Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Thoughts On January 2010

It was fun to attend the L.A. Weekly's Web Awards party last Thursday, January 21, 2010, at Bardot in Hollywood on top of the Avalon on Vine Street. I'm not even sure how I ended up being invited to this function, but I appreciated the opportunity to hob nob with other bloggers and writers.

Between bouts of the sky opening up and soaking the city, I managed to get inside before another drenching cloud-burst. I wasn't sure what to expect as I climbed the stairs, but this being Hollywood, I feared a room full of booming disco, surrounded by the dreaded "trend-setters" and the fatally hip. What I found instead was a large open bar, some beautifully appointed rooms, studious, but stylish looking people and the DJ was playing Super Furry Animals! I was in the right place. It was so dimly lit that it became an adventure simply to navigate the Bardot and venture into the many rooms, up and down the stairs, admiring the Spanish Colonial Revival-style architecture.

This is the upstairs portion of the building that was built in 1927 and opened as the Hollywood Playhouse that year, now called Avalon. It is also the site of the first rock concert I went to in 25 years, after rediscovering rock and roll in 2005. Ironically, that was a Super Furry Animals show and it hooked me forever to a life of live rock and roll. So the place has a definite nostalgia factor for me. Of course, it was also the theatre I used to see every week on TV when I was a kid in the '60's and Hollywood Palace would broadcast from that venue.

Waiters, with trays full of tasty treats, deftly wove their way through the crowd, so food was never more than a few feet away, and another bar made refills too easy. I thought, maybe, I'd recognize some other bloggers, but apart from a few saying hello to me, I felt a stranger. Eventually, I spied a familiar figure across the room and it was Mr. Bronson of Buzzbands.LA, so I made a bee line for him. That saved the evening for me.

As enjoyable as this event turned out to be, we were both anxious to see Red Cortez play at Spaceland and Kevin urged that I ought to see Idaho Falls, who were the headliners, so off we went, arriving at a Spaceland packed with a familiar crowd and good cheer. This was a record release show for Idaho Falls and they performed a seriously entertaining set for an audience of friends and collaborators, who cheered every song. Infectious indie-pop.

Red Cortez (photo at right by Sara Law) played around midnight and thoroughly rocked the place. Playing many new songs, they rampaged through their set until finally Harley sat down to slap the piano around a bit for a spectacular finale. This band is like a pure shot of adrenaline.

For most of this month I've been obsessed with a few CD's, like Mew's No More Stories... which continues to have an unrelenting hold on me. Armistead Burwell Smith IV, of Pinback, releases solo material under the name Systems Officer, and his new CD, Underslept (cover art at right), creeps up on you and lodges itself into your subconscious. It's a wonderful Pinback/Black Heart Procession hybrid, with a little Three Mile Pilot mixed in, highlighted by Zack's singular bass style and his uncanny ability to write irresistible melodies that bypass all my filters and goes directly into my soul. It should have been on my list of best CD's of 2009. There's a wonderful variety and ambition to this album I find exhilarating, especially for one so prolific for over ten years now.

The other one is Letting Up Despite Great Faults ' self titled CD. When I saw them for the first time recently, Mouse recommended this album and I wasn't disappointed. Really well produced dreamy synth-pop sound, but with sharply defined melodies and sinewey vocals that never get buried in the mix. Very beautiful stuff. I'm particularly obsessed with "Sun Drips" which lifts me off the surface of the planet every time I hear it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Recent News and Things

It's been quite a month so far, and it isn't even over yet. All the news from Haiti, the wild winter weather everywhere (the rain kept me in much of last week), and the bizarre politics of the Supreme Court threatening to undermine democracy. I'm ever more grateful we have music to sink into and to rearrange your priorities.

A perfect case in point was provided to me last night (Saturday, January 23, 2010) when I walked into Mr. T's Bowl a little after 9:30 and was instantly swept into another world of relentless rhythm with a wall of guitars washing over me. It was Torches in Trees (photo by Keith Skelton) and this was involuntary hypnosis they practiced on me. Anchored by solid melodies with a poignant melancholy edge, the band plays unhurried, hazy psychedelia that lured me right into the middle of the atmosphere they set out to create. It's a heady, intoxicating mix, and I think in fairly short order this band could have a large following.

The smooth, insinuating vocals are treated as another of the instruments and as such, perfect pitch is required and this band does that with a remarkable concentration that appears easy for them. It would be so easy for this music to ride off the rails into off-pitch droning, but they never, ever fall into that trap. The songs have a laid-back, experimental quality that disguises the fact that they require delicate and precise playing. Kudos to Azad Cheikosman, who guides his musicians through, what could be, murky musical waters, but always emerges with compositions of clear, solid beauty. They are well represented on their first EP, released last January, New Blood, New Sight, and I look forward to a full length from them.

The evening was an ISGOODMUSIC event, which is launching the new updated website today, and it was great to see host, Jon Hirshfield again, but I could only stay for a couple of bands. Next up was Tommy Santee Klaws, who played as a five piece, so it was fun to hear slightly stripped down versions of some of my favorite songs and a bunch of remarkable new material that makes me drool for their next recording.

Sam and Tommy handled most of the vocals, with assist from Donna, so I could enjoy the opportunity to observe the two and three part harmonies that that are so powerful they seem to emanate, simultaneously, from the sky above and the ground below. Below are the band in 3-D.

Two bands with very different sounds and it made the evening seem like a banquet of great music. I was completely satisfied.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Bunch of Show Reviews

January has gotten off to such a roaring start that I can hardly stop to draw breath. I posted an article detailing great sets by everyone from Manhattan Murder Mystery to The Stevenson Ranch Davidians (above) to Gangi. Read them over at Radio Free Silver Lake.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Best Concerts and Sets of 2009

I had a ball going to concerts this year. Now that I've been doing the L.A. Show Low Down over at Radio Free Silver Lake every week for 10 months I feel that very few shows get by me. Much of this list was posted there. The biggest problems continue to be competing concerts on the same nights and not always being able to afford everything I want to see.

Still the year afforded the opportunity to catch up with national and international bands coming through town along with local bands moving out into the big time and the thousands of local and free shows available all year long.

The biggest and most gratifying development of the year has been all the individual band members I've gotten to know along with the circle of artists surrounding this musical hub. It's a rare thing to find such a community of like minded people seeking the same goal and moments like this don't occur that often, so I'm going to savor it while it lasts.

On to business:

Band of the Year: The Monolators

I want to take this opportunity to single out the band that, overall, delivered the most fun, most inspired, most varied musical performances and most unusual living theatre I've seen in one year. Of course I'm talking about The Monolators. From the various performances under their usual moniker, to that wild Cobra Lillies fashion show that ended in murder at the American Legion to Mary's sexy saxophone strut through the crowd at Swork at The Eagle Rock Festival set by something called When Captain Geech Met Teardrop. They displayed the tremendous range of their abilities over and over, and entertained me more than any single musical unit has a right to.

I saw them early this year as they performed a 'first ever' (so I was told) acoustic set at the Where Gallery on March 6 for the photography show highlighting the work of Jeff Koga, Simon Cardoza and Benjamin Hoste. Then at Elaine's Hoedown at Pehrspace as Cobra Lillies accompanied by a fleet of tap dancers. They tamped down their natural ebullience to be an opening band for Handsome Furs at Echoplex in June and played a show for Radio Free Silver Lake's LA (heart) SF show in July at The Echo.

Eli cut a dashing path in moustache and Napoleonic/circus attire as the host of The Rock and Roll Summer Circus (at right) trying to juggle about 16 bands on that monumentally festive occasion and then there was the all-blonde Monolators as they turned the music of Abba into The Abbalators at the Halloween show.

Apart from that, Eli and Mary were audience members at maybe half of the local shows I attended, as they are both stalwart supporters of the local music scene, and they do all this while maintaining careers, raising a child and being married...to each other. I am amazed. Not to be outdone, their bass player, Ashley Jex, carried on beautifully throughout the spring, despite her SXSW souvenir of a broken foot or blasting through a 1 AM set at Mr. T's Bowl even with a broken neck on her instrument. Get this girl some splints!

Mew (above) gave two of the top sets of the year which combined to be my favorite show(s).

16 Top Concerts: (This is tough. I've been to 144 shows this year so far.) (chronological)

Red Cortez The Echo Jan 12 (at Robert Francis residency, Evan Way) This was the show that nailed this band for me and I became an obsessive fan from this moment on.

Devotchka The Viper Room Feb. 2 Smashing concert and I was right up front. Incredible skill on display.

Chad Van Gaalen Spaceland Mar. 28 Great to hear songs from '08's Soft Airplane and to watch the way he makes his music...again up close.

The World Record Spaceland Apr. 13 (at The Henry Clay People residency) This offshoot of The Parson Red Heads came on after midnight and completely made me feel like it was 7 o'clock all over again. Invigorating, dancable indie pop of a very high quality.

Iron and Wine Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery May 8 A solo show by Sam Beam that was electrifying from the first note till the last. One of the finest voices I have ever heard singing some of the best folk rock around.

Grizzly Bear The Wiltern June 19 This was a beautiful concert, perfectly miked and vastly superior to their Hollywood Palladium show later in the year. I was perfectly positioned in the pit.

Andrew Bird The Greek July 10 Another show that just lifted me out of my seat for the entire duration of his set. This was the only time I've ever been in the first row of The Greek and it REALLY makes a difference. Gifted artist is a phrase that could have been invented for him, yet his music, for all it's plucking and whistling, is instantly accessible.

Elbow The Wiltern July 22 I've been lucky enough to have seen this band three times and every time is a highlight of its year. Perhaps the most polished and professional of any band I've seen, they put on the most beautifully planned and executed shows, from the visuals to the sound quality, that I've seen. And Guy Garvey's rapport with an audience is like a warm hug.

Mew The Troubadour Sep. 1 A band I'd not payed much attention to in the last couple of years came roaring back into my consciousness with this amazing show that made the whole Troubadour vibrate with their overwhelming sound and gorgeous songs.

The Swell Season Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sep. 20 Another band that are an annual highlight every time they play, this was a magical acoustic set with only Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova on stage in an informal set.

Blitzen Trapper El Rey Sep. 28 The third time was the charm. I'd seen them at The Echo and seem them swamped by the Hollywood Bowl, but this show was amazing. They covered the best of Furr, but it was the newest songs from this year's EP, Black River Killer,Italic that show off this band at it's best. Another great band from the fertile Northwest.

his Orchestra Spaceland Oct 19 This was the first time I saw an entire set by this L.A. band that has so overwhelmed me this year with the best CD of the year and a live sound that is the perfect representation of their music. Tightly focused, disciplined, yet lots of fun, there's nothing like it when all their violins are sawing away furiously.

Le Loup The Echo Oct. 28 Another of my favorite albums of the year was Family and their live shows are infectious displays of the passion of performance, boundlessly enthusiastic and irresistable.

Elaine Layabout put together what may have been my favorite show of the year. It was Telegraph Canyon, Monahans, Tommy Santee Klaws and Restavrant at Gallery 2023 on Nov. 12 Amazing sets by each band that individually would have been a highlight, but together left the audience dazed and ecstatic, at the same time. Tommy Santee Klaws I've been raving about for a year, and people are really starting to catch on, Restavrant and Monahans each blew me away, but it is Telegraph Canyon that is one of my favorite new bands this year.

Pinback El Rey Nov 14 Another great Pinback show, but this time playing a compendium of their whole 11 year career in a dizzying display of their extraordinary songwriting covering almost 25 songs in a 90 minute set.

Mew came back just three months later and played The Fonda on December 14, which was great because, since The Troubadour show in Setember, I'd gone crazy over their new CD
No More Stories and they played most of the best selections from it. Once again it was an all encompassing experience engaging all the senses that made you feel airborne for the entire two hours.

This list comes out very top heavy with national and international bands.

So I also have to mention:

"Uncovered" - The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra, Death to Anders, Radars To the Sky and Marvelous Toy cover other L.A. bands at All Star Lanes Feb. 15. Great Fun.

Rock and Roll Summer Circus Echoplex Aug 14 This was the night music exploded all over the Echoplex, inside, outside, on stage and throughout the club. About 15 bands competed for attention and the crowd was huge and in a party mood. Guest-laden, chaotic, party-sets by The Henry Clay People, Fol Chen, The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra and Marvelous Toy among many others contributed mightily to the festivities.

Abbot Kinney Festival in Santa Monica Sep. 27 Amazing line up and top sets by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Eskimo Hunter, Soko, The Parson Red Heads and Dios. Nice street fair, and lots of music.

Halloween Show at The Echo Oct. 27 with The Karabal Nightlife covering T-Rex, The Monolators channeling ABBA, Voyeurs as Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Fleetwood Mac possessing The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra. All bands amazed me.

Randon great sets:

Karin Tatoyan, Avi Buffalo - Pehrspace, Feb. 7

Great Northern - Silver Lake Lounge, Mar. 16

St. Vincent - Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Apr. 6

Amnion - Regent Theatre, May 14

Fort King - Pehrspace, May 22

Tommy Santee Klaws, Marshweed, Elisa Ferrari - Echo Curio, Jul. 6

Three Mile Pilot - Echoplex, Jul. 17

J. Tillman - The Echo, Aug. 20

Telegraph Canyon - American Legion Hall, Sep. 11

Frank Fairfield - The Troubadour, Sep 12

The Happy Hollows - Spaceland, Nov 16

Bands to look out for in 2010:

Avi Buffalo, Red Cortez, The French Semester, his Orchestra, Faraway Places, Tommy Santee Klaws, Telegraph Canyon, Fool's Gold (and many more)