Down on Cahuenga

I was at Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles, CA  on October 27, 2016 to see Jonathan Kingham and Glen Phillips. The show was scheduled for 7pm, but didn’t start on time, giving a chance for the crowd to build and allowing some time for socializing. This was a pretty low-key show put on by two easy-going singer-songwriters for an attentive Thursday night crowd.

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Jonathan Kingham Performs at Hotel Cafe

Jonathan took to the stage and announced, “I’m kind of the appetizer. This song is about food, more about fried chicken, hot chicken.”  I don’t know if those guys didn’t eat before the show or maybe they ate something delicious prior to the show, but the banter touched back to food a few times that night. That first song was called “When Daddy Gets Home.” Jonathan has a smooth, subdued style of singing that he accentuates with no-nonsense rhythmic guitar playing, that make his tunes easy to listen to.

He made a point of promoting Glen’s new album throughout his set and mentioned the many ways you can listen to an album these days, commenting, “Sometimes I stream Glen’s new album on Bluetooth.” Jonathan introduced his song, “I Keep Finding New Ways to Love You” and then dedicated it to Glen’s album, “Because each track is finding new ways to love Glen.” I would certainly agree with that, though perhaps “I Keep Finding New Ways to Respect You” would be more fitting, in this instance. He then played a cover of Bobby Brown’s “Every Little Step,” a tune that is a regular feature of his live performances and includes freestyle lyrics during the dance break. Check out the song link for video from this show where Jonathan weaves in some words about audience members, the venue, and again promotes Glen’s album.

Jonathan received a request for his song “She’s So California” and he explained the story behind it — that it originated because he saw a woman who was about 10 years older than him, with big hoop earrings, big hair and so blonde while in Nashville. Clearly she was from out of town. He said to his friend, “We got to write a song about her.” The song is on his album Smooth Out the Lines and this gave him an opportunity to promote his own work, “I have a record in the back in the Muppet booth.” Jonathan finished out his short set by having Glen join him on stage to sing harmony on his song “Grace,” which is also on Smooth Out the Lines.

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Glen Phillips Performs at Hotel Cafe

Glen then took over as lead as he began his set with Jonathan providing additional support on keyboard and backing vocals. Since this tour was about promoting Glen’s new album Swallowed By the New, tracks from the album featured heavily in the set. The album is succinct and has the clearest through line of any of Glen’s work. It is a reflection and an exploration of his thoughts and emotions upon the end of his 20+ year marriage. Each song is perfectly placed on the album in a meaningful order that builds on and evaluates the subject of changing relationships. I went down a similar path to Glen, less than year after him, and have found his songs a source of comfort and guidance, though at times uncomfortable to listen to as the truth was so on the mark. Glen’s set included the songs:

  1. The Next Day” from Mr. Lemons. After this song they took a minute to figure out why the keyboard and guitar were not in tune with one another. Glen told the audience, “Somehow our keyboard got transposed.”
  2. Leaving Oldtown” from Swallowed By the New. I love this one straight-up solo acoustic and while the treatment on the album is beautiful and musically exquisite, it feels like it is trying too hard to pull at the heart strings.
  3. True” from Winter Pays for Summer
  4. California Wasted” from Toad the Wet Sprocket’s album New Constellation. Before beginning the song, Glen and Jonathan were trying to figure out what key the song was meant to be played in. Glen noted in explanation, “This is the first night of the tour.”
  5. Baptistina” from Swallowed By the New. Glen prefaced this song by describing how it was inspired by a podcast (Apocalypse!) which discussed how an asteroid was responsible for killing the dinosaurs paving the way for the rise of mammals — though recent information had come to light that the asteroid responsible was not, in fact, from the Baptistina family of asteroids. Anyway, Glen said, “I was thinking how wonderful catastrophic change can be.” He then went off on brief a tangent about Richard Dawkins.
  6. All I Want” from Toad the Wet Sprocket’s album fear. Prior to starting the song Glen said, “Thank you for joining us on this auspicious occasion.” Jonathan commented on how he felt large behind his small keyboard. He grabbed his guitar to play along on this one. When the song ended, Jonathan left the stage to get a drink and Glen, noting he stopped drinking alcohol a few months ago, became wistful for kombucha. “I would go to bars if they had kombucha.” He also talked a bit about gluten-free diets and said, “The most L.A thing you can ask for is a non-alcoholic gluten-free beer.” Glen plays the next five songs solo.
  7. Gather” from Winter Pays for Summer
  8. Rise Up” from WPA’s album Works Progress Administration, one of Glen’s bests songs, one of my favorites, and so continually relevant.
  9. Better Off Here” from Options, link to video from this show. This is a song he wrote to submit as the theme song for a TV show (it wasn’t chosen), though he can never remember which show.
  10. Gimme Sympathy” Metric cover available on Glen’s album Live at Belly Up
  11. Always Have My Love” from WPA’s album Works Progress Administration. Glen references “endless songs that have this riff,” (the starting riff to “Always Have My Love”) and asks for someone to make a compilation and send it to him. He references that he has also heard it used by Coldplay and Chris Stapleton.
  12.  “Amnesty” from Swallowed By the New, Jonathan returns to the stage to perform this powerful song.
  13.  “Grief and Praise” from Swallowed By the New. Glen references the book Die Wise, by Stephen Jenkinson, as another source of inspiration and jokes that the title sounds like it should be pronounced using a German accent. He noted,  “This is the last song he wrote before finishing the album…I put everything I hadn’t said into this song.” He also gave a shout out to The Sandman comics, noting they changed his life. For me, the lyrics of this tune ease my worries about change.
  14. Criminal Career” from Swallowed By the New. After this song someone in the audience mentioned Bernie, which had Glen off on a political tangent. This is one of those tunes that wasn’t as immediately enveloping as a few of the others, but a slow cooker that becomes more appealing every time I hear it.
  15. Walk On the Ocean” from Toad the Wet Sprocket’s album fear
  16. Go” from Swallowed By the New. Glen introduced this one by commenting, “Lighthouses are one of those few things that say, ‘I love you, please go over there.'” This is the first track on the album and one of the most raw lyrically. I’m not fond of the album’s music arrangement and prefer hearing it stripped down live. The emotion with which Glen sings it live is pretty potent, especially the first few times I heard him sing it last year as the content was clearly so fresh. He appears to be on a happier track personally these days and the frailty which was previously imbued in live vocals has given away to stalwart acceptance in his performance.
  17. Held Up” from Swallowed By the New.  Glen encouraged some clapping and stomping and accented words by the audience. This tune is a departure stylistically from most of the songs Glen has written, but certainly a welcome addition to his repertoire.
  18. Train Wreck” from Abulum. Beginning his encore, Glen wondered out loud what to play and a few people, myself included, shouted he had to play “Train Wreck” because “you’re on Cahuenga” — the venue being located on the street that is name-checked in the song’s lyrics, “She turns tricks down on Cahuenga, and tells herself it’s research for her next greatest role.” I’ve used a snippet of the lyric for the title of this blog, because when am I ever going to have a chance to use that one again?
  19. Retrograde” James Blake cover available on Glen’s album Live at Belly Up.  Check out the link to the simply divine cover Glen made of this one in a gymnasium a couple years ago.

 

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Glen Phillips Performs “Retrograde” at Hotel Cafe

 

 

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