Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Great April Shows

The week of April 4-9 was pretty great for hearing some local bands who have been around for a while, but still have the energy, enthusiasm and pleasure of performing that you see in a brand new band. Most have been through line up changes, starts and stops along their career paths, but each seems to have emerged stronger and better than ever.

I may sound like a promoter for The Satellite, but is it my fault that three of the four shows I saw on this week took place there? Starting on Monday, April 4, Walking Sleep (at right) began their month long residency at the aforementioned venue and I wanted to be sure to see at least a couple of their evenings, so I started there. As I walked in The Californian were a couple of songs into their set and the last time I saw them at this venue there was way too muck reverb on John Graney's voice, but on this night it sounded perfect. The Californian seem to have settled into a comfortable five-member unit who consistently play strong sets that scoop up whole new groups of fans every time they perform.

Walking Sleep, as well, have coalesced into as tight a band as they have ever been, including their time as The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra, and their songwriting just keeps getting better. I can't wait to hear their next record. Their set also got me spinning Measures again on my CD player. Their new drummer has worked out well and Sara Radle's contribution to the band just keeps growing, as she also provides the perfect vocal counterpart for Hunter.

The very next night was Radio Free Silver Lake's Free Tuesday at LaBries with The Lonely Wild (at left), Radars To The Sky and The Hectors, who started the night in fine form sounding better than I think I've ever heard them. And their songs are getting prettier and prettier as their jangly guitar sound becomes more hypnotic, especially when matched by the semi-narcoleptic vocals provided by Corrine. I think they're onto something. Radars To The Sky have had their share of personnel changes over the last couple of years, but what they've got now sounds pretty seamless. Kate Spitzer is taking a more prominent role as a vocalist and the interplay between her and husband, Andrew Spitzer, with his fine baritone, makes for some exciting vocal harmonies. Backed up by solid guitar and bass support from Rob Danson and Pete Dibiasio this band has hit their stride. The Lonely Wild wowed the audience with one of their practically perfect sets completely winning over the crowd. Their intricate yet sunny indie/pop is a pleasure to hear and the songwriting is of such variety, they sound like they could tackle any genre.

The following night, April 6, I wandered over to The Satellite where The 704 and Radio Free Silver Lake were jointly hosting a show with Radermacher. Sadly, I arrived too late to see Light FM, who I really wanted to catch, especially since Josiah did such a fantastic job reporting from SXSW for RFSL. But I was so impressed with the Rademacher set, my disappointment melted away listening to this superb band. Mike is such a tremendously talented lead singer, he just scoops up the audience into his hands and doesn't let go. I can see why this band is considered such a mainstay of the local music scene.

I walked back into The Satellite that Saturday, April 9, as One Trick Pony (shown at right) was performing the opening set. Now, I've seen this band a number of times and in any number of configurations, but nothing they've done before prepared me for the power of this amazing set. Randolph Williams III has always impressed me with his fantastically dexterous voice, but tonight, the band sounded like such a solid unit. I was especially heartened, as the last time I spoke with Randy he was at a bit of a crossroads as to what direction he wanted One Trick Pony to go. It sounds like he found his way as the set sounded solid and purposeful. Older songs sounded fresh and lively, new material was enticing.

Death To Anders played next and it's a pleasure to hear this band out and about again. Rob Danson has been branching out into other areas, including short-film scoring, but he seems at home behind his guitar with a band supporting his odd, quirky and singular songwriting/story-telling. Songs that were both familiar and freshly written sounded challenging and poetic. Headliner, Danielson, sounded lively and professional, but after this busy week, I lost steam fast and couldn't stay for their whole set.

The second April Free Tuesday for The Lonely Wild at LaBrie's was another night of solid music. Their new lead girl singer, Jesse Williams, opened with her band, Coyote, who played some pretty and original sounding country flavored indie. The Lonely Wild played a set so good, Jed (of RFSL) leaned over to me at one point and said, "this is why they're the finest band in L.A. right now". It's hard to disagree. Amazing song craft for a band so young. And Judson filled out the bill with his latest accompanists, Sheridan Riley on drums and John Seasons on bass, for a really rocking set that added a sense of urgency to some of Judson's lovely compositions and sharp lyrics. Another successful Radio Free Silver Lake Free Tuesday at LaBrie's.

Out to another Walking Sleep residency at The Satellite on April 18 to see Marvelous Toy, Sara Radle Band and Michael's House, which was actually Avi Zahner (aka: Buffalo), who ended the night exploring weird walls of wailing noise. Sara Radle is the lead female singer in Walking Sleep, but I had never heard the Sara Radle Band, which also included Adam and Ethan from WS, along with some backup from The Damselles at this show, as they kicked off the evening. Sara writes personal indie ballads, with a touch of country, that are pretty sophisticated and interesting, and she even included a cover of Carole King's "Will You Love Me Tomorrow". Marvelous Toy gave a roaring performance with Jordan Hudock really letting loose and giving a show that reminded me how good they were at our LaBrie's residency last December. Again, Walking Sleep had the crowd dancing and bouncing around to their driving, propulsively dynamic sound. Their sets consist of familiar songs freshly arranged and new material that shows their growth in songwriting. I always have a good time seeing this band, and they never fail to give their all to each show. Judging by the two I saw, their residency has been a resounding success.

Paul Simon at The Fonda on Tuesday, April 19th was both a completely contemporary experience as well as a time-warp fantasy, all at the same time. First I heard he was coming out to play a small tour at smaller venues, so when Paul Simon first announced two shows at The Pantages, on Wednesday and Thursday, I thought about it and quickly decided it was too much money to pay for a seat which undoubtedly would be a half mile away (at best... The Pantages is BIG!). But then three weeks ago he announced a sudden, unseated (from the floor) show at The Henry Fonda Music Box Theatre on Tuesday with tickets to go on sale at 10 AM, Saturday, April 2, and at a fair-to-decent price. It took one phone call and two attempts on my laptop that morning to finally secure a single, solitary ticket on the floor. But I was more than happy, because I knew at The Fonda I could get as close as I wanted.

I got to the appointed line at 7:15 and saw it was snaked around the block already...and barely moving...for almost 90 minutes. As 8:30 was approaching, obviously someone inside, Mr. Simon maybe, said, let the damned people in or I won't get to go on until 11 PM!! That is pure speculation, but suddenly the line moved as they threw open the doors and didn't even check anyone's I.D. or tickets. The crowd swarmed the place, but, being The Fonda, I still got down the side and up close for an indelible concert experience.

To be close enough to see every expression and be able to see his hands working his guitar was an honor and a privilege I won't ever forget. I stayed there for almost half of the show but then moved around to enjoy it from different vantage points, even running into RFSL's Jed who explained Paul Simon's significance to him. He has obviously touched many generations, but when he sang a solo acoustic version of "Sounds of Silence" I just about fell apart on The Fonda floor. You see, The Graduate came out in December (1967) of my senior year of high school, and the song had been out for a year before that, so it was among nearly everybody's favorite songs of the period, and to hear it at the other end of my life arc was most moving and actually life-affirming.

He also gave defining performances of big hits like "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" and "Kodachrome" along with some songs from Graceland, and a brace of material from his most winning new album, So Beautiful Or So What, which I have to say, is really growing on me. Performing with a band of nine, that expanded to 11 at some points, Simon appears to take an audience's adulation in his stride without having much to say between songs. yet he appears fully engaged, in love with what he's doing and all the more youthful-seeming for it. For one who had never seen Paul Simon live before, this was the show to see.

I also must mention the Cody The Band record release party I attended at Silver Lake Lounge on Thursday, April 21, with Downtown/Union and Judson. Cody Hudock, brother of the other talented Hudock we know (I even met their charming mother), is an astonishing pianist and I was at just the right vantage point to appreciate this talent the other night. He nimbly directs his fingers all over the keyboard with hardly a glance in its direction, all the while singing away the complex and complicated, thought provoking lyrics he pens. Is that a family trait? Cody The Band is a tight unit and I love their new recordings. Openers, Downtown/Union performed an energetic set of their thrashing garage/punk/indie rock and the closer, Judson, performing with the same line up as at LaBrie's, was, if anything, even more rocking than on that night and he does it astonishingly well.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

What I Listened To In March 2011

I was woefully neglectful on keeping up my weekly listening tallies, so for the sake of continuity, I will simply put all of March together in one big list and treat April in my usual weekly report. So for March, here's what I played most...
1. DeVotchKa - 100 Lovers (ANTI)

2. Balmorhea - Constellations (Western Vinyl)

3. Duniven - I Need To Try For Her (self release)

4. Pepper Rabbit - Beauregard (Kanine Records)

5. George Glass - George Glass EP (self release)

6. Yann Tiersen - Dust Lane (EMI Import)

7. Jenny O - Home EP (Manimal Vinyl Records)

8. Choir Of Young Believers - This Is For The White In Your Eyes (Ghostly International)

9. Alpine Decline - Visualizations (self release)

10. Iron and Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean (Warner Bros.)

I had no idea I was going to grow so fond of the DeVotchKa record, but the more I listened the more I liked it and then when I saw their show at The Fonda, it quickly rocketed to the CD I played the most last month. And as great as 100 Lovers is, they're twice as good live. I saw Bolmorhea at Echoplex and bought this album, Constellations, in anticipation. It's beautifully orchestrated classical/indie rock, a genre I happen to fall for easily.

I was sent a copy of Duniven's album (so you know), but I really do like it, and am enjoying their pop sensibility that reminds me of The New Pornographers at times. Some great two-part, boy/girl harmonies. Other newcomers are the Yann Tiersen album when I thought I might see him in concert (I didn't) and Jenny O's Home, which I reviewed at Radio Free Silver Lake, and I did see her in concert at her last residency night at Bootleg Theatre in February and was mighty impressed.

Of course I'm still playing Pepper Rabbit, George Glass, Choir Of Young Believers, Alpine Decline and Iron and Wine.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Day Elizabeth Taylor Died

The sky above Los Angeles opened up on Wednesday, March 23, 2011 and wept copious tears for hours and hours. The world had woken up that morning to the news of Elizabeth Taylor's death at the age of 79 from congestive heart failure at Cedar-Sinai in Beverly Hills. It was incredible, the day was dark and cold and finally when the rain came, it didn't stop.

It knocked the wind out of my sails because for as long as I can remember there was always Elizabeth Taylor. And for a good number of those years she was, simply, the most beautiful woman on earth, and an actress who was revealing surprising depth as she developed. I was too young to have seen, or appreciated her early triumphs in A Place In The Sun (1951) or Father Of The Bride (1950) but by the time I was ten, Cleopatra was in production and the circus began. It seemed like it was all anybody talked about. And it just kept getting more famous as production dragged on for three years. They kept re-releasing Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958), Butterfield 8 (1960), Suddenly Last Summer (1959), Giant (1956) and even Elephant Walk (1954).

When Richard Burton (right) and Rex Harrison (left) were added to the cast, it felt like the best of Broadway was meeting the best of Hollywood. You see, around 1961, Camelot (1960), and it's original cast album, were on everyone's mind and record players (including President Kennedy's) and Richard Burton was already becoming a household name. Everyone loved Rex Harrison from the original cast album of My Fair Lady (1956) because it was the best selling album of all time, not to mention making a star out of Julie Andrews (both left and right). And they were co-starring with the most alluring woman in the world of film, who's beauty was matched by her talent.

Elizabeth Taylor had already been nominated for four remarkable performances as Best Actress at the Academy Awards, (1957 thru 1960). Won one. A feat only matched by Greer Garson in Academy history. And established herself as a serious actress, one who was clearly on the forefront of an adventurous new emotional cinema. Her talent can be easily discerned and enjoyed in Giant (1956), where she can act, using one scale of notes in her scenes with Rock Hudson and use an entirely different scale of notes for her scenes with James Dean. She was intuitive enough an actress to understand that two different styles were required for two very different actors. And she managed to make them both look good, while quietly delivering the very best performance in the whole film. (And she wasn't nominated for this, while her two male co-stars were!)

In spite of the great beauty and high-profile lifestyle, there was always something both rarefied and accessible about her, at the same time. It seems, from what I've heard and read, that for most people who met her, she was at once friendly and unpretentious. When she retired from her film career, she had reached a point where her fame overcame her ability to be believed in just about any film role, she decided to use that fame to be a spokesperson for AIDS research after the death of actor/friend Rock Hudson from the disease. And her work was tireless.

There was a lot to admire here, for a person who could have chosen to take, take, take, all her life, she chose to raise her kids well, develop into an intelligent actress, and devote her later career to a right and just cause. Plus living out a blatant public affair, with Richard Burton, in front of the world's face, and getting condemned by The Vatican...What's not to admire. I was 13 when I was taken to see Cleopatra in Boston during its nine month reserved seat run (and saw it eight times during its initial two year release), but I never felt more proud of her than when Franco Zeffirelli's film of The Taming of the Shrew opening in Boston in March 1967 and, at the first Saturday matinee, I realized that, not only were they great, larger-than-life stars, but fine artists doing Shakespeare as well. Both were currently nominated for Best Actor and Best Actress for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). They were clearly at the top of their game.

I feel I learned a valuable life lesson from Burton and especially Taylor, who's unabashed lust for life was an inspiration to a shy teen in Massachusetts in the mid-sixties. Trying to live life to the fullest has been a guiding force for me ever since. I've long missed him, now I will miss her too.


Monday, April 11, 2011

More Shows

I meant to write a follow up to my last column involving the second week of March, but here we are halfway through April, and the time got away from me. Just to recap...DeVotchKa (below) at The Fonda was the show of the month for me.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011, was another edition of Radio Free Silver Lake's Free Tuesdays at LaBrie's featuring George Glass, that attracted a good crowd early to see openers, Wire In the Walls deliver a really enjoyable set. I was impressed with their songwriting and professional performance. Ladycop, from New York, arrived in their vegetable oil-fueled bus and impressed us with their music as well as their alternative transportation methods. George Glass and College Kids polished off the night nicely with their raucous energy (the former) and their thoughtful folk/rock songs (the latter).

Wednesday was the big show at The Echo hosted by The 704 and starring four amazing bands. First up was Pageants, who are led by singer Rebecca Coleman (formerly of Avi Buffalo) who sings with a singular style and loads of self-assurance, songs which are quirky and unpredictable but really pretty. Songwriting duties are handled by all in the band, as Arin and Devin told me, and they seem to tap into each other's sensibilities because the writing appears seamless, as if by one author. They performed as a band of three (drummer Lia Braswell was unable to attend) but had no trouble in completely winning over the crowd who seemed a bit astonished at what they were hearing. Next up the AV Club wowed the crowd with a solidly played set fronted by the superb vocals of their lead singer. I got their EP a couple of weeks ago and it's really quite good and they sound that good live, too. By then I'd hooked up with the Seasons bunch and the partying was in full swing, making the show as much a private party as a concert. So many familiar faces and so many people to chat with. And Seasons delivered a superb set which included their new violin player, I believe her name is Cecelia, and it's clear they have suddenly matured into the perfect blend of instruments and voices. I've known this band for a while now, through its many generations, and I don't think they've ever sounded better. That powerhouse of energy, Moses Campbell, polished off the night in high style, and with Pauline Lay's ferocious violin playing. Lots of violins this week!

I wanted to see Yann Theisen at The Fonda on Friday, March 11, partly because the opening band was Breathe Owl Breathe, who impressed me so much last year at their Bootleg show. Their fine music is composed for guitar, piano and cello with the frequent addition of just about anything that would make noise, complimented by a highly stylized theatrical presentation that made for an enchanting set.

I don't ever seem to be able to be prepared for a concert by DeVotchKa no matter the circumstances. I first encountered them at the Swerve Festival on Sept. 30, 2007 up in Barnsdall Park at the shell and I was pretty impressed. But when I scored a ticket to see them at The Viper Room on February 2, 2009, I don't think I realized how luck I was. They were up close and personal that night and it was a concert forever burned into my memory. I didn't expect to ever see that duplicated in my lifetime. Well they did just that at The Fonda on March 12.

In one of the top shows of the year, DevotchKa played selections from their full catalog, including a lot of new material from 100 Lovers, their terrific new album. The audience was transfixed for the entire set and it flew by in what seemed like minutes, remarkable considering they played over two hours. No matter how good this band is in recordings, they are twice as good in person and Nick Urata has a voice that is way more flexible and strong than is revealed on disk. A magical evening.

The rest of the month was highlighted by the George Glass residency for Radio Free Silver Lake over at LaBrie's featuring great supporting sets by bands like Francisco the Man, Radars To The Sky and Smokers in Love. Tuesdays are becoming quite special.

Other memorable sets came from Space Waves, POLLS and Wilding on March 16 at Silver Lake Lounge, The wildly entertaining, Schoenberg Knife Fight Ensemble at Lot 1 Cafe and Torches In Trees, solid as ever, at The Echo, both on March 18. And, of course, another monthly highlight was the triumphant return of The Parson Red Heads who tore the roof off The Echo on March 25, surrounded by friends and fans. They're gone again already...but they will be back. whrabbit