Friday, April 26, 2013

The Happy Casualties at Lot 1 Residency - April 24, 2013

Feed Your Head proudly presented the fourth and final night of the residency at Lot 1 that introduced a newly revamped The Happy Casualties (above) to the world. I've known this band for a while now and seen them through many iterations, but with this line up they appear to have struck just the right combination. With Janet Ramirez taking the lead vocals the band now frequently soars off into the stratosphere with the Casualties' usual Rock and Roll thunder providing a firm and musically potent foundation. Stephen Sigl's songs have a new, tightly wound power both in lyrics and composition that seems more focused and self assured in a style they call "Illuminati Puppet Rock".

But first there was an opening set by Bonorath (that's Bo Bory of Downtown/Union as a solo) and it was very impressive to see this singer, whose vocals are often buried in the dynamic sound of his full band, summon the courage to sing alone with his guitar. It makes extra demands on the music itself and Bo's lyrics are up to the added scrutiny.

Many songs were familiar from the Downtown/Union repertoire, but here sounded more emotional and personal. I was particularly intrigued by his final song which was based on his own experiences in Cambodia as a child and the historical upheaval he experienced. It's tale of terror, violence and flight reminds me of the Arcade Fire song "Haiti" about RĂ©gine Chassagne's similar situation, whose sad commonality is not restricted to a single location.

I spoke to Bonorath afterward about it and he related the story of his family's middle-of-the-night getaway from their home in Cambodia and their ultimate arrival in California. A harrowing tale. His ability to express all this in song is clearly his release and I'm happy he shares it with us. Oh, and he's a pretty descent guitar player on top of that.

My buddies, Haunted Summer were on second and I stayed to listen to a few song before I had to huddle in a pow-wow business meeting (music is a demanding mistress). But from what I heard it is getting stronger and more definite each time I see then. The sexy, head trip music of Bridgette and John seems to take shape somewhere in the space between your ears. They feed you all their hypnotic sounds and leave your brain and senses to figure it out and put it all together making you feel like a collaborator. It's feeding your head in the finest sense. (Look, in the photo above, they made the lights melt!) Just about the time you pass Saturn you lose all earthly connections. Here's a link to some Haunted Summer music.

This was counter balanced by the heroic blast of rock and roll provided by The Happy Casualties. If you think you've heard this band before, you owe it to yourself to go see them again, because they are really on a roll right now. Confident, almost brazen, they command the stage with a strut and determination to envelope you in their blast of hot rock. Look forward to the new record they're working on. It could be a game-changer. Congratulations!

Sorry I had to duck out before the final band, Circus Atari Acrobats, because it sounds like more in the genre of "Illuminati Puppet Rock", which, as if you couldn't tell, is a genre I like. This is a week of night-after-night shows so I had to leave, as I must pace myself...or die.

Meanwhile, Todd sat alone at the, wait a minute...


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Many Embers And History Collide On April 18, 2013 At Taix Lounge

I feel like I'm taking a one, two punch in the gut this week as a native Bostonian, beginning with the tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon on Monday, and this evening, Thursday, I hear about the seemingly random shooting of a campus police officer on at M.I.T. (where I worked for five years in the 1970s). There's speculation of a connection to the Marathon bombing since hundreds of police and F.B.I. officials descend on the scene and it looks suspicious. Then I have to leave for a show, feeling like I'm leaving a movie before it's over. Little did I know that the whole situation was about to blow open.

I grabbed the Sunset bus over to Taix Lounge to see the second show by that new upstart band, Many Embers, at the "Mad For Sadness" weekly show that goes on every Thursday night. In February, Rob Danson debuted his new project as a solo act (photo from that night at left), with a little accompaniment by Nick Ceglio and Kaitlin Wolfberg, where the bearded singer charmed his audience and actually got them to sing along, even though the music was brand new. I had enjoyed the EP that he'd self-released, but hearing the songs live made me realize what treasures they are. In this acoustical format the focus was on the relentless tumble of lyrics and their complex construction. Concentration is required to fully appreciate. The audience ate it up.

On Thursday, I thought I was just going to a little set by a friend's band, but it turned out to be a show worth writing about, happening as it did on a night that turned out to be one of great historical significance. It just felt good walking into this warm room at Taix, and running into a cluster of friends packed at the entrance. That, and a beer, helped offset some of the day's drama.

But it was the music that transported me out of myself and when Rob started with a new song that was bursting with rapid-fire lyrics, you had to let everything go and just LISTEN. Despite the bar chatter, he persisted and sang two songs alone, the second being "Counterbalance". Now, shorn of facial hair (see above), his expressions are more readable heightening the raw emotion of the songs.

Inviting the rest of his current line up on stage, the whole mood changed as the music took on a delicately orchestrated indie/chamber feel. Being used to the inclusion of drums on the recordings their absence here puts the emphasis on the composition themselves. Kaitlin Wolfberg brought her usual expertise to the highly varied violin parts, bringing with it a tremendous amount of pathos.   Adam Villanueva and his skilled bass playing were pointed out to me by Rob when we sat watching Seasons play in this very room a couple of weeks ago. I think I've underestimated his talent because in Seasons, he's just another part of that gorgeous tapestry of sound, but when you listen closely the rock steady quality of his playing shines through. Todd McLaughlin on mandolin, guitar and banjo brings his versatility to every band he's in, and here his contribution is crucial.

Rob's Death To Anders compatriot and leader of his own top-notch band, George Glass, is Nicholas Ceglio, and I've been watching these two perform together for the last five years, and their symbiotic musical relationship has morphed and changed so now they sing like two halves of a perfect unit. Rob's gargled baritone vocals and Nick's sweet choir-boy croon seem an unlikely mix, but surprisingly when singing together one sound picks up where the other leaves off.

A highlight was the lead song off the album, "A Lot To Learn" which Rob had played for me late last year when he had just completed it, and I was blown away by the unexpected direction his music was taking. Both an indictment and an appreciation of having a music career in this city, it's a beautiful, truthful song, and here with full accompaniment, sans drums, it really took off. It stunned the room into silence and I think everyone was impressed that there's a new, great band on the horizon. Bravo Rob and company.

As soon as I arrived home that night and turned on the TV, Watertown, Massachusetts was under siege, and the whole night took on that surreal quality that lasted well into the next night. The pastoral beauty of the Many Embers set contrasted with the anxiety and violent activity going on around Boston at the same time was a mind-fuck and I'm still not sure if my feet have landed back on the ground.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

NO at The Library at The Redbury - April 17, 2013

An unexpected surprise greeted me as I attended the first Wednesday at The Library at The Redbury that I have ever been to, on Wednesday night, April 17. I walked up to this new structure on Vine Street, next to the Avalon (where I attended my first concert in 25 years: Super Furry Animals in November, 2005) at an address that used to be an empty lot. I heard music pounding down onto the pavement as I walked up to the front door of The Redbury, that told me I was in the right place. I supposed that I would spent the evening alone, as sometimes the Hollywood audience can be thin on Eastsiders, but immediately I ran into Paulie and Cristal Pesh, an unexpected and pleasant surprise, along with discovering a nice new venue.

I have wanted to attend one of the shows here since it was a venue I'd never seen, and it is so close to my home, that I decided that NO was a good enough reason to introduce myself. (NO above) I'd seen a report that Aztec Roosevelt was actually Incan Abraham, but I foolishly didn't make a point of getting there on time. But when door opens at 6:30, there's little I can do since I work till 6 most days. I got there just as Incan Abraham (aka: Aztec Roosevelt) were finishing their set and I'm sorry to have missed it. This is a band that I'm very excited about as the last time I saw them at The Satellite they blew me away. Fortunately, I got to hook up with Spencer Mandel later in the evening for a brief chat and a request for them to play one of my Lot 1 shows.

Wardell played next (good singers, tight band), and after a couple of songs I decided to explore some of the nooks and crannies of The Redbury and see if I really was in a library. The bands play on the outdoor rooftop that sits between the twin towers that house the hotel portion of the building. Even though the structure is new, it has a vintage feel. The indoor bar is in the "library" portion of the layout. That's "library" in the Hollywood sense of the word. Fake books, artfully arranged on shelves with candles (electronic?), and even a full body skeleton standing between some shelves. It kind of had a "Davy Jones Locker" feel. Pool tables and clusters of seating areas dot the room.

Bradley Hanan Carter (NO's lead singer, at right) came up to me to chat and I was so surprised and pleased that he knew who I was I got a little tongue tied, but I held it together. I have long wanted some of their recorded work, so I asked to buy a CD. Then it was their turn to perform and as I have missed many of their recent shows, this was like discovering them all over again. I had a grin pasted on my face from beginning to end.

Bradley, with his gruff baritone and natural stage swagger, can't help but bear comparison to The National, and the music has a similar dark tone, but what sets them apart is their songwriting that stands on par with that famous band. There's a hint more pop in NO's songs, but a similar urgency and restlessness keeps the music just edgy enough. And the rest of the band more than hold up their end. Their playing is polished and passionate, never mechanical, and they sing harmonies that make the songs soar.

Among the numbers I recognized from the set when I got home and played their Don't Worry You'll Be Here Forever EP: "Another Life", "Big Waves" and "Stay With Me". Popularity and fame already appear to be stalking this band and their engaging and charismatic stage presense will serve them well. Get these guys out on tour, NOW! This was a nice evening in a great new venue and the mix of the Hollywood crowd with East side music lovers struck just the right balance. It was all over by 9:45, making for an early night and helping me to be sure to get over to Taix Lounge tonight (Apr. 18th) for Many Embers at 10:30. MUST SEE MORE SHOWS! MUST WRITE MORE!