Friday, September 21, 2018

Arcade Fire at The Greek September 20, 2018

Arcade Fire stormed the stage of The Greek last night, Thursday, September 20, and launched into a concert of their entire first full-length album, FUNERAL, from 2004, allegedly for the first time ever! It was as thrilling an experience as you can imagine for someone whose return to rock and roll was prompted initially by that very album.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Hot Tuna Electric at El Rey September 6, 2018

Thursday night's show with Hot Tuna at El Rey is gonna get me to re-animate this blog, being as it was such a spectacular evening. 41 years have passed since I saw this band live and it was as if time has been standing still.

I knew the show was sold out, but still, it was a surprise to see a line wrapped around the block when I got there. And man, have we gotten old! But the spirit and enthusiasm was potent and everyone seemed as giddy and excited as if they were going to a Jefferson Airplane show. Standing in line waiting for the doors to open one struck up conversations with one's neighbors, comparing notes, who did you see and when?, which Hot Tuna songs are your favorites?, did you see them back then?, did you go to Woodstock?

Actually did speak to a couple of Woodstock alumni and it was a trip to share experiences, find out when they got there (for me it was 4 PM on Friday, August 15, 1969, see, I do remember the sixties), who they saw, how long did you stay, did you buy tickets...all the questions I've wanted to ask fellow concertgoers for 49 years. We all shared the same conclusion that we left with no idea that it changed our lives, and it took twenty years to realize it.

Inside, the El Rey had set up seating for the decidedly upper-middle aged (I love that term) audience and I gleefully slid into an aisle seat only nine or ten rows from the stage. Don't get me wrong, there was a huge variety of ages present and a lot of very youthful fans, as great music knows no generations.

Right at nine o'clock Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy strode on stage, accompanied by current drummer, Justin Gulp, and launched into "Been So Long" from their second album First Pull Up Then Poll Down, and suddenly the years melted away and it was 1971 all over again. It was all there, the nimble finger picking of Jorma, the driving undertone and plucked stings of Jack's bass, one could have been listening to any one of the improvisational instrumental jams that often punctuated the center of extended concert versions of Jefferson Airplane songs. I couldn't believe what I was hearing, that delicious, jangling Airplane sound.

The audience became euphoric as song after song poured out of them, with the energy and dedication that has always marked these musical icons. Joined by Steve Kimrock on electric guitar on a number of songs, they soared through "Trial By Fire", "Sea Child", "Hesitation Blues", and "Bowlegged Woman, Knock Kneed Man" before taking a break.

The crowd was abuzz and agog by now and the room glowed with astonishment at how fresh and vital everything sounded. Returning about twenty-five minutes later, they continued to play on and on
 into the night.

On stage banter was minimal, but when it came time to play "Good Shepherd", Jorma did take a minute to say that they probably would not be standing on this stage were it not for a woman named Grace Slick, It was a sweet and sincere acknowledgement, and he said "This is for you, wherever you are". The vocal she contributed to that song on the Volunteers album has been incorporated into one of the guitar lines in the song.

I had to work the next day so I was forced to leave around 11:30, but I understand they played till well after midnight. Seeing these two school-boy friends, who joined a band that happened to explode into worldwide fame, and still stay true to their musical roots and integrity, it truly awe-inspiring. It was an evening I will never forget.


Monday, October 2, 2017

The Shins at The Greek - September 29, 2017

It was my fourth time to see The Shins and what better way than on a gorgeous night under the stars at The Greek. Nestled in the gentle hills of Griffith Park and surrounded by a thrilled audience as pleased as I was to see this 21 year old band still playing at the top of their game, it was an evening to treasure.

In March at El Rey
I was very lucky when I scored a ticket to one of their early inaugural dates at El Rey this past March 10th and enjoyed hearing the newest album in its entirety, but couldn't help but notice that lead singer James Mercer seemed to either have a cold or he was no longer able to hit the high notes that characterize so many of their songs. The show was still good, though it made me appreciate the terrible choices a band has to make when one member is under the weather and they don't want to disappoint their fans by cancelling or by performing at less then their usual quality level.

Fortunately this band is so tight that the show came off as entirely successful, matched by the herculean effort by Mercer to stay on top of it, and the obvious excitement of playing all these great new songs. When this show at The Greek was announced, I knew I wanted to attend, and since I was able to score a ticket in the first row of Section B, right behind the sound booth with a clear, unobstructed view of the stage, I went for it.

I am so glad I did because it was immediately apparent that Mercer was in fine shape and his voice remains as supple and flexible as ever. And this show was like a compilation of greatest hits as they plucked tunes from their entire catalog. Opening with an early favorite "Caring Is Creepy" from their debut LP, Oh, Inverted World, they hopped, skipped, and jumped through all five of their albums.

Their 2003 album, Chutes Too Narrow, was my introduction to the band and I was so happy they played so much of it; "Kissing The Lipless', 'Mine's Not A High Horse", "Gone For Good", and "Saint Simon", all superbly reproduced. Highlights for me also included "Phantom Limb" from Wincing the Night Away, and "Simple Song" from Port Of Morrow.

As was the case at El Rey in March, they put on a stunning visual show to go along with the fully engaging music. Mercer even wore the same shirt. Surrounded by the huge paper flowers that adorn the latest album art, the dynamic lighting transformed the stage into a constantly changing kaleidoscope of shapes and colors, which slowly revealed the image of a skull hovering in the backdrop.

Adding to the enjoyment of the evening was that I took advantage of the LADOT shuttle service to and from the Vermont/Sunset subway station which makes for an entirely stress-free commute to the venue. No more walking up that giant hill to The Greek for me.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Joanna Newsom at The Orpheum (3/25/16) and Rob Crow's Gloomy Place at The Echo (3/26/16)

Time for me to get back to reviewing some recent shows, as I have been bad about new content, and I have seen some really great shows recently.

Joanna Newsom (above) very easily knocked my head off Friday night at The Orpheum. This may only have been the fourth time I've been to one of her shows but she is undoubtedly one of the most commanding and engaging performers I have ever seen. I know some people who just can't get past her distinctive voice, and I admit, it took me one or two listens before I warmed to it. But her live performances reveal a spontaneity and a tonal richness that's not as evident in her recordings where everything is precisely measured. And her between song repartee is candid, funny, refreshingly unguarded, and in the end, endearing. She even fielded questions shouted from the audience as she took time out to tune her harp.

I had to let go the possibility of seeing her on Saturday night, March 26th, because I already had a ticket to see Rob Crow's Gloomy Place at The Echo that night. So I was living with that disappointment when suddenly she scheduled this Friday night show to accommodate all those unhappy fans who were sold out of her original date. Leaping at the chance, I was lucky enough to secure a fourth row ticket, thereby validating the rather expensive ticket price, while giving me the chance to witness the extraordinary range of her talent, and to observe it up close.

I arrived just as Robin Pecknold was warming up the audience with a simple acoustic set that showcased his incredible voice on some unfamiliar songs and other Fleet Foxes numbers
adapted to a solo format. His six song set gained momentum with each number and was enough to prime the audience for was was to come.

Joanna strode out to her harp at 10 to begin weaving a web that held me in thrall from beginning to end. Her music, impossible to categorize, is difficult and dense but the rewards are enormous as she cast a spell that is irresistible. Surrounded by talented and versatile friends and family, many of whom shared the surname Newsom, they formed a chamber orchestra of extraordinary skill. Many effortlessly switching instruments between numbers and making an orchestra of a few sound like many.

An inability to quantify her music come from the simple fact that there are so many influences that it becomes impossible to list them all, from folk-rock of the seventies to medieval choral chants to nineties new-age to sixties jazz. I'm not even aware of them all. It has the excitement and the revelation of discovery that comes only a few times in a lifetime. I couldn't help but reflect back to when I saw Joni Mitchell in 1969 knowing that I was experiencing something very special and very unique. These are the experiences that last a lifetime. 

The lyrics are steeped in personal reflections and are often difficult to grasp, but the overriding themes of her clear-eyed world view regarding love and loss, life and death come through loud and clear. The heady tumble of words, which fill pages and pages in each of her albums, reveal a poetic nature and philosophical attitude which infuses this artist's life and compel her to share her inner dialogue with her audience.

She dipped into all four of her albums to present a comprehensive overview of the huge range of styles her music encompasses. I loved hearing the new songs, especially "Anecdotes", "Divers", "Sapokanikan", and a favorite of mine, "Waltz of the 101st Lightborne" with many of the musicians changing instruments and Joanna sometimes switching instruments mid-song, from harp to piano and back to harp again.

Besides her impressive vocal rang, (her voice is often times mischaracterized as childlike when in actuality it is wildly flexible and filled with feeling and depth). She continues to grow as a singer, and near the end of her 1 hour 45 minute set she brought Robin Pecknold and Amber Coffman (above, center) out to add their voices to a few songs which added enormous power to the already overwhelming vocals. It was art and it was like paradise! For those who find art rock pretentious, part of the creation of great art is the necessity of flirting with the pretentious and knowing when to pull back so you don't fall over the cliff,  and that is something Ms.Newsom has mastered. She played again on Saturday night with a slightly altered set list.

On the following night I went to see Rob Crow's Gloomy Place (Rob Crow at right) at an early evening show at The Echo, since this was the Los Angeles debut of his new band, and I've had the ticket for months. It was everything anyone who has been mourning the loss of Pinback could have hoped for.

Opener Nick Reinhart lead the audience along a sci-fi induced hallucination of electronic music punctuated with severely stressed guitar distortion which was one long song that made up his entire set. We wandered the terrain of 1960"s spy movie scores, Forbidden Planet-type Bebe and Louis Barron 50's electronica and 70's Jerry Goldsmith Logan's Run soundtrack. It was a score for an unknown space movie in your head and my head was about to explode. Vertical Scratches brought us back to earth with a haughty and angular garage rock, even covering a Heavy Vegetable song for Rob.

Then it was time for Rob Crow's Gloomy Place. I'm afraid they had a lot to live up to for my expectations. This year without Pinback has been rough, but the wonderful new album, You're Doomed. Be Nice., laid to rest most of my fears. Fear not.

The pounding, throbbing bass lines are all there, topped by the buoyant melodies and Rob's virtuoso guitar playing and sturdy and flexible vocals. His voice is in great shape. The lyrics are dark and earnest and imbued with a bracing honesty, a product of his recent voyage of self-discovery. Newer songs with titles like "Autumnal Palette", "Paper Doll Parts", "Quit Being Dicks" and "Rest Your Soul" represent a new outlook and maybe even some optimism in the dark recesses. Rob looks healthy and well.

The five-piece band plays with equal dedication and the results sounded just as good as the recent record, which they played most of. I was happy to hear all the material that has been pulled from Rob Crow's solo albums Living Well and He Thinks He's People and reworked for this new ensemble. Each song in the set flowed directly into the next song with nary a pause for breath. They must have played 20 songs and only stopped three or four times during the entire set, just to give the appreciative audience a chance to applaud.

All in all it was a remarkable weekend for music and fired me up for more.


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 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 ChampiĆ³n. Here is the event page