Friday, December 6, 2013

Feed Your Head at Lot 1 December 7, 2013


I've got an amazing show for you on Saturday night, Dec. 7 at Lot 1. Three wonderful bands and a storyteller artist to open the evening at nine. There's a lot of shows out there on Saturday, but I like to think this one has the edge.
Last month I was putting together a program of singer/songwriter/storytellers and since Scott Schultz is back in town, I wanted to feature him. We had become friends a few years ago, before he moved  back to Boston to pursue his spoken art career, and I wanted to see what this was all about. So I booked him. He's back for a second gig this week and will be breaking out some new work. The stories are based on real life and filled with a wry, humorous viewpoint that takes the ordinary and makes it seem deeply disturbed. My kind of irony.

Alright Alright are the first band (at 10) and they played for me last December, maybe this can become a holiday tradition, the first Saturday of every December at Lot 1, from here to eternity. Dazzled by their multi-storied musically upbeat structures and commanded by a bunch of mighty powerful singers, I became a fan on the spot. This will also be the  release party for their beautiful new EP, Radio. and they will give the evening an appropriate musical blast off. Power pop with amazing hooks and wonderful melodies.

The Black Heartthrobs have the 11 o'clock spot and will bring an energy and a Kink-like spirit with a garage indie rock sound to rouse the audience. Their edgy, propulsive music has a spontaneous feel, yet follows very clear lines and will keep the place hopping. It's the perfect noisy rock to separate the other bands, each of whom represent different aspects of the indie rock world as we journey from power to punk to prog.

A couple of weeks ago I went to The Viper Room to check out a show Rebecca Balin was putting on. I sampled some of the songs of a band called Wages on line and was quite impressed and made sure I was there for their early set. I was stunned by the breadth and range of their talent. For only a three-piece band they filled the room with melodious sound. Check out the fabulous video that Bronson posted over at BuzzbandsLA, then come on down and hear it live at midnight. Their music has the discipline of Pinback, yet the adventurous quality of prog rock. I can't wait to see them for the second time.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Arcade Fire at Hollywood Palladium October 31, 2013

I couldn't believe I was going to get to see Arcade Fire for the sixth time. I knew they were in town celebrating the release of Reflektor, their fourth studio album, but the shows were difficult, if not impossible, to get into. I wasn't able to jump through the hoops required to get into the Capital Records rooftop show on Monday, October 28th, (photo below by Philip Cosores for Stereogum) or the "Music Experiment" show on Tuesday, so when they announced the Halloween night concert at Hollywood Palladium with tickets to go on sale to the general public (me) on Saturday, October 26 at noon, I sat there by my laptop with a cup of coffee, ready to jump.

From the very first try, the ticket sales website said, "Sorry, nothing matches your search criteria." As I repeatedly got the "sorry..." message I was cursing the bastards who had pre-ordered the album and been allowed to pre-buy the concert tickets the day before. Then the light bulb in my head went off and I thought, "why not try the telephone and see if any tickets have been siphoned off for phone sales." That's what I did before I had the laptop, and nobody uses the phone anymore. Eureka! Within three minutes I had my ticket.

My next assignment was to buy the album on Tuesday when it was released and listen to it repeatedly for two days until the songs were burned into my brain (downloaded into my subconscious). If I hated the album, I would still go to the show looking to hear old songs.

I have to say, on the first listening, Reflektor wasn't what I expected. As one dance song followed another, and another, I wondered if some variety had been lost. Then the second disk sounded unlike the first disk with a variety of styles that struck me as odd. This all is to illustrate how WRONG first impressions can be. Over the next two days some of the songs really began to get a grip on me and I soon found myself really admiring the thunderous production values.

By the time I got to the Palladium to stand in line I still had my ear buds in my head, pouring all the new songs into that part of my brain that stores all my music. Arriving just an hour and a half before the 8 o'clock door time, I was shocked to get so close to the front of the line, having anticipated a mass of people who had been there since noon.

It didn't take long for the mob of costumed concertgoers to close in behind me. Goblins, ghouls, the walking dead, dandies, hookers and a lot sporting as many reflective surfaces as they could sew onto their jackets and dresses. Many people simply wore CDs all over their clothes. Production people circulated among us and picked out some of the most reflective costumes to pull out of the line for some other purpose.

That purpose became clear when a Mariachi band started up with a blare of trumpets and the giant paper mache heads used in the "Reflektor" video began dancing at the head of the line as a camera crew filmed the entire thing (with our friends in the reflective costumes used as a backdrop). I'm assuming that it was indeed Arcade Fire who were wearing the masks and dancing to the Mariachis. While I can't confirm that, here is a picture (above) from where I was standing.

The Hollywood Palladium was all decked out in Halloween regalia from the front entrance all the way to the giant dance floor. Tombstones, cob webs, ghosts and collapsed skeletons adorned the walls, floor and ceiling. I grabbed a beer and headed into the huge auditorium as the crowd slowly filled every available space. As the crowd waited, R&B and soul music pumped up the already excited audience with high anticipation until Arcade Fire (disguised as The Reflektors in various costumes, and Win Butler wearing one of the giant heads) took to the stage accompanied by the deafening scream of ghoulish fans.

Blasting into the title tune from the new album, the whole room seemed to move as one giant undulating organism to the hypnotic dance beat. For once, the bass-heavy sound in the Palladium was perfectly suited to the music coming from the stage. The intoxicating thump of that song coupled with the anthem-like refrains and wall-of-sound orchestrations got the room into a frenzied high right off the bat. From that moment on no one was able to resist and we rose collectively off the floor, not to return for an hour and a half.

Next, without taking a breath, they dipped back into their repertoire for the first of only a handful of older songs they included in the set to blast us with a thunderingly aggressive version of "Neighborhood # 3 (Lights Out)". After the audience shouted out the lyrics along with the band, I was thrilled that they returned to the new songs for the bulk of the night, leaving the sing-a-long crowd stranded and forced to listen.

"Flashbulb Eyes" brought the tempo down a little as it qualifies as one of the albums less bombastic songs dipping into reggae territory and featuring twangy '60s surf guitars. It was a temporary respite as they then played a series of progressively more elaborately orchestrated songs that had the audience in a state of ever more collective euphoria.

"Joan of Arc" is a pulsating song with a throbbing bass line and continues Reflektors thematic analysis of fame with the telling line, "First they love you, then they kill you, then they love you again". Lasers cut through the auditorium, sweeping the audience, as the band hit their stride and Regine Chassagne's voice emerged through the noise with her atmospheric "oooohs and aaaahs." "You Already Know" provided an up tempo jolt with its funky beat and its clean melodic lines. When "We Exist" followed, the cumulative energy kept building until a big disco ball propelled everything into a gigantic swirl of lights, movement and music, with everyone bouncing along together as the band smashed through all the ever expanding orchestral and vocal gymnastics of this amazing song.

I was enjoying the hell out of the show from where I was on the floor, but, truth be told, when you're buried in the middle of a huge crowd like this one at The Palladium you're lucky to catch occasional glimpses of the tops of the musicians heads. The venue might be better off with a more graded floor or a higher stage. So I decided to wander for the rest of the show and catch it from all different angles.

I was up in the balcony for "It's Never Over" which has such an aggressive beat that I could look down on the writhing mass of revellers, and enjoy the light show that consisted of colored beams of lasers dappling the room and the mirror ball still pushing everything into a circular motion. I've rarely seen a happier audience. I stepped outside upstairs to get a shot of the parking lot where we had waited for an hour and a half and where the Mariachi band had entertained us earlier (below).

With the exception of "Headlights Look Like Diamonds" from their 2005 EP, a cover of Devo's "Uncontrollable Urge" and the encores, the rest of the set was all new songs, "Normal Person" and "Here Comes The Night Time" stood out, and it was really the key to helping me realize just how great Reflektor is, after all the hype."Here Comes The Night" had a particularly spectacular presentation with confetti fired from either side of the room filling the air with glistening shards that acted as reflectors.

I am confused by reviewers who say "it's just dance music." We'll, excuse me, but Arcade Fire has always been a dance band. Thank God everyone stood up for the two Shrine shows two years ago, because I would never been able to stay in my seat. The teaming up of the band with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem to produce the new album, pushed the band to explore a wider variety of dance oriented music that they have before and the result is an album full of surprises, including some that take some time to get used to. But the effort is well worth it as you'll discover one of the year's best albums.

Coming back on stage from a short break they performed two audience favorites as encores (and two of heir best songs) to finish off this incredible night and give Regine the chance to overwhelm us with her lead vocals. First "Haiti", for which she wore two giant pink foam gloves so that, even at the back of the room (where I was by now), everyone could enjoy her wonderfully evocative hand movements, which, to me, have always been a highlight of their shows.

And they save one of the best for last, "Sprawl II" from The Suburbs, which was such a stand out on their last tour, and it was again here. Regine even picked up the colored streamers she always used to accentuate her dancing and prancing all over the stage, taking command and holding the audience in the palm of her hand. I was like putty. We all were. It was a supreme ending to a superb show.

Limp from exhaustion and exaltation, we all tumbled out of Hollywood Palladium onto the ghoul, witch and Halloween crowded streets of Hollywood itself. The whole world seemed suspended in a weird time-warp, where the environment inside the concert hall and the environment outside on the streets were one in the same. After a night like this I wonder, "Is there anywhere better to be?" It took more than a few days to come back down to Earth.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Okkervil River at The WIltern - October 20, 2013

(first published at Radio Free Silver Lake 10/23/13)

Every time I see Okkervil River I feel I've gotten to know Will Sheff a little better. The intensity and depth of his lyrics reveal so much about himself it makes his live concerts seem an act of bold daring by an artist unafraid of the fallout such revelations could incur. Only a few performers I've ever seen get away with this successfully. The show on Sunday night, October 19, was just such an occasion. The new album, The Silver Gymnasium, is the most blatantly autobiographical of all his releases, dealing specifically with his childhood in New Hampshire, and it made this performance cathartic for both the performer and the audience.

Sitting in a nearly empty Wiltern Theatre (I wanted to get into the pit so I got there before the door opened at 7) I was surprised there was nobody there yet. But then my thoughts on who should be popular and who actually is popular are almost never in sync. As a fan of Okkervil River for a while now, I'm always amazed all over again at just how compelling a band they are, and yet almost nobody I know follows them. It seems incredible.

Opening band was Matthew E. White (at left) from Virginia and, apart from some very enjoyable roots rock and roll with his five-piece band, flavored with some sonically explosive passages, I really enjoyed his between-song talk about how his East Coast prejudices about Los Angeles have come crashing down now that he's on his third trip to our sun-drenched shores. They've played The Troubadour, The Hollywood Bowl and now The Wiltern, and the warm enthusiasm of the audience seduced Matthew into revealing that he and his band have fallen under the spell of Southern California. I can relate, having overcome the same prejudices in myself, albeit over 30 years ago.

They appeared to genuinely enjoy playing their set and that enthusiasm transferred to the audience. The music was meticulously arranged for his talented band and covered a wide spectrum of styles, all highlighted by Matthew's strong and steady vocals. With his obvious talent for music arrangement, he has collaborated with some musicians I admire very much, like Sharon Van Etten and The Mountain Goats. Their 35 minute set was a definite crowd pleaser.

With a blast of orchestral music, the stage remained dark except for the blue glow of their illuminated backdrop until, a couple of minutes later, the seven members of Okkervil River strode onstage and launched into the first two songs off the new album, "It Was My Season" and "On a Balcony", these were exactly the songs I wanted to hear. Instead of continuing onto the album's third cut, "Down Down The Deep River"(which may be one of their greatest songs), they zapped back to the 2004 release, Black Sheep Boy for "Black" and "For Real" and invested those two numbers with a new passion and energy.

Beyond that the set list comprised a greatest hits package of some of their best songs. I thought it was all their best material until I went home and looked at the albums and realized there were over a dozen other great songs they didn't play. Among the highlights were the opening tracks off The Stage Names, "Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe" and I Am Very Far, ""The Valley". Standing still was not an option. Obvious was the adulation of some of their fans, as some of the older numbers instigated a couple of "shout-back-the-lyrics" moments, which don't tend to thrill me. I always prefer hearing the new material which fortunately the audience doesn't yet know well enough.

Will Sheff (left) writes some of the brainiest rock and roll around and wraps it up in extraordinary song craft surrounded by a bunch of gifted musicians and they deliver one knock out song after another. Among my favorites were a rousing version of "Rider", "Lido Pier Suicide Car", and the evocative."Stay Young". "No Key, No Plan" from the Black Sheep Boy extended album done acoustic, was a real highlight featuring some dynamic duet singing. It may be the most beautiful song I've heard live in a long while. (below)

When they did "Down Down The Deep River" the crowd went wild, it is such a catchy song with one of my favorite lyrics: "It's not alright, it's not even close to alright". This is my favorite song at the moment and it was a real thrill to hear it live. Like they know how good it is. The rest of the band of multi-instrumentalists, one guy plays trombone, trumpet, violin and guitar, left me stunned and so many of them sing that you realize their albums don't need to rely on any backing tracks. Very impressive! Okkervil River played for close to two hours and it was a perfectly rounded out set that has left me buzzing for days.

photos: Brad Roberts

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Haunted Summer - Amoeba Music (Sep. 10, 2013) El Rey (Sep. 14, 2013)

It's been difficult to keep up with Haunted Summer this summer as they've been courted to play dates up and down the coast, even opening for The Polyphonic Spree during some of the California shows on their latest tour. That's why I made doubly certain not to miss the record release in-store set at Amoeba Music on Tuesday, September 10, as they're about to do a couple of shows with Cœur de pirate, like on Saturday night (Sept. 14) at El Rey. Soon after that they take off for a Parisian honeymoon, yes, John and Bridgette are getting married!

I made sure to get there early enough to connect with them before the show. And connect we did! Johnny came out and got me and took me up to see the Green Room at Amoeba which is quite a nice space for the bands to relax in before going on stage. At seven we all trooped down the stairs, me to the audience, the band to the stage. They proceeded to play one of the most fully realized sets I've seen from them yet.

The event was to perform songs from, and to celebrate the release of, their first EP "Something In The Water". It's been fun to watch the development of songs like "All Around", "Young Enough", and "1996" from semi-improvisational studies in sound and distortion into comprehensible compositions. "Something In The Water" is still obscure and scary, but I think that's the way they want it.

With Daniel Goldblatt on drums and Augustus Green on bass, the band now numbers four and they have coalesced into a four-piece unit that is evolving with a clearly defined sound. The addition of the drums and bass have anchored the more ethereal sounds generated by John and Bridgette, with a formidable low end making the music move steadily forward.

With an audience made up of many friends, it had a bit of the reunion feeling to it, and they were warmly appreciated by the rest of the crowd. I even managed to finagle a couple of free shows out of the evening with Jacob Dylan Summers inviting me to the Avid Dancer set on the following night, Sept 11, at Bootleg, and John and Bridgette invited me to attend their El Rey set on Saturday. Have I ever said I love this town?

On Saturday night, Haunted Summer was back from playing an opening set for Cœur de pirate in San Francisco the night before and they were all still understandably tingly from the experience and the long drive down the coast to make this date. I met them in the front foyer of the theatre and was, again, whisked up to the Green Room, but this time it was the El Rey theatre. A place where I have seen so many venerated bands that I love, that I felt a little dizzy. It was a bit of a shock to see how small the actual stage of El Rey is, and how it looks so much bigger from out in the auditorium.

Johnny Seasons has brought me into so many remarkable places that I would never have had access to in order to gain the perspective that I've been able to accumulate over the past few years that I'll always be grateful. This was another one. Much of the tour personnel was weary and punch-drunk from being up for so many hours

Rufo Chan was the victim of too many candid photographers after he simply collapsed from exhaustion (at right), having just driven the band for eight hours, back to L.A. Jason Tovar was still standing as tour manager, and spoke word artist, Scott Schultz, back from Boston and Jack Gibson (Tenlons Fort), back from Austin, made up part of the celebratory spirit of the whole night.

We all spilled out into the the theatre when the time came for Haunted Summer to hit the stage. With a program that was substantially the same as the set at Amoeba, the revelation was hearing it in the gigantic dimensions of the El Rey, with all the atmospheric lighting and cathedral-like ambiance of the hall itself.

 I wandered about the venue all during the set in order to experience it from many different vantage points in regard to sound and visuals.The vocal mix was best at a greater distance as Bridgette's voice was somewhat under emphasised at first. Overall the sound was good, although when I was by the sound booth, I could see the technicians were a little perplexed at what exactly they were hearing. But for the most part the sound was just right.

It ended up being a delightful night, spent with good friends and thoroughly enjoying each other's company. I feel like a very lucky individual.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ruthann Friedman & The Now People cover The Ruthann Friedman Songbook at Taix Lounge - September 6, 2013

A show of major historical significance took place last Friday night, Sept. 6, when songwriting artist, Ruthann Friedman held a spellbound audience in the palm of her hand to celebrate the long-awaited, long-in-the-making release of a collection of her original recordings of the 1960s, Windy: A Ruthann Friedman Songbook. Through the tireless and persuasive efforts of producer Steve Stanley, this record was able to come to fruition despite the reluctance of Ruthann to fully appreciate the importance of her own contributions, and the difficult excavation process required to unearth these demo recordings. And how lucky we are to be able to hold this CD in our hands.

She and Steve (in center at right) assembled a band, including members of The Now People, and her frequent recent collaborator, Kaitlin Wolfberg (above at left) on violin and keys, to put a modern spin on a particular 60s pop idiom that ended up sounding both nostalgic yet very much like a lot of the music I enjoy today. It took me back to another time (specifically sitting in my bedroom while in high school listening to Tommy Roe, We Five, The Association, Nancy Sinatra and others around, say, 1966). The music was sunny and upbeat, yet possessed the yearning and the defiant 'quest for something more' that so characterized that era. The feeling was as physical as it was emotional.

There were songs of love, "When You're Near" and I'll Make You Happy", songs of anger and frustration, "Please Please Please", celebrations of joy, filled with a realistic optimism and the hope for change that so characterized that generation, like "Halfway There". My generation. I've tried to keep much of that alive in myself through the decades, somehow. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not. It was like a trip through many of the emotions and tribulations I had even forgotten I had, making me feel like I was running into my younger self during the show.

This became nearly overwhelming when Terry Kirkman (behind the mic above) of The Association came on stage to perform the flute part from the song "Windy", confirming that I was indeed in a the time warp. I had all the early albums by The Association, had learned that "Along Comes Mary" was not about a girl named Mary, loved "Cherish" before it was ruined by all those wedding receptions, and even remembered that "Windy" was from their third album.

With the song "Raining Down On My House", Ruthann had one of her musicians play the sitar as this heady and unpredictable song overtook all reason and the audience was lost in a swirling psychedelic acid haze. From a sunny California pop sound, through the songs of a woman's empowerment, with a touch of the Herb Alpert Tijuana sound that influenced so much music in that era, it was truly a program of amazing variety and showed us why Ruthann Friedman is a national treasure.

I don't think I've ever seen Taix Lounge with a larger crowd that I would describe as "standing room only". And what had been a rather noisy room full of diners, suddenly became hushed and attentive. Ruthann told interesting anecdotes about many of the songs and seemed to relax as the evening progressed as she couldn't ignore the extraordinary reaction her set was generating. It's a night that stayed with me for days, and one I will never forget.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Catching Up With Seven Saturdays at The Satellite - September 5, 2013


A nice unexpected treat came my way on Thursday night, September 5, when I remembered that Seven Saturdays were playing at The Satellite and, as I had been missing all of their recent shows, I was gratified to find a tiny reserve of energy that propelled me out of the house and onto a bus bound for Silver Lake. Knowing that Halfbluud were also on the bill, and learning that afternoon that Zoe-Ruth Erwin (below) would be providing vocals for a few of the Seven Saturdays songs, supplied the added incentive. Jim Evens and Zoe-Ruth took care of a trio of songs each, and another female vocalist who's name got by me, sang at the end. Zoe-Ruth Erwin's vocals showed off a power and control that was remarkable, perfectly pitched, while Jim Evens displayed that amazing breath control which enables him to hit his notes long and hard. A major appeal of his own band, Helen Stellar.
I've been really intrigued by the addition of vocals to the flood of sound this band excels in. Over the past year they've experimented with a number of different vocalists, each taking turns as lead singer at the center of each song.

I love the concept, especially because the basic power of the compositional brilliance on display is what makes the music matter. Jonathan D. Haskell's music is organic, and oceanic in it's pull and I find much of it very moving. Lost in a sea of emotional chords would be an apt description of how I felt, standing in the middle of The Satellite floor. Taking home the CD that Jonathan gave me I was still surprised by the other additional singers featured. I mean, Alex Lilly and Rachel Stolte, and all of the singers lending their own individual style. It is as much a musical collective as it is a band. A dazzling recording.

This evening triggered a flurry of show-going activity, which I will reveal piece by piece...stay tuned.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Trip To The Past At Boardner's

There was an incredible show a couple of weeks ago that I didn't want to get by without comment. Although it's been almost five years since I was last at Boardner's in Hollywood, on Tuesday, August 20th when I walked back in it was like time travel. Simply walking into the garden area where concerts are held was overwhelmingly nostalgic. The same tiled pool of water sat in the center of the space, a pile of burning candles still lit the center of the pool and the stage still had that look of a makeshift renaissance stage. Memories came flooding back. George Glass (in photo) was on stage raging through a familiar number and the sound was fantastic. Turns out this was just the sound check, which was cool since there was almost no one there yet.

(George Glass at left) In 2006, I was a mere baby in the local music scene when I began going out to see shows, first for the bands whose music videos I had seen, national and international acts like Super Furry Animals, Matt Pond PA, Low, The Bats, The Dresden Dolls, Fruit Bats, Elbow. I began to feel the presence of the local music scene through a video I had recorded for the song "Heaven Adores You" by Earlimart. They became an early favorite and I began seeing them every time they played. Earlimart led me directly to a couple of shows in March that year at King King on Hollywood Boulevard where I saw Great Northern and Irving for the first time, and the fuse was lit. I tried to speak to each band everytime I saw them and we eventually became friendly.

Thus, I followed Great Northern to a show in Hollywood which was the inaugural show for a new series hosted by Radio Free Silver Lake to take place on a Tuesday night each month at the old Hollywood club: Boardner's. On the evening of September 26, 2006 Joe Fielder presented The Movies, Great Northern and The Western States Motel for the first "Let's Independent!" event.

The evening was very special, the music was great, the audience was friendly, and the ambiance couldn't have been more welcoming. There was even a Truffaut movie playing silently high up on one of the walls. I was completely enamoured with The Western States Motel and chatted with them after their beautiful, energetic set. Sat with Rachel Stolte and Solon Bixer before their soaring set. I was equal parts thunderstruck and confounded by the manic energy of The Movies, which I learned was not an unusual reaction.

(Wet & Reckless at left) Over the next two years I attended many a show from this series and it was here that I cultivated many of the friendships that endure to this day. Jordan Huddock and Vivien Cao helped me fish my wayward wallet out of the fountain one night. (In fact it was because Vivien wrote about me on her blog, that I decided to start this blog in the first place) Hunter Curra and the crew from The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra became fast friends. Rob Danson and I kept bumping into each other repeatedly at shows so we needed to become friends. Same with Matthew Teardrop. It was here I met the other new bloggers in town, Ben McShane of Classical Geek Theatre and Travis Woods of Web In Front, Joe Fielder, Ashley Jex, and then Los Angeles Times music writer, Kevin Bronson.

(Midnight Cities at right) The community surrounded me and swallowed me up. And I was more than willing to go. It opened up whole new worlds and set me up with a big new assortment of ambitions. Pretty heady for a person who was at the age when I believed human beings were supposed to begin slowing down. Time, instead of flowing downhill, had suddenly reversed course and was defying gravity and flowing uphill. My brain was suddenly firing on all cylinders again. That has remained true ever since.

Back to 2013, the evening was hosted by Kitty Kitty Bang Bang and featured Midnight Cities, Wet & Reckless, George Glass and Pretty Flowers (at left). All but one of the bands featured members of bands that had played "Let's Independent!" shows, so the sense of reunion was potent. All the bands played terrific sets, and the audience filled up with familiar patrons from past shows like Jim Saunders, Andy Siara, and Matthew Teardrop, and Ian Baumeister, just back in town.

I did get to meet the Boston blogger who has a keen eye for our local music scene, Julie Stoller, in town for a week or so, and was glad to see Mr. 704 Blog there as he was yet to join us back when this was "Let's Independent!" headquarters and he appreciated the quality of the environment. The whole evening was a pretty magical affair and a reminder that there's more to the scene than just the East Side. The pictures tell the story.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Grizzly Bear at Hollywood Forever Cemetery - August 9, 2013

It was eight years ago this month that I tumbled head over heels back into rock music. It had such an immediate and enormous impact on my life that I'll never be able to forget the date of August 1st 2005. In fact it was one of those points when your life has been changed forever, but it takes a few years to really sink in. This past weekend was a fitting way to begin my celebration of this significant event. Three outdoor concerts in three days, the start of a vacation from work and the weekend before the much anticipated Echo Park Rising.

This was the first time I've been able to attend one of the outdoor concerts at the historic Hollywood Forever Cemetery and Grizzly Bear was the perfect band for that introduction. It was such a special night that I'll relate it from the beginning. It's been nearly a year since the release of their latest album, Shields, so I wasn't sure how big the clamor for tickets to this show would be, especially considering the $55. price tag. Arriving a little after the gates opened at 7 PM, I was in that zig-zagging line that snakes it's way back and forth on the lawn just outside the cemetery and as it wasn't packed, the line moved quickly.

Once inside I followed the path half way into the cemetery, following the sound of the opening band, Regal Degal, who began right on schedule. As I neared the concert site, I saw the sea of blankets that picnickers had set up, but noticed a small crowd who had forgone the chance to set up camp in order to get up close to the stage and hold onto a standing spot. That was for me. I wandered to a central position where the sound balance was at its best, about seven people deep from the stage and I was firmly planted there for the next two hour. Though once Grizzly Bear began I was anywhere but standing on a square patch of grass in the middle of Hollywood. I was out somewhere in the stratosphere.

As Regal Degal finished up their set, the audience saw the sun set and then observed the stage crew setting up for the headliner. All very early, as the cemetery and the surrounding residents demand the show be over by 11, the band must go on at 8:30. Almost before you knew it, Grizzly Bear came on stage and tribal drums began beating, signaling the song, "Speak in Rounds" which features lead vocals by Daniel Rossen, who has become as much of the identifying vocal sound of this band as it's founder Ed Droste.
Once the harmony vocals kick in I am reminded once again how important it is to see a band like this live. To be reminded that what you're hearing is actually four singers singing. The effect is to feel as if one is approaching nirvana.

What began as a solo bedroom project of Ed Droste has, not exactly blossomed, so much as exploded into a band that commands such respect that a regular rock and roll audience will hold it's collective breath as Grizzly Bear wanders off into enchanting solo instrumentation so delicate that each note resembles a tear drop or a bubble about to break. I love the way they're not afraid to include really quiet, introspective songs in their repertoire...and the audience eats it up! The band commented on the extraordinary concentration of this crowd.

They have come a long way since I first saw them at Spaceland in September 2006, having just brought Daniel Rossen on board to join Ed and Chris Bear and Chris Taylor. They were still very much an experimental band, figuring out how to convey, in a live setting, music that had pretty much existed only in Ed Droste's head, or on a computer somewhere. But they have all become contributing composers and seem to share the vision that Ed brought to the music as a solo artist.

Over the next few years I saw them coalesce as a group and move from The Troubadour up to The Wiltern and ultimately to The Greek. At each stage the sound grew bigger and richer, losing none of it's complexity or nuance, as their fan base grew larger and larger. The only exception being their show at the Hollywood Palladium in 2009 where the tendency is to try to make over every band into an arena rock band. It did not suit Grizzly Bear and they drowned in over-amplified bass and the cavernous echo of that gigantic space.

I've given up trying to categorize this band as I find them to be, alternatively, a noise band, a vocal band, and a chamber ensemble depending on what song they're playing. This concert only reaffirmed that as they moved through their enormous repertoire of songs, deftly mingling precise solo passages with the overwhelming bombast of each band member playing at full volume. The sense of being lost in a hypnotic state of musical reverie was profound.

There's something so moving about Ed's vocals, a naked vulnerability that comes across clearly as he grips the microphone and unashamedly displays his obvious passion for singing. But lest you think the recordings are all over-dubbing of his vocals, to see the band live is to witness the four extraordinary vocalists in the band wrapping their voices around each other in endlessly revolving patterns weaving dense textures of vocal passages. It's easy to imagine that it's lifting you up to the sky. Especially when there's no ceiling.

They performed nearly all of Shields, including "Sleeping Ute" "A Simple Answer" and "Yet Again" but liberally sprinkled the set list with already-classic songs from Yellow House: "Lullaby" and  "Little Brother", Veckatimest: "Two Weeks", the amazing "Cheerleader", "Ready Able" and a particularly powerful rendition of "While You Wait For The Others". Between song banter was kept to a minimum, though Ed said how happy he was to have relocated to Los Angeles six months ago, to the sustained cheers from his 'new' hometown crowd. After the enthusiastic reception for the first few songs, Chris Bear quietly quipped "Gee, I really expected a dead audience tonight".

Special mention must be made of the extraordinarily beautiful light show, by Michael Brown I believe, that completely enveloped those of us lucky enough to be down front, complete with the hanging lanterns that have been part of their stage set for a few years now and the seizure-inducing strobes, augmented by roving colored lights and lots of fog.
The encore played as I was walking down the long dark road out of the cemetery. It's still amazing to me that you can be in the middle of this city and yet be completely alone on a road, or a street, in the dark and hear the echoes of a song like "Knife". What a beautiful moment that was. As I left I carried with me, not only the mesmerizing sound of the music of Grizzly Bear, but the extraordinary visual display that accompanied it and the feeling that those of us that witnessed this will never forget it.


photos by Brad Roberts