Tuesday, November 3, 2015

3 Big Shows - First up: Mew at The Fonda 9/25/15

Over the past month I've seen some remarkable shows and I want to put some of my impressions into words and post some of the shots I got. I'll start with the first one and post later on the other two.

Mew, on September 25, at The Fonda left me somewhere in mid-air for weeks afterward. So stimulating and played with such inspired beauty I was left awestruck. I was always left in a state of euphoria every time I saw them in 2008 and '09 and, after a hiatus of six years, it was super to see that they still have the power to overwhelm.

Typical of The Fonda, even though it was crowded, I was able to get a spot real close to the stage and bask in the sound wafting from the stage. Although the bulk of the set list was culled from their latest album, +-, they played enough from their prolific catalog to satisfy every need to hear their classic songs again. The first two songs were the first two songs from the newest album, in reverse order, priming the audience.

But when they launched into "Special" followed immediately by "The Zookeeper's Boy", from And The Glass Handed Kites, the audience fell into a deep reverie from which we didn't recover until the show was over. It was as if a mass hypnosis had taken place. Even when the more familiar songs were performed, at first the audience began singing along, and it was a bit annoying. But as quickly as it began, I think the audience realized they were drowning out the lead vocals of Jonas Bjerre, and we were all there to hear him sing, and everyone shut up! I don't think I've seen that before and it was most gratifying.

In fact all the band member sing, and the glorious harmonies that pervade their records is presented in all their astonishing glory right before your very eyes and ears. It's totally intoxicating, especially when backed by their sweeping "dreamy thunderstorm pop" as they describe their sound. I stayed right through the encores because I didn't want to miss a minute. This band should be far bigger than they are...so far.

The show went on for a good 90 minutes that swept by like an instant. I was so happy to hear almost all the new songs, and they performed all their material with a commitment and the obvious aim to please. They were grateful for the committed and respectful response of an adoring audience. Sometimes Los Angeles makes me incredibly proud when I see a band obviously moved by a truly knowledgeable and appreciative audience, which they don't get in every city.

Next I'll tell you about  Beirut and Father John Misty.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

My Life in Music.. so far

I'm getting bitten by such a wave of nostalgia as I approach the tenth anniversary of my going back to Rock shows and tonight's show at The Echo with Fruit Bats (at right), one of my first favorite bands in 2006, was an affair of overwhelming emotion. Leslie Stevens (below)opened the show followed by a superb set by Tall Tales and the Silver Linings (below). After exchanging greetings with Eric D. Johnson, who actually remembered me, I saw Fruit Bats deliver an amazing set with original band members, plus, and overwhelm the audience with the superb originality that always characterized that band. Since Nov. 2005, it was the 1099th concert I've attended. On Friday I hit 1100 shows and I can't believe it, I want 1100 more!!!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Donna Bummer - Challenging Stereotypes

Standing in the middle of the floor at the final celebratory show for the now-legendary Echo Country Outpost there was a sudden hush. From the back of the room, the twinkling sounds of toys as musical instruments and the quiet blare of a horn made their presence known in a dirge-like rhythm. A woman, diaphanous and ethereal, and a man dressed in a loin cloth and wearing angel wings, both encased in bubble-wrap walked in a slow procession through the audience toward the stage. Once settled in place they began their bizarre repertoire and totally enchanted the curious onlookers.

This band is a new-ish creation from the fertile and feverish brains of a member of the music groups Tommy Santee Klaws and Bloody Death Skull who goes by the name of Donna Bummer, and her musical partner, Andy Bummer. Her background in musical theatre shines through on this new project as there's as much play acting as serious musical endeavor going on. With dressing and staging that shifts with each new performance, this is real living theatre.

What sound, at first, like childlike nursery rhymes very quickly degenerate as you glean the subject matter, which is decidedly not childlike, with lyrics that express the innocent joy of a child learning its first swear words. Topics that range from voyeurism to safe sex to airline travel to racism and some -isms not appropriate for a family audience. I do occasionally resent that I have had to watch our culture become as child-proofed as the raging moralists have demanded for the past 40 years (most of my adult years), and I welcome some unadulterated, grown-up art.

Donna incorporates a high-pitched shriek into her usually soprano vocal range that finds a complete opposite in Andy's exaggerated basso profundo, not so much complimenting each other as demonstrating the polar opposites that the human voice can achieve. With Donna playing her symphonic toy keyboard and Andy on clarinet, it makes the brain race to try to put it all together in your head. Even the bubble-wrap made an appearance as a percussive embellishment. And the sing-song lullaby format of the music only points out the shocking inappropriateness of the lyric content.

In "Penis Envy" they sing about gender re-assignment with the innocent abandon of two kids playing doctor and free of the self-censorship that comes with the rigid norms of social acceptance. They find numerous ways to address the surgical necessities of such an 'operation' and euphemistically (and humorously) list them all, while maintaining the impression of a couple of robots singing about human biology they don't quite understand with slang sexual expressions that we all know and love. It reminded me of the robots played by Bernadette Peters and Andy Kaufman in that movie, Heartbeeps.

In "Twiddle Diddle Me", the topic can be as elementary as a pick up in a public restroom, or go deeper and become somewhat accusatory as in "Let's Have a Baby" which exploits a sort of blasphemous idea regarding the unconscious selfishness of raising a child in this troubled world.

Another song is a riff of The Beatles' "Why Don't We Do It In The Road" and Dr. Suess' "Green Eggs and Ham" called "Mash Up", with a non-stop run of rhymes like "We could do it in a boat, we could do it with a goat" that go on and on with infinite ingenuity. Or "Dear Mr. Cosby" that asks quarrelsome questions about the recent shocking revelations concerning an iconic celebrity.

Donna Bummer's desire to surprise seems to match their ability to shock and in an era when that ability to shock has become increasingly difficult. But the strange brew of theatrical excess, wildly inappropriate musings, and shockingly unadulterated language all wrapped up in the illusion of a child's song, is a successful and intoxicating blend. Hypnotically weird...and shocking.

My first exposure came when I jumped at the chance to have them play my Feed Your Head show at Lot 1 on June 13th. I didn't know what to expect and they didn't disappoint. I just stood there in mouth-gaping astonishment and the audience ate it up. One show was not enough so I had to attend the Echo Country Outpost show for a second dose to really believe what I had seen.

They have incorporated seven of their favorite songs to assemble their first EP called Last Glance, which gives one the chance to study the lyrics and appreciate the delicate, oddly orchestrated compositions with the keytar, musical saw and assorted toy accoutrements. It's unique, it's crazy, and it's creatively liberating. Their graphic image of an overturned ice cream cone melting on the ground with the cherry nearby seems entirely appropriate.

Donna Bummer's record release show is this Sunday, July 26th at The Virgil at 4519 Santa Monica Boulevard at 9 PM presented by All Scene Eye. Also on the bill are other equally envelope-pushing artists like Ghiant, Madame Headdress and Del Champión. Here is the event page  https://www.facebook.com/events/407296256136234/.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Great Lake Swimmers at The Troubadour - June 12, 2015

Nature, reflection and emotion meet headlong in Great Lake Swimmers

They periodically come down out of Canada to share their latest observations on life, love and the eternal struggle, usually accompanied with a new album. As a long time fan of Great Lake Swimmers it was most gratifying to see them reach an apex of their career as a performing band on Friday night, June 12th at The Troubadour. Fueled by the impact of their latest album, A Forest of Arms, their live performance was robust and energetic, not the usual laid back wistfulness I was used to. And love.

Tony Dekker, Erik Arnesen
I saw them first at Hotel Cafe in June 2007, though I can't remember what prompted me to check out their music in the first place. But I had Ongiara and was completely overwhelmed by it, particularly the song "Changing Colors" with its moving and prescient lyrics.  It may be the best song about death I have ever heard. I remember meeting Tony Dekker that night and shaking hands, but it was hurried and I only got to say how much his music was meaning to me, and how good they sounded. In October that year they played Spaceland, where I could get up close and really observe just how tight a band they are.

I caught them twice on their tour for 2008's Lost Channels in April, 2009 at Spaceland, again, and then in October, up town at El Rey. And it was another fine album. In May, 2012, on tour with New Wild Everywhere, I saw the band with their present members, a wonderfully collaborative set of musicians who give the appearance of really enjoying working together.

I arrived in time to enjoy the opening act, Tamara Lindeman of The Weather Station, also from Canada and on tour with GLS as a solo singer/songwriter in the early Joni Mitchell tradition. And she appeared worthy of the comparison with songs about relationships and the passage of life that had a rare and appealing quality. Her lovely soprano was strong and flexible, allowing her to explore upper, bird-like registers, but remaining robust in the mid ranges. I asked her about her band after the set and she usually plays with three other musicians. I would love to see that.

Great Lake Swimmers took the stage right at ten and launched right into the first song from A Forest of Arms, "Something Like A Storm" with a forceful and precise delivery. Now, they're always a very thoughtful and introspective band, and they still have that quality, but Tony Dekker's vocals seemed stronger and more dynamic than I remembered. That may have been the result of a superlative sound mix,but his voice was very strong . As much as I have applauded this band through the years, I feel I have underestimated them. They added a longer drum jam that ended the song at a fever-pitch. Very exciting.

Miranda Mulholland
Bret Higgins
Playing straight through the first six songs from the new album, but saving "Shaking All Over" for later, these sounded even more dynamic live than on the recording. Miranda Mulholland is an exuberant presence on violin and adds important vocal backing on many songs, Erik Arnesen on banjo and Bret Higgins alternating on upright bass and mandolin, round out the full sound and add a quality that makes Great Lake Swimmers much like a chamber ensemble. Special notice must be made of Joshua Van Tassel on drums who keeps the whole thing moving propulsively forward that has added a real punch to their sound.

The set included ten of the twelve songs on the new album, with a sampling from their past like "Moving Pictures" and "Your Rocky Spine", all greeted with the same enthusiasm from a loving audience. They perform with all the enthusiasm and vigor of a new band

Cinematic soundscapes that evoke the imaginary visual image of an icy tundra landscape comes easy to this band and effect is almost physical. It was a perfectly balanced set with a sing-a-long version of "I Must Have Someone Else's Blues", a robust "Shaking All Over" for a finale, and an encore that brought the band down into the audience for an electrifying acoustic version of "Still". It all made for one of the best concerts I've seen this year .

And I really underestimated their last album, New Wild Everywhere, because it came out on top of a bunch of other records that buried it at the time. Revisiting it now, I see it as one of their strongest records and a real precursor for what was to come on the new album.

Tony Dekker: guitar; Erik Arnesen: banjo, guitar;  Bret Higgins: upright bass, mandolin, piano; Miranda Mulholland: violin, backing vocals; Joshua Van Tassel: drums.

Set list:
1. Something Like A Storm
2. Zero In The City
3. One More Charge At The Red Cape
4. Don't Leave Me Hanging...
5. ...I Was A Wayward Pastel Boy
6. Put There By The Land...
7. ...Pulling On A Line
8. I Must Have Someone Else's Blues
9. The Great Bear
10. Your Rocky Spine
11. A Bird Flew Inside The House
12. Chorus Underground / Moving Pictures
13. Palmistry / The Great Exhale
14. Expecting You
15. Easy Come Easy Go
16. Shaking All Over

Encore: Still / Long May You Run


Monday, March 9, 2015

A Genre-bending Trip to the Past with Swervedriver and Judy Collins - Feb. 5 & 6, 2015

What an interesting journey this has been. First an evening in the nineties followed by a night that spanned the sixties through the eighties. Swervedriver and Gateway Drugs played at The Roxy on Thursday, Feb. 5 representing a piece of indie history along with a jolt of the new with the young upstart shoegaze/garage/psychedelic band.

Back in 2008, when I was still getting my feet wet regarding the indie rock movement, I knew that Swervedriver were a profound influence on many of my favorite local bands at the time, including Film School and Xu Xu Fang. So when I heard that they had come out of retirement for a reunion tour and were going to play The Fonda Theatre, with Film School and Xu Xu Fang as opening acts on May 31, 2008, I jumped at the chance to see them live. I consumed as much of their recordings as I could, leading up to that night and it turned out to be one of those evenings you never forget.

It was fun to go back to The Roxy, where I haven't been in quite a while. But I will say, as much as I enjoyed the evening, there was a bit of overkill in the arena-like sound that moshed all the low end into a distorted drone that all but obliterated the vocals on most of the songs and allowed little opportunity for subtlety. Still the energy and precision that went into the Gateway Drugs set was inspiring as this young band already have considerable stage presence, led by
Liv Niles (at right) cool reserve, that is matched by the confident songwriting skills they display. This attractive band is going places!

I'm glad their album has already burned its way into my brain so I could mentally fill in what was missing in the vocals. It appears that all four band members are singers but the sound mix only favored one. Both Magick Spells and the Swervedriver album, I Wasn't Born To Lose You, rely on stunning vocal harmonies, only some of which I got to hear that night.

In particular, the first Swervedriver album in 17 years reveals a mellowing from the sheer bombast of their past to a more melody driven style which absolutely fits them. There are so many reverential, hypnotic passages that make you feel as if you're floating six feet above the earth in a meditative state. It's a truly beautiful album, maybe their most beautiful and that may sound like a sacrilege to their old fans, but I think it's true.

They fed a hungry audience a superb mix of old and new material which fits together, matching the maturity of their new material with the raw ferocity of their early work. Judging from the audience reaction they delivered just what they wanted. Their new album makes them sound like a fresh new band and their live performance was just as fresh. In spite of my bitching about the sound, I did enjoy myself and the energy level from both bands and the audience was intoxicating.

The following night represented the flip side of the coin, but great music is great music. Saw the legendary Judy Collins for the first time as she held a sold out Saban Theatre audience in the palm of her hand on Friday, March 6. She sang a remarkable array of songs in her 1 hour 45 minute set and with the accompanying pianist and the Passenger String Quartet, was able to sample all the many genres she has explored during her 55 year career.

I had many of her albums from the 1968 Wildflowers through Judith in 1975 and she had a huge impact on me (and the blooming folk rock movement) achieving a life-changing effect with that 1968 album which took me by the hand and led me toward the Hippie movement. I had just left home for college and was ripe for every new experience, having just barely being accepted to university in the nick of time to stay out of the draft. The album was a huge best-seller and it also introduced the world to the writing of Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, featuring two of her songs and three of his. So as a long-time fan, I was familiar with everything she played, beginning with "Song For Judith" which proved her voice can still soar...is still strong and flexible and pure as a mountain stream.

Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Collins, Arlo Guthrie (1968)
What I didn't expect was what an expert raconteur she is. She paused between each number to either relate some history surrounding the next song, or regale us with stories of her past, including an unashamed admittance of her alcoholism 37 years ago. Her stories of the mid sixties folk movement in New York City and the Laurel Canyon hippie scene a few years later were both informative and incredibly amusing. Lasting friendships with Joan Baez, Stephen Stills and Leonard Cohen and other has sustained her, as well as her family.

Cass Elliott, Joni Mitchell, Collins, Joan Baez

Following the opening number she sang a series of songs written by contemporaries to which she lent her considerable interpretive skills that make hers seem like definitive versions. First, her biggest chart-topper, "Both Sides Now" by Joni Mitchell was performed at a slightly different tempo, revealing a jazz element I never would have associated with the song, but which was fresh and original.

After telling a story of sitting in the stairwell of a Greenwich Village hotel, and being transfixed listening to a young musician behind one of the doors finding his way through the writing of a song,  she sang that song; "Mr. Tambourine Man" by Bob Dylan. Her long friendship with Joan Baez
Collins, Stephen Stills
seemed cemented when Collins recorded Baez' "Diamonds and Rust", which she had written about a bad boyfriend (Dylan). It's a beautiful song and she sang it to perfection.

It was during the Laurel Canyon years when she fell in love with Stephen Stills that he wrote "Suite Judy Blue Eyes" for her, but instead of performing that multi-part opus, she elected to sing "Helplessly Hoping". She also gave us a rendition of "Albatross" which is an intensely challenging song that she wrote evoking a very French/Piaf mood, and her voice, once again, was up to the sudden tonal shifts that would confound any normal singer.

Leonard Cohen urged her to try writing her own music after she had released a number of albums featuring other artists work and she answered with the lovely "Since You Asked" which she sat at the piano to play. Always one of my favorites of her songs, it was surprisingly moving to hear her sing it live.

Tales of her childhood with a father, a disc jockey who loved show tunes, and his contemporaries who introduced her to folk music via Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie set her on a path toward music and an appreciation of a variety of genres. She studied, piano as a child and was expected to pursue that instrument, as she was quite accomplished, when folk music led her to discover her voice. She dropped everything to focus on that, much to the consternation of her piano teacher.

This story made poignant the  medley of "Children And Art", "Sunday", and "Move On" from Stephen Sondheim's Sunday In The Park With George, which got her the first standing ovation of the evening. We share a passion for Sondheim, as I got to see four of his first shows during the 1970s in Boston before they went to Broadway. So when she sang "Send In the Clowns" I couldn't help but get one of those 'circle-of-life' moments as I recalled sitting in the Colonial Theatre in Boston in 1973 watching Glynis Johns introduce the song to the world as A Little Night Music was in try-outs (photo at left). 

 She announced that she's taping a special for PBS called Finding Sondheim which will air later this year, that she had been in New York City that morning, flown to L.A. for this show, and was at the Metropolitan Opera the night before. At 75, this woman is unstoppable. Bravo.

Leaving the stage at the conclusion of "Send In the Clowns" to tumultuous applause, she returned a minute later to send us on our way with an encore that was no surprise, "Amazing Grace". Coaxing a very willing audience to sing along, her voice still soared above the rest with another one of her biggest successes. Reminiscing on the evening, one can't help but wonder at the range and impact she's had and how her reputation has yet to be assessed properly, a common problem with genre-hopping artists like Judy Collins. Perhaps the next 15 years of her career will remedy that fact.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Emily Gold

Come out and see Emily Gold when her band plays Hotel Cafe next Thursday, February 19th. Info here. After a debut performance at Los Globos two weeks ago, the band is ready for prime-time and sure to garner attention. The following is an interview with Emily that I've been working on.

With all the new acts that come to Los Angeles, it becomes a daunting task to try to keep up with all the talent vying for ones attention, but this one stood out. A few weeks ago I received a message and a link to a song from a local artist asking me to take a listen to see if I wanted to feature it on my blog. The name on the message was Emily Gold and when I got to the line where she said she was the daughter of seventies singer/songwriter Andrew Gold, a light bulb went off in my head.

Andrew Gold was one of the large group of musicians and writers including Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, JD Souther and many others who brought a Southern twang to the folk/rock movement started in the mid-60s by the likes of James Taylor, and spawning groups like Little Feat and The Allman Brothers and more. As a multi-talented multi-instrumentalist, he was an important part of Linda Ronstadt's touring band during the mid-seventies and that would have been when I'd seen him around 1976 when Linda played the Music Hall in Boston. A concert I still remember well.

I became convinced of his musical bona fides, once I learned that his parents were Oscar winning film composer Ernest Gold (Exodus - 1960) and vocal artist, Marni Nixon, who provided singing voices for three heroines of three of the top musical films of the late 1950s and early 1960s: Deborah Kerr in The King and I - 1956, Natalie Wood in West Side Story - 1961 and for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady - 1964.

I bought his 1976 album, What's Wrong With This Picture?, around this time and loved some of the songs, understood his heritage, and the album was a popular one in my house with me and my friends. So listening to "Cyanide Lollipop" was fraught with a certain amount of nostalgia and maybe a misplaced parental pride. Similar to how I feel when I talk to Inara George, since her father, Lowell George, and his band Little Feat were so important to me in the seventies. I have no real right to feel proud, but I do.

It's a lovely song revealing the probability of an inherited songwriting talent from a family of wide-ranging accomplishments. Her mother was a classical pianist, though never professionally. Here's a link where you can hear the song. I wanted to find out her story so we traded questions and answers last month and here's what I found out. Although born in London, her family moved almost immediately to Los Angeles, though annual travel back to England made her feel like a dual-citizen, and she still toys with the idea of settling there.

When Emily was seven the family moved to the East Coast settling in Connecticut, and over the course of the next seven years, her parents split up, with her father moving to Nashville and eventually back to L.A., while she stayed in Connecticut with her mother. At 14, she decided to follow her father to the West Coast and joined a pop group, making music an early career choice.

Not being a musician, and more of a visual artist, I've always been interested in the motivations that bubble up in a child compelling them to pursue the arts, whether it be music, the visual arts or writing. For me it happened before I can remember...maybe even before I learned to talk, and stuck with me through thick and thin. Like a third parent. I asked her when that choice became clear to her and whether her family's musical heritage played a part... and I'll let her tell it in her own words:

Q: How early did you realize music would be your calling?:

"I used to tell people I wanted to be a singer in elementary school, it’s even in my 5th grade yearbook photo where you say what you will be when you grow up", she told me. " I let that dream go in high school cause it kind of got bullied out of me. I didn't think it was a possibility. Around 18 or 19 I started to go to a lot of shows and I would feel so sad that it wasn’t me on stage so I started to learn guitar and write songs. Then it became crystal clear that that was the most important thing to me and that I had to be a musician and I got tunnel vision.

I think as a kid I didn’t really appreciate the cultural context of what my family did. But that’s just normal for a kid,  I was concerned with kid things, like playing Nintendo 64 with my sisters. My dad was just my weird, embarrassing dad. It never seemed different that we always had a music studio in our house or that my Grandparents were who they were. I started to appreciate my family’s musical history when I got older and started to get into classic rock and realized my dad played on a lot of those albums. Or looked through old photos of parties my parents threw when I was a tot and seeing David Crosby in the background and thinking 'holy shit! I did not care about this old man at all! I had no idea!'

Something to keep in mind is that my parents split when I was about 9 and so I didn’t see him as much and my grandfather had suffered multiple strokes and was unable to really interact for what I remember. But I think I absorbed a lot with out really being conscious of it and at the same time I came across all these genres music in my own time.

I think what stuck with me was not the type of music but the feeling of being in a studio. The smell of black leather couches and studio gear, seems funny but it is a very specific feeling that feels like home for me."

Q: I then asked about any formal musical training:

"I have kind of a hodge podge of 'training' with various stints in choir, orchestra, theatre, dance, and piano throughout grade school. I never took much of it seriously it was just a given, I could’t have imagined not doing some sort of music or performing. [Meanwhile] my mom actually had a big part in cultivating an appreciation for art and culture in me and my sisters. She always took us to the ballet or theatre or whatever."

Q: How did you develop your own musical style. I hear a bit of your father's musical vocabulary in the song I heard, plus a little of the lush orchestrations I would associate with your grandfather:

"It’s hard to say how much I learned from my family and how much I just happened upon my style.  I was never directly taught by my father or really listened to my family's music until more recently. I’m sure I subconsciously absorbed certain tastes and styles but I always gravitated towards lush, thick arrangements . I used to make songs in garageband when I was 14 with the preset loops they have and I would have like 20 tracks weaving in and out of each other. I just love layers and effects. I am very similar to my dad in that way, I had to learn how to use restraint."

Q: Did you find it helpful or a hindrance to have your family heritage when breaking into the local music scene?

"It had been both helpful and frustrating at times. Since my fathers passing, many of his friends and colleagues have come out of the woodwork and offered me advice and spiritual guidance. A few opportunities have definitely been handed to me because of him, however I pride myself on being a self taught, self sufficient musician and I don’t really push the family card too much, I don’t feel entitled to peoples help but when it is offered or even just to hear stories about my father in his earlier days I am super grateful. The only annoying thing is when people tell me I should rearrange or rewrite songs to be more like my dad. He was a frickin’ genius but I’m not trying to be like him, I’m a different kind of artist completely."

Q: And what are your goals for the near future?
I finished my LP this year and I am planning to release it in 2015, I also hope to license some of the songs for film and TV. I am collaborating on a music video for the single, “Cyanide Lollipop” with my drummer, Sean Draper, which will also come out early next year. I do have a band of some awesome dudes [David Burris, Sean Draper, Nolan "Danger" Schneidermanand] and we will be playing as many gigs as we can get our hands on all over town! We love the east side venues such as the Bootleg, Echo, Satellite etc. so hopefully we will be making the circuit!"

Thank you so much, Emily. It's so nice to hear about context and background from a developing artist. I'll be at the show at Hotel Café on Thursday, February 19th when The Emily Gold Band takes stage at 11.