This has been a really good month for concerts so far. I mean, any month that includes two shows each by Pinback, The New Pornographers, Admiral Radley and two separate shows by two members of Fleet Foxes, J. Tillman and Robin Pecknold, is bound to make me very happy.
Starting off with the Pinback presents The Rob and Zach Show at the Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa on July 1st (photo at left by Doug Kresse), it wasn't the number of shows, but the quality. This show was the performance that a true Pinback fan has longed for. Simply the two of them sitting there, with their instruments and some minimal pre-recorded accompaniment, delivering stunning stripped down versions of some of their best songs. Now I get to see them again on Saturday July 24 at El Rey, but it might be as a full band this time. I don't know. Doesn't matter to me, I'd go watch them tune their instruments if that's all they wanted to do.
There were two pretty fabulous shows at the Hammer Museum that I caught in the "Also I Like To Rock" series put on by the museum and KCRW and curated by Kevin Bronson of Buzzbands. I saw Admiral Radley (photo at right by Andrew Herrold) for the first time at the July 8th edition and again at their Amoeba in-store celebrating the release of I Heart California. As a long time fan of Earlimart, and an acquaintance of both Aaron Espinoza and Ariana Murray, I was fascinated to hear what this project sounded like.
Combined with Jason Lytle from Grandaddy, they make edgy, indie rock with their lovely melancholia and sharply sarcastic irony intact, that points out the dirt and despair that can lurk right below the sunny surface of the California dream. The Hammer show was opened by an intense and flawless set by local charmers, The Happy Hollows, and, though I've probably seen then over a dozen times, I won't ever be satisfied unless I see them once a month for the rest of my life. The audience went crazy over them, too.
The other show in that series I caught was the one with Fitz and the Tantrums and The Heavy, and that was pretty hot...and I mean HOT. It was during the mid-month heat wave we had and the big plaster bathtub that is the Hammer courtyard seemed like it wanted to melt. The place was packed with throbbing dancing fans and they were rewarded by exciting sets by the two high-energy bands.
In the middle of all this was an extraordinary set by Judson and Mary at the Spaceland show starring The Californian on Wednesday, July 14. It was the middle of the week, the weather was still hot outside, the club was nearly empty, and the air conditioning was on high so the atmosphere inside was sublime. And Judson and Mary simply got up on stage and easily delivered what will be one of the most memorable sets of the year. I don't know how they do it. The music is so simple and yet so profound that I found myself tearing up at times.
Overpowering beauty can do that sometimes. They began with an a capela verse that led into a stunningly gorgeous song with Judson on guitar and Mary on fiddle engaging in a give and take exchange that was so close to conversation it made me feel like I was eavesdropping. Following with the more familiar "William Jennigs Bryan" in a powerful arrangement that made me feel like I'd never heard it before. This band could go far, fast.
The Californian then delivered a strong set that perhaps had a bit too much reverb in John Graney's vocals, for his voice is so versatile as it is, it need no effects. Still it's always a pleasure to hear such tightly written indie pop songs that rival the best in the genre.
Standing in front of Neko Case as she sang for two nights in a row reduced me to an invertebrate. Squishing into a jellyfish as The New Pornographers tore through hit after hit in a display of such passion and professionalism and non stop enthusiasm that I melted on the spot and never once did the quality drop, not for a second.
Five microphones were set up in the front for the five lead singers, and two more in back made seven voices to raise the roof right off The Fonda for two nights, July 19 and 20. I haven't often heard such masterful precision that seems as effortless as if they were just chatting with each other. And Dan Bejar was there, wandering on and off stage when called on to lend his scraggly charm to his own songs, even including the wonderful "Myriad Harbor". Niko would call out, "Danny, can you come out here and sing a song?"
I've been gorging myself on The New Pornographers CD's for at least a week so every song was familiar and welcome. It was especially gratifying to hear the new material from Together slip seamlessly into the set list, jacking up my appreciation for that album quite a bit. I know it's hard to believe they manage to stay together, but when you see the pleasure on their faces and the obvious joy they get from playing with each other you think they could go on this way forever. Most of the time there were nine musicians on stage, each contributing something individual and unique to the whole wall of sound.
I read that they sing 22 songs, and it seemed that way, but on the second night, Tuesday, July 20, they mixed up the set list and sang five or six different songs, so I got to hear them do about thirty songs out of their enormous catalog of top notch material. A. C. Newman never stopped singing and his perfect power pop writing shined in songs like "All The Old Show Stoppers" and "Twin Cinemas". I was particularly blown away by "Challengers" on the second night. Jesus, what a beautiful song! And each set ended with (pre-encore) "The Bleeding Heart Show" with it's ringing African-chant chorus that makes your heart swell.
And tonight, Saturday, July 24, I go see Pinback again. Life is good.