Ordinarily I’d be inclined to hate a venue like Largo – it’s full of rules and “no”s. But Largo has been good to me for the past 13 years. I’ve experienced some amazing shows at Largo including: Elliott Smith, Neil Finn, Fiona Apple, Ben Folds, Glen Phillips (Toad The Wet Sprocket), Aimee Mann, E (The Eels), Robyn Hitchcock, Joseph Arthur, John Doe, Jon Brion, Grant Lee Phillips, Rufus Wainwright, Jack Black, and Tenacious D. I’ve laughed my ass off at comedy shows featuring Greg Behrendt, Sarah Silverman, Doug Benson, The Naked Trucker, Jack Black, and Tenacious D.
As I sat in the audience having a thoroughly enjoyable night of music, I realized this was made possible precisely because of those fucking rules. Largo puts music first. It’s one of the few places where you can completely escape – even planes have WiFi now. You have no choice but to become entirely immersed in music at Largo. Well, your other choice would be to leave. Largo puts the music before the customer. It’s great for the Artists too because they get to focus on playing their shows. The musicians aren’t stuck being “the assholes,” asking people to be quiet from stage, enduring the annoying ringing or feedback from cell phones in the monitors, nor averting their eyes from flashing bulbs. The musicians play. The audience listens. Largo takes care of the rest. When it comes down to it, Largo is doing everybody a favor. So if you think Flannagan’s an asshole, he’s not – he just likes music more than he likes you.
Fact: I’ve only received two criticisms since I started Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend. The first was for not writing enough about M. Ward in my Monsters of Folk review. The second was for not mentioning The Chapin Sisters in my review of Butch Walker’s most recent show in LA (the comment was posted on Facebook). Well, guess what “MB” and Jeff – I wanted to give The Chapin Sisters and M. Ward their own review all along, and here it is:
First off, Largo is the perfect venue for a show like this. The room invokes a classy, theatrical vibe. The sound is great, nobody is talking or clicking away on their cell phones, you don’t hear the noise of the bar or the spilling of drinks. You can close your eyes and get lost in sound for a couple hours. That said, you won’t find yourself closing your eyes at this show because there’s an element of artistry and performance conveyed visually, that you don’t want to miss.
The Chapin Sisters, accompanied at times by the Brothers Brothers, were great. I actually felt like an adult at this show, like I was doing something civilized and sophisticated. I don’t often like that feeling, but tonight it worked. However, because The Chapin Sisters made me feel something I’m not used to feeling, I’m finding it difficult to articulate. Go see them for yourself. Close your eyes and let the harmonies drown out the voices in your head. The Chapin Sisters are a perfect complement to She & Him. Their music and performance evoke a different time and a foreign land. Vinyl seems the appropriate format for listening to this music.
She & Him, headed up by Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, blew me away. At times, I was listening to a seemingly even-paced, “mellow” song, and then M. Ward kicked in with some absolutely insane guitar parts that bordered on psychedelic. And who wears a fluffy, fuchsia dress on stage?! Zooey Deschanel does. That, marks my first-ever remark about what an Artist wears on stage. I despise those portions of reviews that talk about what the singer is wearing or the drummer’s new haircut. Typically, that has nothing to do with the music! Yet, in the case of She & Him, Deschanel’s dress, and certainly her high heels, were important to the show. The tone of the show was reinforced by the dress and the heels that, at times, were too high for Deschanel to effectively play the Wurlitzer.
Speaking of the Wurlitzer – She & Him, well actually, “She,” knew exactly how and when to insert humor into the set. It’s a good thing Deschanel broke things up with light-hearted and quirky banter. Otherwise, we may all still be sitting there in a hypnotic state. To pass the time while the band tuned their instruments, Deschanel remarked, “The Wurlitzer is smooth. Some say it’s smoother than a piano. . . It’s like a piano, but with fewer options. . . Less lows. . . and highs.” The description felt a bit like an analogy for life. You can live a “piano life,” with all its highs and lows. Or, you can live a “Wurlitzer life” which may be smoother, but has less options.
Among many highlights of the show was She & Him’s unplugged performance of “You Really Got A Hold On Me.” You could forget to breathe during moments like those. “Change Is Hard,” “Sentimental Heart,” and “Take It Back,” were also favorites. The Chapin Sisters lent their vocals, shakers, and sleigh bells to the music as well. At one point Deschanel asked The Chapins what they were discussing. The Chapins then asked Deschanel her opinion about including sleigh bells in the next song. “You can play whatever you want. Cuz that’s the kind of friend I am!” Deschanel said, exuding confidence and sarcasm. After pausing for a moment, she added, “I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore!” That statement scored her hundreds of points in my book.
Approximately two-thirds of the way through the show, Deschenal informed the audience she was done singing new material. “No more new songs,” Deschenal said, probably expecting a sigh of relief. Instead, the audience booed. Deschenal responded, infusing her response with humor, “BUT. . . old songs!!” she said with a smile. “Yay!” the crowd responded in unison.
“You’re all so quiet,” M. Ward acknowledged between songs. “Are you OK?” Yes, everyone was OK – they were just afraid to make a sound. Tonight marked the 1st show of She & Him’s 2010 world tour. “It’s the first show of our world tour and we wanted to have it at Largo since it’s one of the best venues in the world!” Deschanel explained. Even though it was too dark for the band to see the set list, and that as a fan, you’ll not find any of this on YouTube, it seemed both the Artist and Audience wouldn’t have done it any other way. Largo wins again.
Abiding by the rules, these are the only photos I took:
The irony of the “Totally Nude Strippers” sign reflected in Largo’s mirrored sign. There’s a lot that can be inferred…
The mirror of Largo
The rabbit hole is accessible via the woman’s bathroom:
March 12. 2010
B.R.M.C. Night 2 of 3
The Echoplex, Los Angeles
Robert Levon Been and Leah Shapiro
You can read about my 10-year love affair with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, as well as my review of Friday night’s show, here. Last night was night 2 of 3 sold-out B.R.M.C. shows at The Echoplex and they did not disappoint.
They’re supporting their new album, Beat The Devil’s Tattoo, so naturally they played some of the same songs during both Friday and Saturday’s sets. That said, having gone both nights, B.R.M.C. managed to make each show feel entirely different. It’s difficult to describe and I’m not sure I want to. Just know that last night’s show made me want to go again Sunday night. The music and their performance of it is simply, and consistently, that good.
Some of my favorite moments last night included performances of “Sympathetic Noose,” “Steal A Ride,” “Beat The Devil’s Tattoo,” “Ain’t No Easy Way,” “Never Known You,” “Shuffle Your Feet,” and of course, “Open Invitation.” As was the case Friday night, B.R.M.C. closed out Saturday night’s set in darkness, connected to the audience via a web of green lasers, with “Open Invitation.” In case you don’t know “Open Invitation,” the lyrics include the lines “Pull me up, on either side. Don’t leave me standing alone in the light. . .” The song in and of itself is beautiful and among my favorites by B.R.M.C, both lyrically and musically. Add to it the intersecting web of laser lights, each beam of light connecting members of the audience with the band and each other, cutting through the darkness and stillness, and the effect you get is that you no longer feel the slightest bit alone. And so my ten year love affair with B.R.M.C. continues.
Robert Levon Been
If you’ve missed them in L.A., you have one more chance to see B.R.M.C. this week and I highly suggest you do. They’ll be returning to the Echoplex for their third performance Sunday night. They’re also continuing on tour around the U.S., so if you live anywhere else in the country, check out their tour dates here.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Even after 10 years, I’m still learning new things about B.R.M.C. which lead me to love them even more. During a visit to their merch booth I purchased some limited edition vinyl and picked up a postcard that explains, in detail, the band’s commitment to responsibly sourcing their merchandise. In an effort to ensure they don’t support child labor in cotton fields around the world, B.R.M.C. has gone out of their way to research and partner with Continental Clothing for all their apparel merchandise. Continental Clothing uses only organic cotton and certifies its products are ethically produced. Looking forward to another decade with B.R.M.C.
Videos from last night’s show:
It gets even better beginning at 3:04 – watch it all the way through.
Oh guys, it’s been WAY too long!! One of my favorite B.R.M.C. memories is when I first heard their debut album, B.R.M.C. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, back in 2000. It may have even been an advance copy, and my colleague and friend, Brigitte, had just added it to the rotation at the office. “WHO is THIS?!” we all asked. “B.R.M.C.” Brigitte would respond as if to say, “Yeah, I know what’s up. . . ” “What’s B.R.M.C.?” we’d beg for as much insight as possible. Brigitte would take a deep breath and then enunciate the words with purpose and precision: “Black. Rebel. Motorcycle. Club.” Their first album was aptly self-titled, and soon, you knew who they were.
Robert Levon Been
My second favorite B.R.M.C. memory is when they played acoustic at The Hotel Cafe several years ago. It was after Howl which came out in 2005, so this was four or five years ago. To this day, that moment remains among my top Hotel Cafe memories. And, as you can see, it’s simultaneously one of my all-time favorite B.R.M.C. memories.
My most favorite B.R.M.C. memory is the show they played at The Echoplex tonight, 10 years after I was initially introduced to them. As stated on their website, “Somewhere between the five full-length albums and a decade-long road test across the highways of the world, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club found their way.”
I’d say B.R.M.C. found their way at the beginning, or knew their way all along. Here’s a band that is exceptionally talented and they could have taken some shortcuts along the way, they could have sold out, they could have given up. Instead, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club maintained their art and their integrity and took some risks. I remember when they released Howl and it was a departure from the B.R.M.C. “signature sound” fans became so familiar with. It was during a time when several bands were veering away from the music they had become known for, and without fail, each departure was an absolute disaster. But not B.R.M.C. Howl was a standout album for the band, and a likely bridge to the wider audience that is now among their fans. Howl became yet another proof point of just how talented the band is.
Peter Hayes, Robert Levon Been, and Leah Shapiro were, simply put: fuckin’ great! They played everything from, one of my personal favorites, “Open Invitation” to “Berlin,” “Beat The Devil’s Tattoo,” “Bad Blood,” “White Palms,” “The Toll,” and “Ain’t No Easy Way.” Robert did most of the speaking, which is ironic because one of the first things he said was, “I woke up this morning and had no voice.” You wouldn’t know anybody wasn’t feeling up to par based on their performance. It was one of the tightest shows I’ve seen in recent memory. 10 years ago it was one of the tightest shows I had seen then.
B.R.M.C. stuck it out through the de-evolution of record labels and the dissolution of other bands that began around the same time as they did. B.R.M.C. haven’t compromised a thing, are better than ever, and are now playing 3 sold-out shows at The Echoplex – which gives you 2 more shows to get to. No excuses. See this band.
Whoever gave these guys a chance deserves a hand for being able to see it early. I first heard The Big Pink’s “Dominos” on the radio several months ago and really liked it. (And by “radio” I mean: KCRW). I’ve had an intuitive feeling about The Big Pink ever since hearing that song and decided I wanted to see them live before venturing further into their music. I hadn’t listened to their album or done any research about the band prior to this show. Didn’t want to know anything else about them — just wanted to experience whatever The Big Pink had to offer via a live performance.
What The Big Pink has to offer is: originality, consistently good music, and a solid, passionate live show. I was surprised, not because I expected anything less from The Big Pink, but because based on the current state of the music industry, it takes some balls to take a chance on a band like this. Not many are really willing to do it. The Big Pink defy categorization and it requires vision and patience to understand the potential for that to pay off. In fact, when I came home from the show and went to download their album, “A Brief History of Love,” I saw that The Big Pink’s genre is listed as “unknown” on iTunes.
Robbie Furze "These Arms of Mine"
I wasn’t sure I was in the mood for it actually, but it turned out The Big Pink is exactly what I needed. Something unexpected, something almost magical. Approximately two-thirds of the way through their set, The Big Pink played “These Arms of Mine.” This moment led the crowd to be silenced and in awe of Robbie Furze’s amazing voice. This is when every woman in audience melted and when every man in the audience thought to himself, “Fuck. How am I going to compete with this?!”
The Big Pink
Go check ’em out. Give them a few songs. It feels familiar. You could walk in on the performance of a number of their songs and think, “oh yeah, I’ve heard this before. It’s like blah blah bl. . . Oh, no. . . It isn’t. . . ” Approximately three songs into their set you realize The Big Pink is entirely different. And it’s good.
In case you’re in love with the song “Dominos” and haven’t heard the rest of the album nor seen The Big Pink live, you should know – they’re not all like “Dominos.” Don’t be disappointed – this is simply the case because The Big Pink has more than one good song and more than one good sound.
March 4, 2010
Rooftop parking lot
Downtown Los Angeles
Broken Bells Record Release Laser Light Show
If, when Broken Bells created this, they imagined how happy and grateful they could possibly make somebody feel, I feel even better than that. And by “created this” I mean: not only the Record Release Laser Light Show Drive-In, but the music, the art, and the experience of it all.
This is what music is
It’s an experience
That’s why people are going back to vinyl
They want to touch something
They miss the experience
It’s a community
They want to be part of something
At 8:00pm tonight Broken Bells took over a roof-top parking lot in downtown Los Angeles for a drive-in style laser light show, synchronized to their debut album. And it wasn’t just fancy shapes and pretty colors – it was an actual choreographed, scripted, 3D, laser light music video for each song, weaving several stories together into an album. It took time. It was thoughtful. It added meaning. It moved me. It gave me renewed hope for music. . .
Y’know, U2 has this whole “360” spaceship show. And it’s visually spectacular. But it feels like they did it just to be big, to do something nobody’s done before, to be larger than life. And that’s respectable, on its own. But it didn’t feel all that relevant to the music. It was just an awesome visual show. . . oh, and also. . . there was music. It’s costing $750,000/day to keep that tour going and the carbon impact can’t be good.
Don’t get upset – I’m not giving U2 shit (and this will come full-circle back to Broken Bells). I love U2. I like to get lost in Larry Mullen Jr.’s drumming. The drums in U2 songs are some of the best there are. I love that The Edge created a sound that is unmistakably his, and therefore, unmistakably the band’s. I love watching Adam Clayton swinging that bass around like it’s his dance partner. And Bono, your voice is great. . . So, you don’t need to go flying through the air on an illuminated neon megaphone. It doesn’t add anything to the music. In fact, if you re-read my review of that show (which I think is very complimentary), it doesn’t speak all that much about the music. It’s mostly about the visual aspect as a stand-alone experience. I already got my ticket for U2’s next spaceship 360 show in the LA area, but I’d rather see the show I just described.
House abducted by spaceship
What Danger Mouse and The Shins‘ James Mercer (aka Broken Bells) created tonight added something to the music. What Nine Inch Nails creates adds something to the music. What Portugal. The Man creates adds something to the music. What Radiohead creates adds something to the music. What The Soundtrack of Our Lives creates adds something to the music. There are Artists doing it every day (including U2 – I just don’t think the current tour is the best example of it). And it’s great. I only mention these other Artists within a Broken Bells review to illustrate that there are many paths to creating an exceptional experience. Not right or wrong. Some more about the music than others. From one of the biggest bands in the world, to a brand new concept, to a band you may not have heard of but you will know them when you see them. . .
It's too late to change your mind
Danger Mouse gets it. He does it every time. He knows what’s happening. He knows where we’re headed. He’s a little ahead of the game, so not everyone is going to get it at first.
Tonight’s event left me feeling like Broken Bells created this as part of the music; that they originally set out to do exactly this. It wasn’t just an afterthought; it’s more than simply a cool way to promote something. They didn’t want to just make a record – they wanted to create a mutil-sensory experience. I’d love to know more. Perhaps an interview at SXSW?
Broken Bells 03-09-10
On March 9, 2010 (that’s Tuesday), we really should buy the Broken Bells album. Some of us can buy extras for those who can’t afford to buy one, but everybody should have one.
PS – The Broken Bells Laserium glasses are the gift that keep on giving. And they didn’t even exploit the opportunity to paste some marketing message on them — they knew I’d remember where I got them.