October 15, 2009
Troubadour, Los Angeles
A movie I really wanted to see – Where The Wild Things Are – opened at midnight and I forgot all about it. The Flaming Lips were playing a “secret” show at a pop-up store in Hollywood and I didn’t care (although I did wonder how they would fit that big bubble in there). I haven’t slept (much) in days, but I wasn’t tired.
Daniel Lanois, the man who produced some of my (and your) favorite albums of all time, was playing at Troubadour last night and that’s all that mattered. Considering the room was so packed that it became impossible to navigate through the crowd to get to the bathroom or the bar, I’m not the only one who felt that way.
Lanois does more than produce – he’s a songwriter, musician, and quite possibly stylist to The Edge. He epitomizes “cool” and may even love music more than me. Well, he certainly loves music more than he loves me, but he may also love music more than I love music. If that’s possible, Lanois is the one to do it.
Lanois’ Black Dub features Brian Blade on drums, Daryl Johnson on bass, and Trixie Whitley adding vocals, keys, and more percussion. Whitley is the daughter of the late great blues guitarist and singer, Chris Whitley. On June 10, 1997, I stood wide-eyed in the center of the Troubadour, as Chris Whitely made me question my taste in those whom I had previously thought of as good musicians. That night, twelve years ago, Chris Whitley opened my eyes to another level of musicianship.
Similarly, Lanois’ Black Dub reminded me of a band I’d stumble upon in New Orleans. If you haven’t been to New Orleans, here’s how it works: you can walk into any club (often without paying a cover), at any time of night (literally), and see a level of musicianship you didn’t know was possible, by a musician you’d never heard of. You’re left standing there, as the words “music” and “musician” are redefined before your eyes and you’re not sure how you’ll listen to anything else again. I know this about New Orleans, yet every time I’m there I text my friends in the middle of the night: “THIS is music.”
Lanois’ Black Dub IS music. I didn’t have to text anybody last night because my friends and a room packed with people who “know” music were there, in complete agreement. Trixie Whitley belted out songs as if that’s what she was born to do. She picked up the guitar and played as if that’s what she was born to do. Then, mid-song, she’d move to the drums and play as if that’s what she was born to do. Next thing you know, Whitley is hammering away on the keyboard as if that’s what she was born to do. Whitley IS music – no matter what she’s doing, playing, or singing – and her stage presence exemplifies passion.
“Passion never goes out of fashion,” Lanois said between songs. He then went on to share his gratitude for the gift of music. He also shared his gratitude for those who are not musically gifted, but who play the supporting roles necessary to help ensure the music is heard. Although they call themselves Lanois’ Black Dub, it didn’t feel like the night was about Lanois. “I love singing harmonies,” Lanois explained before launching into the harmonies of a song called “Sing.” “When you sing harmonies, there’s no room for ego. It’s not about you. It’s about the blend.”
Last night’s show was about the blend. Whether they were playing “The Maker,” a rockin’ version of “Ring The Alarm,” or a song I’d never heard, the spotlight wasn’t on one person – Johnson, Blade, Whitley, and Lanois shined equally. It was some of the most talented musicians looking at each other with admiration, as if to say, “Holy sh!t! I can’t believe you just did that!” In fact, Lanois spent much of the night playing with a huge smile on his face. Lanois’ Black Dub is a group of musicians who are playing music because it’s fun, playing music because they love it, playing music because they can’t live without it, and playing with each other because they can.