Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Owen Pallett, Avi Buffalo and Foxes In Fiction at El Rey - September 13, 2014

Saturday was one of those days that just restores all your faith in this crazy life pursuing rock and roll. First I go to Amoeba and pick up four albums, each one a special purchase in its own right. But my mission was to find the latest album by Owen Pallett (at right), as I was going to see him that night and wanted to acquaint myself with his product. As a huge fan of the violin, not only in its classical context, but particularly of it's use in the world of indie rock, I knew this was an artist I needed to catch up with.

Frankly, before Saturday Owen Pallett was only familiar to me as contributing string arrangements on Arcade Fire's The Suburbs and Beirut's The Flying Club Cup albums, and his Oscar nomination for the score of Her. Hearing that he employs a looping technique similar to Andrew Bird, I figured he was playing in a genre and a style I was already very fond of.

When I got to El Rey on Saturday, September 13, Foxes in Fiction (at left) were already playing and I slid easily into the hazy, dreamy atmosphere they had created in the theatre. Very much in keeping with the artful line up of the night they sounded like serious students of shoegaze with classical elements. Hatched in the fertile mind of Warren Hildebrand as a solo project he now has a band and they create a hypnotic spell with ethereal vocals and honey-drenched instrumentation. The songs were nicely varied so I offered no resistance and became a fan.

My entire impetus for going to this show was actually to see Avi Buffalo playing at the beautiful El Rey and to hear his new music and to see what kind of band he has put together to represent his second album, At Best Cuckold, which was released last Tuesday and was my fifth album purchase of the week. I've been a friend and supporter of this band since the very beginning in 2008, so as soon as I heard the wonderful new album, I went right out and bought a ticket for the El Rey show, knowing I would regret it if I didn't go.

In the four years since the release of his first Sub Pop album, Avi Buffalo (below) has moved from teenage guitar prodigy to a professional musician in his mid-twenties with a large and dedicated fan base. Some hard luck came with the successful launch of his debut record when the band he had built his early triumphs on broke apart and he had to finish his first tour scrambling to find replacements that wouldn't disappoint fans who were anxious to hear songs from the album played live.

Time has gone by and I don't know why, but I hadn't expected the new album to be so cohesive, so lyrical, so closely related to the first album and so damned powerful. Steadfast drummer, Sheridan Riley (at right), has ridden the wave all this way with Avi, with the advantage that Avi Buffalo has one of the best young drummers around and who also has found a voice to blend with Avi bringing back the curious and strikingly original harmonies that were so instrumental to their early success.

I was glad I ran in to Avi near the back of the theatre before they went on, so I could tell him how much I enjoy the new album, and we got to chat a little while. Now a band of four musicians, with a keyboardist, Anthony Vezirian (below on right) and a bassist, Doug Brown (below below), he was glad I was there to hear the new music and confessed that it's only the tip of the iceberg. He has at least 30 more songs written and ready to record, so there may be another release in the not too distant future. Wouldn't that be great?

Once on the stage, Avi Buffalo launched into "So What" that kicks off the new album and it is a wonderful upbeat, ingratiating song with that familiar curlicue melody structure that keeps you guessing, even after repeated listenings, followed by the next album cut, "Can't Be Too Responsible", which I think we can all relate to.
Dipping back into their catalog they performed "What's In It For?" in newly refreshed edition that came off as striking as the original, with the keyboard part restored and particularly assured vocals by Avi. The band left the stage as Avi soloed on "Summer Cum" which was sung expressively enough to break your heart. Both songs sounded fresh and re-invigorated.

I felt like I was seeing a band reach a peak as a performing ensemble and felt completely vindicated in my devotion to them for so long. Rounding out the 40 minute set were more selections from the new album, so I was super glad I'd purchased it and listened to it so many times that the songs sounded like familiar tunes performed to perfection. I'd say that Avi Buffalo has finally hit it's stride.

The second Owen Pallett stepped on stage alone with only his violin and started playing and looping and playing back the multi-part confection he was sculpting, my jaw dropped open and I don't think I drew breath for an hour. His mastery of the instrument is astonishing enough, but when he open his mouth to sing and this mellifluous, subtle and strong voice comes out I was transfixed. Having only heard the album, In Conflict, a couple of times, the songs were new to me but eerily familiar, which added to the already haunting quality of his music and lyrics.

I think he played mostly from the new album, but every song was its own special movement in what added up to a symphony of strings and piano (yes, he even plays the piano), with a running confessional dialog in the tumble of words. Reminds me of Will Sheff in that regard. The entire set seemed over in ten minutes and I was walking twenty feet in the air as I left the theatre. I may not have known about Owen Pallett before, but I will never miss him again. I swear, I heard hints of Ravel, Debussy, Sondheim, maybe a bit of Beethoven String Quartet AND Andrew Bird. This was art, unadulterated and unpretentious.

By the way the other three albums were: The New Pornographers new album, the brilliant and  completely addictive Brill Bruisers (can't wait to see them at The Wiltern on October 17th), Kan Wakan's amazing debut album Moving On, and Andrew Bird's Bands Of Glory, which highlights his single-microphone ensemble who are set to play at Hollywood Bowl this upcoming Sunday.

text and photos: whrabbit

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Slint at El Rey - August 22, 2014

I can't really say where my anticipation level was for this show, yet I remembered how much I was surprised and pleased at their 2007 concert when Slint went out on a very select tour, reuniting 15 years after originally disbanding in 1992. They played their 'already-classic' 1991 album Spiderland front to back at only a few dates in Europe, America and Canada, landing at The Fonda Theatre on July 23rd, 2007. I learned about them through Pinback, who often sited them as one of their major influences, purchased the Spiderland album and quickly picked up on the similarities. Although Pinback take the style in a more tuneful direction, the references are striking and both explore a dark and the dour melancholy which gives both bands their trademark sad beauty.

When they launched into "Breadcrumb Trail" for their second song, I sensed we were heading in a Spiderland direction. Considering they only ever released two albums, I guess that's understandable, nevertheless, it thrilled all of us. Continuing with "Nosferatu Man" and "Don, Aman", the intense trance state was heightened by the sheer beauty of the music that grips one in a communal bond with other audience members. So beautiful in fact that you could feel waves of ecstasy coming from the crowd. Contrasted with the lyrics that explore dark and troubling realms, the effect is one of introspection and reflection.

Slint fans elevate the activity of head-bobbing to an art form. Looking out over the crowd at the packed El Rey was to observe the full range of head-bobbing styles. I only saw one person engaged in that (to me) odd habit of raising one's had over one's head and jabbing a finger toward the band on the downbeat. That's far too much activity and distraction for the true slo-core, shoe gaze fan, whose full focus is on the music at hand.

Slint has taught me not only lots of back history of early indie rock, they have taught me a lot about fans of this music and the seriousness of their devotion. The intense concentration combined with the euphoria make a palpable environment that is tough to shake, creating a memorable concert experience and a valuable music history lesson as well.


Friday, August 8, 2014

Auditorium at Silver Lake Lounge 7/29/14

It was a lot of fun to see Auditorium again on Tuesday, July 29th, after the hiatus they've been on for a couple of years. Lead singer and writer, Spencer Berger (below,on the right) has hardly been inactive though, playing in a side project teamed with Mike Rademaker and performing a few solo shows, including the one he played for me at Feed Your Head in February at Lot 1. Speaking recently, he confided that he's
been doing a lot of writing and recording lately and he was anxious to get out there and start performing this new material.

Since his band is so much of a family affair (involving two families) it must make reassembling that much easier. His sister, Elizabeth Berger, on harmony vocals and his wife, Daya Berger, on bass, and the other family, Jon Hogan (above, on the left) and Justin Hogan, two brothers on voice and guitar and voice and keys. They have a familiarity that probably helps them fall back into their positions and contributes to the impressive coordination this band displays. I was so happy to see them on stage together again as a band. Chalk up another one for Silver Lake Lounge.

Jon Hogan, Spencer and Elizabeth Berger
Even though there were some unpredicted obstacles, like no drummer, they mustered on, urged forward by a persuasive Spencer, after members voiced some concerns about no percussion. But this band is so powerful vocally they still sound complete even without the drums, which sat unattended during the set. Forced to play a revised set list, they dipped back into their catalog and performed beautiful versions of "Did Your Heart Shake Like This Song", " Karaoke Freight Train" and "Sex Offenders" in addition to a couple of the new songs, one played with full band and another played solo by Spencer when he gave the others a break and did a couple of songs by himself.

Daya Berger and Justin Hogan
It's impossible not to be moved and impressed Auditoium. Even though it took a little time for the vocals to congeal, once they did it was again obvious they could be one of the most harmonically sound bands in the whole local scene. The tricky and clever songs are written to showcase this aspect with all their gloriously soaring voices pitched at the same level inducing wonder in this listener. Add in the coordinated guitar, bass and especially piano and you've got some of the best orchestrated,  lyrically inventive and adventurous indie rock that I've heard. A new album is coming.

This set was followed by old friends of theirs from Brooklyn, Chamber Band (at right), who are currently on an East Coast/West Coast tour, who dropped in to regale us with their splendid psycho/math rock. I was trying to engage in conversation with members of Auditorium and fellow Radio Free Silver Lake writer, Kathryn Pinto, but out attention was consistently interrupted by the blast of machine gun-delivery of Chris Littler and Ellen Winter in a vocal duel.  The songs are odd and original, with a hint of Broadway pizazz, and you must listen closely. We stopped trying to talk and just focused on Chamber Band.

photos too

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Wages at Silver Lake Lounge - 7/24/14

What's going on at Silver Lake Lounge? They keep having great line ups with bands I already love teaming up with bands I need to know about. On July 1st I dropped in to catch a set by longtime favorites Seasons, but before they played I heard the set by Psychic Love which entirely bowled over the audience that had filled the venue with obviously devoted fans. And with good reason. This dreamy, shoegaze/neo-punk outfit is not only packed with good musicians, but the songs were all varied and memorable. Lead singer and songwriter Laura Peters is a formidable talent and has a natural and easy charisma on stage. I got lost in the swirl of their set and had to come back down to earth only to be lifted again as Seasons began their hugely orchestral big-band sound. They're new material highlight all aspects of their fully integrated band members with each one having moments to shine. Nik Garcia's smooth vocals still pack a real wallop when he lets loose with a raspy howl that counterpoints the gentle and soothing passages.

Then last week I went over specifically to hear a set by Wages (at left), who have not played in a while. This was absolutely stunning. Nick Campbell has such amazing command of his vocal instrument, knowing exactly what it can and cannot do. Equally as powerful in the mid ranges as in falsetto, he can jump from one to the other with liquid ease. And the songs are constructed to showcase this ability as well as his dexterity on the guitar and his band mates, James DeDakis and Dustin Robles, sterling, and no less important contributions, on bass and drums. This three-man unit can sound like a band of eight or nine. They played a couple of new songs too, which added to the lustre of the evening.

I'm heading back over there tonight to see Auditorium, another band that has been quiet for some time and are ready to emerge again. I can't wait.

photo of Wages too

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Chad VanGaalen at The Echo - June 18, 2014

I've seen Chad VanGaalen three times before and each time was different, whether he was solo or traveling with other musicians, he has never been quite the same twice. But I was fairly shocked when the deep electronic noise of this tour almost knocked the wind out of me, nearly cracking a rib. He's always had a penchant for weird electronic background noise but it's usually in a more winsome vein. His recordings tend to be intentionally reedy and thin, a very purposeful low-tech sound, that perfectly compliments the tremulous and heartbreaking vibrato of his vocals as his odd and surprising lyrics take you on unexpected journeys.

I first learned of this artist through his music video and animation for the song "Red Hot Drops" back in 2006 when music videos were my only window to new music. His animation is as spare and oddly haunting, weird and witty as his music. When Band Of Horses played at Avalon in October 2006, Chad VanGaalen was on the bill with them and I went. I'd seen Band Of Horses in a small Hollywood Club (King King) before and wanted to see them on a bigger stage, but it was VanGaalen who captured most of my attention that night. It was hypnotic the way he was able to command the room with just his hushed voice and tiny guitar, playing songs of such delicate beauty it was almost heartbreaking.

He came to Spaceland on Mar 28, 2009 to tour on the release of the Soft Airplane, which was his best album so far. That was a hugely memorable show and forever committed me to seeing him every chance I got. This was a remarkably unique talent that piqued my curiosity in the subversive nature of his art. It seems simultaneously childlike simple and intellectually dark and intense. At the Culture Collide Festival in October 2011, I saw him next, but as he was in town for this show as a solo, and not on tour, it was not the best venue for him on the big outdoor stage in the parking lot outside Taix. He was not able to make much of an impression on a crowd that had been watching bands for hours already.

Releasing his latest album, Shrink Dust, in April, I'd had a chance to be confused, challenged,  curious and finally pleased by this latest entry. It took a bit of getting used to, but I think I've come to like it best of all. Appearing at The Echo, last Wednesday, June 18, I was really excited to see this show, so that when he began the set, with another guitarist and a drummer, the album was turned into a rock show. A hard rock show, and that was a surprise.

Beginning with the first few songs of the album in order, they were, frankly barely recognizable, and when on "Where Are You?" he crouched down on his soundboard and blew the back wall off The Echo with chest crushing noise, I wondered what was to come. Was he morphing into My Bloody Valentine? Things calmed down considerably after that and the charms of each song became apparent. "Frozen Paradise", "Lila" "Hangman's Son" and "Evil" are really beautiful songs and even though some were overcome by passages of pure noise, I began to see the point of it.

Taking all into account, I could have wished that Chad's vocals were mixed a little bit louder, but this was the first time I saw him play in arena rock-style and even though it was a bit much for the tiny Echo, I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Oh, and the place was packed, so I guess a lot of people agree with me.

Here's more pictures I took.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thoughts From Grace Slick on Grace Slick At The Grammy

What a magnificent opportunity to see and hear the legendary Jefferson Airplane singer, Grace Slick, as she reminisced on her life and career as a major figurehead of the 1960s rock and roll youth/protest movement at The Grammy Museum on Tuesday night (June 17). I attended this event with Azalia Snail of LoveyDove, who managed to get a picture with Grace (at right). And I want to thank my friend Adam Valentin Villanueva for getting us in.

The woman is smart, bold, funny and unfiltered. Her mind, at 74, appears as sharp as it always was, with that withering sense of humor intact. No wonder she was always my favorite rock star. She shied away from no subject and was forthcoming on any topic. Her embrace of the free-thought life-style of the hippie era, her place and stature in the band, her thoughts on her contemporary musicians, her battles with alcohol. Nothing was out of bounds.

Moderated by Scott Goldman, he was prepared with many insightful questions after bringing Grace to the stage. She strode up from the side, long white hair flowing, and stood before the audience as they cheered and applauded. She looked healthy, strong and very happy and with the same striking blue eyes. Asked about her earliest interest in the arts, she confessed that she started drawing at a very early age, maybe 3. While listening to her mother, who had been a semi-professional singer before marriage and motherhood got in the way, go around the house singing "I'll be with you in apple blossom time" she developed an interest in singing. She sang a lot in school, so there was a background in voice there.

She recounted the many moves her family embarked upon, moving from Chicago, to Los Angeles and then to San Francisco all before she was 6. How she was a blonde overweight kid until about 13,  when she became tall and thin and auburn haired. She jokes that she's back to being blonde and overweight. After high school she took off for New York City before beginning higher education at Finch College in Florida. A call from a friend urging her to come to San Francisco came after that, and the rest is history.

Her early career with Jefferson Airplane was in the heady first days of the Haight-Ashbury scene and all the bands played together and became one big community until major label interest zeroed in on the ever-more-famous San Francisco scene. The Airplane was the first to be signed, and it was RCA who took the chance on one of these hippie/acid rock bands. Followed almost immediately by The Grateful Dead to Warner Bros., Big Brother and the Holding Company to Columbia, Steve Miller Band to Capitol. All the major labels wanted a piece of the pie, but once that happened they were sent out on the road so often they lost touch with each other and the sense of community was gone.

She covered the years with the band with fascinating tidbits about what piqued her interest as a songwriter. which was the fact that finally they could tackle subject more diverse than just "Oooh, my boyfriend/girlfriend left me" She loved the expanding social and cultural concerns that lyrics were finally able to address. Decrying The Beatles early career: "Christ, you guys are 24 years old and you want to hold somebody's hand?! defined my own exact opinion of their early empty pop songs. "After they took LSD that all changed," she said. The opinion that their music became much more complex and interesting, post acid, is a viewpoint I always held and certainly think it is now pretty universally accepted.

While on tour in Europe with The Doors, each headlining every other gig, they were in Amsterdam and people would come up to them offering drugs. Grace said "Thanks I'll save them for later, whereas Jim Morrison would sit right down on the sidewalk and do them all up. He treated his body as one giant pharmaceutical experiment."

When The Who were their alternating act on another tour, Roger Daltry walked over to the edge of the stage one night and kicked all eight monitor off the stage because, Grace confessed, the sound technology back then was frequently terrible. "They would hiss, pop, crackle and never sounded like your real voice coming back at you." I remember that, after seeing Jefferson Airplane at the Music Hall in Boston in October, 1969 and April 1970, my ears were still ringing more than a day after.

Scott asked her what she thought made her and Janis Joplin so successful and her answer was simple: "We were doing what we really wanted to do." And I will add: and because they were so damned good at what they did.

Of her contemporaries, she identified David Crosby as, really, the one she has remained close to, and I immediately thought of their great voices together on songs like "Triad" from Crown of Creation. Citing the Monterey Pop Festival as the best of all the festivals, she recalled the astonishment of seeing artists like Ravi Shankar and The Who. Jefferson Airplane also played Woodstock and Altamont, the only band to play all three.

She said that no one is making good music anymore, but I suspect she has not been exposed to a lot that is not in the mainstream, where her opinion would certainly be valid. I thought to myself, "if only she could be listening to what I hear every night I go out to the clubs, some of which is so rooted in style and substance to the sixties. She does say she still likes The Rolling Stones and thinks Steve Perry is the best rock and roll singer of all time, (to some audible disagreement from the audience) just to test our preconceptions.

It was just great to hear her wit again. Some nuggets:

She is driven crazy by Celine Dion's chest pounding while singing: "Dear, we know where your heart is."

She admitted she really developed a strong self confidence by the age of 25. That would be just about the time she joined the Airplane. Believes that the RCA recording studio on Sunset was the best studio they ever recorded in. Surrealistic Pillow and After Bathing At Baxters were recorded there.

She had choice words for the music she was forced to sing in the last days of a band now called Starship. "We Built This City". "Really?" she said, "What city?, There's no city built on rock and roll. San Francisco was built on gold and trade." Hastening her retirement in 1989.

She began expressing herself through painting not long after that... and has never stopped. She recalled that, during her childhood, her father had a hobby as a stamp collector, and she would notice that occasionally he become so involved in the process of fastening the stamps to the pages he would forget to breathe and suddenly gasp a small, sudden intake of air. As if the lungs were becoming desperate. She experiences the same sensation when painting. Becoming so lost in the singular focus of the act that breathing seems a break in the concentration. I have to admit I know this sensation.

The evening was over as quickly as it began, and I was floating on air, just to have been in the room. It was great to see that her built-in bullshit detector is still 'laser point' accurate. She told an amusing story related to her artwork and I think it goes like this: Her first subjects were animals because they
were comforting and made her feel good. Particularly as she was in a relationship with a bi-polar partner, which was making life difficult.

Eventually they evolved into her first Alice in Wonderland-themed paintings of the White Rabbit, and at an exhibit someone came up to her to try to find out the hidden meaning, or what her intentions were, or what was he not seeing, and she deadpanned in a flat voice "It's a bunny."


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Conversation with Grace Slick at The Grammy Museum - June 17, 2014

It just doesn't seem right not to post something at this aptly named blog in honor of A Conversation with Grace Slick taking place at The Grammy Museum tonight (Tuesday). To this very day I can recall the absolute shock I experience upon listening to the Jefferson Airplane album Surrealistic Pillow for the first time on my 17th birthday (8/19/67). It was the first album I ever heard where every single song was great.

In January 1967, I'd been listening to "My Best Friend" on the radio, which was the first single from that album and loved the song, though I didn't realize that there was a female voice in the mix (all radio was monaural in those days, so it was hard to tell), until "Somebody To Love was released in April and I became curious who this powerful voice belonged to.  It was the release of "White Rabbit" in late June (Summer of Love) '67 that clinched it for me.

We had studied Ravel's Bolero in music appreciation in school (yes, we had such classes back then, before Reagan and the republicans had gutted public education) and I loved the progressive layering upon layering of the piece.Tied in with my love of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and the potent and specific references to that text by Slick in her lyrics, along with the invitation to a different lifestyle, and I was the ideal target for the song.

Over the course of their career, Jefferson Airplane repeatedly pushed the boundaries of rock and roll and I happily went along for the ride. Each subsequent album stretched and pulled and pushed my musical tastes into areas I would never have considered and it was always thrilling to hear where Grace would take her voice on each new record. They also became more political as I became more political and seeing them in concert was always an adventure.

Now, these many years later, I still appreciate what they did for me and I have felt that influence to this very day. Grace Slick continued to be a force in rock and roll till she retired her voice in the mid 1990s. Channeling her talent to a paint brush, she began to be a serious visual artist, penned her autobiography and pulled back from a public life. Tonight's conversation will cover both her music career and her painting endeavors, accompanied by an exhibit of her art. For me, it will be as thrilling as it is emotional.