But How Lucky Am I?

Disco Ball at the Echo

I wasn’t supposed to be going anywhere on the night of Wednesday, November 2, 2016, but I found myself blessed with a spare ticket to go to The Echo to see to up-and-coming L.A.-based band Starcrawler and dynamic Long Island, New York  band The Lemon Twigs, play a sold out show. I only heard about both of these bands about a month before this concert. A friend saw The Lemon Twigs perform at Amoeba (check out four songs showcased in one video at the link) in October and after seeing some video clips, I decided I wanted to go to the show at The Echo, but it was already sold out.  Luckily, on the afternoon of the show that same friend had another friend who turned out to have an extra ticket, and after miraculously arranging a last-minute babysitter, I was in!  I had bought The Lemon Twigs’ new album Do Hollywood a few days earlier and had played it a couple times before the show and was super excited to hear the band play live.

Opener Starcrawler: Henri Cash on Guitar and Arrow de Wilde on Vocals
Arrow de Wilde

Opening for The Lemon Twigs was local band, Starcrawler. Though still a teenager, Starcrawler’s lead singer, Arrow de Wilde, has a dramatic stage presence that’s a mixture of punk confidence, feigned paranoia, cut-loose rocking, and a hard-as-nails attitude, embellished with erotic overtones. She’s also the daughter of photographer Autumn de Wilde, who was on hand shooting the show (not daunting at all to be taking pictures with a little digital camera while a pro is at work nearby). Their music is fast and frenzied and the songs are short and to the point –half the show is Arrow’s personality and performance. On guitar, Henri Cash, blazed away, adding limitless energy and searing momentum to the band’s onstage performance. Austin Smith powered through the songs on drums and Timothy Franco was on bass. I didn’t keep track of their set list, not being familiar with any of their music, but I did grab a quick photo of the handwritten list while it was on stage. I’m not sure if they played all of these songs, as the set seemed shorter, but maybe they played a few back-to-back and I didn’t catch it. Here is a video clip of the last two songs they played from that show.

Starcrawler’s Set List

Starcrawler is ready to make your world rock, check them out on iTunes.

The Lemon Twigs are fronted by brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario, who are both multi-instrumentalists, songwriters, and singers. In fact, on their new album Do Hollywood, the pair play nearly all the instruments and contribute most of the vocals, with producer Jonathan Rado adding some parts, Sam France contributing background vocals on a few songs, and touring band member Danny Ayala adding vocals on one track. Danny was on stage with the brothers at The Echo, ripping it up on the keyboards and providing well-matched backing vocals. Megan Zeankowski was cool as a cucumber on bass, à la John Deacon of Queen, solidly and efficiently laying down the low end with her no-nonsense approach, while the brothers  would hop, high-kick, and romp around the stage when singing lead.

The concert began with Brian on lead vocals and guitar, while Michael was on percussion and backing vocals, as the group played through original songs from their new album Do Hollywood.  They started the show with the first song on the album, “I Wanna Prove to You,” an endearing salute to unrequited love, which is crafted like a 1960s teen idol megahit. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a cover of a 60s tune that you somehow missed hearing earlier in your life. While having its own distinct sound, the tune is indicative to what follows on the album. 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.

Brian D’Addario of The Lemon Twigs Sings “Haroomata”

The song “Haroomata” (link to video from this show), begins with gorgeous, drawn-out harmonies over pretty, melancholic piano, but is driven into an explosive tempest of drumming, chords, and vocals on the brink of shouting.  The Lemon Twigs explore this interplay of slow and fast tempo and the juxtaposition of soft and loud music through a few of the songs on their album, creating a truly compelling listening experience. This is one of those tunes that feels a bit like riding a roller coaster– sometimes you’re slowing chugging uphill, sometimes you’re whizzing down it, and others you’re in the loop-the-loop unsure of when you’ll be right-side up again. The Lemon Twigs won’t leave you upside down for too long — they spin through chaos for just the right amount of time before finding resolution.

The Lemon Twigs are planning on releasing a 6-song EP early next year that includes a few of the new songs they played at The Echo. The first of these new songs performed that night was “Why Didn’t You Say That,”  which Brian referred to as a “a slightly more dance-y one” (than “Haroomata”). While Brian is the more subtle performer of the two brothers, he has a sincere vocal delivery that is equally adorable and charming and complements his captivating stage presence.

Now on to the trifecta of Brian’s songs. “Frank” is a masterpiece. It may not feel as immediately accessible as some of the other album tracks that give the listener instant pop gratification, but it is one of those pieces whose beauty is revealed over multiple plays. On the album, it opens with a long instrumental section comprising drums, bass and keyboards, which blooms into an even fuller sound, before cutting back down at the entrance of Brian’s delicately sung verse.  Once again we feel the ebb and flow of the music in waves of musical texture — swirling, clamoring, grooving, and expanding, then pulling inward and quietening, yet never losing complexity. Some of the peaks and valleys of this one are lost in the live performance, where they are lacking the added instrumentation, yet the core of the song is maintained and is nonetheless moving.

Brian D’Addario on Guitar and Megan Zeankowski on Bass for The Lemon Twigs

Brian introduced this song by saying, “The next one is a more fun one.” Indeed, “These Words” is easily a favorite on the album, combining some honest lyrics with an excellent arrangement of music. “These words, these words serve only to fill up a hole.” These very words I am writing are filling my own hole, which grows in my memory as I move further away from an event, and so I write these words in an attempt at making something ephemeral eternal. The instrumental break in this tune is one of the highlights on the album and it sounds equally great live, maybe better in my opinion, because the electric guitar part shines so brightly. And has an ascending scale every been used so excellently in a song before as in the middle of the last chorus of this one? I also really enjoyed watching Michael’s drumming on this song (and others). I don’t really have enough knowledge of drumming to speak of it in a meaningful manner, so I won’t, except to say that the changing of tempo and the particular attention to the tone coming off the drum kit really completes this song for me.

Brian took over the keyboard and sang “How Lucky Am I?” while Michael and Danny headed to the main microphone to sing the backing vocals. I’ve borrowed the line from this song as the title for this post, because it is how I felt about being able to attend the concert. This is a beautiful song; both live and on the album the melody is supported solely by the piano accompaniment and harmonies. Stylistically, Brian’s melodies, depth of  lyrics, and musical complexities are highly appealing. I’m truly looking forward to hearing more of his songs.

Danny Ayala of The Lemon Twigs

At this point in the concert, Brian took up residence behind the drums and Michael strapped on the guitar, ready to take over the lead. They played another new tune, “Night Song” that will be on next year’s EP, including Danny playing some stretches of calliope-sounding keyboard passages worthy of Ray Manzarek. Danny is clearly a pretty skilled musician and I wonder how his role in the band will progress with time, regarding playing on the EP and on future albums.

Michael is very different in character as a front man than Brian. Michael punctuates songs with high kicks and split leaps, he pushes the vocals hard, and feels no compulsion to hang with the melody at all costs. There are only a few people that I’ve seen play live that I feel are made of music, where the music so fully inhabits their bodies that the instrument is just like another appendage and their whole beings seem to get lost into a song. Chris Thile is a good example of one of those people. Multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion often appears to be a person possessed by music too. I think Michael D’Addario looks like another one. I’m not saying he has the same genius as these two men, for that, time will tell. The fact that he is 17 years old and is already so musically accomplished just fills me with so much hope for the future. He may not have the cleverest lyrics yet, but life experiences and a little more maturity will lead him there. Then, I think we are all going to see something truly amazing. He radiates raw potential and that is one of the exciting things about this band.

Michael D’Addario of The Lemon Twigs, Mid-Kick

The next song performed at the concert was “Baby, Baby,” a tune with a very catchy refrain and what I refer to as a Beatles ending — you think the song is over and then there is a completely different extra section tacked on — “waiting on you, waiting on you.”  Then it was time for another new one that is expected to be on the EP, a rocker called “So Fine.” Very curious as to how the musical accompaniment will be arranged on that one in the recorded version.

Michael D’Addario on Guitar and Megan Zeankowski on Bass for The Lemon Twigs

Then Michael went on to sing their single “As Long As We’re Together” (link to official video, which was notably directed by Autumn de Wilde). This is the hit. This song should surely find a broad audience to appreciate it; it has a lot of singalong appeal. When Michael performed this one live, he really got into the feeling of this song, though it seems that he needs to be wary that his vocals don’t get too ragged when he is going all out. Here is an area where he can grow — finding mastery in creating a powerful and emotive vocal performance without trashing (or sounding like he is trashing) the vocal cords. This song is another fine example of playing with spareness and fullness in instrumentation.  Again, I am not a drummer, but Brian’s drumming on this song has so much of a Ringo Starr feel to it, that it immediately felt at home in my heart.

As the concert came to a close, Jonathan Rado was introduced and appeared very briefly on the stage and the audience was told to essentially ignore him while a brief clip was filmed. Not sure what that was all about. The band then performed their final song of their set, another new one for the EP, “The Queen of My School.” This is a another catchy number.

The audience pretty much demanded an encore and I’m not sure if the band had anything planned. Only Brian and Michael were on stage to perform the bonus song, a cover of “There’s a Place” by the Beatles (click on the link for video from the show). That was a pleasant surprise to be able to hear a live version of one of my favorite early Beatles songs.

I don’t feel that I can express enough how exciting it is to listen to this band’s music. It is fresh, yet feels familiar, exciting yet comfortable. I listened to no other music for the first two weeks that I had their album Do Hollywood, such that my kids were starting to sing along to both lyrics and instrumental parts. Here is a band we could all agree that we liked! If this is the first time you are reading about The Lemon Twigs and would like to experience more of what they sound like live, please check out this professional concert footage from the band’s recent performance at Le Bataclan in Paris, France.

Michael D’Addario and Megan Zeankowski of The Lemon Twigs

Hear more from The Lemon Twigs on iTunes.