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.


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