Saturday, September 29, 2012

Earlimart at The Satellite - September 28, 2012

Just a quick jotting to say how the concert week continued in high gear as Earlimart gave what may be one of the best sets I've ever seen from them at The Satellite on Friday night, Sept. 28. And this is from someone who has seen them about 15 times. Aaron Espinoza was in a reflective and thoughtful mood as he announced that the band would be on a hiatus for a little while after this show, promising that this would be a celebratory set that featured many greatest hits. And even though their new album, System Preferences, would not be released until October 16, Aaron said he would be selling them after the show outside the bathrooms.

Every number they played from the new CD was beautifully rendered and showed that their knack for writing immediately appealing songs has not been diminished one iota over the years. Throwing in classics like "Heaven Adores You" and "Happy Alone", it all blended seamlessly with new classics like "97 Heart Attack" or "U & Me". They're music just melts me.

What was most moving was seeing a sentimental side to Aaron which he usually hides under the wraps of his often profanity-laced banter between song. Actually I've always enjoyed that sarcastic side of his humor, and find it funny he can't restrain himself even when there are children in the audience. Well, like I've always said, no one was ever corrupted by a bad word.

When he talked about how grateful he was to the local music community, how he had no idea where he might have ended up and said this neighborhood saved his life, I could relate in a certain way. I know I've met many individuals who would say the same thing. I can only relate what it did for me. You see, when music re-entered my life about seven years ago, it shook me to my very foundation, turned me completely upside down and rearranged all my priorities. Earlimart was one of the reasons. I started going out to shows and clubs, met hundreds of wonderful new friends, decided to try writing and felt like my life had been given a whole new sense of purpose. Like Aaron, I thank you all. 

Had to get that out. I'll be posting a more full some review on Tuesday at Radio Free Silver Lake.

photos by Brad Roberts

Friday, September 28, 2012

Menomena Triumphant at El Rey - Sept. 27, 2012

I just got home from the Menomena show at El Rey and I am completely bedazzled (12:30 AM). I am not surprised because they had the same impact on me when I saw them for the first time at The Troubadour back in 2007. The originality, the creativity, the love of what they're doing, is so completely infectious, you feel a part of the creative process as you watch them. What a gift for an audience. This was the fourth time I've seen them, and I think it was the best of all.

I'd heard how the one of the original three members, Brent Knopf,  had decided to split amicably after the release and tour of Mines (September 16,2010 at El Rey) in January 2011 to focus on his own music in Ramona Falls. This prompted Justin Haris and Danny Seim to commit to continuing forward with the band and record their fourth album, Moms, which was released on September 18, 2012. Recruiting other musicians from the Portland Oregon area, the album was put together the same way their others took shape, with each artist adding his own contribution separately and the final mix being composed in a computer program they affectionately call Deeler.

What they create is a music with no specific genre, it's a stew consisting of indie, jazz, classical, dance music, and a few other things I can't think of. And I love it. Moms may be their finest achievement yet, and hearing the songs live only makes that argument stronger. They've outdone themselves lyrically this time, with the same brainy intelligence they always display but now with more personal and even haunting observations on life.

I was startled when five musicians strode out on stage because I thought they'd be down to two performers and a lot of looping pedals and prerecorded samples. And I'd seen them as three before, and more at El Rey in 2010, which I recall was a surprisingly lackluster show which made me wonder. They kicked off with an arrangement of "Muscle 'n Flo" from Friend and Foe that had to be retooled for the new mix of instruments, which included two (!) keyboards, bass, drums and Justin Harris trading off on guitar and baritone saxophone. At first it sounded a little unfocused and I feared for the new band make-up.

Once they played the amazing song "Plumage" which launches their new album, I relaxed as the perfect mix of voices and instruments reached peaks I'd never heard before from Menomena.The concert took off from there and I was elevated to somewhere near the ceiling for the duration of their show. It was sublime and yet only played to an El Rey that was only three quarters full. Where were the people! Everyone I know should have been there because this was one of the best sets of the year.

They ended up playing all but two songs from Moms, and I could not have been more pleased because in the less than two weeks I've had the album it has made an indelible impression on me and represents a giant leap forward in their songwriting and now in their performance skills. Throwing in songs like ""Rotten Hell" from Friend and Foe and "Queen Black Acid" from Mines made a wonderfully diverse program and each band member shined. I love that they all sing. I left the theatre a mile high!

This spectacular week just keeps getting better and this was the best show of the week, so far. Boy it's really fun catching all these shows where my favorite albums of the year are being performed live. And to see these artists when they are at the absolute peak of their performance skills. It's not like seeing someone trying to keep up with past peaks that are not all that enthused or someone trying to recreate something that was gone long ago. This is a special time and I am going to bask in it. And to see bands in a wonderful venue like El Rey only make me appreciate Los Angeles all that much more.

photos by Brad Roberts

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra at The Fonda - September 25, 2012

Amanda Palmer has always presented some of the biggest challenges for me as a purveyor of popular music. Back when I was recording music videos as my only way of learning about new music, I had recorded her video for "Girl Anachronism" with The Dresden Dolls and, although at first I thought it was a bit studied, bizarre and overly theatrical, the edgy humor in it won me over and I grew to see it as a statement about the art they were creating. For one thing, Amanda's piano playing was startlingly aggressive and powerful, like her eyebrows, and Brian Viglioni's mime make-up coupled with the exaggerated gestures and fierce drumming made the duo one of the most strikingly adventurous bands I knew about.

I started seeing them live in 2006 when they played a free in-store at the now defunct Virgin Megastore on Hollywood Boulevard and I was struck by the legion of worshipful fans, all dressed in various recreations of Dresden Dolls attire; striped stockings, ripped bodices and bowler hats. The place was packed and I was way at the back, but the power of their live performance filled the store. I knew then that I would be a long-time fan.

Having seen The Dresden Dolls at The Wiltern, at a sit-down show at The Orpheum, even a musical/dramatic piece they performed in Boston based on the concept of the Gunter Grass story The Onion Cellar, I then started to track Amanda Palmer's solo career. When The Dresden Dolls went on hiatus in 2008, and she played The Troubadour in August that summer and she premiered songs from her forthcoming solo album Who Killed Amanda Palmer. It was reassuring to see that her inspiration and performance drive were intact.

The Brechtian punk cabaret style was still the vehicle but the songwriting became more intense and revelatory. Her rambling, confessional songs are often so personal they can make the observer feel like a voyeur. Sometimes one hopes they're fiction. Her piano playing continued to be one of the biggest draws for me, as a fan of the instrument anyway, and I've never seen anyone play it the way she does. Even when it's sloppy, it's exactly right.

She played The Fonda later in 2008 and back to The Troubadour in June 2009, always with remarkable backing bands and consistently putting on a show that was as visually stimulating as the music. In October last year, she and Nail Gaiman, who she had recently married, toured in a limited music/spoken word concert that was almost like sitting with them in their living room as they traded off songs and words in a creative duel that was further proof of Amanda Palmer's commitment to expanding her and her audience's artistic boundaries.

So it's with this background that I trekked up to The Fonda on Tuesday night, September 25, 2012, for my ninth concert with Amanda Palmer. This time it was Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra and it was a show in four acts. Announced as a 9 o'clock start, I figured not much would happen by 9:30, so when I walked in Act One was just over and I'd missed it. Sorry about that, especially when the next act, turned out to be some odd amalgam of glam rock/Rocky Horror Picture Show theatricality and dated power singing and it seemed embarrassingly old-fashioned and not really what I came to see.

Act Three was far more successful...and surprising. They are a band from Boston (Amanda's home base) and called Ronald Reagan, though for no obvious reason I could detect. What they are is two gentlemen who play bass saxophones, interpreting pop songs using only those instruments and occasional vocal drum noises. The audience ate it up and it was pretty captivating. They said they had never been to Hollywood before and this was their first show in L.A. and you could tell they were very pleased with the reception they got from a very warm Los Angeles audience.

Then there was Amanda, backed by a twelve-piece Grand Theft Orchestra... the lighting, the staging, everything came together for a sublime experience. Playing mostly songs from her newest album, Theatre Is Evil, they sounded even more dazzling live than on the record. Amanda's remarkable stage presence is always warm and welcoming while at the same time she seems edgy and slightly dangerous.

She even performed a new and unique arrangement of "Coin-Operated Boy" which she began on piano, then switched off to guitar and finished on the drums, while the band tries to keep up with her. Her command is such that even during numbers where the band stops playing and she's barely whispering into the mike, the audience holds it's collective breath and listens attentively.

While wandering the lobby during Act Two, I noticed Palmer's social conscience at work with a table set up for voter registration. There was also a table asking audience member to write down the saddest, most awful thing that ever happened in their room.

There's always a part of the program devoted to Amanda reading comments from the audience, but this time the results were so gut-wrenching and emotional, the crowd was stunned. I have never heard a quieter bunch of people in my life as she read some of the saddest things I've ever a soft, quiet, winsome monotone that made the exercise all that much more moving. Comments like "I tried to commit suicide" or "I was raped by a parent" or "My parents told me I was too fat" rendered the room silent and people wept.

As an entertainer that's taking performance to the outer edges of audience expectations, but Amanda's fans are so willing to travel with her that the whole experience becomes one giant collective cathartic journey. Thank you Amanda Palmer.

photos by Brad Roberts (except Dresden Dolls portrait)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Start Of A Monumental Week: Lavender Diamond at The Echo

I just inadvertently deleted a bunch of my most recent posts, so I'd better get back to writing to fill the gap:

I had planned on not missing the final Lavender Diamond (above) residency night on Monday, September 24th at The Echo because I was not able to attend the earlier ones. When I heard, late Monday afternoon, that Dirt Bird had been added to the bill to open the night, that clinched it. I ran home from work, gobbled down dinner, and headed out to the 8:15 # 02 bus on Sunset which got me to The Echo at 8:55. Of course, the music didn't start until 9:30, but it gave me the opportunity to grab a beer and say hello to Athena and Claire of Dirt Bird and see and touch their astonishing new "Amadeus"-style wigs.

Claire Mckeown happily agreed to pose, out on The Echo patio, to document the event, seen at right. Stunning, huh? Well, I've seen Dirt Bird a few time. they even played  my first Feed Your Head Lot 1 show back in September 2011. But they have become such a tight and highly regarded act in the past few months that it was time to see them again. Claire Mckeown and Athena LeGrand have perfected their art and gave a performance that silenced The Echo audience (hard to do) and held them in rapt attention for the duration of their set.

One might think the particularity of their style might limit the music to a rather small palette. Not so. Though the roots may be in 18th Century Camber Music, when coupled with their pungent, contemporary lyrics they create a whole other bird, which they call "New Renaissance". Both ethereal and caustic, there's something vaguely other-worldly and Miss Havisham-like about their demeanor as they sit on stage in the glowing blue and red lights that play off their elaborate wig-hats. They need cobwebs on the stage. The time-travel aspect of their performance would resonate throughout the entire evening.

The gorgeous dueling soprano vocals weaving around each other like two halves of one voice were showcased in songs like "Lil' Bo Blue", "Cliftons", "Easy" and the title tune off their lovely EP, Summer Night Hours. I can't recommend this act highly enough, simply as an example of the huge range of styles we have here in this flowering music community.

Next up was Diva, who appeared buried in chiffon, to take us on a meditative journey out into deep space. She instructed the audience to begin by relaxing our entire bodies, piece by piece, until we felt able to rise as one whole unit through the roof of The Echo and out into the night sky. We continued on up until we passed beyond our own Solar System, out into the outer reaches, kind of like the slab in 2001. Bringing us back to earth, Diva then doffed the chiffon to reveal a costume not unlike something Carmen Miranda might wear and proceeded to sing some unusual song accompanied by pre-recorded music tracks.

The intention was clear. Becky Stark wanted the audience in a relaxed and open- minded state in order to receive Lavender Diamond directly into our souls. But when the music is as gorgeous and as moving as the new material from Lavender Diamond's latest album (released today) Incorruptible Heart, she needn't have worried.

After a couple of song where her vocals were a bit too soft, the sound mix was corrected and allowed Becky's voice to soar over the band. Last night, more than ever, I noticed the similarity of her pure, crystalline voice to that of Judy Collins or Julie Andrews. A voice that seems completely unaffected and as natural as a mountain stream.

With a backing band assembled from previous band members and a few new faces they progressed through a program that included songs bound to become my favorites. From "Everybody's Heart's Breaking Now" to "Oh My Beautiful World" and especially "All The Stars" in which Becky literally has to stand back from the mike and let her pearly tones ring out, so she won't break the mike or shatter glasses.

Still entertaining the audience with her gift for humor, the between song banter is as much fun as the music itself, but she seems to reign herself in so as not to break the mood with too much talk. the entire night was enchanting and what better way to start the week.

Tonight I get to contrast that with the concert by Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra at The Fonda. From tranquility to perversion. I love it!

photos by Brad Roberts