Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Last Week in Rock

I had a pretty spectacular week of good music last week which I wanted to post about before it became a distant memory. It all started with my first trip to McCabe's Guitar Shop to see Jorma Kaukonen (on right in photo) play the first of four performances at the legendary venue on February 1 (and 2nd). As a founding member and lead guitarist for Jefferson Airplane, he was one of the first rock-god guitarists I ever saw. I continued to be a fan through his years with The Airplane, Jefferson Starship and his band with bassist Jack Cassidy, Hot Tuna, but it's been a good 35 years since I'd seen him play. That fact was emphasized by the presence of so many old-time rock and roll fans everywhere I looked.

Accompanied by a friend from back home in Ohio, Barry Mitterhoff (at left, above), on mandolin and guitar, he strode through a memorable set of classic blues/folk tunes, highlighted by fondly remembered songs like the opener "Too Many Years" from the underrated Jefferson Airplane reunion album of 1989 and used as the title song on his solo album of 1998. Also "Hesitation Blues" from the first Hot Tuna album released in 1970, shortly after Volunteers was released, and from his classic solo album, Quah, I think he sang "I Am The Light of This World". At 72, what his vocals have lost in the range of his younger years, has grown in character and depth, yet his finger picking is as limber, flexible and awe-inspiring as that which made him famous. Like a visit with an old friend who still has a youthful soul, I felt like I was in a warm cocoon, viewing my past, my present, and my future, all at the same time.

If I do say so myself, I hosted a pretty fantastic show on the following night (Saturday, Feb. 2) for Feed Your Head night at Lot 1. The evening was built around the return of George Glass to the concert stage after taking a year off, so I was already excited about that. The bill came together in fits and starts - first one, then another of the bands could...then couldn't, so I was scrambling a bit as the date approached ending up with a bill that was so accidental and so diverse that it was one of the surprisingly best shows I've had.

I was able to rely on Jonny Polonsky (at left) to jump in on a moment's notice to open the night and, since this was the third time he's played my show, I knew I would get a solid set to start the show. With his remarkable songwriting skills, his mastery of the guitar and a voice that can range from a strangled cry to a full-on shriek, yet never off-key, he is a definite triple-threat.

The Mid Cities took the next spot and I have not seen this band nearly enough. This is one talent-heavy band that delivers on all fronts. Similar to their brother/band, The Californian, with their great hooks in classic indie rock songs played with passion and polish by John Graney on guitar and harmony vocals, Jake Gideon on an assortment of instruments (and occasional back-up vocals) and the definitive drumming of Michael Hopkins. The lead in this band is taken by Jonathan Price, who commands the band skillfully with his solid songwriting and inventive and amusing lyrics sung in a clear strong voice. A bit more classically oriented than the surfy twang of The CalifornianThe Mid Cities (above and below) nonetheless make their own musical statement

In the year since I last saw George Glass, is it possible they're even better than before? That was my impression. Last time I saw them they were playing one of the Seasons residency nights at The Echo last January. Nick Ceglio (at left) has been busy writing lots of new material and fine-tuning songs I first heard when they last played. Like "AM Radio" which is about as catchy as a song can get with it's spirited refrain that makes everyone want to sing along.

The winding, twisting melodies Nick composes conform perfectly to his quirky and clever lyrics. Ably assisted by bass player Pete DiBiasio, who also contributes some surprisingly pitch-perfect harmonies (since he does not consider himself a singer), Nathan Kondor on drums who propels the music forward, and Todd McLaughlin on second guitar, filling out the sound with dynamic dimensions. I look forward to their forthcoming new album if it's anything like their live performance (viewed above).

I took a chance on the final artist of the night. When I couldn't get Omar Velasco to play, he recommended a friend of his who was in town from Brooklyn, NY who performs under the name The Sky White Tiger. Even though it was the end of the night, Louis Schwadron (AKA Sky White Tiger) kept a large crowd dancing and grooving to his one-man dance machine music. Electronic beats, prerecorded samples and his wizardry with the keyboard form the wall of sound behind his amusing and interesting lyrics. When he steps out from behind the board and dances around the room, even making the wall decorations a part of his band, the effect was intoxicating and excited the whole room. This was the most powerful closing act I've yet presented and I thank both Omar Velasco and Sky White Tiger for bringing this to L.A.

Two days later I decided I had to go see Gliss in the first night of their February Monday residency at Los Globos because I had just purchased their new CD, Langsom Dans, and I wanted to hear it live. It's been a couple of years since I saw them last and tonight there was no instrument swapping with Martin Klingman staying behind the drums, while singing in his "let's streeeeeetch this word out as looooong as we can" style which can make an eight letter word into a five syllable sound. Victoria Cecilia (below) has assumed center stage, next to her keyboard, as her vocals appear to have become the lead vocals in most of the new songs, and I'm all for that. She has a winning and seductive voice that is perfectly complimented by Martins yearning vocals.

"Weight of Love", "Black is Blue", "Kite in the Sky" and "Blur" are beautiful songs and they gave them stunning live recreations. David Reiss (who was absent the last time I saw them) was happily back and his guitar and bass playing is vital to the perfect balance they achieve between hard-driving rock and roll and some kind of ethereal dream rock.

This was only the first of their residency night and I recommend you attend one while you have the chance. This album could put them over into the big time.