Add Some Music to Your Day

DSC09965On Friday, May 26, 2017, I was fortunate enough to attend the “Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary Tour” featuring Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, and Blondie Chaplin at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, CA. They were backed by a solid group of musicians, including Al’s son, Matthew Jardine, who convincingly handled the falsetto parts on many of The Beach Boys‘ classic hits. The concert was divided into two halves, the first including quite a lot of their Top 40 hits and the second embarking on a trip through the songs from Pet Sounds. The show concluded with a six song encore to make a total of 38 songs played live. I know that some of these songs are short, but it felt like I certainly was getting my money’s worth! The full set list is up on Setlist.fm. I borrowed the title of one of the songs for the title of the blog.

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Brian Wilson and Al Jardine Leading the Band

What an absolute honor to be in the presence of this incredible genius of a man, Brian Wilson and to be able to hear him sing and play. His singing ability has been affected over time and while I never expected him to sound perfect it was saddening to feel that passage of time in his loss of breath control and vocal range. I experienced a strange contrast while I watched the show — my heart was heavily feeling the length of a lifetime while simultaneously enjoying the feel good music bursting forth from these fine musicians.

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Pet Sounds Anniversary Tour: Full Band

 

 

I Am in Paradise

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Stage Set Up for Jon Brion’s April Show

DSC09921I can’t stay away from Largo at the Coronet for very long and so I was back there on Friday, April 28, 2017 to see Jon Brion. After a brief welcoming of the audience and introduction from Largo-owner Mark Flanagan, Jon strode onto the stage wearing fuchsia trousers, carrying a notebook, and clearing his throat. He sat down to talk to the audience. He had rapidly eaten some Japanese food right before the show and was feeling the burn of doing so. There was a lot of equipment set up on the stage that night: a rack of guitars, with a couple freestanding, a small drum set, the Largo piano — of course, two screens, synthesizer, and for the first time since I’ve been going to see him, a vibraphone. I was excited about that, as I’ve been wanting him to play some other instruments for a few months. Last month, we were treated to the celesta and now this month, vibraphone. These things make me happy, though referring to the contents of the stage, Jon said, “I brought a bunch of extra shit just to see if it would make things interesting; it just made things complicated.” Well, I for one appreciated the effort. The show went on as follows:

  1. “Cole Porter to Zeppelin Dark Piano Sonata Instrumental Style” This was the name Jon gave to his first piano warm up number, which he played in D minor on request from an audience member. The description of the piece is in the title.
  2. Moon River” Jon then played what he said, “Will be the vocal warm up song.” This commenced with him playing on piano while singing a lot of ooos and ahs as he warmed up his voice and cleared his throat of any lingering food obstructions. It then turned into a proper performance of “Moon River,” one of my favorites. During the song he turned on the synth sounds as he played piano and set it to pick up the notes from the piano and duplicate them in its output. He played through the whole song and then jazzed it up. At one point he looped in some cascading notes (think the beginning of “One Day More” from Les Misérables) and played it back, finishing the song off with some low notes on the MiniKorg.

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    Jon Brion’s Guitars

  3. Trouble” from Meaningless. There was quite a bit of down time between the previous song and this one. Jon headed over to the guitars and selected an acoustic Epiphone. He had the audience choose between guitar pick A and pick B by show of applause. Sebastian Steinberg was brought on for a bass solo while this was going on. Pick B was selected. There was some monologuing about picks, these were a couple old picks from the 40s/50s. Some guy shouted out that they sounded the same to him and Jon admired his honesty, but said that he could hear a difference and others could hear a difference. It was only a slight difference to my ears, with Pick B creating slightly more pop or fullness of sound. Jon commented on the state of the show said, “Think of the beginning of this show as a DVD extra.” And also, “The show is going to get more high energy and streamlined as we go along.”
  4. Same Mistakes” from Meaningless.  The arrangement of this song sounds really different performed on the guitar. Nice extended instrumental in the middle, but did I hear him navigate his way out of a wrong chord? That might be the first musical flaw I’ve ever heard him make or maybe my ears were wrong because I’m not used to hearing this song on acoustic guitar.
  5. Blue Moon” Jon commented that there are “some things I do at the studio but not live — we’ll be messing around with that.” As he was making various adjustments, he remarked, “This is the worst pacing of a show.” I haven’t seen the black and white Gretsch come out in a while and enjoyed hearing it on this song as well as “tape echo.”  Jon referred to it as “giving it a little Sun Records.” And it really was a proper echo, sounded fantastic.
  6. “At It Again” I thought this unrecorded song of Jon’s was forthcoming as he set up some gritty tones on his guitar. Toward the end of the song he had a pedal on the guitar that he pressed to fade the sound in and out as he was playing, which created a rhythmic pumping effect. Love this one. Will he ever record it?
  7. I Was Happy With You” was requested from the audience. I thought I heard Jon ask for a drummer, but no one appeared. He played this one on piano and sang, also adding the synth duplicating the piano again. There was a prolonged ritardando at the end of the song, slowing down so much that it sounded like he was playing a different song to finish.
  8. Strings That Tie to You” from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Still at the piano, Jon said, “Let’s invite Andres to the party,” as he put Andres Segovia playing guitar on the screen on the right side of the stage. Then opera singer, Maria Callas was put on the left screen and Jon manipulated the sound. He changed the piano to tack piano as he began the song in earnest. As he finished, he held a long low note on the MiniKorg.
  9. Time of the Season” Zombies cover. Still on the piano, Jon encouraged the audience to, “Sing every word you know, sing every harmony you know.” The audience also got into the beat of this, stomping on the floor too. Good choice.
  10. Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” Bob Dylan cover. Jon got out his harmonica for this one and played it on tack piano. He shifted his position on the keys and went straight into the next song.
  11. I’ll Keep It With Mine” Bob Dylan cover. Gratifying couplet of these two songs.
  12. Theme” from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Still on piano. The sound of this was encompassing and relentless. I started taking fewer notes at this point as I was wondering if I needed to take a break.
  13. Waterloo Sunset” Kinks cover. Jon headed toward the vibraphone and took a request for this cover. The link is to a rough video of Jon doing this same thing in New York last year. I was not as emotionally wrecked by this song as I was the last time I heard Jon play it and I take that as a personal victory. Maybe the novelty of the vibes helped. I’ve borrowed a line from this song for the title of the post, because it reflects how I feel about where I live and also my affinity for Largo.

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    Vibraphone at Jon Brion’s April Show

  14. “That’s What People Do” an unrecorded song of Jon’s which may or may not actually be called that. It was requested from the audience by that name but after he performed it someone else shouted out, “What was that?” and Jon just said it was one of his but didn’t give the title.  He also was adamant that “It is not an anti-marriage and anti-procreation song.” That those things were fine for people who wanted them, but not to push others into those areas or judge them if they are not interested in such things.
  15. I Don’t Really Want to Know” 1950s song popularized by Eddy Arnold and Elvis.  Jon played this one on lap steel, which I’ve also never seen him play before. There were some crackling sound issues during this song that Jon tried to get around by shifting in his seat, but there wasn’t much he could do about it.
  16. Tainted Love” Soft Cell cover. This old chestnut again.  Jon said, “We gotta throw this shit uptempo somehow,” as he began it. Jon played the song on it a little edgier than usual, using the orange Gretsch, but he seemed to be having trouble with one of the switches as he was bashing at it harder than seemed necessary and muttering a couple instances of “motherfucker.” The Gretsch was sent back to the rack right after this one.
  17. Piano medley of various songs, including: Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” Gary Glitter’s “Rock N Roll Part 2,” and Lovin Spoonful’s “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice, and finishing off on the piano with an instrumental I didn’t recognize.
  18. DRUM SOLO. Someone shouted out “drum solo” and Jon took him up on it.  He strode over to the kit, sat down, and played a little bit and noted, “Sounds like drumline.” So he then went on to play a very marching band/drum corps kind of solo. He finished the solo off by holding a cymbal wedged against his body and playing it with a stick that had a mallet on one end and a teardrop-shaped tip on the other and alternating sides of the stick. He began pushing on the cymbal to warp the sound while he hit it and played all across the top of the cymbal all while keeping immaculate time. It was so creative and amazing. Who knew you could get so many tones out of cymbal? Not me, but Jon Brion knew!
  19. Play the Game” Queen cover, on piano. Myself and a few others called that one out as a request at the previous month’s show. I’ll take it, even if a little late. Thank you! The link to Jon’s recorded version of the song for a Queen tribute album.
  20. You Won’t See Me” The Beatles cover. Jon wanted a singalong and someone shouted out “The Beatles”. He put a beat on the drum machine and went back to the piano to play this classic. The funny thing about this choice was that five days prior I was at a jam session of local musicians in which each person made a request from a list of about 100 songs that the group has chords and music written out for, in order for everyone to play on guitar and sing along. This was the song I chose. Thrilling to be on the same wavelength with Jon.

Jon said he was going to head over to the Little Room to play piano and so a crowd filled that space. Upon entering, the Little Room, Sean Watkins, David Garza, Sebastian Steinberg, and Dominique Arciero were all already on the stage playing and singing. They continued to do a set for the crowd and Jon never did make it to the piano. The songs they played included:

  1. Walk Away Renee” Left Banke cover, sung by Sean.
  2. Up” one of David Garza’s early songs, available on Eternal Tambourine. He played the mandolin on this one.
  3.  “Wicked” one of David’s songs from April Fool, he sang and played on his guitar. He referred to it as “music to order lots of beers by.” It had lyrics such as “No matter how much you give me it’s not enough.” (Beers?)  “Let’s get down and dirty, let’s get wicked.”
  4. Will the Roses Bloom” Sean took the lead vocals on this one.
  5. Stand By Your Man” Tammy Wynette cover, sung by David and with him starting off on the piano and switching to guitar on the chorus. First time I’ve ever heard this song sung by a man.
  6. I Fought the Law” popularized by the Bobby Fuller Four. Another one led by David.
  7. Lost to a Stranger” popularized Ricky Skaggs. Led by Sean.
  8.  I believe this is another one of David’s songs, a jazzy little number that starts, “Kiss me once, it’s shame on you” and also had the line “Show me a little mercy.” I’ve heard this one before but I can’t figure out the title. I thought it was “Show Me a Little Mercy,” but I’m not finding it online.
  9. Everyday” Buddy Holly cover. Jon should have brought the vibes in.
  10. Walkin’ After Midnight” popularized by Patsy Cline. Domenique Arciero joined in the singing.
  11. David played a teaser of the chords from “What I Am” on the guitar while they were working out what song they would finish with.
  12. “Exit Music” the group played an instrumental jam to close the show, which David called “Exit Music.”

What else can I say? Another fun evening at Largo getting to see some talented musicians. Totally fulfilling.

 

 

Find Where I Belong

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Stage Set Up for the April Watkins Family Hour

It had been a while since I last attended a Watkins Family Hour show and with the addition of a couple guests I wanted to see, it was a no-brainer to head up to Largo at the Coronet for the show on Wednesday, April 26, 2017. I will jump right into the set list and the recap of the concert.

  1. Sara Watkins started the show off with an fiddle tune (no name check), with Sean Watkins quickly joining in on his guitar.
  2. Love Needs a Heart” Jackson Browne cover. The pair talked about how they had recently been in Canada for two weeks with Jackson Browne, so they decided to play one of his songs that he had co-written with Valerie Carter. Sean started playing the intro on the guitar and then stopped. Sara explained, “I sing it in a different key than Jackson does,” as Sean changed the position of his capo.  They went on to perform a lovely rendition of the tune. When the song finished Sebastian Steinberg walked all the way across the stage carrying his upright bass and exited on the other side. It seems someone indicated he wasn’t needed for the next song. Sean joked, partly alluding to Sebastian’s long gray hair and beard, “That was Father Time that was paying us a visit to remind us that time passes.”
  3. Not sure of the title of this next one, but it was (a new?) one of Sean’s with a repeated line “I can still write you a song.” After the song, Sean explained that there were a lot of murder ballads in bluegrass music, but he would have difficulty writing one since it wasn’t exactly “write what you know.” He said, “I could imagine myself doing a little light stalking, that’s as close as I can get to a murder ballad.”  Sebastian came back on stage and noted that on the set list he was meant to play on the third song but that was, “Bullshit.” Then he went on to express, “I wouldn’t upset Sean, you might be subjected to some light stalking.” Special guest Joey Ryan of The Milk Carton Kids was then introduced. There was a lot of banter on whether or not they would play the following song as they hadn’t had a chance to properly rehearse it. Regardless, they managed to create an enjoyable performance.
  4. Price to Pay” Lucinda Williams cover, Joey on guitar, with Sara singing the lead and Joey and Sean providing supporting vocals.
  5. Wayfaring Stranger” American folk song.  Joey remarked that he just met Jon Brion ten minutes ago and he requested for him to come out and play on this song. Joey asked Jon if he could embarrass him with a story and Jon responded, “I’ve been embarrassed before,” essentially giving him the go ahead. Joey told a story about how he used to see Jon’s show somewhat regularly at the old Largo location. He mentioned how there was one time when “one guy in the audience” (presumably Joey), requested a Kinks song repeatedly. Jon wasn’t playing it and eventually said that he wasn’t going to play that song. Joey said to the present audience, “He persisted. He was warned, but he persisted.” So “the guy” shouted out, “You don’t know it.” The response from Jon Brion was to play a medley of the whole album (that that song was on), except skipping the one that was requested.  Joey said it was one of the best things he’d ever heard. Anyway, the group then played “Wayfaring Stranger” with Joey on banjo and Jon fiddling around with his guitar and amp in the back and if he ended up playing anything at all it was barely audible.
  6.  Next, Joey played a new song that he wrote. He prefaced it by stating, “Everyone’s down on what’s going on. I’m more of an optimist…this song taps more into the bright side.” It starts off so, “It’s a good day to be alive…the sun is shining bright today,” but gets more warped as it goes along talking about women with coat hangers in back alleys, for example, and “I saw Lady Liberty kick off her shoes and run.” Joey exited the stage after performing this one.
  7. Walk Away Renee” Left Banke cover. Sean and Sara gave a prolonged explanation about the A.V. Club, before Sean sang this one which he chose to sing when he was visiting the A.V. Club. The good news is his original performance is available at the link. Sebastian and Jon exited the stage and we were left with just Sean and Sara.
  8. DestinationNickel Creek song from A Dotted Line. Sean said, “We enjoy playing this as a duo,” then realizing how that sounded he quickly added, “It works.” Not that they had any problems with the other guy (Chris Thile) who usually plays it with them.  Sara started off the song playing her ukulele and deftly switched to her fiddle for the ending. Borrowed a line from this song for the title of the post.
  9. In Spite of Ourselves” John Prine cover. Pete Holmes and Valerie Chaney were welcomed to the stage and they told the story of their recent engagement, when Pete proposed in a hot air balloon over the Santa Barbara wine country. The story was divulged over a walking bass line provided by Sebastian Steinberg. At one point, Jon Brion sneaked onto the stage with a couple of drum brushes and played some rhythm on the side of the upright bass, later moving over to do the same on the top of the piano. Pete and Valerie then sang the duet of the John Prine song with Sean, Sara, and Sebastian providing the musical accompaniment.
  10. Deportee” cover of a song written by Woody Guthrie.  Willie Watson was the next guest to the stage, singing this song with support from Sean, Sara, and Sebastian. During the song, Jon Brion joined on stage to play guitar and mid-chorus Joey Ryan returned to the stage to join in with harmony. Willie is quite the find if you like old school folk music. He sounds like he could be a Guthrie. Introducing the next song, Willie said, “This has been by far the most comical Watkins Family Hour I’ve ever witnessed. Well, that’s all over now.”
  11. Gallows Pole” traditional folk song, link to a different concert where Willie sang this song live. He also played the harmonica on this one.
  12. My Baby Left Me” a song written by blues singer Arthur Crudup and popularized by Elvis, link to a different concert where Willie sang this song live. Willie was joined by Sebastian on this song. Willie headed off stage after this one.
  13. Caroline No” Beach Boys cover, sung by Sara. Before starting this song Sean mentioned that he is borrowing a bass harmonica from Jon and that the first time he had heard one it was on the song “I Know There’s an Answer,” which is also on the Pet Sounds album. Jon played guitar on this one, but his volume was so low in the mix I had to really concentrate to hear what he was doing. At the end of the song the other musicians left the stage for Jon to perform a couple songs.
  14. “Trial and Error” Jon played on piano and delicately sang one of his own songs.
  15.  “I Got it Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” Jon played a jazzy rendition of this song on piano with varying dynamics and swift changes in the manner of approach and pace so that at moments Sebastian, who was playing along on bass, seemed to have difficultly keeping up with him. Thankfully there were many more moments of beautiful synchronicity to make this one of the highlights of the evening.
  16. Like a Rolling Stone” Bob Dylan cover. Everyone came back on stage for this tune which included an audience singalong and closed the main stage show.

A few of the musicians felt like playing more that night, so the Little Room was open for part 2.

  1. I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground” traditional folk tune.  Willie Watson led this one, playing his banjo with Sara and Sean backing him up.  Link is to a version of this that Willie played recently elsewhere.
  2. Leaving Home” Charlie Poole cover. Willie sang this one too and I must reiterate how his voice is so perfectly suited to these old songs. He left the stage when the song was over.
  3. Miss the Mississippi and You” Jimmie Rodgers cover. Sara sang the lead vocal on this tune and Sebastian joined in on bass with Sean still on his guitar.
  4. Don’t You Hear Jerusalem Moan” traditional Gospel tune.
  5. Broken Headlights” from Retrospect, Joey Ryan came on stage to play one of his original tunes. This was the one song I wanted to hear him play if he decided to delve into his back catalog, so that made me pretty happy.
  6. Joey sang a new song of his, possibly called “Mourning Again in America.” It included lyrics such as: “Fell asleep with the TV on, finally feeling like I belong, woke up to a funeral song, everything I knew was gone.”
  7. Crime of Passion” performed solo by Bhi Bhiman, a friend of Joey’s who was in the audience. Sara called him up to the stage and Bhi decided to do this one after hearing the talk earlier on the main stage about murder ballads.
  8. 9 to 5” Dolly Parton cover. Sara introduced this one and sounded like she was inspired to sing this tune after having recently been watching TV in her hotel room while on tour. Sara, Sean, and Sebastian played on the song, with Jon Brion joining in on piano and eventually getting out his guitar thumb pick to add the rhythm of the typing sound that can be heard in the original version. It was a fun way to end the night.
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New Watkins Family Hour Poster in the Largo Courtyard

 

Rise Up and See for Yourself

DSC09648I spent a few days mulling over the idea of going to see Foxygen at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood (Saturday, April 8, 2017). Obviously, since I’m writing a post about it, I eventually decided to go! I’m not particularly familiar with their music, though I remember checking out a couple of their songs on YouTube after the album We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic came out they were being hyped in the music press. More recently, I’ve been impressed by Foxygen multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Rado producing Do Hollywood, a fantastic debut album by my latest favorite find, The Lemon Twigs. I spent some of Saturday streaming Foxygen’s newest album Hang, finding the music, or even parts of the songs, at some moments appealing and at others boldly challenging my perception of the song’s aesthetic. I understand filtering your music through the influences from musicians whose footsteps push deep into the mud of music history, but I feel that parts of this album are so superficially contrived and slickly produced that I am left wondering if it is meant to be serious or satirical. Are they paying homage and creating a musical statement or cramming as many references into the album as they can as if checking items off a grocery list? Whatever, it is a swirling calliope of an album, alive with colors, textures, and depth and listening to it will definitely leave you feeling something. After seeing the live show it seems that the album is much like the band. The musical talent is clear, but I wonder if the eccentricity of the multi-faceted, enigmatic Sam France is authentic or put-on for the audience, like Bowie’s Thin White Duke. But again, whatever, it is fascinating to watch.

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Sam France of Foxygen

The show was scheduled to start at 9pm with opening band Kingdom of Not. I missed most of their act, but I caught their last song as I was entering the venue and let’s just say I didn’t feel too bad about missing their set. If the majority of their songs were anything like the last one, I have to say it was not my taste at all.

I positioned myself on the left side of the house so I would be in between Sam and Jonathan, but with my lateness and the eager crowd already in position, I was probably a half dozen rows of people back from the stage.  I actually managed to be behind a pocket of people who were of average height, so I did get a few photos of the musicians, but between the enthusiastic dancing of the crowd around me and the random taller person it was difficult to take any well-crafted shots.

Opening act Gabriella Cohen. #gabriellacohen #fondatheatre #livemusic #opener #fender

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The second opener was Gabriella Cohen, who started out on stage with bandmate Kate “Babyshakes” Dillon. They were all right, playing in an indie pop style with Gabriella’s distinct vocals straddling that edge of interesting and tiresome and Babyshakes providing consummate high harmonies that added flavor to the songs. The lyric writing was simplistic and youthful – such that I wanted Gabriella to have greater life experiences so that she could write more in-depth and complex lyrics. She played her Fender guitar adequately, but there is definitely room for growth there too. The addition of Victor on drums and Igor on bass after the first song, improved the listener experience, especially Igor’s smooth bass lines, and by the end of their set the audience was grooving and receptive. Thankfully they were better than Kingdom of Not! Their set, as I could make it out, was as follows:

  1. I’m Miserable Baby” link is to a different live performance of this song, but it aptly encapsulates the sound.
  2. Downtown” this was a sleepy sort of song, particularly reminiscent of teen songs from the late 1950s or early 1960s. Example of lyrics, “Please don’t ever let me down again because I don’t know what I’d do.” Gabriella and Babyshakes were doubled up on guitars.
  3. Sever the Walls” from Full Closure and No Details or “Updated Regurgitated Sever” from updated regurgitated sever, not sure which it qualifies as. This song continues with the same musical vein.Close up your eyes and think of a time that was better.” Babyshakes played on the keyboard.
  4. Couldn’t figure out what the next song was but it started out with her calling out the city names Dallas, New York, and LA and with the repeated lyric, “He’s got a good reputation to have.”
  5. The next song she introduced by saying, “Here comes the pop stuff.” Remarking that she had tailored the set list for LA.” That sort of irritated me because L.A. has much more than pop music going on. I’m not sure what this song was called but it had lyrics such as,  “When I see you will you see me too? … Lost and confused…I wanted to die … I wanted romance.” There were a lot of bouncing chords on the guitar and its performance helped to build the momentum of the show.
  6.  The next song was one of the more interesting ones of the night. Lyrics mentioned, “Saw you in remission, saw you going in.” At the end of the song, Babyshakes took over, speaking a brief story about the futility of trying to be something you are not with a fruity analogy. “It’s impossible to be a banana if you are a plum. Be yourself.”
  7. I Don’t Feel So Alive” again from updated regurgitated sever or from Full Closure and No Details, however you want to look at it. Lyrics, “Well I don’t feel so alive I might break down and cry, I read a book…do you get high on a Saturday night? Why don’t we get together.” This one is oddly catchy and its performance was the best of the bunch.
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Foxygen: Jonathan Rado on the Keyboard while Sam France Sings

Foxygen filled the stage with a five person horn section, percussionist, bassist, guitar player, and keyboard player. Jonathan started out the night on an additional keyboard, occasionally swapping over to a Fender guitar. This was an impressive group of musicians who successfully interpreted the recorded versions of Foxygen’s songs to create dynamic and entertaining renditions for the captivated, ardent audience.  As ringleader, Sam danced, posed, swaggered, and punched the air as he belted out the numbers. Shape-shifting in style and voice from one iconic rock star to the next, a little Bowie here, a little Elvis Costello there, moves like Jagger sometimes, then sounds like Lou Reed or is it Todd Rundgren?   Adding vocal support and having lots of fun, playing the girl that everyone would like to dance with, was the talented Jackie Cohen. She released an EP on Bandcamp last year that Jonathan Rado and the Lemon Twigs played on, which sounds pretty great, so check that out:  Tacoma Night Terror.  Foxygen’s set list was as follows:

  1. We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic” from We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, an audience member created this live music video from this performance at the Fonda. The band kicks off the concert with their mission statement.
  2.  “San Francisco” from We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, Jackie Cohen joined them on stage during this song.
  3. Shuggie” from …And Star Power
  4. Follow the Leader” from Hang, the group of people in front of me were passing around a joint and enthusiastically jumping up and down to this song. They were well into it, but I’m not sure why smoking was being allowed inside the theatre (there was more than one person/group doing this). Where was security? They made people throw away their gum and sharpies upon entering the theatre, but apparently it was okay for people to light something up. The theatre manager inside me was screaming, “Fire hazard!”
  5. Avalon” from Hang, the link is to another show during this tour, but will give you an idea of how the song sounds live and the stage set up
  6. Mrs. Adams” from Hang
  7. America” from Hang
  8. On Lankershim” from Hang, i.e., the song that has a piano bit at the opening that sounds like they are about to play Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.”
  9. Upon a Hill” from Hang, this song followed seamlessly from the previous one
  10. Trauma” from Hang
  11. Rise Up” from Hang, link to a fan shot video from this concert. I’ve borrowed a lyric from this song for the title of this post. I chose this one because I respect what I think is the message of this song, to honestly experience and actively participate in life. Furthermore, I suggest that you listen carefully to this band and see what you think about them yourself. After this song the band left the stage without comment.

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    Jonathan Rado on Guitar for Foxygen

  12. ENCORE “On Blue Mountain” from We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
  13. No Destruction” from We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic,
    One of the highlights of the show was hearing this song that I didn’t know and found myself thoroughly enjoying live.
  14. How Can You Really” from …And Star Power
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Sam France of Foxygen on Acoustic Guitar

I Started to Smile Again

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Once again I went to see the band Dawes as they tour supporting their most recent album, We’re All Gonna Die. They’re calling this set of concerts “An Evening With Dawes” and it is just that. No opening band and a lengthy set that is broken into two parts by an intermission (or you could call it two sets).  Last time I saw them was in Santa Barbara in January, which I recapped in the post “Take Me Out of the City.” This time I saw their sold out show at Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on April 1, 2017. My experience was colored by my disappointment in both AXS and the theatre’s lack of handling a ticketing/seating issue to my approval despite repeated attempts in the weeks before and on the day of the show (made worse as I watched others around me get re-seated), which I won’t go into detail here.  I felt dejected and invisible as I sat in the second to last row in the theatre as the band kicked off their show. This was also night four of my going to concerts four nights in a row and I was pretty tired too. As I was so far back, I ended up not taking very many photos of the band.  When the show began, I realized that now that no one was sitting behind me I could stand during the show if I wanted and it wouldn’t bother anyone else, so it turned into a mixed blessing.  Soon the band’s music was pulling me out of my personal funk and making me grateful that I had the opportunity to see them live once again.

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Dawes Performing at Theatre at Ace Hotel

Dawes is comprised of band members Taylor Goldsmith on guitar and lead vocals, Griffin Goldsmith on drums, Wylie Gelber on bass, and Lee Pardini on piano. Trevor Menear brings additional support on lead guitar and they also had another guy (possibly named Mike, I was too far away to be able to tell if it was the same person that was with them in September) playing various percussion instruments. The set list for the night was as follows:

  1. One of Us” from We’re All Gonna Die
  2. Fire Away” from Nothing is Wrong, after the song Taylor commented, “We got a long night ahead of us” before introducing Griffin Goldsmith.
  3. From a Window Seat” from Stories Don’t End
  4. Right On Time” from All Your Favorite Bands, this link (and a few of the other links for this set) is to a live version the band recorded and released from this “An Evening with Dawes” tour called We’re All Gonna Live and includes the gorgeous introduction on piano by Lee Pardini. After this song, Taylor said, “So we put out a new record” as they launched into the next song from the new album.
  5. Picture of a Man” from We’re All Gonna Die, this is the song I like least from the new album, but there is something about the arrangement on the live version that makes it more palatable.
  6. Now That It’s Too Late, Maria” from All Your Favorite Bands
  7. Roll With the Punches” from All Your Favorite Bands, Taylor described this song as, “About the minutiae of departing.” Since it was a heavyhearted subject, he noted they tried to “make it as dance-y as we could.”
  8. Somewhere Along the Way” from All Your Favorite Bands, they probably should always play this song after the previous song, because at some point most people are gonna break up with someone and this song sends the much needed message that eventually it’s gonna be okay. I really love these lines from the song and have borrowed a phrase from them for the post title: “Somewhere along the way, I started to smile again, I don’t remember when; somewhere along the way, things will turn out just fine, I know that it’s true this time.”
  9. A Little Bit of Everything” from Nothing is Wrong, the crowd really started getting into the concert at this point, I found it a bit of a buzz killer that they played a new song immediately after it and then took a short intermission (really short, I think at last a third of the audience was still in the lobby).
  10. Less Than Five Miles Away” from We’re All Gonna Die

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    Griffin, Taylor, and Lee of Dawes On Stage After Intermission

  11. INTERMISSION “Crack the Case” new song sung by Taylor alone on stage with his acoustic guitar, link is to video that someone took at this concert. Really thoughtful lyrics, please check it out.
  12. Roll Tide” from We’re All Gonna Die, Griff came to the front of the stage to sing this one, Lee also joined for added harmony and tambourine, link is to video that someone took at this concert (not the best visual, but audio is decent enough, apart from a moment of talking).
  13. Bedside Manner” from North Hills, great to hear a deep cut, link is to video that someone took at this concert.
  14. Quitter” from We’re All Gonna Die, this is my favorite song from the new album and it sounds fantastic live every time I’ve heard it.
  15. Coming Back to a Man” from Nothing is Wrong
  16. From the Right Angle” from Stories Don’t End, Taylor prefaced this one by saying the song was, “About getting hit on by someone in a rock and roll band. Maybe after listening to this song you will feel more prepared in how you want to deal with the situation.” Hmm.
  17. If I Wanted Someone” from Nothing is Wrong, Dawes was playing in their hometown and Taylor started listing all of the family members that were attending the show, such as his mom, brother, cousins, etc. Then he said, “That’s how we sell this shit out, half this place is fucking family!”
  18. When the Tequila Runs Out” from We’re All Gonna Die
  19. Things Happen” from All You’re Favorite Bands
  20. Most People” from Stories Don’t End, Taylor then said something like, “Live music is the only experience (where you can be) dancing and being weirdos and making friends. I feel like we did a lot of work tonight.” He then mentioned that it had been about a month since Chuck Berry had passed and that if it weren’t for Berry, there would be no Rolling Stones (and he listed various other influential bands too) and definitely no Dawes. He played a few of Chuck Berry’s runs on his guitar. Then Taylor said, “If you remember anything from tonight let it be this…” as he played the next tune.
  21.  “Still Gonna Die” the live intro to the following song, the link is to the version from We’re All Gonna Live
  22. We’re All Gonna Die” from We’re All Gonna Die, turned out to be the last song of the set. Come on guys, you can’t end on that depressing note.
  23. ENCORE “All You’re Favorite Bands” from All You’re Favorite Bands, that’s more like it.  When they came back onstage for the encore Taylor noted, “We only have time for one more (or) they’ll fine the shit out of us! Thanks for making our dreams come true.” Nice piano introduction to this song by Lee, which you can hear on the link to the live version they’ve been doing on this tour. The whole audience were on their feet and singing along for this final anthem.
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Dawes Performing at Theatre at Ace Hotel

It Wouldn’t Be Make-Believe

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Stage Set Up for Jon Brion’s March Show

I couldn’t bear the thought of missing Jon Brion at Largo at the Coronet after seeing his fantastic show the previous month, so on March 31, 2017 I was back at Largo for another installment of his show. The stage is set with two projection screens, a MiniKorg on the ledge of the piano, a full rack of guitars, a chair for a guest with a gorgeous violin and a mandolin next to it, and at the center of the stage, a celesta. The show began with the longest wait ever in between Michael making his house announcements and anyone coming on stage (I didn’t time it but it seemed like 10 minutes). Largo-owner Flanny eventually appeared and remarked that we’ve been listening to Artie Shaw & His Gramercy Five, who have been opening for Jon for 20 years. Jon always comes on after a track called “Scuttlebutt.” Just listening to that has triggered a sort of Pavlovian response and I’m half expecting Jon to magically materialize.

Finally Jon appeared on stage, wearing his fedora, gray trousers, a fine line vertically-striped shirt, and his pin striped jacket. He sat on the chair in the middle of the stage and remarked, “All of our nervous systems have been glued to TVs around the town.” He pulled some faces in simulated reaction to watching the news, miming shock and mouthing “motherfucker.” And I bet since the show he has been doing that in reality twice as often! But on with the show.

  1. Jon moved to the piano, set down his half full glass of Guinness and said, “Middle C is a good place to start” as he began with some piano improvisation, which at one point consisted of patterns of ascending and descending notes falling after each other like so many dominoes, then progressed to sequences of chords placed on the beat.
  2. Next, Jon began working through some jazz-style chords on piano, which lead into his song “Strings That Tie to You” from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  At the beginning of the vocals he points to the microphone and then up to have the vocal volume increased, though honestly the vocal volume already sound pretty strong through the speaker. He was singing this song very softly and delicately and perhaps that was why he asked for the volume to be turned up.
  3. Following that tune he receives a simultaneous delivery of Guinness, one from stage left and one from stage right. Jon jokes, “I like stereo!” He plays a fast flourish on the piano followed by some chords and here I really notice his fingers choosing the notes that he is playing as there is just a second of hesitation and slight movement to the left or right of certain keys. This is something I never noticed before. He played his unrecorded song “Someone Else’s Problem Now” and for some reason this version on this particular night feels especially empowering, like becoming unencumbered.
  4. He then stepped away from the piano and walked across the stage to look at his rack of guitars and headed toward the orange Gretsch, which brought some positive sounds from multiple people in the audience – not just the front row this time! Jon remarked, “I like the response any time I get near this….you know you’re getting snowed ’cause it’s just so pretty.” Then he played a popular song from the ’50s, “I Don’t Really Want to Know.” I was in the hot seat again in front of Jon and was snowed in the figurative sense — being overwhelmed by the beauty of the guitar tone and the Brion tractor beam. He kept the song short and sweet, with a pretty ending.
  5. Jon adjusted the tuning and went in the opposite direction with the tone, going for fuzzy flange, playing bass notes that resonated in my chest. Then he switched that tone off and proceeded into The Grays song, “Same Things.” I wondered at the way he was playing it if he was angry or filled with regret that he was doing the same things. It’s amazing how his songs take on subtle changes of meaning when viewed in different contexts. Jon changed tones a few times during the song, adding in an interesting effect that I’m not sure how to describe and frankly I couldn’t keep up on the notes with all the alterations he was making.  At the end of the song he called out to the sound booth, “Is there a vocal compressor?” Then he spoke to the audience, “Now there’s inside banter going on, not an inside joke, more like inside cranium,” as he gestured toward his head.
  6. He moved back over to the piano and we get the Jon Brion vamp music as he’s figuring out what he is doing next. He puts Percy Grainger playing “Maguire’s Kick” on the right screen and starts at the talking intro (you can hear it at the link). Jon notes, “This is the educational portion of the show…you’re not going to have PBS any more, so this is what you get!” On the left screen goes a guy playing piano and Jon introduces him “That is Brad Mehldau.” Referring back to the Percy Grainger description on the film clip he adds that Brad, “Does not jog to gigs, did not get married at the Hollywood Bowl, you might have seen him when PBS used to exist.” Jon fiddled with the MiniKorg and switched to tack piano and announced, “Greg (?) used to request this a lot.” He played “Stop the World” with high notes on piano and bass notes on MiniKorg, which rumbled through the room.
  7. It was request time and Jon played half of The Turtles’ “Happy Together” with the audience singing and it started well, but train wrecked on the second verse. Jon shut it down and said he was “pulling the plug” for the audiences lack of knowing lyrics. Felt like playing one of those music video games like Guitar Hero and you fail midway through because you suck!
  8. Somehow from the ashes of that song arose a surprisingly decent audience singalong rendition of  “867-5309/Jenny” originally by Tommy Tutone. Someone in the audience knew all the lyrics! At its conclusion Jon commented, “So it’s THAT kind of evening.” Pause. “It’s better we know now.” “Sebastian Steinberg is in the building, if he wants to make his presence known in the vicinity of the stage.” Sebastian eventually appears carrying his upright bass. Jon gives him a great big bear hug and remarks that he hasn’t seen Sebastian in a long time.
  9. Jon tells him, “I’ll play an intro of some type,” without saying which song he is playing. It was a very jazzy type of intro. We all learn on the first line that it is “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” Jon said it is “my favorite Cole Parter song if you put a gun to my head and I had to chose.” Though he would rather not be in that situation! Sebastian played along on bass.
  10. Switching over to tack piano, Jon played his own unrecorded song, “Please Stay Away From Me” with Sebastian still on bass. As the song finishes Jon changes it back to the regular piano sound.
  11. Paul Cartwright joined in on stage on violin. Jon announced that they were going to play what he referred to as “Pseudo Classical European in C Minor,” which was actually “Strangest Times” from I Heart Huckabees. At one point in the song Jon called out for a “group solo” and everyone launched into their own variation on the theme.

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    Paul Cartwright’s Beautiful Violin

  12. Jon took another request, this time for The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” to which he added MiniKorg with heavy voice distortion through the microphone. He sang the lyrics but they were barely comprehensible because of the considerable distortion. Perfect song choice as he has an excellent violinist on the stage.
  13. Another request from the audience and Jon announces that they are going to be a “Modern ass acoustic 3-piece Karaoke machine. Time for a  “Dancing Queen” singalong. Jon added, “Feel free to sing keyboard and synth hooks.” Not the best vocals from the audience as again people are struggling for lyrics in the second verse.
  14. Following that nonsense, Jon, still on piano, launched straight into his song “Here We Go” from Punch-Drunk Love, receiving a big spontaneous cheer from the crowd in the back when Jon starts playing it.
  15. Something I hadn’t seen before, Jon took the upright bass from Sebastian and played it, while Sebastian played on the Epiphone guitar. Paul switched to the mandolin. They cover an old George Jones song, “She Thinks I Still Care.”
  16. Sebastian then took his bass back and Jon got out the “French guitar” and sat down to play, while Paul is back on violin again. Jon said they are doing the “Gypsy Jazz version,” which was for a cover of Prince’s “Controversy.” Link I’ve found is actually to a bootleg version of Jon performing this song at a different time and in a different style.
  17. Still on the French Guitar, Jon played a straightforward, pleasing rendition of “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” This feels like a quintessential Largo song — if the venue had a theme song, this should be it. There’s something that is so brilliant about Largo performances that in the days following a show there one begins to wonder if the experience really happened.  One almost needs to hold to the belief that it happened — I try to capture these quixotic moments in my blog, but feel my writing can’t quite ever effectively latch on to the fleeting occasion. I’m condensing this fitting lyric for the title of this post, “It wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me.”
  18. Then Jon stands up and does something I have been waiting for him to do since I started attending Jon Brion concerts somewhat regularly a couple years ago. He plays the celesta! The song he chose to perform was “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.” Finally! Such a pretty, yet aching rendition.

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    Well-loved Celesta Still Sounds Pretty

  19. Then the audience chose the key for the next song by show of applause for the keys of C and D. There was more enthusiasm for D and Jon said, “I’m a big fan of D from way fucking back.” He headed back to the piano and set up his videos. The orchestra goes up on the right screen and the opera singer on the left screen. He also superimposed someone driving through a city and the Ritchie sisters sitting on the porch singing “Four Marys.” He twiddled around with synth noises and played “Gigantic” by The Pixies. At some point after singing the word “gigantic” only the orchestra is left up on one screen. He used the vocal distortion on the MiniKorg and  the opera singer went back on screen, of which he scratches the music and slowed it down to a somber tempo, as he concluded the piece and his set.

But wait, there’s more! Not on the main stage, but we had been promised a set by David Garza and Sebastian Steinberg in the Little Room. It’s already after midnight and most of the audience heads straight out the door. The Little Room is barely half full, but it is an appreciative group. David takes the lead and the musicians knock through a short set of seven songs. First up, David and Sebastian pay tribute to Chuck Berry with a cover of “Rock and Roll Music.” They follow it with a bluesy number “My Babe.” I couldn’t place why I knew the tune so well (it was late at night and this was my third night out in a row and I was tired) until I realized when listening again that it is the same tune as “This Train.” Not sure what the next song was, maybe one of David’s, but Paul joined in on violin. They followed that with one David sang in Spanish, which I don’t know either. Then completely changing course, something I thought I’d never see, Devo’s “Whip It” played on acoustic guitar, violin, and bass in the Little Room. Pretty on point vocals courtesy of Mr. Garza. David then called out that if there was a piano player in the room whose initials rhymed with “Hey Vee,” he should come to the stage. Jon Brion obliged and the now quartet played David’s groovy song “Summer Love Jam,” followed by a smooth jam on his heavily-lyric laden song “Drone.” David referred to the four as “The Clash of the Little Room.”

At the conclusion of the set, people filtered out of the room except for about dozen of us — mostly Largo people and their friends are left, plus one random couple. David and Jon are still there. Then a really special moment happened. The door to the Little Room was shut with us inside. David lent his guitar to a young guy, Malcolm McRae, to let him check it out, but all of a sudden he was performing a song for this intimate group circled around him next to the Little Room bar. He possessed a very pleasant, soothing kind of crooner voice as he nervously began his song, but within a few measures he eased into the comfort of it. We were all transfixed in the moment. Later, Paul attempted to play “Kathy’s Song” on David’s guitar; well he nailed the guitar part, but couldn’t remember the lyrics. I could have sung them if I could have remembered how the song started. I tried to pull them up on my phone but the moment passed. David took back his guitar and the next half hour cycled between pieces of conversation and infusions of song. David played a few more, including his tune that references “April fool” (“Two of a Kind“?) as it was now April Fool’s Day, though this was no joke, but a beautiful serendipitous gift. David also played a life affirming cover of the Rolling Stones, “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)” and his reggae-themed song “Last Skank With You,” to which the small group provided rhythm through clapping and tapping feet and Jon used the bar for a percussion kit. This unexpected after-the-after-show gathering was absolute magic. Does it ever get better than that? I don’t think it is possible. I basked in the blissful moment before reality kicked in and everyone had to call it a night.

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New Jon Brion Poster in the Largo Courtyard

 

Do You Want to Dance With Me

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Ha Ha Tonka Performing at the Fonda Theatre

The night of Thursday, March 30, 2017, I was out again to see Ha Ha Tonka and Old 97’s, this time at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood, CA. Some people may question seeing the same bands at shows on consecutive nights. I find that if I see the same bands and even if they keep to the same or a very similar set list, there are elements of the performance and the overall experience that still make it worthwhile for me.  The previous night I had seen the bands at the venue nearest to where I live, Saint Rocke, which you can read about in my post “Remember Back When You Got Lost With Me.”  Hollywood is somewhere between a half hour and an hour’s drive away from me, depending on the traffic. There were a few of the same fans there, but mostly it seemed like a different crowd. Still, being L.A., people rolled in late to the show, even though it started after 9pm.

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Lead Singer Brian Roberts of Ha Ha Tonka

The most notable difference in the two concerts was that during the middle of Ha Ha Tonka’s set there was a power failure. I immediately took out my phone and shone the flashlight toward the stage. My phone has a ridiculously powerful flashlight and on its own it lit most of the center of the stage. Pretty soon other people were getting out their phones to provide additional light.  The members of Ha Ha Tonka took it in stride and headed for the front of the stage to perform an a capella song and when the lights were still not back up after that one, they played another old song that worked fine with acoustic guitar and handheld percussion. That moment where it all went dark brought the audience together. People who had been talking in the back stopped doing so and the whole room got very quiet and people huddled closer to the stage area. It brought focus on to these performers and I believe sparked greater appreciation in the audience members. Ha Ha Tonka announced that they will be playing again in Los Angeles in November.

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Lead Guitarist Brett Anderson of Ha Ha Tonka

Their set was as follows:

  1. Race to the Bottom” from Heart-Shaped Mountain
  2. St. Nick on the Fourth in a Fervor” from Buckle in the Bible Belt, after the song they mention they are from Southern Missouri
  3. Everything” from Heart-Shaped Mountain, link is to the recently released official video for this song
  4. Height of My Fears”  from Heart-Shaped Mountain, Brett on mandolin
  5. LIGHTS OUT, band goes to front of stage for “Hangman” an old folk song, sometimes called “Gallows Pole,” sung a capella, from Buckle in the Bible Belt
  6. Old Bill Jones” still at the front of the stage with acoustic guitar and tambourine, lights came back on after this song
  7. 12 Inch 3 Speed Oscillating Fan” cover of a Red Meat song
  8. Rewrite Our Lives” from Lessons, the band encouraged everyone to sing along to the “yeah” part of this song.
  9. Usual Suspects” from Death of a Decade, after the song Brian remarked, “Not everybody knows our band so we’re going to close on a song that everybody knows.”
  10. Proud Mary” cover of the Creedance Clearwater Revival song
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Bass Player Luke Long of Ha Ha Tonka

If you’ve got a good formula, why mess with it? It didn’t bother me that the Old 97’s went on to play nearly the same set as they had the night before — this was spectacular set of some of their best songs, including a chunk of songs from the new album. The band appeared to be even more energetic and enthusiastic than the night before. Ken seemed to be in a happier mood, Philip’s demeanor was subtly more confident, Murry was both as reliable and as vibrant as ever in his bright red western-style shirt, and Rhett was bursting with exuberance and having fun moving around the larger stage.

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Bassist Murry Hammond of Old 97’s

The set list at the Fonda for Old 97’s included:

  1. Four Leaf Clover” from Hitchhike to Rhome and Too Far to Care
  2. Dance with Me” from Blame it on Gravity,  I’ve used a line from this song as the post title because of a dream a few nights after this show where Dream Rhett said to me, “Never mind those people, come dance with me” with the implication to not be afraid to have fun, no matter what is going on around you. Even Dream Rhett provides words of wisdom!

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    Lead Singer Rhett Miller of Old 97’s

  3. Nashville” from Most Messed Up
  4. She Hates Everybody” from Graveyard Whistling, link to someone’s video clip from this show
  5. Salome” from Too Far to Care
  6. W. TX Teardrops” from Too Far to Care, old video at the link
  7. Lonely Holiday” from Fight Songs, this song was added to the list for this show.  I appreciated it because this tune has been in regular rotation as a song I play on my own guitar.
  8. All Who Wander” from Graveyard Whistling, link is to video I shot at this show, though the sound quality isn’t great because of my close proximity to the stage and for some reason my camera had trouble focusing when I first pressed the record button.
  9. Big Brown Eyes” from Too Far to Care and Wreck Your Life
  10. Good with God” from Graveyard Whistling. After the song, Rhett talked about seeing X when Old 97’s were on their way up and how the Old 97’s toured with Ha Ha Tonka 10 years ago when they were starting out and how he enjoyed seeing them grow as a band. How he really felt now like he was a part of a cycle of music history.

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    Guitarist Ken Bethea of Old 97’s — love the sound he gets out of this Gretsch!

  11. Longer than You’ve Been Alive” from Most Messed Up
  12. Stoned” from Hitchhike to Rhome
  13. Valentine” from Fight Songs
  14. Buick City Complex” from Satellite Rides
  15. Bad Luck Charm” from Graveyard Whistling
  16. Barrier Reef “from Too Far to Care
  17. Nobody” from Graveyard Whistling
  18. Rollerskate Skinny” from Satellite Rides
  19. Jesus Loves You” from Graveyard Whistling
  20. Let’s Get Drunk and Get it On” from Most Messed Up
  21. Doreen” from Hitchhike to Rhome and Wreck Your Life
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    Drummer Philip Peeples of Old 97’s

     

  22. ENCORE “Question” from Satellite Rides
  23. Victoria” from Hitchhike to Rhome and Wreck Your Life, this replaced “The Other Shoe” that was played as the middle encore number at Saint Rocke
  24. Timebomb” from Too Far to Care

I’m keeping this post short. I’ll just leave you with one last photo.

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Ken Bethea and Rhett Miller of Old 97’s

Remember Back When You Got Lost With Me

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Old 97’s Perform at Saint Rocke: Rhett Miller, Ken Bethea, Murry Hammond

Thrilled to see one of my favorite bands, Old 97’s, at my local venue, Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach, CA, on Wednesday, March 29, 2017 and with an opener I’d heard of before, Ha Ha Tonka! Doors opened at 6pm, but the show wasn’t scheduled to start until 8pm. This is a small venue and it is absolutely fantastic to see the Old 97’s play here. There was still plenty of space open in front of the stage when I arrived at 6:45pm, but by the end of the night the place was packed and pulsating.

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Ha Ha Tonka Opening at Saint Rocke: Brian Roberts, Luke Long, & James Cleare

Ha Ha Tonka opened with a solid batch of songs, and though the crowd was slow rolling in and had that laid back Beach Cities vibe, the band effectively pumped up the people by the end of their set with their driving roots rock. Lead vocals and rhythm guitar (a 12-string) were handled by the personable Brian Roberts, who while up front, never upstaged the other band members. This is one of the more cohesive bands that I’ve ever witnessed play. Brett Anderson commanded the lead guitar and sometimes swapped over to mandolin. Curly-haired bass player Luke Long steadfastly covered the lower end of the music while looking a bit like Slash minus the hat, while drummer Mike Reilly kept the train on its tracks, though it sometimes felt it might jump the rails at any moment as momentum was built. A special shout out for the versatile James Cleare for his work on keyboards, additional guitar, and backing vocals. In fact all the guys in the band joined in the singing at some point in the night, leaving me impressed with their tight harmonies and vocal blending. They’re on the road promoting their new album Heart-Shaped Mountain. The set list was as follows:

  1. Race to the Bottom” from Heart-Shaped Mountain
  2. St. Nick on the Fourth in a Fervor” from Buckle in the Bible Belt
  3.  “Everything” from Heart-Shaped Mountain, link is to the recently released official video for this song
  4. Arkansas” from Heart-Shaped Mountain
  5.  “12 Inch 3 Speed Oscillating Fan” cover of a Red Meat song
  6.  “Hangman” an old folk song, sometimes called “Gallows Pole,” sung a capella, from Buckle in the Bible Belt
  7. Height of My Fears”  from Heart-Shaped Mountain
  8.  “Usual Suspects” from Death of a Decade
  9.  “Proud Mary” cover of the Creedance Clearwater Revival song, began as a slow grind, then kicked up the tempo including a drum solo, during which all the other band members amusingly made quick dives for their drinks.
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Ha Ha Tonka Singing “Hangman”: James Cleare, Mike Reilly, Brian Roberts, Brett Anderson

I’ve written about Old 97’s once before (one of the first concerts I saw after starting this blog) and a bunch of times about Rhett’s solo shows, so if you come across this post and your a fan, please feel free to check out my other posts.  I don’t have lot to add about the band. I love their music: Rhett’s smart, storytelling, image-painting lyrics, dynamic vocals, and enthusiastic performances, Ken’s delicious lead guitar licks and his attention to tone and guitar choice for each song, Murry’s harmonies and thumping bass line, and Philip’s relentless drumming. This was Philip’s first show back after his recent accident in which he fell over in a parking lot and cut his head open. Very pleased to see Philip back on drums and wish him well, because head injuries can come back to haunt you for months afterward. Be well, Philip!

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Philip Peeples of Old 97’s

The band is touring behind their recently released album Graveyard Whistling. The album follows their no-holds barred, instant classic album, Most Messed Up, which featured a number of songs with degenerate characters careening out of control. An apt sequel, this album sounds like it is illustrating the characters reactions after reaching rock bottom. For example, one can easily imagine the guys portrayed in the song “Nashville” or “Intervention” or “Most Messed Up” following up the narrative with some of these new songs: “I Don’t Wanna Die in this Town” or “Good with God” or “Turns Out I’m Trouble.” The set list from the Saint Rocke show was:

  1. Four Leaf Clover” from Hitchhike to Rhome and Too Far to Care
  2. Dance with Me” from Blame it on Gravity
  3. Nashville” from Most Messed Up
  4. She Hates Everybody” from Graveyard Whistling
  5. Salome” from Too Far to Care
  6. W. TX Teardrops” from Too Far to Care, old video at the link
  7. All Who Wander” from Graveyard Whistling, video I shot at this show, though the sound quality isn’t great because of my close proximity to the stage, but I wanted to include it to give people an idea of this show. This is one of my favorite songs from the new album and I’ve borrowed a line from it for the title of this post.
  8. Big Brown Eyes” from Too Far to Care and Wreck Your Life
  9. Good with God” from Graveyard Whistling
  10. Longer than You’ve Been Alive” from Most Messed Up
  11. Stoned” from Hitchhike to Rhome
  12. Valentine” from Fight Songs
  13. Buick City Complex” from Satellite Rides
  14. Bad Luck Charm” from Graveyard Whistling
  15. Barrier Reef “from Too Far to Care
  16. Nobody” from Graveyard Whistling, this might be my new favorite song that Murry sings.

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    Murry Hammond of Old 97’s

  17. Rollerskate Skinny” from Satellite Rides, hurrah, my favorite Old 97’s song made the list!
  18. Jesus Loves You” from Graveyard Whistling
  19. Let’s Get Drunk and Get it On” from Most Messed Up
  20. Doreen” from Hitchhike to Rhome and Wreck Your LifeDSC09368
  21. ENCORE “Question” from Satellite Rides
  22. The Other Shoe” from Wreck Your Life
  23. Timebomb” from Too Far to Care

I don’t usually write much about what gets talked about if I speak to band members after a show, but I’m doing it this time. I had the chance to talk to Rhett afterward and he very sweetly apologized that it was unlikely they were going to change the set list for the following night’s show at the Fonda (see post “Do You Want to Dance With Me“), just in case they needed to switch Philip out last minute for their replacement drummer. Also, Rhett had seen during the show that I was taking notes and seemed curious if I was reviewing them. No worries, only the set list and a little love here on this humble blog! Just trying to record the memories before they fade from my memory (see title of post).

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Rhett Miller of Old 97’s

Nothing Ever Lasts

I was so glad to be back at Largo at the Coronet in Los Angeles on Friday, February 24, 2017 for Jon Brion‘s show after having missed January’s installment. It didn’t seem like there were going to be any guests that night (no note on the email from Largo that there would be special guests), but with Largo, you never know what will happen. As the lights were dimmed over the audience, owner Mark Flanagan came on stage to introduce John Mulaney and Nick Kroll, who came on stage to test out the jokes they would run at the Independent Film Spirit Awards being held the following day. You can watch a clip of their opening monologue from the event online. The best part of their whole shtick though was when they pretended they were introducing various artists during the ceremony and announced Joseph Gordon-Levitt and remarked that he would be bounding up to the stage wearing a fedora. It turned out he was actually at Largo and went running up and onto the stage (though wearing a baseball cap). In closing their set, I was amused by John introducing Jon Brion by saying, “Mercury is always in retrograde for him.”

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Stage Set Up for Jon Brion’s February Show

The stage was set up with a couple of movie screens and projectors, the miniKorg, synthesizer, and a few guitars. Jon took to the stage, set his beer down on the table near where he plays guitar and headed to the piano, played a couple measures and then went back to retrieve his glass and put it on the piano. He noted that he was actually the one wearing the fedora and proceeded to take it off and not wear it at all the rest of the night. He was wearing his turquoise trousers, a denim shirt, and a pin-striped coat. The first eight songs of the set were classic Brion. It was exactly what I’d put on a set list if I was making one for someone who wanted to hear a typical experience of him playing at Largo.

  1. He played his usual piano warm up with some tightly placed chord sequences to get started. Upon completion he said, “Those guys (Kroll and Mulaney) got the jauntiness out of the way, I’ll go right into Dirgeville to start.”
  2. Jon started playing on the MiniKorg with his left hand and the Largo piano with his right hand. It began as nothing immediately definitive, yet it had an instrumental I Heart Huckabees sound for about a minute or two and then he transitioned to the song from the movie soundtrack, “Over Our Heads.”  In these times that find a person world weary, one might find comfort rather than anguish in this passage, “Think your troubles are so serious; well one day you’ll be so long gone; ’cause nothing ever lasts; it all gets torn to shreds; if something’s everlasting; it’s Over Our Heads.” I’ve taken a line from this song to use as the title of this post.
  3. Jon then switched to tack piano and played “Meaningless” from his album of the same name. He choked slightly while singing an early line in the song. Afterward, he commented on that, “Had a little saliva go down the wind pipe at the beginning of that one.”
  4. Jon then moved across the stage and picked up the orange Gretsch guitar. He began to fiddle around with pedals and tones, played some chords descending down the neck, and made maximum use of the tremolo bar and vibrato. This was an impassioned and grungy version of “’Round Midnight.” Halfway through he knocked off the heavy fuzziness and played a more clean, unaffected style. When he finished singing he returned to some intense playing for the solo section, putting every part of the guitar in use, and spending quite a lot of time exploring the song, as we’ve heard in the past. There was effective use of harmonics and picking the strings in non-traditional locations, but bending strings with the right hand  – what?! – amazing ingenuity throughout his performance of this song.
  5.  Jon accepted another Guinness delivered from Pete. He took a request from the back of the room for Cheap Trick’s “Surrender,” the first one that was shouted out. Jon played the song as a fingerpicking version on acoustic guitar and as sort of a singalong – the audience mostly singing the chorus and leaving Jon to remember the verses. He sped up the tempo toward the beginning of the song announcing, “Let’s get this groove cooking a little more.” He also changed the key a step higher a couple times during the song.
  6. Back to the piano for Bowie’s “Life on Mars” with full singalong from most of the audience. Simply gorgeous and of course this is such a fantastic song if you are accomplished enough to be able to play it, as Jon incontrovertibly is, it is always going to be a winner.
  7. Again the change to tack piano and Jon put his harmonica holder around his neck for “Knock Yourself Out” from I Heart Huckabees.
  8. Straightforward piano. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindTheme.” I sat back and enjoyed this one, basking at its understated beauty.
  9. Jon started fiddling with the synthesizer and it made some blooping robot/computer noises like you might have heard in a 60s or 70s Sci-Fi movie. Jon commented, “That’s what it sounds like in my head when I’m staring off into space.” Heavily paraphrasing here – he went on to mention something about if you ever see him in Starbucks and he looks like that, then that is what is happening. He then said, “I’m gonna discipline some machines that are disobeying” and started adjusting knobs relating to the video projector/looping thing (is that the technical term…ha!) “Let’s see if we see the smiling, talented face of Jo Jones.” Nope, but we could hear something as Jon noted, “Projector is down.” As the drummer Jo Jones appeared on screen, Jon said, “This man makes me happy.” Jon played a bass line on the MiniKorg and then also began playing piano and stomping his feet. He performed a cover of The Smiths song, “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.” Adds orchestra on screen superimposed over Jo Jones – it is Charles Ives’ “The Unanswered Question.” He played part of the song with just MiniKorg, then switched to piano, and then began scratching the video sound, with the synthesizer looped in, extending the ending.
  10. Piano alone and his original song “Please Stay Away From Me.” He sings so high on this one — it’s a soft, tender rendition despite the plea of the song.
  11. After three slow songs in a row, Jon said he’s going to “Wake us up with this guy!” Any guesses? He’s resurrected Mr. “and 1 and 2 and 3 and 4” Drummer Man whom we last saw in December and Jon assigns him to the left screen. An older guy playing Spanish guitar goes up on the right screen. Jon has his left hand on piano and creates synth sounds with the right. Also, an old banjo bluegrass type of band with F.D. Roosevelt sat in the middle goes to the left screen. Jon played on the MiniKorg and sang “Gigantic” by The Pixies. He pulls off a hard stop to this song where he slammed his hands down on the decks running the videos, stopping them instantly. He removes his coat when the song is over.
  12. Next, a return to piano for Fats Waller’s “Alligator Crawl” with lots of stomping and humming from Jon. Beautiful and delightful on piano and a relief to the wall of sound created on the previous song.
  13. Jon them commences some random piano playing that turns into the standard, “Night and Day.” Amazing interpretation of this; a gorgeous rendition. Jon makes full use of the range of notes on the keyboard and feels the intensity with more stomping and seemingly random humming. He would throw in a flurry of notes and then back off and simplify, making a strong use of dynamics. This one song was worth the price of admission and was one of my highlights of the evening. This is a song I know pretty well from listening to it multiple times back when I was younger and didn’t have a lot of music in my collection (the link for the song goes to the version I listened to sung by the amazing Ella Fitzgerald). I absolutely adored what Jon did with his interpretation of the song. Once again I posit, I could listen to him perform stuff like this every single night and not tire of it.
  14. Still at the piano, he played his song, “Here We Go” from Punch-Drunk Love. Another beautiful performance and the vocal was spot on.
  15. Jon asks for another round of requests. Somebody said the national anthem and Jon got that look on his face (the light bulb turns on, eureka!). He started off with “Hail to the Chief” on piano, but in a minor key and adding as much dissonance and cringe-worthiness to it as possible, but some really complex sounding lines. Then he added on “The Star Spangled Banner” and I wrote “grim as hell” in my notes. A few touches of the tune “America” from West Side Story where the lyrics would be “I like to be in America, okay by me in a America, everything free in America, for a small fee in America.” Then he squeezed in some strains of “Over the Rainbow,” then transitioned back to the national anthem, and bounced over to  “Hail to the Chief” and back to “the rockets red glare” part of national anthem, and finished the medley on “Hail to the Chief.” Was that cathartic for him, I wonder?
  16. He then played one verse and chorus of the Cheers theme song, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” with the audience singing in full voice. Largo has a bit of a Cheers feeling to it, with many friends and familiar faces appearing at repeated shows and a general camaraderie even among strangers.
  17. A few random bits of songs are played as people make more requests. Jon teased us with just a couple bars of each song: “Cat Scratch Fever,” “Bali Hai” and some others; I couldn’t keep up on the notes.
  18. Then a somewhat regular attendee shouted out “Rite of Spring” as a request and Jon went to the front of the stage pontificating. I think Jon was on his third Guinness by this point. He was ready for the challenge and created a masterpiece before our eyes. I’ve detailed as much as I could about what he is doing, but it in no way can measure up to the aural experience of the thing.  Jon sent up “The Rite of Spring, Part 1″The Adoration of the Earth,” by Stravinsky on the left screen. He sat down at the MiniKorg and piano and used the MiniKorg microphone to warp the sound of his voice. He continued on to compose what felt like was a movie score to our current political climate. He generated some lyrics off the top of his head, such as, “I hate everyone of those gay-baiting, Jew-hating bastards…maybe by spring some of them will go away….Fuck Trump…it’s all I can think about every day.” Crazy synth playing was looped in. He played more of a proper version of “Over the Rainbow” on piano with lots of descending bass notes with the left hand on the beat. For a moment it felt like he was playing against everything that was bothering him, fighting a political battle with music. The duct tape came out and was stuck across some piano strings in the middle. More manic synth was added.  He’s created a plucking sound from the piano which blended well with the orchestra on screen (which was at about the four minute mark in the song). So much tension issued forth from the stage. At one point Jon was holding piano strings down with his left hand to maintain the plucking sound. Then he let the orchestra take over. You can’t help but feel that you are watching a genius at work when he is in this mode — he was immersed in the music and electric in his actions. Next up on the right screen, men singing. The other screen was stuck alternating between bowing on double bass and french horns playing. He created bursts of noise with the video decks, so briefly, almost pulling the music out of  the context of musical notes, so it was more like individual, staccato tones and not cohesive music. Then he continued matching the sound of the orchestra on the MiniKorg, while improvising on piano with his right hand to guys snapping a la the Jets in West Side Story, who were superimposed on the left screen. While his feet were stomping the beat,  Jon  played a purposely skewered version of “Over the Rainbow” on piano with both hands. Next he added a cool visual to the right screen, the “Solar Do-Nothing Machine.” At this point Jon started repeating “Number 9” into the microphone, after which he was scratching and whizzing the video decks around. Then he put a guy playing piano on over the top of the orchestra video on the left screen (the snapping guys were gone by this point). Screen right was changed to a different orchestra. He alternated on a fifth interval on the piano with his left hand as he slowed down both of the replacement videos to match the keys on the videos to the pitches he was playing. Then he played “Over the Rainbow” on piano with the orchestra on and then the piano guy on. Soon he transitioned into a straight jazz piano version of the song and turned everything else off. Then it was back to the original “Rites of Spring” orchestra on screen, with Jon playing thunderous piano on the bass keys along with the orchestra. He stopped the videos. Jon finished with the last line of “Over the Rainbow” on just piano. “If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why oh why can’t I.” It was an incredible on-the-fly composition, even if he has played parts of it before. He said “thank you” and headed straight off stage at the end and the house lights came up promptly. I was flooded with the feeling that I had witnessed something astounding and struck by the ephemeral nature of Jon’s performance pieces. Nothing ever lasts, indeed.

I Carried On Just How I Came

I was extremely excited for weeks prior to the concert date to see The Lemon Twigs play The Constellation Room at The Observatory in Santa Ana, CA on February 6, 2017. However, when the day of the show arrived my excitement had plummeted. Feel free to skip down another paragraph if you want to avoid my complaints or read on to see how one’s state of mind can affect the enjoyment of a show.

My son had a school function that evening that I needed to attend, so I was leaving for the show a lot later than I normal would like to for a general admission show. SoCal was experiencing another big rainstorm and I was not thrilled about driving the 30+ miles to the venue in the downpour. Plus, I was developing yet another cold (my fourth of the winter) and was just transitioning from the sore throat stage to the runny nose and sneezing stage. On arriving at the venue I was reminded of something I don’t like about the place, which is the over the top security, including separate entrance lines for men and women, bag search, a metal detector wand scan, and a pat down. I seriously do not like being treated like criminal when I am going out to enjoy an evening of music. Of course, being so late, by the time I was in the room the place was packed (I’ve gone to many shows rather early to wait in line to be at the front, so I can’t really begrudge people their positioning who got there before me). I made my way into the middle of the crowd, but was still behind people who were taller than me. That wouldn’t have been so bad if they hadn’t also been holding their phones over their heads to take photos and videos. The tallest guy just to the front left of me recorded almost the whole show with his phone above his head. Thanks, dude. Between the opener and The Lemon Twigs sets a guy with a big fro of hair decided to stand right in front of me to be next to his friends who had arrived earlier.  So it is pretty amazing that I was able to take any shots of the band (when I take photos I put my camera up to my face so I am not further blocking people behind me). #RantOver

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My View During Much of The Lemon Twigs’ Set

The opener was a band formed in 2014 and hailing from Nashville, Tennessee, Savoy Motel. I’d never heard of this band before so what follows is my initial reaction to them at the concert, with no experience of their recorded music. The band is comprised of four members playing funk-imbued rock, who each add their own skills to the group, yet I didn’t feel the sense of cohesion that is evident with more established bands. Mimi Galbierz on rhythm guitar was front and center and was a personable representative of the band while talking to the audience and introducing songs. On guitar she was the queen of barre chords, though her vocals seemed too soft and under powered for the music that was being played. I am not sure if that was due to her voice or the sound mix or both. When bass player Jeffrey Novak took over lead vocals, his sound was clearer, though still with a mellow style (see their song “Souvenir Shop Rock“).  Drummer Jessica McFarland established a solid, steady beat throughout the night — her style of playing being fairly straightforward rock, with few changes of tempo or fills to embellish the songs and not much tempo variation among the set of songs. As her playing was fairly repetitive, she could have looped a few measures and sat out the rest of the song and it wouldn’t have sounded any different.  Her voice sounded pleasing and unaffected and I wished she would have come to the front of the stage to sing at least one of the numbers. Lead guitarist Dillon Watson certainly knew his way around his instrument and was a fantastic player, providing some blistering solos and long jams to the songs, though at times I felt it was almost too much and he should have held back a little to let the songs breathe more. Their song “Good Enough to Eat” that they played at the show, seems pretty representative of their style. Overall there are many desirable components to this band, but I feel they could make a few minor adjustments, such as tightening up the vocals when they are all singing together, to take their music to the next level. And I might just be being extra picky with my constructive criticism because I was under the weather and feeling like if I was out then I wanted to see something extraordinary; some people around me commented that they thought the opener was really good when their set had finished.

On to The Lemon Twigs and I perked up a little when they came on stage as I was eager to see them, but I was starting to feel quite tired physically. I wrote about this band when I saw them in November (see “But How Lucky Am I?” for full details).  I maintain what I wrote earlier about this band. “Here there are odes to past musical styles encompassing the 60s and 70s, glam rock and power pop, and all your favorite iconic bands synthesized and transformed into something wonderfully delectable and irresistible. Listening to The Lemon Twigs feels like you are somehow listening to both the past and the future simultaneously.” I’m still thoroughly enjoying their album Do Hollywood a few months on and I am itching to get some new recorded music into my ears.

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Brian D’Addario of The Lemon Twigs

The constant touring since I last saw The Lemon Twigs has improved the band’s on stage performance and the music seems tighter, especially when Brian is on lead vocals. When Michael steps up to the front of the stage I still get the feeling that anything can happen at any moment. I do so appreciate the richness and many shades of timbre Michael finds in his voice. My wish for him is that he would be careful that his performance tricks do not interfere with his delivery of a clean and in-tune vocal or send him off track on guitar. He feeds off the energy of the crowd and gives back what he is given and sometimes it feels like he is pushing his vocals too hard, and this makes me concerned as I don’t want him to damage his vocal cords (no nodules)!  I’d like to see him find that happy medium, which I think Brian already has accomplished.

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Michael D’Addario of The Lemon Twigs

While still promoting their Do Hollywood album on this tour, it is clear the band is already looking to the future, with a few new songs, as well as covers being included in the set list. Supposedly an EP will be released in the summer containing some of these gems. Definitely much more fun to hear the band in concert now that I have listened to the album many times and am more familiar with those songs. I absolutely love what this band is doing musically and continue to be excited about what the future holds for them. Here is the set list from the show.

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    Megan Zeankowski on Bass

    I Wanna Prove to You” from Do Hollywood, Brian starting off on lead vocals and guitar with Michael on drums and backing vocals. Danny Ayala on the keyboard and backing vocals and Megan Zeankowski on bass. I’ve linked to my favorite live performance of this song, when they played on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

  2. Haroomata” from Do Hollywood, link is from their previous show I saw at The Echo in November.  I borrowed a line from this song for the title of this post.
  3. Why Didn’t You Say That” unreleased song, link to a video someone took at this show
  4. I’ve Begun to Fall in Love” a cover of an R Stevie Moore song. Michael’s monitor went out, so while that was being fixed, Brian sang this one and played it on his guitar by himself.
  5. Frank” from Do Hollywood, Brian’s masterpiece. Amazing that they can capture the expansiveness of this song with just their four instruments and voices. This song begs to be played with a full orchestra.
  6. Love Stepped Out” cover of a song by Brian and Michael’s dad, Ronnie D’Addario
  7. These Words” from Do Hollywood, this one really got the crowd going and had the audience singing along
  8. How Lucky Am I?” from Do Hollywood. After this song, Brian heads back to the drums and Michael goes to the front of the stage to sing lead vocals and play guitar

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    Michael D’Addario and Danny Ayala During “How Lucky Am I?”

  9.  “Night Song” unreleased song
  10.  “Baby, Baby” from Do Hollywood
  11. Everything I Am” a cover of a Box Tops/Alex Chilton song. No one has posted video of this on YouTube, so the link is to the original version.
  12.  “As Long As We’re Together” from Do Hollywood
  13.  “So Fine” unreleased song
  14.  “A Great Snake” from Do Hollywood
  15.  ENCORE “Queen of My School” unreleased song

I would have loved to stay after the show and have the band sign my album, but by this point I was so tired and I figured I didn’t want to risk passing the cold I had on to any of the band members. It looks like they are moving on to play some larger venues, so maybe my chance for this has completely passed. Check out tour dates for The Lemon Twigs, they are playing some big festivals in the next few months, including Coachella and Bonnaroo, and open for Phoenix at the historic Hollywood Bowl on June 15, 2017.