 15, 2007, as I had become a huge Shins fan in the intervening year. I was pleased to see Eric had become a substantial presence in this superb band and that show was great.

The stylistic computability of The Shins and Fruit Bats is undeniable thought they have their own individual sounds. But as time went by I wondered if Fruit Bats would reemerge, or had Eric become a permanent member of The Shins?

As soon as I saw the listing for this Echo show, I got a ticket and eagerly anticipated the return of the Fruit Bats. I got there at 10 as Sera Cahoone were setting up . Once they started they won me over with their pretty alt-country rock. Beautifully played and nice, straightforward singing from lead, Sera Cahoone, who delivers the songs in a deadpan style I found very enticing. Their music is solid and professional and shows a maturity and assurance I find not uncommon to many other current Seattle bands.

I wandered over to the Fruit Bats merch table and Eric Johnson was standing there so I had the opportunity to speak to him and introduce myself. He told me they were playing a lot of new material and a new CD is coming. He also revealed during the show that he just moved to L.A. two days ago. Now Fruit Bats becomes a local band, I couldn't be happier.

The minute they started up I felt like I was hearing old friends. I could tell that they picked up right where they left off. The hook laden melodies, the sardonic, witty lyrics, the wonderful vocal harmonies and the tight playing of an inspired band were all in place.

Eric has an expressive voice with impressive range and most of the members of the band sing as well, creating lush harmonies. They played a mix of old and new material and when they played a cover of Neil Young's "Helpless" Eric invited a friend up on stage to join them. This, of course, was James Mercer of The Shins, who added guitar and vocals and it was a stunning surprise.

Later as Fruit Bats were performing their encores, I spied James Mercer standing toward the back of the club and I said to myself, "don't let this opportunity pass by". Walking up to him, I extended my hand and said, "I would kick myself if I didn't speak to you a tell you how much I love your music." He was most gracious and seemed genuinely pleased someone approached him. After the last song, I told him how pleased I was that Eric was living here now and what a tremendous addition the Fruit Bats will be to the local scene.

Did I say I was tired at the beginning of this post? Well that didn't last long.

It's hard to express how much it means to be able to actually tell an artist you admire what their art means to you. It's something I would never have had the opportunity do do at any other time of my life. I appreciate the opportunity.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Devotchka! Live! At The Viper Room!

Everyone told me how lucky I was to have scored a ticket to the under hyped show by Devotchka at The Viper Room on Monday, February, 2, 2009, but I didn't appreciate how lucky until the show began at 9:30 that night.

The curtains parted, after standing around for nearly an hour to secure a spot right in front, and Devotchka proceeded to connive, cajole and conspire to reduce us to a helpless jelly of dancing gypsies.

I'd first seen them a year and a half ago when they played the Swerve Festival in Barnsdall Park on September 30, 2007, when they were running around on the success of their score for the movie, Little Miss Sunshine.

I think there were more of them at that show and when I picked up their latest CD, A Mad and Faithful Telling, last week, (and promptly fell in love with it) I assumed there had to be at least ten people making this extravagant music.

Therefore, I was amazed that only four musicians, with occasional, able assistance of a couple of additional players, were able to achieve the kaleidoscopic carnival of sound this band is famous for.

I love this Balkan/gypsy singing style and Devotchka's Nick Urata falls somewhere between the sweet beauty of Zack Condon's vocals with Beirut and the anarchic yelping of Eugene Hutz in Gogol Bordello. He's perhaps the best singer of all. His voice could melt a bear's heart. Of course, he is also their magnificent guitarist, and plays the electric mandolin and, last but not least, the theremin.

Jeanie Schroder 's tuba playing, which she inhabits like a house decorated for Christmas, is infectiously joyous and slyly humorous. She also provides bass violin and adds a depth and breadth this band needs.

Thomas Hegerman is a violin wizard so extraordinary I would be happy simply to watch him play classical violin as a solo act. But then, his piano skills appear to be at the same level and, as with Jeanie, there were moments when this look of pure joy would spread across his face. I think they love what they do, because they grin a lot. They had my face aching from grinning back at them so much.

Not to be outdone, their drummer, Shawn King, is also a musical virtuoso, who drops the drums, sometimes mid-song, and starts playing trumpet...or accordion...or xylophone...or wood blocks.

Each song is a gem and the new material especially so, because it's what I'm most familiar with. From A Mad and Faithful Telling they played "Basso Profundo", "Along the Way" with two great trumpets blaring away, the incredibly beautiful "The Clockwise Witness" and "Transliterator" which features some of Thomas' most gorgeous piano work.

Likewise The Viper Room itself performed flawlessly. Some of the best sound I've ever heard and a fabulous lighting display that complimented the band as they deserved.

Being the Sunset Strip, and with a band made popular by a well-loved film, there was a Hollywood element to the audience, but they weren't offensive. In fact, to their credit, I will say they really seemed to recognize the amazing talent in front of them, and behaved accordingly, even respectfully.

But then most of the audience was behind me, and I was in that blissful state where it's just you and the band and everything else just melts away, even though we were packed in, cheek to jowl.

Devotchka took me to the outer edges of all my emotions and brought me back again. I don't think I've ever heard more waltzes and polkas this side of a Richard Rodgers musical. The entire experience was enthralling. I've got to see them again.


Radio Free Silver Lake's Rock Against HD

Sunday night, February 1, 2009, was a night of tough choices, concert-wise, but I couldn't miss the opportunity to support Joe Fielder and the benefit he'd put together. The proceeds went to help fight Huntington's Disease and a stellar line up of local bands played.

For the night of the Super Bowl and a flurry of other shows, the turn out was surprisingly good and whatever the size, it was a great bunch of people.

Light FM started things off with a rousing set of their pretty indie pop songs. A different drummer added some urgency and propulsive beats that served the band well. I'm almost always impressed by this band's live performances.

Fol Chen were up next and it was a lesson on how important the proper sound mix can be to a band. Especially for a band whose sound is so precise and carefully arranged. This night they seemed to have begun the set with a generic rock and roll sound mix, and this is anything but a generic rock and roll band. They are Fol Chen and they require a particular mix where even the most off-hand plinkity-plink needs to stand on its own. As the set progressed the sound improved and by the time they got to "Cbl TV" I was happy. Particularly so, because that's one of my favorite songs, and they don't perform it live often enough.

I have to say, I love when they cover songs by empty-headed divas... and discover the extraordinary in the ordinary. Fol Chen's record release is coming up on Saturday, Feb. 7, at Pehrspace.

Radars To the Sky were last and capped off the night with a terrific set showcasing their unique song-craft and featuring a riveting performance by Andrew Spitzer. This was the first time I've seen them without Seamus and I was relieved to hear a full, rich sound which was quintessential Radars. Kate seemed to have more of a vocal presence as well, and that pleased me too.

It was a nice evening with friends and everyone extended warm wishes to Joe Fielder, who was unable to attend due to a family emergency that called him out of town. I wish him well and hope he's pleased by the results of his most worthy benefit.


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)


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Tommy Santee Klaws at Hyperion Tavern

Sometimes I'll be walking up to a club after a day's work, walking three quarters of a mile from Sunset and Fountain, down the hill to Hyperion and up again to a place I've never been, and I'll think, "What in hell are you doing?!"

But it's the Hyperion Tavern on Thursday, January 29, 2009, and Tommy Santee Klaws is standing outside, with Cave Country, and I'm blissfully unaware that I'm about to see one of the most incredible live shows I've ever attended.

Going in, I'm amazed at the tiny space, but it's very inviting and comfortable. From ceiling to floor, books line the walls, all similar bound volumes of some California legal records. But they look impressive. Two over sized, gaudy, bordello-style chandeliers hang from the ceiling and red drapes, a nice, large bar, a piano and, oh yes, a disco ball complete the look.

And there is no amplification of any kind. This was truly going to be unique for me, seeing acts as if in a living room. Or a bar back during the settling of the west. Suddenly I felt like I was in McCabe and Mrs. Miller territory, especially when Country Tea began their set.

There is a stage, high, like four feet off the floor, which puts the performers well over the heads of the audience, allowing the sound to pour out, unobstructed, which works amazingly well.

Country Tea's lead singer and guitarist, Marty sings pure prairie folk songs, that sound right out of How The West Was Won, with vocal backup and a violin which evoke an incredible sense of another time and place. He has a clear, high voice with a nice tension and urgency which fits the nostalgic nature of his songs.

Speaking afterward, he told me that this was only the third or fourth time they've played with the violin backup, which startled me because they sounded like a natural fit. Country Tea played a lovely set in a perfect setting and it tuned your ear to the careful listening required to fully appreciate the non-amplified experience.

I got to speak with all five band members before the Tommy Santee Klaws set and really enjoyed getting to know them a little better. But once they took the stage and began, they rose to a level that left the audience standing back on earth as the band rose into the atmosphere, becoming rarefied objects of adulation.

This music is not normal, is the first thing that comes to mind. The twinkling little artifacts, the fiesta, carnival ambiance coupled with the funeral dirge beat and the gorgeous bass violin, led by the high, heavenly, and truly astonishing vocals of Tommy and his brother, bathe the listener in a haze of euphoria.

What separated this from the amplified show I saw them give at the Echo Curio last October was the restraint necessary to make sure each element of the music was at the proper level. This required a discipline that both impressed and moved me. Watching how in tune with each other this band is, made me see how rare that quality can be.

Especially impressive was the drummer, who could easily have dominated, but, instead played with such extraordinary restraint it became a delicate tour de force of percussion. But each performer provides such an important function in their sound that no element seems less important than another.

They opened with a new song that immediately grabbed the attention of everyone in the place and proceeded to keep everyone in their grip for their whole set. A couple of songs from their latest EP, Gloria were great to hear, now that I've become familiar with them, including "Smoke Spells". And I really loved a song from the earlier recording, The Fear, which had a refrain that began, "How do you keep your hair so neat, When your eyes always fall to the floor...". Their cryptic/ironic lyrics are another distinguishing feature of this magical musical combine.

I had to get up the next morning at 5 AM for a photoshop class, so staying to see Cave Country was not an option, though I wish I could have. They were nice to meet and I will see them in the near future. But the sets I did see of Country Tea and Tommy Santee Klaws were a privilege to hear and I felt really lucky to have been there. I was soaring the whole next day from this show.