Friday, February 10, 2012

Breathe Owl Breath and Daniel Ahearn & The Jones at The Echo

Pure magic is the only way to describe what I saw at The Echo on Wednesday night, February 8. In six days I'd seen three of the most incredible shows of the year, so far. And I missed some great ones I couldn't fit in. My Lot 1 show last Saturday with Cody The Band, the Judson McKinney one on Monday, and now this. I'm feeling a little punch drunk, and was reeling all day Thursday as a result of such stimulation.

I've been touting Daniel Ahearn & The Jones for some time on Radio Free Silver Lake based on what people had told me and selections I'd sampled on line, but when I ran into Daniel at the Aaron Embry show at Hotel Cafe last week, I decided to make it a point to catch them live. When I saw that they were appearing with Breathe Owl Breathe (above) for the Laura Gibson show at The Echo, I thought I should go. Unfortunately I couldn't stay for Laura Gibson, but my cup of music was full to overflowing after the first two bands, and any more would have been overkill. Plus I had to work the next day.

I first saw Breathe Owl Breathe almost exactly two years ago at the Bootleg, and they took me on a musical journey that night that I have never forgotten. The living theatre aspect of their set would have been enough, it was so deftly and unpretentiously handled, but the music turned out to be every bit as enchanting. An odd fusion of folk music, chamber ensemble, jazz combo, songwriting that is part Tom Lehrer, part Leonard Cohen, with the deadpan of Silver Jews and a whole lot of things in between.

On Wednesday I arrived part way into the opening set by Daniel Ahearn & The Jones and was immediately struck by the powerful voices coming from the stage. It was folky but with a dynamic force that pulled me right in. Daniel Ahearn and Mindy Jones have voices that are perfectly suited to each other, and when Mindy cuts loose, it's something to behold.

They describe the songs as love songs to avoid being pigeon-holed as folkies, and with the intricate and subtle orchestrations, it's closer to chamber indie. But its folk roots are still apparent in the intelligence of the lyrics and honesty of their intent. A friend at the show described it as music by adults, about adults and for adults. That's an apt assessment, as I found myself concentrating to make sure I heard all the lyrics. By the end of their set, I was pretty startled.

No band should have the right to make an audience feel so happy and filled with childlike wonder as does Breathe Owl Breathe. Lead singer and musician Trevor Hobbs seems to enjoy every minute he's on stage, and rather than seeming extraneous or self-conscious, his performance art is so well executed and flows out of him so naturally, it is totally disarming and left me giggling like a baby. His wry and witty delivery compliments the sometimes surrealistic lyrics.

Andrea Moreno-Beals
is a singer who often introduces a jazz idiom as a counterpoint to the folksiness of Trevor's vocals. And when she picks up (or puts on) her cello, she makes the songs soar or flow with the aquatic texture of Maurice Ravel. In one song she carried on and sounded like a vocal version of a Miles Davis trumpet freak-out. Another song had her whipping her head side to side as she yelped like a dog as she passed the microphone. This must sound strange. Well, strange it is.

Superbly varied drumming and vocal assist came from Micah Middaugh, who, along with writing all the lyrics, is also a graphic artist and writer of a book they have self-published. The Listeners/These Train Tracks contains two children's stories that read from the outside covers, meeting in the middle where one finds a record containing two Breathe Owl Breathe songs. This gorgeous volume is illustrated with copper block prints (also by Micah) and was available for viewing or purchase at the show.

Time stood still for the entire duration of their set as I was transported to magical land of unlimited creative capabilities. There's something so refreshing in their relaxed and easy manner that is, perhaps, attributable to their lives in rural Michigan. They seem slightly mad and completely well adjusted at the same time. My kind of people. I had a nice chat with Trevor afterward, (thank you Samantha Saturday of The Owl Magazine for the photo above) who kindly remembered me from two years ago, and who said they expect to come back to L.A. in May.

In the meantime I have the memories of this concert which will keep me warm until then. The joy they impart on an audience is infectious and highly intoxicating. Breathe Owl Breathe don't just win our admiration, they win our hearts as well.


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