Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Tuesday night, April 1, was the first night that Aaron Embry introduced his new material during a bi-weekly residency at Hollywood's Hotel Cafe which will continue throughout the rest of this month. He performed for an audience full of friends and acquaintances in a set that sounded as intimate and comforting as sitting around a fireplace in someone's home. His eagerness to get these songs out there was matched by his wide-eyed shyness about singing lyrics that are even more personal and deeply felt than much that has come before. The small figure on the stage suddenly swamped the place as he sang and sustained a total grip on the audience.
The unabashed delight he takes from singing a line like, simply, "I love you Nikki" to his wife, he explained, becomes a declaration that strengthens their bond each time he says it. Revealing a window into his creative process, he shared stories about each song. Especially touching was the sing-song rhymes and burbling vocals for the song dedicated to daughter, Mayla. It was so personal it felt like eavesdropping.
As a finale, he put down his guitar and moved over to the piano for a couple of more familiar song which, nonetheless, were beautifully delivered with a freshness and clarity that made them feel new. On April 15th and 29th, Aaron Embry will be returning to Hotel Cafe to further develop the live performances of this material and I expect to be there every step of the way.
Posted by Brad at 7:00 PM
Friday, March 21, 2014
The title song, "Past Life", was next and represented precisely and flawlessly revealing the newer, almost upbeat, attitude that permeates most of the album. With many of the formerly orchestral passages replaced by funky dance beats and some prerecorded backgrounds, it surprised me to hear that it is so effective and engaging...and powerful in a live setting.
"Neither Here Nor There" from A Church To Fit Our Needs came next and was brilliantly rearranged for a five piece band sounding every bit as complex and dense as the fully orchestrated version. That took me by surprise and I realized then that his was going to be an astonishing show. From that moment on it all became a blur of new and old material, all performed for maximum impact, and lifting me higher and higher.
Posted by Brad at 11:07 PM
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Posted by Brad at 10:14 PM
Monday, January 6, 2014
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.
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.
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...
Posted by Brad at 7:57 PM
Friday, December 6, 2013
I've got an amazing show for you on Saturday night, Dec. 7 at Lot 1. Three wonderful bands and a storyteller artist to open the evening at nine. There's a lot of shows out there on Saturday, but I like to think this one has the edge.
A couple of weeks ago I went to The Viper Room to check out a show Rebecca Balin was putting on. I sampled some of the songs of a band called Wages on line and was quite impressed and made sure I was there for their early set. I was stunned by the breadth and range of their talent. For only a three-piece band they filled the room with melodious sound. Check out the fabulous video that Bronson posted over at BuzzbandsLA, then come on down and hear it live at midnight. Their music has the discipline of Pinback, yet the adventurous quality of prog rock. I can't wait to see them for the second time.
Posted by Brad at 9:00 AM
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
From the very first try, the ticket sales website said, "Sorry, nothing matches your search criteria." As I repeatedly got the "sorry..." message I was cursing the bastards who had pre-ordered the album and been allowed to pre-buy the concert tickets the day before. Then the light bulb in my head went off and I thought, "why not try the telephone and see if any tickets have been siphoned off for phone sales." That's what I did before I had the laptop, and nobody uses the phone anymore. Eureka! Within three minutes I had my ticket.
I have to say, on the first listening, Reflektor wasn't what I expected. As one dance song followed another, and another, I wondered if some variety had been lost. Then the second disk sounded unlike the first disk with a variety of styles that struck me as odd. This all is to illustrate how WRONG first impressions can be. Over the next two days some of the songs really began to get a grip on me and I soon found myself really admiring the thunderous production values.
It didn't take long for the mob of costumed concertgoers to close in behind me. Goblins, ghouls, the walking dead, dandies, hookers and a lot sporting as many reflective surfaces as they could sew onto their jackets and dresses. Many people simply wore CDs all over their clothes. Production people circulated among us and picked out some of the most reflective costumes to pull out of the line for some other purpose.
paper mache heads used in the "Reflektor" video began dancing at the head of the line as a camera crew filmed the entire thing (with our friends in the reflective costumes used as a backdrop). I'm assuming that it was indeed Arcade Fire who were wearing the masks and dancing to the Mariachis. While I can't confirm that, here is a picture (above) from where I was standing.
Blasting into the title tune from the new album, the whole room seemed to move as one giant undulating organism to the hypnotic dance beat. For once, the bass-heavy sound in the Palladium was perfectly suited to the music coming from the stage. The intoxicating thump of that song coupled with the anthem-like refrains and wall-of-sound orchestrations got the room into a frenzied high right off the bat. From that moment on no one was able to resist and we rose collectively off the floor, not to return for an hour and a half.
Next, without taking a breath, they dipped back into their repertoire for the first of only a handful of older songs they included in the set to blast us with a thunderingly aggressive version of "Neighborhood # 3 (Lights Out)". After the audience shouted out the lyrics along with the band, I was thrilled that they returned to the new songs for the bulk of the night, leaving the sing-a-long crowd stranded and forced to listen.
"Flashbulb Eyes" brought the tempo down a little as it qualifies as one of the albums less bombastic songs dipping into reggae territory and featuring twangy '60s surf guitars. It was a temporary respite as they then played a series of progressively more elaborately orchestrated songs that had the audience in a state of ever more collective euphoria.
I was enjoying the hell out of the show from where I was on the floor, but, truth be told, when you're buried in the middle of a huge crowd like this one at The Palladium you're lucky to catch occasional glimpses of the tops of the musicians heads. The venue might be better off with a more graded floor or a higher stage. So I decided to wander for the rest of the show and catch it from all different angles.
I am confused by reviewers who say "it's just dance music." We'll, excuse me, but Arcade Fire has always been a dance band. Thank God everyone stood up for the two Shrine shows two years ago, because I would never been able to stay in my seat. The teaming up of the band with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem to produce the new album, pushed the band to explore a wider variety of dance oriented music that they have before and the result is an album full of surprises, including some that take some time to get used to. But the effort is well worth it as you'll discover one of the year's best albums.
Coming back on stage from a short break they performed two audience favorites as encores (and two of heir best songs) to finish off this incredible night and give Regine the chance to overwhelm us with her lead vocals. First "Haiti", for which she wore two giant pink foam gloves so that, even at the back of the room (where I was by now), everyone could enjoy her wonderfully evocative hand movements, which, to me, have always been a highlight of their shows.
And they save one of the best for last, "Sprawl II" from The Suburbs, which was such a stand out on their last tour, and it was again here. Regine even picked up the colored streamers she always used to accentuate her dancing and prancing all over the stage, taking command and holding the audience in the palm of her hand. I was like putty. We all were. It was a supreme ending to a superb show.
Limp from exhaustion and exaltation, we all tumbled out of Hollywood Palladium onto the ghoul, witch and Halloween crowded streets of Hollywood itself. The whole world seemed suspended in a weird time-warp, where the environment inside the concert hall and the environment outside on the streets were one in the same. After a night like this I wonder, "Is there anywhere better to be?" It took more than a few days to come back down to Earth.
Posted by Brad at 11:40 PM
Friday, October 25, 2013
(first published at Radio Free Silver Lake 10/23/13)
Every time I see Okkervil River I feel I've gotten to know Will Sheff a little better. The intensity and depth of his lyrics reveal so much about himself it makes his live concerts seem an act of bold daring by an artist unafraid of the fallout such revelations could incur. Only a few performers I've ever seen get away with this successfully. The show on Sunday night, October 19, was just such an occasion. The new album, The Silver Gymnasium, is the most blatantly autobiographical of all his releases, dealing specifically with his childhood in New Hampshire, and it made this performance cathartic for both the performer and the audience.
Sitting in a nearly empty Wiltern Theatre (I wanted to get into the pit so I got there before the door opened at 7) I was surprised there was nobody there yet. But then my thoughts on who should be popular and who actually is popular are almost never in sync. As a fan of Okkervil River for a while now, I'm always amazed all over again at just how compelling a band they are, and yet almost nobody I know follows them. It seems incredible.
They appeared to genuinely enjoy playing their set and that enthusiasm transferred to the audience. The music was meticulously arranged for his talented band and covered a wide spectrum of styles, all highlighted by Matthew's strong and steady vocals. With his obvious talent for music arrangement, he has collaborated with some musicians I admire very much, like Sharon Van Etten and The Mountain Goats. Their 35 minute set was a definite crowd pleaser.
With a blast of orchestral music, the stage remained dark except for the blue glow of their illuminated backdrop until, a couple of minutes later, the seven members of Okkervil River strode onstage and launched into the first two songs off the new album, "It Was My Season" and "On a Balcony", these were exactly the songs I wanted to hear. Instead of continuing onto the album's third cut, "Down Down The Deep River"(which may be one of their greatest songs), they zapped back to the 2004 release, Black Sheep Boy for "Black" and "For Real" and invested those two numbers with a new passion and energy.
photos: Brad Roberts
Posted by Brad at 3:44 PM