I Was Happy With You

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Stage Set Up for Jon Brion’s February Show at Largo

Friday, February 26, 2016 found me back at Largo at the Coronet for Jon Brion’s monthly show. There was no guest to open the show, just Jon coming on stage, sitting down on a chair, and introducing himself saying that if the Irishman was there (referring to Largo-owner Mark Flanagan) he would say something like, “Get your knickers in a twist,” [here’s Jon Brion].  Then, as if he’d accidentally sat in the wrong seat, Jon hopped up and moved over to the piano, where he is clearly most comfortable easing into things.

He started off playing some sweet jazz modulations which turned into some stormy sounding chords. This segued into his song “Strange Bath” from I Heart Huckabees, immediately followed by “You Learn” from the same soundtrack.  He finished the medley with the song “Magnolia.”

I was pleased when he began to play “Ruin My Day,” from his album Meaningless, which I was hoping he would play that night. I noted down the line “you regret how we never connected,” because connection between people is something I have been thinking about a lot in my daily life.  I was yet unaware of how this theme was about to play out. He continued on the piano with a few tightly placed improvisational chords. Then switched the piano tone,  and performed “I Was Happy With You,” ending with an extended piano jam. I’ve borrowed the title of this song for the title of this blog post.

Jon then switched over to playing an old Gibson acoustic with a missing pick guard. In slow ballad fashion he sang the song, “It Looks Like You,” which has been recorded by Evan Dando with Jon singing background vocals. As the song unfolded, I realized Jon’s blue eyes were on me while he was singing, but it seemed to move beyond just looking at me, but that he was singing directly to me. I’ve sat in the front row before and I haven’t ever noticed Jon looking down at the front row that much. Then he put on a capo and started messing around with a few simple chords, but not quite playing and I thought to myself, “Is he about to play ‘Trouble‘?”  The answer was yes. This is the song that originally brought me to Jon Brion, so I always love to hear it live. Once again, I felt like Jon was singing directly to me. Not just singing to me, but interacting and responding to my reactions. This was the most intense connection I have ever felt between myself and a performer. This continued for the rest of the evening, whenever he sat down and played guitar. It felt pretty darn special to have Jon choose me as his focus point.

He switched to a black and white electric guitar to play some improvisational stuff. He started with a lot of vibrato and played around with the pedals focusing closely on tone for each passage he was playing. He morphed from a sort of surf guitar sound into the song “Round Midnight,” which was played heavy on the overdrive.

Jon then moved back to the piano and invited requests from the audience. After a cacophony of calls for various songs he grabbed onto Thin Lizzy’s song, “The Boys are Back in Town.”   Next up he took the request for “Sesame Street,” by playing that well-known theme song. He followed it with “Linus and Lucy,” the Vince Guaraldi Trio tune made famous in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Then there was a whirlwind version of  boogie-style “Sesame Street” mashed up with “Linus and Lucy.”  At one point he was playing the rhythmic bass line of “Linus and Lucy” with his left hand with the melody of “Sesame Street” in his right hand. My brain was astounded by the difficulty of him playing these two songs together like this, even though my ears were hearing it happening from the stage. The audience thoroughly enjoyed this nostalgic trip to our collective childhoods.

After more requests from the audience, during which Jon seemed to have difficulty  extracting something he wanted to perform, he played what he deemed “Prince and Rachmaninoff” and proclaimed, “This is the Purple Rain Piano Concerto.”  Next up Jon played and sang a cover of The Smith’s “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.”

Jon moved back over to the guitar and invited his friend Steven up to play pedal steel. Jon had one of his notebooks out on a stand and remarked to Steven that the song had the chords A, B, E, and F#m in it and “none of my usual diminished bullshit.” He strummed his way into the moving song “Go Ahead and Break My Heart.”  This song is yet to be recorded and I am eager to get my hands on that one, it is so gut-wrenchingly sad, with lyrics: “Go ahead and break my heart, don’t care if you do, but could you wait until the night is through.” Once again, I felt that connection as Jon sang directly to me. All the people in the room behind me might have just as well disappeared.

Again a call for requests and Jon sang and played on guitar a light version of “Paper Moon.” Next he played a fragment of a song that began with “Sipping on a coke and rum” and started monologuing about artists taking music from other songs. He demonstrated this by deftly transitioned into a part of “Mr Tambourine Man,” which in turn became a full version of the Beach Boys “Don’t Worry Baby.” This included the crowd attempting to sing along but faltering as people weren’t as familiar with the lyrics after the first verse and chorus. He played one more on guitar, a cover of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” What a beautiful interpretation he played of this poignant song choice as a relationship unravels, but we are left with a spark of hope with the closing lyrics, “Strike another match, go start anew, and It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” I appreciate Jon covering the theme of changing and busted relationships during this set.

He moved to the piano to play “Meaningless,” a song from the album of the same title that had been requested multiple times that evening. He asked for more requests but apparently was not hearing anything that struck his fancy. He announced he was going to take a left turn and then played a lovely rendition of “As Time Goes By.” (And the correct line is “Play it Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’,” not the often mistaken “Play it again, Sam.”) I was hoping a nice selection of jazz standards would follow, but when he finished the song, Jon said good night and left the stage.

After much applause and cheering, he returned to the stage for four more singalong songs that he played on guitar. These included a sweet version of the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” a surprisingly well-sung version (though I will reiterate what I have said before that Largo has one of the best singing audiences of any venue I’ve been in) of del Shannon’s “Runaway,” and a romping version of The Mamas and The Papas classic “California Dreamin’.” How blessed we all are to be in L.A. singing this song in the winter.

He closed the show by playing a soft, counseling version of the song “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.” Well, it felt like advice to me (“I’m never going to stop the rain by complaining, because I’m free, nothing’s worrying me”), as once again, he was singing right to me.  I learned in my theater training (in what seems a different lifetime) that the audience is as important to the performance of a play as the actors and exist in a reciprocating type of relationship.  This holds true in live music too. I felt honored that Jon was singing so much to me, whether it was because I am an animated, appreciative audience member, because I was planted right in front of him or for whatever reason, and I hope that he got as much out of the experience as I did. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to notice you just a little bit above and beyond the rest of the crowd to make you feel special and that was how I felt that night. Music truly connects people. Thank you, Jon Brion!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Mortal With the Potential of a Superman

DSC04709On February 6, 2016, I attended David Bowie: A Musical Tribute held at the Plaza Playhouse Theater in Carpinteria, California. This was a benefit for The Young & Brave Foundation, which helps children and young adults who have been diagnosed with cancer and their families. The show was produced by Ones to Watch Productions, who believe, and I can agree, that  “music is the universal language that connects and touches us all.”  The format was such that each musician would perform one or two of David Bowie’s songs backed by the house band under the musical direction of Tariqh Akoni.

I’m going to give credit to the band upfront because they made this show thoroughly enjoyable. This band sounded fantastic and this group of professionals clearly knew their material well, even though this was only a one-time gig. First, Tariqh Akoni on lead guitar — wow this guy was amazing, particularly when he was playing solos. He had a plethora of guitars and matched each one so skillfully to the song at hand. Bowie really traversed some different styles in his music and Tariqh had a guitar and pedals to cover every variation in tone and style. His performance was exhilarating and he was clearly having a great time on stage.

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Musical Director and Guitarist Tariqh Akoni

The rest of the band was made up of Herman Matthews (drums), David Delhomme (keys/guitar), Jesse Siebenberg (guitar/lap steel), Pete Korpela (percussion), Zachary Provost (piano), Jacob Scesney (saxophone), and Randy Tico (bass). Didn’t catch the name of the trumpet player. Each of these guys has a respectable list of musical credits playing with a variety of well-known artists and some on TV shows as well. A few songs into the show a realized I had seen young saxophonist Jacob Scesney on stage previously, playing with former American Idol contestant and talented multi-instrumentalist — but perhaps best known for his bass playing — Casey Abrams. Jacob’s talent was evident, but he didn’t really get to show off his skills the way he does when he plays with Casey or with his other regular group, Postmodern Jukebox (who just released their latest album PMJ and Chill).  Fun to see him there and I also had the chance to say hello after the show.

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The David Bowie: A Musical Tribute Band with Dillon Brady Singing

 

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Jamie Drake

The show began with the song “Young Americans” performed by The Brambles. They started out with ukulele, kazoo(!), and drums and then the band joined in at the first chorus.  Next up was Jamie Drake singing a straightforward cover of “Starman” with additional support from Shane Alexander. Talented teens Curran and Freya performed a pretty duet of “The Man Who Sold the World,” (link to video I shot at the show) with their voices blending together so nicely in harmony. These two are definitely “ones to watch.”

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Shelby Figueroa

Shelby Figueroa sang a softened, breathy version of “Changes.” Some of these songs are so iconic, it must be daunting to perform them, but she made it her own.  Before Rain Perry began singing “Life on Mars,” (linked video is not the whole song) she dedicated it to “the misfit kids that David Bowie made feel better.” I was happy to hear this full band version of one of my favorite Bowie songs.  Give Rain’s web site a look, she blogs too and has some interesting things to say.

 

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Dillon Brady

Dillon Brady took the stage and started out subtly on “Quicksand,” but transformed into a rock star as the song progressed. I borrowed the title for this blog post from a lyric in this song. He then took the show to the next level with his intense performance of “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide.”  He was followed by Eli Wulfmeier who rocked out on both “It Ain’t Easy” (link to Bowie’s version) and “Rebel Rebel.”

 

 

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Eli Wulfmeier Singing with the David Bowie: A Musical Tribute Band

 

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Max Kasch Singing “Let’s Dance”

Then there was an intermission. What?  Wasn’t expecting that, but lots of people took the opportunity to grab a drink in the lobby. This meant the audience was much more loosened up for the second act, as it were, which began with Max Kasch singing “Let’s Dance” with probably the best David Bowie vocal impression of the night. This song and his enthusiastic performance of it had quite a few audience members out of their seats and dancing, some even congregating at the front edge of the stage.

 

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Jamie Wyatt Sings “Heroes”

Next up, the lovely Jamie Wyatt on guitar and harmonica, sang a sweet version of “Heroes.” She had a pleasing voice, clear as a bell. Shane Alexander returned to the stage, changing things up by performing Lou Reed’s song “Perfect Day,” which Bowie had produced. He also performed a Bowie song he said he was not familiar with before planning to sing it for the tribute concert, “Dead Man Walking.”

 

 

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Shane Alexander

Sharlotte Gibson was a late replacement for the unwell Perla Batalla, but she sang an absolutely enchanting version of “Lady Stardust” (see video I shot at the show). This lady is obviously a professional singer and though she said she was not feeling well, her singing sounded beautiful to me. She was visibly moved by performing in this Bowie tribute; what a gracious and wonderful added gem to the show she was. When she performed “Space Oddity” she and the backing band briefly took us all out of this world with their phenomenal rendition.

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Singer Sharlotte Gibson

 

Closing the concert was singer Glen Phillips, front man of the band Toad the Wet Sprocket. He mentioned that the last time he had been on stage with Tariqh it had been in a high school performance of Bye Bye Birdie! After a little mix up with the band as to which of his two songs he was performing first (and not “We love you Conrad, oh yes we do”), Glen launched into a fierce rendition of “Moonage Daydream” (video I shot at the show). It was so refreshing to get to see Glen rock out on a song like that one as I most often see him now as a solo artist, playing an acoustic guitar. He closed the show singing “Ziggy Stardust,” (video I shot at the show) which I expected he would do as he has previously performed that song with Toad. It was a fitting ending and had much of the audience on its feet. It was such a fun evening of music and an endearing tribute to an amazing artist and all for a worthy cause.

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All of the Singers on Stage After the Show

 

Wait, you’re still here?  And now, a presentation of the many guitars of Tariqh Akoni. Not pictured, the 12-string Guild he played on “Space Oddity.”

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Gibson Acoustic

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Gibson Les Paul

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gretsch

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Thought this was a Fender, but ?

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Paul Reed Smith

It’s a Little Bit of Everything

DSC04620I was absolutely thrilled to attend the Dawes concert on Saturday, January 23, 2016 at The Theatre at Ace Hotel (formerly known as the United Artists Theatre). I last saw Dawes in October as part of the Bluegrass Situation Festival. Since that time I had added the album Stories Don’t End to my music collection, which already contained the recent album All Your Favorite Bands and Nothing is Wrong. It always feels good to be fairly familiar with most of the music an artist is likely to play at a concert, as it enhances my appreciation and interest level for the show.

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Vetiver Performing at The Theatre at Ace Hotel

 

The opening band was called Vetiver, fronted/masterminded by Andy Cabic. Being unfamiliar with this band, being distracted by people still entering the theatre, and possibly also because I was seated pretty far back in the orchestra section — almost at the soundboard, I had a difficult time getting into their music at the beginning. The seating location also explains the lack of close-up photographs. The musicianship was good and the sound was decent at the back, but the first few songs all seemed to be at a similar walking tempo and one blended into the next. All three songs came from the same album, Tight Knit. They were “Rolling Sea,” “Everyday,” and the repetitive jam band-like song “Strictly Rule.”

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Andy Cabic of Vetiver

I felt the last few songs were more varied and so that was a nice build up to Dawes coming on. “Wonder Why” was a tasty little pop number from the album The Errant Charm.  I liked the chill out song, “Current Carry,” from the recent album Complete Strangers, as it had an appealing slide guitar in it. There was a song played that I haven’t been able to identify and the only lyric I could catch was, “This kind of feeling,” which I’m not even sure I heard correctly. The band finished their set with a tribute to Lemmy by covering Hawkwind’s song, “Hurry On Sundown,” which is on Vetiver’s album A Thing of the Past.

 

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Dawes Performs at The Theatre at Ace Hotel

Dawes opened their set firing on all cylinders with the first song from their latest album All Your Favorite Bands, “Things Happen.” This is such a bittersweet song and a fine example of the thoughtful, introspective lyrics that first attracted me to this band. The first verse of the song shows how well the writer conveys the complexity of relationships.

“I could go on talking or I could stop
Wring out each memory ’til I get every drop
Sift through the details of the others involved
The true crime would be thinking it’s just one person’s fault.”

The first time I heard the next song “Don’t Send Me Away,” also from the new album, the backing guitar part immediately reminded me of a style of guitar playing that I had previously heard from musician Blake Mills. It was only later that I learned that Blake Mills had in the past played with front man Taylor Goldsmith as part of the group Simon Dawes. This was followed by the song “If I Wanted Someone,” from Nothing is Wrong.

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Duane Betts on Guitar

Somewhere Along the Way” (link Hollywood cemetary if there isn’t one from the night) was the first highlight for me in the concert. This song has incredibly well-thought out, emotionally aware lyrics, with a beautiful, rich and full, but not over the top, musical accompaniment. Then at the end Duane Betts played an extended guitar solo at the concert that made the heart soar along with the melody he was extracting from his gorgeous Gibson Les Paul Goldtop . I really can’t say enough good things about Duane Betts, just watch the video link of him playing or even better, catch him live, and you’ll see what I mean. Personally, I feel strongly connected to these final lyrics of the song, as I am in a relationship transitioning point and I am finally reaching that stage where I am feeling happier and it feels like things are going to be okay.

“But 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 it’s true this time.”

Taylor took a break from playing to introduce the band: Duane Betts on lead guitar, Wylie Gelber on bass, Griffin Goldsmith on drums, himself on guitar (sometimes he takes lead too) and they have a utility player (didn’t catch his name) filling in on keyboards after Tay Strathairn left the band last year.

North Hills is the earliest Dawes album and the only one I don’t own yet. They played the song “My Girl to Me” from it and I may have been one of the few people on the main floor of the audience who wasn’t singing along. This suggests to me that the audience was made up of a lot of long-time and/or dedicated fans of this band. It is great to see this level of support for this band and I can only see it growing. The band has responded with a superior level of musicianship, enthusiasm, and confidence. With Duane Betts on board, I am pretty eager to hear what their next album is going to sound like. I believe this band is going to be as huge as a band can be in this era of bracketed genres in music and multiple listening platforms. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are Grammy-nominated in the coming years.

When I first bought Stories Don’t End a few months ago, I remember running and listening to the album on my iPod when “Bear Witness” came on. It struck me that the song was about visiting people in the hospital and chatting to pass the time. I have certainly spent some time in my life in hospital rooms and nursing homes visiting my elders and the lyrics of this one capture that. That is the maturity and beauty of Taylor’s writing, that he can write a song about love for family and people that inspire and help us grow, yet these characters seem oddly absent from rock and pop songs as if they don’t exist (other than the odd “mom/dad told me” lines that are sometimes sprinkled into songs). Taylor confirmed at the concert, “This song is about being stuck in the hospital.” Sometimes you are stuck in the hospital not because you are being treated, but because your love for the patient holds you there (this I know from the month my son spent in the NICU and a few other times he has had surgery). “Oh, that’s the love that I came to bear witness to, oh, and the love I’m taking with me when I go.”

Next up was the song “From a Window Seat,” also on Stories Don’t End. This is a fun uptempo number and again I like the lyrics, the idea of being on a plane and imagining what other people’s plans involve and why they are traveling. My favorite line of the song is, “‘Cause if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”  Indeed.

Then the band eased into the ballad “Now That It’s Too Late Maria,” which closes the album All Your Favorite Bands. This paired nicely thematically with the song that followed,”Coming Back to a Man” from Nothing is Wrong. A lyric that resonates with me from that song, “‘Cause some people were just meant to be a memory, to be called upon to remind us how we’ve changed.”  Though the latter song is on an earlier album than the former song, it feels like a reaction to the situation — the break-up and the response after the passage of some time.

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Taylor Goldsmith

If the band didn’t have the audience firmly in its grasp before they played “Fire Away,” it certainly did by the end of this song. Taylor kicked off this tune from Nothing is Wrong by announcing, “This song is about real friends.” He proceeded to bounce all around the stage as he was playing, then led the audience in two-part harmony on the lines, “When you need someone to walk away from; when you need someone to let you in.” Everyone in that audience was in union at that point and Taylor Goldsmith was not just a leader, but a member in this wonderful musical communion. It was the most joyful moment of the night.

Dawes played another older song, “That Western Skyline” from North Hills, and another fine example of Taylor’s storytelling prowess. Taylor introduced it by saying that it was a “song about coming back to Los Angeles,” seemingly after it didn’t work out with a girl that he followed to Birmingham. This tune was followed by the rocker “Right On Time” from All Your Favorite Bands.

Pedal steel player Greg Leisz joined the band on stage at this point and continued to play with the band for the remainder of the concert. The band covered The Waterboys “Fisherman’s Blues,” and thank you to Taylor for introducing it by name as it is unfamiliar to me. Then the band played “From the Right Angle.” Duane Betts played another awesome guitar solo, after which I wrote in my notebook,  “Duane Betts for whatever ails you!” because every single one of my cares and worries from the day melted away at this moment. This dude is magic on guitar!

I borrowed the song title “It’s a Little Bit of Everything” for the blog title, because lately in life, it really has been a little bit of everything. But it isn’t just me, the entire audience connected with this closing song from Nothing is Wrong and everyone was standing (in this seated venue) singing along word for word. It was another special moment from the night and was followed by more communal singing, this time on “When My Time Comes” from North Hills. Everyone was singing the refrain and doing so loudly! An immense level of sound filled the cavernous theatre. It sent chills down my spine to be among all this camaraderie. I felt connected to every soul in the house and took a moment to look around and thought about how lucky we all were to be sharing this synergy.

Luck features in the next song Dawes played, “Most People” from Stories Don’t End. Taylor Goldsmith once again demonstrates what he has discovered in life, which feels so  applicable to myself. Here’s the chorus,

“And she thinks, most people don’t talk enough about how lucky they are
Most people don’t know what it takes for me to get through the day
Most people don’t talk enough about the love in their hearts
But she doesn’t know most people feel that same way.”

Taylor addressed the audience again, remarking how back in 2008 you could have seen Dawes playing at the Silver Lake Lounge (a local bar with a stage). He spoke of his appreciation for the fans helping them along on this road (to a sold out 1600-seat historical theatre). Maybe the band would have liked to play all night. I think they would have. But Taylor commented that this was going to be the encore (they didn’t even bother to leave the stage).

Dawes closed with the title song from their latest album, “All Your Favorite Bands.” This had many members of the crowd linking arms or with hands around shoulders swaying to the beat and again, everyone singing along. Then as the song was ending they transitioned into “All the Young Dudes,” written by the recently departed David Bowie and made famous by Matt the Hoople (whose drummer also passed away in January). This was a celebratory tribute and an appreciated one. It made for a perfect conclusion to an evening of excellent music.

I’ve created a YouTube playlist of all the Dawes songs from this concert at Dawes Jan 23 2016. If you would like to see more photos from this concert, check out the set of photos L.A. Weekly has available online from photographer Mathew Tucciarone. Dawes is next scheduled to play in L.A. as the opening act for Grammy Award-winning band Alabama Shakes at The Greek Theatre on August 9, 2016. Get your tickets now, because this show is going to sell out! The link for tickets already says sold out, but there were still a few pairs and singles available if you go into the ticket finder section.  I can’t wait for the next show. The band just posted a photo on Facebook showing their equipment in the studio as they work on album #5. That next concert is going to be awesome!

UPDATE: A second show for Dawes and Alabama Shakes has been added at The Greek Theatre on August 10, 2016.

 

Let’s See Where the Night Takes Us

DSC04481Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band headlined the concert at The Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, California on Tuesday, January 19, 2016, touring behind recent album, Sermon on the Rocks. The opening band was Elephant Revival. Both bands performed soul-lifting music that could elevate the spirits of even the most discouraged individual. The mood of the crowd was excited and buzzing with anticipation from the start.

 

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Bonnie Paine (djembe), Daniel Rodriguez (guitar), and Bridget Law (fiddle) of Elephant Revival

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Elephant Revival’s Bonnie Paine Plays the Musical Saw

I was completely won over by Elephant Revival, a group of talented musicians that blends folk-style lyrics with luscious, enchanting melodies over groovy, rhythmic beats.  There is a lovely interplay of the voices of the two main singers, Bonnie Paine and Daniel Rodriguez (also playing guitar); the former reminded me of Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan, circa “Linger,” and the latter like a softer sounding version of Josh Ritter himself. Besides providing much of the rhythm for the band on the djembe or washboard, Bonnie also plays the musical saw, which marks the first time I have ever seen this done live!  The other band members include: Bridget Law, who played the fiddle fittingly and expertly; Charlie Rose, switched astutely between banjo and mandolin; and Dango Rose kept the underlying bass line moving throughout the set (though he switched to a drum for one song).

 

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Charlie Rose (banjo) and Dango Rose (bass) of Elephant Revival

The first two songs Elephant Revival played, “Birds and Stars” and “Remembering a Beginning,” are also the openers on their latest album, These Changing Skies. The next song was a new one called, “Home in Your Heart,” some of the lyrics included, “Falling down, spin me ’round, no one said this would be easy now, but you got to keep moving somehow” and “go down to the soul of the river, go where love found you there.” Following that was “Stolen,” which can be found on the Sands of Now album and then “Raven Song” from the It’s Alive EP.

Bonnie then announced the next tune was a new song, “Season Song.” It includes the lyrics “I opened a book…found a four-leaf clover…October” and “I watched as the leaves were turning…November,” and “Another day another dawn, another year another song.” This was a pretty song, which will be on their next record, Petals, now available to pre-order, and with a release date of April 1. The band also mentioned that they would be playing their next concert in Los Angeles at The Troubadour on Thursday, March 24.

 

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Elephant Revival’s Bridget Law

They played an instrumental next, which they didn’t name check, so I am not sure of the title, but it showcased the richness and beauty of the band’s sound, even absent of accompanying words. There are one or two instrumentals included on each of their albums. They closed their set with the same two songs that close These Changing Skies, Grace of a Women” and the rhythmic “Rogue River.” The band positioned themselves in the lobby during the intermission and happily signed albums and chatted warmly with fans both old and new.

 

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Josh Ritter Begins His Set Sans Band

I joined Josh Ritter’s fan base only in the last year, when a few of my friends separately mentioned that I would probably like him. I bought a couple of his earlier albums and a few months later bought another two. I have mentioned to people unfamiliar with him that he is a bit like Bob Dylan in songwriting style and even singing (not a terribly original observation, but it was my first impression), except that the tone of his voice is more pleasing to me.  Having now seen Josh live I can also add that he seems to be just about the happiest musician I have ever seen grace a stage. There was a smile plastered on his face for much of the night and he was certainly appreciative of the ovation from the crowd.

 

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Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band at The Fonda Theatre

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Josh Ritter, Sermonizing

The band played most of the songs from the new album Sermon on the Rocks, but also favorites from other albums. This suited me fine as I have been listening to this latest album frequently for the past month. My 9-year-old son has become particularly enamored of the songs “Where the Night Goes”  (borrowed a line from this song for the post title) and “Cumberland” and has been requesting them regularly on the morning car ride to his school. A few times Josh played alone on stage (such as on the brand new song “Myrna Loy”) or with minimal band support and easily commanded the large stage on his own.  The set contained a wonderful mixture of songs, both celebratory and solemn, though I do wish that he would have played at least one song from The Golden Age of Radio , which I have also been listening to a lot lately.

The set list for the concert was as follows:

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    Josh Ritter, Totally Feeling It

    Good Man” from Animal Years

  2. Birds of the Meadow” from Sermon on the Rocks
  3. Young Moses“from Sermon on the Rocks
  4. A Big Enough Sky” from Sermon on the Rocks
  5. Right Moves” from The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
  6. Henrietta, IN” from Sermon on the Rocks
  7. A Certain Light” from The Beast In Its Tracks
  8. Seeing Me ‘Round” from Sermon on the Rocks
  9. Where the Night Goes” from Sermon on the Rocks
  10. Cumberland” from Sermon on the Rocks
  11. The Stone” from Sermon on the Rocks
  12. Myrna Loy” is a brand new song, see link for video from the night
  13. Engine, Engine #9” is a cover of a Roger Miller song
  14. Snow Is Gone” from Hello Starling
  15. Bonfire” from The Beast In Its Tracks
  16. Girl In the War” from Animal Years
  17. Rumors” from The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
  18. Getting Ready to Get Down” from Sermon on the Rocks
  19. Homecoming” from Sermon on the Rocks
  20. The Temptation of Adam” from The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
  21. Kathleen” from Hello Starling
  22. To the Dogs or Whoever” from The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

 

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Bass Player Zack Hickman

I’ve also put together a YouTube playlist, Josh Ritter Jan 19 2016, with all the songs from this set. A quick shout out for bass player Zack Hichman who plays with style and relish. The keyboardist, guitar player, and drummer all provided solid support, I’m afraid I missed their names.  Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band continue touring on the east coast of the U.S. and in some southern states in the coming months. What a fantastic evening of music!

 

 

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Josh Ritter, Enjoying Every Moment to the End

 

 

 

It Could Feel So Bad Sometimes

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Largo Stage

Tuesday, January 12, 2016 saw me back at Largo at the Coronet to see Rhett Miller and his guests, Sarah Colonna and Kate Micucci. This was the first show that I went to after hearing of the death of David Bowie. I was still feeling pretty downhearted and had spent both Monday and Tuesday looking at just about every post and article about Bowie that came my way, as well as listening to Bowie’s music almost exclusively. It was a little odd going to see Rhett’s show, as I really wasn’t in any mood to see a show, though I had been anticipating this one for weeks. Nonetheless, here I was and there was Rhett, who must have been in a twilight zone of his own, as he is a huge, just about lifelong, Bowie fan.

Rhett started out the night blasting into the Old 97’s tune, “Let the Idiot Speak,” from the album Fight Songs. This was an interesting first choice of song, which is something of a rarity to hear live and pretty sparse on lyrics for a song written by Rhett.  Was he asking for our patience and understanding while he played his set and attempted to entertain us? Or was it the line “Who would have thought it could feel so bad sometimes?” that made him choose this song (I’ve borrowed part of this lyric for the post title)? Or did he just want to plow through something uptempo to try to energize his performance?

He followed that one with an reliable, familiar Old 97’s song from Too Far to Care, “Barrier Reef,” which had the audience singing along without any extra encouragement. Next up was the verbose and hooky “Our Love” from solo album, The Instigator.

Rhett came up for air to speak to the audience about the next song, something new that he had written with Ben Blacker as a “theme song” inspired by the Thrilling Adventure Hour. Old 97’s bassist and trainspotter, Murry Hammond, clearly had an influence on Rhett on this song, which had the refrain, “That’s the lullaby of the rails.” He mentioned “Moonshine Holler” and I am not sure now if that was supposed to be the name of the song or a reference to something from TAH, which I am unfamiliar with. Amusingly, whether purposely or subconsciously, he followed that one with the song “I’m a Trainwreck” from Old 97’s album The Grand Theatre Vol. 2.

Sarah Colonna then came on stage to deliver a comedic bit regarding aging and a visit to the gynecologist.  There seemed to be some nervous tension and titters running through the crowd as the topic was broached, but that morphed into abundant laughter as Sarah hilariously divulged her story of the (slightly tipsy) practitioner who seemed a little too focused on the youthful (or otherwise?) appearance of her patient’s facial features and less concerned about confirming that her PAP test was negative.  When Rhett returned to the stage he remarked about going to the store to buy feminine hygiene products for his wife and feeling as he went through the checkout, that there was nothing to be embarrassed about, “I’m just a man having my period.”

He went on to play a song from his most recent solo album The Traveler, “My Little Disaster” or as he referred to it, “My Little Bukowski.” This was followed by another crowd-pleasing song, “Big Brown Eyes” from Wreck Your Life.

When kicking off his song “Nashville,” Rhett noted, “I don’t always do blue…”. He trailed off, but can we finish it like a Dos Equis commercial?  “I don’t always do blue, but when I do, I spew F-bombs liberally.” This song is intriguing, the main character seems like a nasty low-life, but he has just a kernel of redemption about him that makes me sympathize with him, like he may improve himself if he can just catch a break. Am I naive to believe this? Perhaps he is a hopeless narcissist and he is playing me like he played poor Caroline.

Rhett took a moment to talk about his first concert experience seeing The Kingston Trio. He talked about bands having songs that they are known for and having to play those songs repeatedly at concerts because everyone expects it. He explained how “Question,” his song about a marriage proposal, was his equivalent of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” since he has played “Question” with Old 97’s or on his solo dates for nearly every concert since he wrote the song. He said that he is “glad it’s a sweet song” that he has to keep playing. At one point he wondered, “How can I make this more romantic?” — queue the verse translated into French.

Kate Micucci then was introduced and took to the stage, sitting down at the piano. She played the first song she ever wrote, inspired by a lost dog that she encountered when she was at college, “Brandy.”  In a nice little transition she then introduced a song she had recorded for an upcoming movie that she is in called, Unleashed, with the premise that her pets turn into full-grown men. With a line, “We couldn’t be better than before…,” it will be interesting how the song ties into the movie.  She then covered Justin Bieber’s song “Love Yourself,” except pointing out that he probably really wanted to write it as “F*** Yourself,” and so she sang it that way. She performed one more solo song, this time on guitar, which was her tune “Walking in Los Angeles.” Rhett returned to the stage and the pair sang a duet of the John Prine song, “In Spite of Ourselves.”

Rhett played three more safe songs to close out the set, “Most in the Summertime,” his single from The Traveler:Let’s Get Drunk and Get it On” from the Old 97’s latest album, Most Messed Up; and finished with his typical closer, “Timebomb.”

When Rhett returned to the stage he spoke for a few minutes about Bowie. He told the story of seeing Bowie in concert during the Serious Moonlight Tour and that being the turning point in his mind, when he realized the songs he was writing for himself, he could give to the world, “And the world would give money to me.” Then he performed a beautiful tribute to Bowie, playing two of my favorite Bowie songs, “Five Years” from Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and “Life on Mars” (check the link to hear Rhett’s stunning performance of this song just a day before Bowie’s death — Jordan Katz on trumpet, Philip Krohnengold on piano) from Hunky Dory. It was very moving to hear the latter song. Quite a few people around me were teary-eyed after this one and you could see Rhett himself completely emotionally invested in this performance. The performance was just what I needed, a cathartic group experience to mark the passing of a legend. A few days later this touching, introspective article from Rhett about Bowie’s influence appeared on Salon.com.