Friday, January 20, 2012

Jason Simon as Old Testament at Harvard & Stone

I had a really good time at Harvard & Stone last night (Thursday, January 19) when I wandered over there to see Dead Meadow's lead singer, Jason Simon, performing with a project, begun as a solo act, which has blossomed into a four-person band called Old Testament. (Photo on right by Allison Jana Sautkulis) I'd never been to this establishment before, but being located on Hollywood Boulevard near Western, it had a lot of old-style Hollywood charm, a bar populated with friendly and helpful bartenders, and an overall comfortable ambiance. Actually it opened less than a year ago.

Grabbing a beer, I had about 45 minutes to kill till the band went on. Standing by the bar, admiring the layout and keeping a good view of the stage, I began to notice that the DJ was playing "Ruby Tuesday" by The Stones, a version of "Season of the Witch" (I think Donovan), even "Crimson and Clover" by Tommy James and The Shondells. When "Happy Together" by The Turtles started up, I'd had just about enough of someone fucking with my head. I mean, these are all the songs I listened to in High School in my bedroom on WBZ radio from Boston, when I was about 15 or 16, and just beginning my unbridled passion for rock and roll. It seemed like someone had pulled a play list out of my head.

I introduced myself to the DJ and told him this. To let him know I hadn't just fallen out of some time machine, I mentioned that I write blogs covering the current local music scene and the evening was making me feel like I'm living in some parallel universe. Well that really got him started and I heard "I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night" by The Prunes. When he played "Somebody To Love" by Jefferson Airplane, I felt like I had been turned inside out and my brains must have been spilling out all over the floor for all to see.

I got to chat a moment with Jason, but he soon had to head for the stage. The music he writes as a solo or for Old Testament is different, stylistically, from Dead Meadow, but the familiar undercurrent of his Indian raga influence can still be heard. I love the droning, almost somnambulant quality of the music of Dead Meadow, but here, it takes the shape of more classically structured songwriting in an acoustic format.

The skills that are displayed in all the Dead Meadow material is here as well. Uncommonly good melodies are paired with the torrent of words Jason writes. Sometimes the lyrics just come out in a tumble, one on top of the other, sung in a voice as if in a trance, making the listener lean forward to hear all of the carefully enunciated musings. The style is familiar to anyone who knows '60s psychedelic music, but it still sounds fresh and is totally engrossing. I look forward to becoming more familiar with these songs.

The crowd was an eager and willing audience, and many seemed quite familiar with the material and that helped make the set quite special. The second band was called Boy Scout Jamboree, made up of members of Spindrift, but unfortunately it was already getting late and a work night as well. And if I hadn't run into Christian Biel, I would have left then, but we hung out for a while. I was glad to run into a familiar face and catch up (as fellow bus riders, we occasionally are on the same bus or train) and share what was a pretty remarkable evening. Harvard a & Stone passed the test and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good spot in Hollywood to hear good music.


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