Wednesday, July 22, 2015
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.
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.
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/.
Posted by Brad at 11:00 PM
Monday, June 29, 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 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.
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
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.
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
Posted by Brad at 8:03 PM
Monday, March 9, 2015
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.
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
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.
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.
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)|
|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|
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.
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.
Posted by Brad at 11:21 PM
Saturday, February 14, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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."
"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?
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.
Posted by Brad at 3:49 PM
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
There were occasional noises here and there and a few random appearances beginning in the 1990s, giving hope that he might return to music at some point in the future. He credits his son with bringing a guitar back into the house to pursue his own music, which Yusuf picked up and began playing again. Acknowledging how much he missed making music, and spurred on to keep going, the result was the release of his first new recording of non- and less-religious music in almost thirty years called An Other Cup in 2006. I thought how remarkable his voice still sounded after all those years.
Still, the thought of new concerts seemed remote at best, considering the resentment of all things Muslim in the still raw aftermath of 9/11, and his short-lived (and ludicrous) appearance on our no-fly lists in the mid 00s. So the announcement this fall of a series of shows across the U.S. to mark his return to the land of rock and roll was as surprising as it was welcome. How I scored a ticket was pure luck as the tickets were gone almost as soon as the box office opened.
Harold and Maude opened that December, I was already well aware of the music that helped that movie go from overlooked box-office flop to cult film within a few years. It came and went so quickly in it's first release that I didn't even get to see it until it was screened a year later at the Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge, Mass in December 1972, before it became a cult classic. By 1974 it had been rediscovered and was playing year-long engagements in many cities across the U.S.A.
In spite of his disappearance, his music survived decade after decade, never losing a drop of it's emotional power or its relevance. He'd struck a nerve in the popular culture and we were determined not to give it up, even if he never re-emerged. I, and many others, never stopped listening to his records and I always regretted not seeing him on one of his tours through Boston.
By the time Sunday, December 14th rolled around, I had settled into a low grade excitement which only intensified as the time to take the subway downtown approached. Never having been to the Nokia Theatre before, I made sure to get there with plenty of time to spare. The buzz of anticipation was palpable among the crowd standing in line to get in, no matter what their age. The range of his appeal was still overwhelming and undeniable.
Ordinarily, I would complain about the size of the venue, as I was a quarter of a mile away from the stage but for this, it didn't matter. I was zeroed in on the stage. The next song was "Don't Be Shy" and that started the water works. To think he would perform one of the two songs he wrote specifically for Harold and Maude as the second song was more than I could take, through the tears I could envision Bud Cort hanging himself.
He seemed so at ease and comfortable on stage, and was obviously moved by the love he felt coming from the audience, that he was chatty and chummy, making the huge venue far more intimate. By the time he sang two more of his early hits, it was clear he would be reviewing as many of his most popular songs, along with newer compositions, as he could fit in his 32-plus song set. I think the whole audience relaxed together and realized we were in for a special night.
Posted by Brad at 10:31 AM
Saturday, December 6, 2014
I'd be hard pressed to say that there's a better live band around right now than Horse Feathers. This band is just about perfect. I'd seen them twice before, the last time they were in town and played The Echo in May and December of 2012, but when two years went by and I heard nothing from them, I was unprepared for the impact they would have on me this time.
Apparently after the last album, Cynics New Year, and supporting tour in 2012, band leader Justin Ringle felt the need to step back and reassess where the band was headed. Though lauded for their original and committed take on gothic/indie/chamber Americana music, there was a dourness to the material that some critics felt made them less than exciting. I disagree, but it was enough to revitalize Justin and led to the creation of So It Is With Us, perhaps the most accessible of their five albums.
Recorded partially in a barn in Oregon (doesn't everybody?), which gives the music an ambiance of being played in a tall, dank, wooden cathedral and infuses the album with a sonic dampness that suits them. But live, the music springs to vibrant life on stage with an immediacy and punch that makes the songs even better. Silky smooth vocals sit atop a first rate chamber orchestra which includes violin, banjos, keys, two drummers, occasional mandolin and harmonica to lay a gorgeous carpet for the superb melodies to rest upon.
By the time they launched into their third song, "Middle Testament", I figured each song was going to be better than the one before it and just had to go with it. I was already approaching that nirvana-like space where the music takes over and you feel alone with the band.
Posted by Brad at 7:26 PM
Thursday, December 4, 2014
"Walk Into The Wilderness"
I really wanted to get some of these thoughts down on paper (so to speak) so I'm just going to go for it. Even though the Gruff Rhys show at The Echo was weeks ago. I have been a big fan of Super Furry Animals ever since 2005, when they were one of the bands I allowed to pull me back to rock and roll. I picked up Rings Around The World and Phantom Power at that time and devoured them. I'd been listening to rock and roll for the first time in 20 years, with nearly, newly virgin ears, since August 2005, so when I saw they were coming to town in November that year, I decided it was time to take the plunge and go out to a show!
Apparently, Mr. Rhys took a trip a couple of years ago across a great swath of the American Middle West, touring and performing and in search of any trace of a distant relative from a couple of centuries ago who scoured the Native American territory for evidence of an ancient tribe of Welsh Indians...??? Too bizarre to relate here, suffice to say, I was doubtful. But curious. And I love his music so I wanted to see this show.
Gruff Rhys delivered one of the oddest sets of songs and storytelling events I've ever seen. When I first read about his latest project I wasn't sure that he wasn't telling a true story. Welsh Native Americans? How was I to know?
We then watched the 20 minute film which traced Gruff Rhys' long lost "fictional" relative, "John Evans", who fled Wales to try to find out the history of a lost tribe of Native Americans who spoke Welsh, owing to the fact that they were rumored to have emigrated to America from Wales in the 12th century. One quickly picked up the tone of satire with the outrageous tale told.
Between songs he presented short stories about the trials and tribulations of "Evans", the adventurous explorer, with the aid of a PowerPoint presentation. Making his way through the plains states and the American south "John Evans" survived attempted murders, starvation, disease, animal attacks, hostile natives, until he was last heard from in New Spain under the name of "Don Juan Evans". He was never heard from again after the age of twenty-nine.
I have to say, though, that conditions at The Echo were not optimal for a show that was often intimate and quiet. Whatever was going on downstairs at Echoplex was bleeding sound and beats up through the floor, becoming occasionally distracting. The gracious Mr. Rhys didn't acknowlege that, but when the hand blow-dryer in the ladies room went off, he glanced back over his shoulder and asked, "Is someone using a leaf-blower out back?"
Posted by Brad at 6:58 PM