Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Starting the New Year Right, Part 2

After all that fun at the FOMO Fest, I was well primed for my own show on Saturday, January 4th at Lot 1. I was able to enlist the help of Rebecca Balin in booking the show, and she got all the talent to sign on, so this whole evening was very much thanks to her.

Two of the acts I knew by reputation, for both Charlie Clark and Meredith Meyer have substantial followings. Jill Avilez is a talent I had witnessed first hand when she dazzled me with one of her bands, The Love Absurd (she plays in five) last year when they played at my show in June.

Opening act was Teena May who, with her straightforward candor and raw emotion, simply and completely "blew the roof off the place". She brought in her own large following and it was easy to see why. A part-time New Yorker, her songs have a sophistication and intelligence that are characteristic of many East Coast artists. Even reminding me of the early and challenging confessional work of Laura Nyro that I enjoyed as a teenager - like exposed raw nerves, along with the definitive jazz influence. She calls her songs 'stories' and indeed, they have a definite narrative flow, but with the maturity to turn personal pain into triumphant art.

Accompanying herself on guitar, she has a gorgeously strong and expressive voice which she handles like a complex instrument. Joking about how some have told her to temper her broken relationship songs with some lighter fare between the romantic rants, she had a nicely modulated sets with some positively uptempo numbers here and there.

Because she had struck up a conversation before her set with Runson Willis, the multi-faceted musician I met last year when he played my show in Dec. '12, she invited him onstage to join her with his harmonica for a couple of songs. Uncanny how well he fit into her songs, it was truly inspirational to see two accomplished artists make an instant musical connection that sounded like they have been playing together all along.

After the excitement of the first set, we were able to wind down with an intimate set by Meredith Meyer, and she and her guitar enchanted with perfectly crafted folk/pop songs that build on the tradition of the great female singer/songwriters who came to prominence in the late sixties/early seventies, from Joni Mitchell to Melanie to Bonnie Raitt to Stevie Nicks, etc. She seems to have an uncanny talent to compose catchy tunes that never sound derivative and she presents them with a refreshingly unflashy vocal style.

Personal stories were turning out to be a theme of the evening and the cool, calm, almost stately demeanor of Ms. Meyer offered a wonderful contrast to the previous performer's emotion. She has a steady and confident presence and, though petite in stature, she filled Lot 1 with the soft, melodious sound of her reflective and specific songs. The lyrics sound autobiographical in their attention to detail and the exactness of the references to real life. She even has written a song called "Storyteller Girl". That's an apt description.

Headliner Charlie Clark was next, and even without a full band, the man from Glasgow, with just one accompanist, who added wonderful harmonies as well as playing the harmonium on a couple of songs, presented a well rounded set that incorporated songs from his impressive catalog, as well as a tune that (he said) he had just written that afternoon. His music is a happy collaboration of American roots music and the ancient tradition of early European folk songs. Also a storyteller, he sings song about growing up in Scotland and about living in America with a yearning nostalgia that I found touching.

He told a familiar story I could relate to about growing up in a picturesque and idyllic pastoral location, but filled with people he couldn't wait to get away from. Afterward, he and I talked about how I empathized with the childhood spent in a kind of environmental paradise (in my case a seacoast town near Cape Cod) and the ever-gnawing need to get the fuck away. I mean, there was no where to go but OUT. So his song reflect a kind of restless desire for growth and new experiences, cogently told. I look forward to hearing him play with his full band.

And finally Jill Avilez took the stage to shake the very foundations of Lot 1 with a sultry, sexy and sly solo performance that made the hair on the back of you neck stand straight up. Armed with her tall upright double bass violin, which she strokes and strummed and plucked and slapped, she lets her heroic voice steer the songs. Ironic humor laces her lyrics which are already wry takes on life, love and other things, and which are complimented by the swaggering personality of the singer. She can purr and coo or let loose with a piecing bellow that keeps you on the edge of your seat (if one were sitting).

It was a swinging and seductive set that the audience just ate up. Teena May came back in and became an enthusiastic supporter on the spot. Admitting to me later that she had been nervous about playing solo, Jill must have found the overwhelming appreciation of the people who had stayed enough to assuage that fear. It was a hair raising ending to the night. I'm looking forward to booking her four other bands this year.

Of all the Feed Your Head shows I've done (and that's now over 30) this was one of my favorites. A big thanks to Rebecca Balin for the line up and huge gratitude to the wonderful performers who gave so much for us to enjoy. And thanks to Eileen and Jason for their hospitality, as always. And Sean Guerin for sound duties, always the best.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Starting the New Year Right, Part 1

I've apparently made an unconscious New Year's resolution to dive in head first and get out to more shows this year. Apropos to this revelation I went out last Friday night to see the fabulous FOMO Festival 2014 taking place at The Echo and Echoplex. 'FOMO' stands for Fear Of Missing Out, and this also fit in with my desire to catch up with the numerous recently sprouted bands that have cropped up over the past couple of years that I have been missing out on.

One of the main attractions was Avid Dancer, who I HAVE seen a few times already, but as they are making incredible strides with each performance, it's worthwhile to check in with them every few weeks.

Quite a large crowd was gathered at the entrance to the upstairs/downstairs club when I got there around 9:40, and once I got in, Kera and the Lesbians was holding the whole Echo audience in the palm of their hands. This is a band whose lead singer, Kera Armendariz, is a ball of pure energy, and whose impressive guitar and voice punctuates the music with a fierce and electric stage personality. Part funk and all rock, this band has talent to spare and there wasn't a soft spot in the portion of the set I got to witness. They are unique and memorable.

Knowing that there was no way to enjoy all the bands performing that evening, I opted to focus on particular sets. Next up was Lo-Fang, downstairs in the Echoplex. But before they took the stage there was a spoken word artist named John Tottenham, who recited some wonderful and bizarre pieces that hovered close to the edge of tasteless, but were so truthful and highly humorous that it was just kind of wonderful.

Matthew Hemerlein is the mastermind behind the band Lo-Fang. With a voice that sounds classically trained and an equally adept talent for the violin and guitar, he commands full attention because you don't want to miss one note of his beautifully complex compositions. Accompanied by a keyboardist and drummer and occasional pre-recordings, the three build gorgeous, swirling arrangements that easily move from synthy/dreamy/dance music to a classically structured adagio for strings, all tethered to Matthew's phenomenal voice which never sounds forced or over done. I was totally blown away.

They were a tough act to follow, but Avid Dancer was up to the challenge...and then some. Jacob Dillan Summers has fashioned music that recalls the best of sixties pop and tangled it up with melodious contemporary indie rock and the result is magic in the ears. The songs shimmer and shine with a hazy psychedelic ambiance as he discusses love, life, hope, disappointment, and trying to fill prescriptions.

I've known Jacob for a while now and had enjoyed his former band, The Rhone Occupation, but here he leaps to a whole other level. And each time I see them there is marked improvement, even though each time I was convinced they were at the top of their game. Where they go from here is anyone's guess.

Final band, Fever The Ghost, came on around midnight and sounded like a shot of adrenaline, but I had to get home to have energy for my Feed Your Head show the next night, so I couldn't stay. But they have a date at Bootleg Bar next Thursday, January 16th, on a bill with Nightmare and the Cat, Carina Round and The Peach Kings, so there's hope. That sounds like a great show.

Part 2 coming soon...