February 25, 2011
“Live From The Artists Den” Taping
Los Angeles, CA
Adele: Live From The Artists Den
Last night I went out to dinner with a friend. Within minutes of sitting down at the table, the topic of music arose. “I don’t really listen to music much,” our waiter informed us. We looked at him in sheer disbelief. He may as well have been speaking another language. “Except Adele! I LOVE Adele!! She’s amazing! The new album is brilliant! Have you heard it?? I really only listen to Adele. She’s so. . .” Suddenly we couldn’t get him to shut up about music. Adele’s music has permeated the consciousness of even a self-proclaimed non-music fan and moves him to such a degree that he passionately speaks about Adele as if he were a life-long super fan.
“I’m going to see her perform tomorrow night,” I replied with a smile.
“You are??? Are you going to cry when she sings ‘Someone Like You’?” he asked.
Tonight I was fortunate enough to attend the taping of Adele’s performance for “Live From The Artists Den. ” Usually when I see a spectacular show, the words flow with ease as I later recount it. In this case, I’m finding it difficult to articulate in words the brilliance of Adele, her music, and the experience of this show. Words feel too limiting, too definitive, but I will do my best in hopes that it inspires you to see Adele live and watch “Live From The Artists Den” when it airs.
Santa Monica Bay Women's Club
Adele’s “secret show” took place at Santa Monica Bay Women’s Club, in a beautiful ballroom with hardwood floors. Rows of chairs, draped in white slipcovers, filled the room. “I came here earlier for sound check and no one was here. It looked like it was set for a wedding. . . Someday. . . fingers crossed… ” Adele laughed. While not traditionally a music venue, Santa Monica Bay Women’s Club happens to be one of the best-sounding venues in Los Angeles. There was so much space in Adele’s voice, supported perfectly by the room, sonically, it felt as though Adele was breathing for all of us.
When Adele sang, I could see sound. I watched the tones travel, bounce, roll, morph, intersect, and dance around as she sang. It felt like Adele was playing with her voice, as if they were childhood friends on a playground. You could feel the breeze and hear the smack of their hands in a high-five, each time they passed one another on the swings.
Every note was intentional, but didn’t feel controlled. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this. Typically when I’ve seen an exceptional vocalist perform, they’re so good that they simply nail every note. Sometimes they may add something even more challenging to illustrate the sheer depth of their talent, and they sing the songs with perfection. Adele is even better than that. It didn’t feel like she was singing the songs or hitting the notes or “showing us” what she could do. It felt as though she was spontaneously creating each note, every sound, every variation, before us, as she felt was perfect for that particular moment. Adele is among the most “present” musicians I’ve ever seen perform.
While this is the first time I’ve seen Adele live, I imagine she never sings a song precisely the same way she sang it before. The variations may be minute, but they’re felt nonetheless, and her voice provides the space to do this as if it’s effortless. I can only describe the feeling I experienced as “space.” There is so much room in Adele’s voice, there’s so much space when she sings, she takes you on a journey with each song, rather than simply singing them to you. You may be sitting or standing very still when you see Adele perform, but you will be moved greatly.
It’s refreshing to see sheer talent on stage. No exorbitant lighting. No elaborate set design. No short skirts or flashy costumes. Nothing about Adele’s show says, “Hey! Look over here. . . ” or “let me distract you with this. . . ” Adele is pure talent. You don’t need to look anywhere else. Just listen.
Adele is setting records with her latest album, 21. She is the first living artist to achieve the feat of two top five hits in both the UK Singles Chart and the UK Album Chart simultaneously since The Beatles in 1964* The album debuted at #1 in the UK and simultaneously in nine other countries. Having been released in the U.S. just this past Tuesday, 21 is expected to debut #1 on the U.S. album charts as well. After expressing immense gratitude for her success, Adele interjected her surprise, “But. . . I didn’t think I wrote number one songs.” Yes, you do.
Thankfully, even in the face of disposable “radio hits,” people still recognize undeniable talent, music with soul, integrity, and deeper meaning – and they want it. Tickets to Adele’s summer tour went on sale prior to the release of her latest album in the U.S., and shows sold out within minutes. People will still pay for the experience of good music. There is mass demand for quality. Adele is a testament to that.
“Live From The Artists Den” is entering its third season on public television in April. The air date of Adele’s performance is TBD, but I will update this post once it’s confirmed. I encourage you to support The Artists Den whether by watching, purchasing DVDs of previous shows or compilation CDs, or by attending a live taping if ever you have the opportunity. Our support of programming like The Artists Den and musicians like Adele is a powerful vote for quality music.
When I say I want to be inspired by live music – THIS is what I’m talking about. I want to stay up all night and scream (or write) about how exceptional the show was even though I have a full day of work and meetings, beginning very early in the morning. I want to leave the venue without saying “goodbye” to friends I haven’t seen in a long time, to rush home and write about the experience. I want to buy tickets to the next show before I publish this review because once people read this, if they live anywhere near L.A., they’ll buy tickets to see Joseph Arthur‘s final show of his 4-week residency at Bootleg Theater next week. It will sell out.
Paint on Joseph's Left Hand: Music is Art
If you’ve been reading Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend for a little while, then you know about my history with Joseph Arthur, which spans more than a decade. One of my favorite Joseph Arthur memories was several years ago when my friends and I learned Joe was playing a last-minute show, in the small room, at The Knitting Factory. It was about 4:30 pm and we were sitting at work, looking at each other, until we devised a plan (which didn’t take long). My friend, Jen, called The Knitting Factory. “Yeah. . . so we heard Joseph Arthur is playing there tonight. . . in the small room. . . Yeah. . . This may be a dumb question, but are there any tickets left. . . ? And. . .what do we have to do to get them?”
Jen slammed down the phone, “Grab your coats ladies! We need to go to The Knitting Factory right now! They only have 3 tickets left for the show tonight and we need to go get them!” First of all, imagine getting anywhere – quickly – at 5pm, in LA. We looked at each other, without hesitation, vowed to come back to work after the show, and sprinted to the car.
We somehow got to the venue while the remaining 3 tickets were available and Joseph Arthur treated us to a brilliant show. It was special because the venue was exceptionally small and the sound (at that time) was really good. It was special because there were some technical difficulties. . . which allowed time for Joe to get out his notebook and show us some recent artwork he’d created. It was special because Joseph Arthur was playing.
Twelve years later, and I still feel that privileged to see Joseph Arthur play.
Building The Song Piece By Piece
What was special about tonight’s show? The paint on Joe’s hands, reminding you that music isn’t just “music” – it’s art. The way Joseph re-creates songs in front of you, piece by piece, looping percussion, vocals, and guitar, with relaxed precision. “Relaxed precision” may seem like a contradiction but that’s how he pulls it off. Watching Joseph paint, not just a picture, but what is to become a central character in the show, while singing. The look on Joe’s face as he
Painting A Character Into The Show
contemplates and serenades the painting he created while singing the early verses of the same song. Watching and listening, awestruck, as Joseph reads several pages of spoken word, the words flowing so fluidly, you can’t imagine he’s actually had the time to read them off the page. The apparent set list written on the back of the poetry – the songs are familiar, but the set is different. . . it always is. Joe’s sense of humor as he introduces a song, “This song is new. . . except for countless clips on YouTube. Oh, the mystique of the music industry.”
The fact that every person who has spoken to me about Bootleg Theater has said what a terrible venue it is; and that it actually turned out to be quite wonderful. The way I was greeted at the door by security, with open arms and a smile, and treated with genuine kindness while getting my ticket. The feeling of gratitude upon remembering that, after a lifetime of seeing shows in LA, some venues truly are home and treat me like family. And, the realization that after all that time, I can walk into a venue for the first time, and that it too can feel like home. Walls upon walls of Joseph Arthur’s paintings in the gallery, leading to the music room. The fact that there is still a music venue that only charges $2 for a bottle of water.
This acoustic rendition of “In The Sun,” featuring C.c. White and audience sing-a-long. No microphones. Vocal mastery from C.c. White (be sure to watch through the end). A chorus of audience back-up singers – the experience of community and collective passion they contributed is another thing that made the night special:
Not just playing songs; re-creating songs:
“Crying Like A Man”
If you missed that show, you missed that show. It’ll never be the same. That’s Joseph Arthur.
The final show of Joseph’s residency at Bootleg Theater is next Tuesday, March 1. Tickets
All day today I was under the impression that it was Saturday. A text message from a friend confirming our dinner plans tonight was my first indication that today was indeed Sunday. Another friend reminded me that next weekend is the Academy Awards. The sum total of what this means to me is that February is over already.
I feel like I’m in some parallel universe, where the relationship with time is much more dynamic, much less linear. As I play around in this sphere, the question that often arises is “what happened?” Not because I’m concerned, but because I like it here.
In the midst of this, my phone rang. “How are you?” the familiar voice on the other end asked. “I’m listening to Radiohead,” I replied.
And that’s the answer. That’s what happened.
Radiohead’s latest album The King of Limbs came out Friday, following an announcement just a few days prior that the album would be available for download on Saturday. I’m on Radiohead time.
I’m not going to write about the album because I like people to have the space to form their own opinions about music and because I don’t want to limit it with something as concrete as words. Listen to it a few times. Get lost in it. Or run away from it. Whatever it moves you to do – move and do it.
Which leads us to the video for “Lotus Flower” that was released Friday morning (US time), just prior to the album becoming available. The video racked up a substantial number of “plays” and accolades early in the day. My first thought was, “wow… look how Lotus Flower has evolved.”
I was thinking back to October 2, 2009, the first time Lotus Flower was played live for an audience. Thom debuted the song during a “secret show” to unveil his new band, “??????“. ?????? soon became known as “The Thom Yorke band,” and by “known” I mean: people didn’t have the attention span to say “question mark question mark question mark question mark question mark question mark” and needed something more tangible. On March 1, 2010, Thom Yorke declared ?????? had been named “Atoms For Peace.” As time is dynamic, so is Thom Yorke, Radiohead, and the music they compose. Even the older albums feel to me like they evolve upon each new listen.
I managed to capture quite a lot of video during that first show, in October 2009, much to the dismay of some self-declared “traditional journalists” who felt they’d been scooped “by some bloggers.” That’s the challenge isn’t it? They’re behind. We’re living in different times now, to the rhythm of instant gratification. The real, immediate, news is reported on Twitter, the “Nightly News” is simply a recap of the history of that day.
So here’s the “Nightly News” video recap of “Lotus Flower” – the first single off The King of Limbs:
“Lotus Flower” performed for the first time, at The Echoplex, October 2, 2009:
Among the “others” was a Miike Snow show. My experience of that show was the epitome of everything that is resulting in things such as promoters and ticket retailers posting large revenue losses, quarter after quarter. I don’t recall specifically the exact mark-up, but it was something like 42% of the total per ticket cost was service charges (possibly even more than that). Then, what do you get inside? You find yourself experiencing a show, surrounded by people who are there almost as some kind of status symbol or fashion statement. They could afford tickets, they were able to get tickets to “the hottest show” that night – they exuded superiority. It didn’t feel like it was about the music; it felt like it was about ego. Not everyone embodied this attitude, of course, but plenty did.
In my opinion, music should be accessible, democratic, accepting, and connecting. What I found disheartening about that show is that, for the most part, it was the opposite of all those things. The live music business (artists included) let their egos take the wheel because, for a moment, live music was the cash-positive side of the music business. In an attempt to exploit that momentum, they lost sight of the most important thing — the experience.
At the point you lose my friends and me – people who have been seeing live music (sometimes multiple shows per night), every night of the week, for more than a decade, you should consider examining your business. We are the “super fans,” the ones who will travel around the world to see a great show, and if you’re not engaging us, how do you expect to engage the “casual fan”?
At about the same time I became disillusioned with the experience of live music, my camera (which previously allowed me to capture exceptional quality videos) broke. So, for the past several months, I’ve been experiencing live music without concern about capturing the experience for those who couldn’t be there. Instead, I was more grounded in the experience, with the people who could be there. Ironically, my inability to document the experience greatly supported my resurfacing to document the experience. Which is where I am now, after they tore down The Wall.
When Roger Waters announced he’d be touring The Wall, it made the top of my list of “shows to see”. Then, there was that incident of defacing the Elliott Smith memorial tribute wall in Silverlake to promote Roger Waters: The Wall. Once I heard that, I decided not to attend the show. I do not believe you need to compromise the art or memorial of another in order to promote your own. Nor do I believe you should record a shitty cover song, for the same reasons (but that’s a topic for another day). Waters later apologized, by the way.
Monday came around and my Twitter stream was full of accolades about The Wall. I had plans Monday night and would not have been able to attend the show anyway. Tuesday rolled around – same thing. Wednesday morning I was kicking myself for missing this show. Based on what everybody was saying, this was a fully immersive live music experience like the ones I’d been missing (especially since Nine Inch Nails stopped touring and Radiohead had been quiet).
Wednesday night I had dinner with a friend of mine who is also a manager at Redlight Management. He’s been seeing live music for decades and, like me, has traveled around the world for music. “Roger Waters The Wall is the best show I’ve ever seen! Not just a music show – a real SHOW!” he exclaimed. . . Shit.
“I can’t believe I missed it!!” I replied, defeated.
“He’s playing again Sunday and tickets are available,” my friend informed me. That’s all it took. I resolved to go to the show Sunday, no matter what.
Saturday I saw my friend, Deborah. If there is a handful of people who have been to more live shows than I, Deborah is one of them. “You have to go see The Wall! It’s the best show I’ve seen. . . ”
Ok, ok, I get it, I’m going.
Sunday, following an amazing day of philosophizing, relaxing, and spending time with friends, I headed to Staples Center to experience this highly-anticipated show. Now, my expectations were set very high, so it would be easy to fall short, but that didn’t happen.
Experiencing The Wall
Everything – the inefficient system of getting people through metal detectors and into the show, the pre-show music, long lines for the men’s bathroom and no lines for the women’s room, amazing pastrami sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies, generations of families in attendance – was part of the experience. It felt less like a concert and more like a pilgrimage to a festival or any shared experience with a heightened level of consciousness among everyone in attendance. People knew they were in for something special.
The show began, and as the band played “The Wall” front to back (because that’s how it was with vinyl), a wall was literally built in front of the audience. Bricks were added with intention, one by one, and then images were projected on The Wall. At one point, you could almost feel the dirty breeze of the train rushing by. There was a plane crash. There were larger-than-life puppets that danced and hovered over the crowd. An intricate story was told and no matter where you were sitting, you were enveloped in the experience.
The experience was expansive, the vibe unifying and community-building. There was a set break between “side A” and “side B,” during which we were invited into the ABC corporate box seats. The “walls” of exclusivity were truly torn down and we watched a good portion of the second set from this upgraded vantage point.
Was Roger Waters: The Wall an expensive ticket? Yes. Was the experience worth it? Yes.
Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend is back (with a new camera).
If you like music at all, even if you don’t like their music, Massive Attack is a show to see. If you’re depressed about the state of world affairs, well. . . take something to make you feel better and see this show anyway.
During the first of three sold-out shows at The Wiltern, Massive Attack treated the crowd to the perfect blend of music, dance, and overtly disturbing messages. They kicked off the show with an energy level many artists reserve for the encore and maintained it throughout.
Another thing that was consistent throughout the show was the display of facts and figures on a digital screen, behind the band. The information projected to the crowd was meant to shift perspective, to open the eyes of everybody in attendance to some of the injustice in the world. From war to slavery, genocide to oil, Massive Attack covered it all. The massive onslaught of information and statistics, albeit disturbing and often times shocking, did not detract from the music. In fact, the high production value of the show – the lights, the display, the sound – was a perfect blend and clearly intended to communicate a message.
Despite the heavy tone and nature of the show, Grant Marshall and Robert Del Naja (“Massive Attack”) seemed elated, exuberant. . . exceptionally joyous during the after party. It got me wondering – what is the message Massive Attack wants people to come away with?
When I asked what he’d say about the overall message they’re conveying, Marshall responded, “Well, the message. . . I’m actually reading Howard Zinn’s book (A People’s History of The United States) right now, so you better talk to me in a week’s time.”
I phrased the question a bit differently for Del Naja: “So is the overarching message that we’re fucked??” I asked him.
“Yeah, exactly. I was trying to make it a bit more positive than that, but that’s pretty much it. That’s why we’ve got to keep on dancing!” del Naja replied, with a broad smile on his face, mid-dance.