Sunday, January 29, 2012

All-Seeing 'Eye': Robyn Hitchcock live

McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica is billed as California's largest purveyor of stringed things, and legendary for the shows hosted in it's intimate back room.  Robyn Hitchcock was a recent guest, on a short tour commemorating the release of 'Eye', one of the more odd tangents in a career given to eccentricities.  The show sold out so quick that a late night set was added, and that sold out as well.

McCabe's celebrated it's 50th anniversary a few years back, and shows no signs of slowing down.  It's the room of choice for some very choosy guitarists, and to no one's surprise, one of the best sounding rooms in L.A.  The strict 'no recording, no photos' policy is magnified by the small capacity, (200 ish?), and totally benefits the listener.
'Eye' doesn't seem to come up much in critical assessments, but was always a favorite of mine.  Done during his A&M tenure, but released on Minneapolis indie Twin Tone, it was less band-centric than the surrounding albums, and the songs were starker and more personal, echoing at different times all his personal touchstones of Dylan, Lennon, Syd Barrett, and John Cale.  It was most certainly not the hit fodder A&M was seeking.

I had the pleasure of catching him in Tucson, AZ a good 20 years ago or so at the Cushing St. Bar, a popular watering hole for local politicians that did live music at night.  He was in fine fettle, intermingling songs with his trademark rambling discourses...The show was held on the back patio of the venue, and my strongest memory is Robyn talking one of the local bikers into revving his hog for percussion during a song.

It's always a crapshoot with backward focusing shows, but this night at McCabe's managed to live up to, and in some ways, surpass the original.  It started, as does the album, with the bitterly luminous 'Cynthia Mask'.  Midway through the first verse, I became aware of a presence on the stairs above the stage, a semi-familiar figure who bobbed in time to the music...Shortly he shuffled onto the stage and sang quiet backing vocals until he was introduced as Grant Lee Phillips.  The shock had not worn off when who would come bounding down the stairs but Mr. David Rawlings, who jumped right into the tune, lending it an additional gravitas with his old Epiphone.  Sure enough, Gillian Welch came down to make the circle complete, and the hung out and played in varying configurations with Robyn for the remainder of the night.

While it was clearly Hitchcock's show, it was fascinating to watch him literally in between Welch and Rawlings, whose years of playing together have gifted them with an amazing telepathy.  Phillips hung out on the piano, and his deadpan sense of humor was the perfect foil and grounding for Hitchcock's verbal flights of fancy.  Rawlings delicate lines and Phillips & Welch's harmonies transformed "Linctus House", a song that, (on the LP), seemed lost in the shadows of "Executioner", but was uplifting here.  "Executioner" was given a ferocious reading, highlighting the Lennon.esque shades of Hitchcock's voice.  The set stuck totally with 'Eye', but not track for track, and not in order.  All the high points were hit, and it was a reminder of how many great tunes were on the album.  "Glass Hotel" was certainly one of the highlights of the night, and the group playing hit it's peak on a raucous 'Clean Steve', after which Robyn remained onstage, reining in everyone's attention with a transcendent take on "Rainy Twilight Coast".  "Satellite" turned out to be the perfect set closer, and the crowd was rewarded with an encore set that ran through the Grateful Dead's "Candy Man", The Band's "The Weight", and the standard "Long Black Veil", before finishing with a Hitchcock tune.  An amazing night in a remarkable venue, what more can be said?
(Ed. Note: An accounting of the evening's first set is available at Chewable Vitamins!)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Handsome Furs Take Control

    17 JANUARY, 2012
 Handsome Furs took over Soho in Santa Barbara Tuesday evening.  The duo from Montreal made judicious use of their calender, plotting a California run for January...well played.  Let it be said that electro-pop is not usually on my plate, but I followed recommendations, and sure enough, the Furs more than held their own live, bringing major energy to the table, and transforming a slow Tuesday night in a small city into a full blown party.

Their most recent album, last year's 'Sound Kapital' on Sub Pop, found the group, Dan Boeckner (ex Wolf Parade) and Alexei Perry, expanding their sound pallet to include more international influences.  With each release, they've been growing, and hopefully this year's SXSW will give them a launchpad to break through to bigger things.

Papa, (from LA), proved more than capable in the opening slot, catching fire as they went deeper into their set.

All in all, a brilliantly sweaty evening!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Coachella time...

Double-barrelled dose of news today...First up, the At The Drive In reunion via cryptic tweet:
( : ¡ ATTENTION ! To whom it may concern: AT THE DRIVE-IN is breaking their 11 year silence THIS STATION IS NOW OPERATIONAL).

Managing to quickly co.opt it's place in the news cycle was The Announcement:  Coachella lineup for 2012!  It came about two weeks earlier than usual, no doubt saving much weeping, & wailing & gnashing of teeth.

This year's new twist, and there's one most every year, is that it will be held on consecutive weekends.  Hopefully the volcanoes will cooperate, and given the nature of artists, it will be interesting to see what the actual percentage of artists performing both weekends will be.  Should be interesting contracts involved.

Some might complain about repeat acts on the roster, the fitness of some headliners, but it seems to me that once again, the lineup is a testament to balance, and a whole lot of homework.  Sunday's reunion of At The Drive In should be an amazing way to close the weekend, unless one really feels compelled to preview Hip Hop's own 'Chinese Democracy', i.e. the Dr. Dre set.  The list does have more than a few repeat names, but they've come to be regarded as Coachella legacy acts, be it Cat Power, Andrew Bird, DJ Shadow, or the Black Keys, let alone Radiohead.  Just wouldn't seem the same without them.  It's underneath the headliners where Coachella always shines, and the money will be well spent this year.  Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Flying Lotus, Jeff Mangum, & Radiohead on the same day(s) anyone?  On the reunion tip, getting Squeeze, Refused, Hives, & fIREHOSE back together also qualify as achievements.

Buzzcocks, Madness, & Pulp head up the English legacy side, one can only imagine how much hair they shed collectively trying to get Blur...wonder if that would have toppled the dominoes for an Oasis reunion...Guess we'll save that one for next year...

Seeing if the hotly tipped artists actually live up to the hype, (Azealia Banks, Keep Shelly In Athens), as well as the chance to see long awaited new material (Santigold, Florence & The Machine, Fanfarlo).

It will be fun to watch the audience behold the power of Wild Flag, Fitz & The Tantrums, or The Black Lips live, most for the first time...More than a few lightbulbs will go off, I suspect.

What separates out Coachella from just about every other non rave festival is the depth & quality of their electronic acts...running the gamut from Justice to Amon Tobin...You can make a good weekend out of just the dance acts: Modeselektor, tUnEyArDs, Kaskade, Company Flow, Calvin's quite a list.

Wonder how they'll deal with Mr. Mangum's 'no cameras' policy? Can't really put him in a tent, and how will his delicate songs deal w/other stages' noise pollution?  Or will the singing crowd drown out other stages?

So, due to that thing we call life, I won't be on patrol this year, but thanks to AT&T, they'll be streaming a good chunk of the action.  All in all, looks like festival season will get off to a good start.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Goodbye Fonda?!

Word passed heavy today about the fate of the Fonda MusicBox Theater, with rumor having it closing soon, if only temporarily. The picture became somewhat clearer, thanks to quick reportage from LA Weekly and the LA Times.

It took me years to deal with going all the way to LA for shows, (with day traffic a six hour round trip), but a crucial part of what turned the tide for me was the 1300 seat oasis on the corner of Hollywood and Gower.  Many a night I would hang out on the roof between sets, eyeballing the Capitol Records building, gazing up the street towards the Roosevelt. 
With proximity to Amoeba Records and Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles, it is/was the epicenter of my LA Bermuda Triangle, and will be very hard to replace.

Some favorite memories from the venue include: 
-the last LA show of Stereolab in 2008 
-a stunning Superchunk show done to a half filled house, not to mention a comet-like appearance from The Vaselines as openers
-a transcendent Beach House gig last February when the crowd became one, 
-the Gang of Four returning to LA for the first time in too many years
-an electric solo performance from the Dresden Dolls' Amanda Palmer, introduced by none other than Neil Gaiman. What little did we know that down the road they would be married!

Not to mention the ones that got away: 
-Nine Inch Nails did a spot as part of their 'Wave Goodbye' tour.  I never got close to getting tickets...
-Radiohead picked the Music Box to put on their relief benefit for Haiti.  I dropped out of the ticket bidding at $350, no harm done.  Still regret that! 

Got an email tonight from Goldenvoice, who are going ahead with putting tickets on sale for the Cults gig in March.  I'm sure they'll have a backup in place, but if anyone can help leverage out this mess, it would be GV, (who just celebrated their 30th anniversary).

One of the biggest unanswered questions will be the fate of the adjoining restaurant, The Blue Palms, which has managed to carve a fine little niche among craft beer lovers.

Hopefully new ownership will be kind in renovations and not destroy the loving recreations of Bosch's 'Garden Of Earthly Delights'.  It might be that that I miss the most...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Mix: b/o 2011

Still fighting my way through life to any kind of look backward at the amazing blur that was 2011.  Here is a mix of the songs that got me through...Hope you all made it through the holiday season unscathed, or semi-scathed.  Happy New Year!

b/o 2011

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Through A Glass Darkly...Matthew Sweet Looks Back

30 DECEMBER, 2011

It was a mad year for music, and fittingly, the next to last day of 2011 found me at the Echoplex in Echo Park for Matthew Sweet's 20th anniversary celebration of his seminal LP 'Girlfriend'.  A majestic, unrelenting slice of fuzz spiked power pop, it staked out, (along with Teenage Fanclub's 'Bandwagonesque'), a pole opposite Nirvana's ' Nevermind' as a yearning melodic piece turbocharged with guitar work by Richard Lloyd and the late Robert Quine.  A standout record in what was the watershed year of 1991. 

On a personal note, at the indie record store I worked at, it was one of the few albums we could all agree on.  Today it's just as much of an anachronism as it was then, sounding completely apart from its time, yet timeless.
In what I think is a first on these pages, I feel compelled to shout out the DJ.  Kevin Bronson did the tunes between sets, and he had the temperature of the room read correctly.  The highlight being a late set segue from Big Star's 'September Gurls' into The Nerves' "Hanging On The Telephone".  Highest compliment I can pay is the amount of people near me grabbing for the Shazam whenever he switched tracks.  Well played, sir...well played.

Opener Daniel Ahearn And The Jones proved to be a folk duo with pithy observational songs backed with stellar harmonies.  Mindy Jones made an impression when she took the spotlight, but through their short set, it was those harmonies that set them apart from the pack.

Matthew Sweet was accompanied for the occasion by a crack band that included the rhythm section from Velvet Crush.  While pointing out old friends in the house, he noted that it would indeed be track for track on the LP, then plunged into "Divine Intervention".

 I've always been leery of any nostalgia trip, but Sweet quickly dispelled any fears I might have had by sending the songs into overdrive.  He seemed genuinely happy to be there, and not at all trapped by the songs.  After an intense version of "Thought I Knew You", he observed: "That was scary", and then, low and behold, the appearance of real honest to god cigarette lighters in the audience during "You Don't Love Me"!

One plus to the artist doing a whole album twist is the chance to dig a little deeper & pick up some knowledge nuggets.  Turns out the original end of side one was "Winona", (w/needle runoff), and "Speak To Me" was the record's end, but according to Sweet, they took advantage of marginal label oversight and banged out a few more tunes, which happily filled out the cd that most people (including myself), were familiar with. It reset my mind to consider the last two tracks, which in my mind were the emotional crux of the record, were actually bonus tracks.

 The backstory on "Does She Talk", involving the infamous channel 23 in NYC was worth the price of admission alone,

After a luminous 'Nothing Lasts', not wanting to end on a bummer,  he broke strict form, essaying a delerious rendition of  "Sick Of Myself" from 100% Fun.  In closing, it was humbling to see an artist embrace their old work and not feel trapped, and most satisfying to see someone fully having fun onstage.

Endnote: This entry marks the third anniversary of this blog, one of the preciously few New Year's resolutions i've managed to keep...Thanks to all for    support and feedback.