I’m really excited about this show and here’s why: I missed all four of Vanaprasta‘s residency shows at The Satellite in November. Missing the shows due to scheduling conflicts (on my side, of course) was a disappointment. I hate to miss a show – especially an outstanding show – and I certainly don’t want to miss FOUR shows. While missing Vanaprasta every Monday night was hard, it wasn’t nearly as devastating as waking up four Tuesdays in a row to Tweets, text messages, and reviews from some of my most-trusted music sources saying how amazing these shows were.
Thankfully, I have another chance to experience Vanaprasta and so do you:
One Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend reader will win a pair of tickets to see Vanaprasta at Central SAPC in Santa Monica on Friday, December 16, 2011.
Here’s what you need to know to enter:
The contest begins now and ends at 12:01 am EST December 16, 2011
You will see there are several ways you can enterand you can get additional entries for each thing you choose to do. You can follow Vanaprasta on Twitter, tweet about the contest, like us on Facebook, and more. ENTER NOW
Winner (1) will be selected by random.org and notified via email on the morning of December 16, 2011. Winner will have 5 hours to respond before a new winner is selected
Your tickets will be available for pick up at Will Call at Central SAPC on the evening of the show. Photo ID will be required to pick up tickets
You must be 21+ to attend this event
Transportation and accommodations not included
Vanaprasta knows where rock music has been, and the Los Angeles quintet knows where it wants to take it. “Someplace mystical,” singer Steven Wilkin says, “where there’s arena-sized sound.”
In less than three years, Wilkin, bassist Taylor Brown, drummer Ben Smiley and guitarists Collin Desha and Cameron Dmytryk have circumnavigated the nebulous L.A. indie-rock universe, releasing an EP, teasing with a couple of singles and turning in enough neck-snapping live performances to give Angelenos whiplash from Silver Lake to the Sunset Strip.
Finally, after three forays into the studio, Vanaprasta unveils Healthy Geometry (out Nov. 1, 2011), a forward-thinking, galactic-sounding debut that draws from the indie, experimental, psychedelic and R&B worlds to shape music that is at once visceral and visionary. Critics have name-checked the Killers (LA Weekly), Kings of Leon (Consequence of Sound) and Mew (Buzz Bands LA), but Healthy Geometry‟s broad dynamic also finds antecedents in the work of Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Muse, Modest Mouse and Black Sabbath.
“For a while, we called our sound ‘guitarwave,’ and the guys joke around that it should be ‘Indie Rock Guitar Hero’ or ‘Epic Karaoke,’” Wilkin says with a smile. “But whatever it is, I‟m glad we had the patience to find the best way to capture it, and to cultivate who we are as a band.”
And who is Vanaprasta? It is five technicians from divergent backgrounds (with equally broad tastes) who comingled in L.A.’s musical melting pot in 2008. From their first jam session, the mixing of molecules in the room generated an energy that was palpable, and end result of that night was, Vanaprasta.
The key ingredients in the quintet’s stew are the colliding guitars of Dmytryk, a former punk-rock kid from Oregon, and Desha, a native Hawaiian with a foundation in slack key guitar, which wrestle atop powerful, shape-shifting rhythms from Brown and Smiley. Wilkin’s balletic tenor (he was a child opera singer in Utah) holds the mold together.
The band’s stadium sound illuminates themes ranging from the highly emotional to the dauntingly intellectual. Vanaprasta (whose name derives
from the Sanskrit word for a forest-dweller who has given up much of his worldly possessions) is fascinated with numerology, geometry and patterns, and what any or all them might mean in a world seemingly ruled by inefficacy and chaos.
Healthy Geometry was produced and mixed by Dave Schiffman, who recorded the band using mostly live takes with minimal overdubbing. It was mastered by Howie Weinberg, who kudoed the band on what he heard. “Working with Dave was super smooth,” Wilkin says. “He came out and saw us live, and basically we let him run with his interpretation of our live show.
Healthy Geometry, which can‟t be categorized into any particular genre but stands on its own as a complete body of work, encapsulates all the different moving parts and ingredients that make up Vanaprasta.
You will see there are several ways you can enterand you can get additional entries for each thing you choose to do. You can follow Tori Amos, tweet about the contest daily, like us on Facebook, and more. ENTER NOW
Winner (1) will be selected by random.org and notified via email on the morning of December 15, 2011. Winner will have 5 hours to respond before a new winner is selected
Your tickets will be available for pick up at Will Call at The Orpheum on the evening of the show. Photo ID will be required to pick up tickets
Transportation and accommodations not included
About Tori Amos:
At this stage, I’m assuming you know who Tori Amos is. So what’s new? Tori’s latest album, Night of Hunters, was released in September.
Here’s how Tori describes the new record:
“It’s a 21st century song cycle inspired by classical music themes spanning over 400 years. I have used the structure of a song cycle to tell an ongoing, modern story. The protagonist is a woman who finds herself in the dying embers of a relationship. In the course of one night she goes through an initiation of sorts that leads her to reinvent herself allowing the listener to follow her on a journey to explore complex musical and emotional subject matter. One of the main themes explored on this album is the hunter and the hunted and how both exist within us.”
Tori is currently on tour to support the album, including 2 sold out dates at The Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles: Tori Amos Tour Dates
About The Orpheum:
In addition to being among the first places the Thom Yorke band played (before they became “Atoms For Peace”), The Orpheum Theatre is one of L.A.’s most venerable landmarks. From a young Judy Garland’s 1933 vaudeville performance to a recent filming of the hit TV show “American Idol”, this renowned venue has hosted an array of theatrical productions, concerts, film festivals, private parties, variety shows, awards shows, movie shoots, music video shoots, television show and commercial shoots and much more.
The two most frequently asked questions I receive are “Will you review my album?” and “Do you sleep?” The answer to both is most often the same: “No”.
The reasons I don’t review recorded music are many. I’m aware that, no matter how I feel about a specific selection of music, the people involved in making it worked really hard on it. They put everything into it, thought about it (possibly too much), lived it, became it, created it, and then got the balls to put it out there. That’s not something I want to filter through my own subjective perception and re-articulate, in written language, to others who will then interpret my words through their subjective filters and in any way, shape, or form “define” or categorize the art of music.
Depending on how any person feels at any given moment, their relationship to a song or album can evolve. We listen to a song incessantly, it reminds us of the greatest relationship we’ve ever had. We break up, we put the song away, it’s too painful. A couple years later, we hear the song again, less painful, we still like it. We hadn’t put that song “in the cloud” yet, but we do now because we feel what we connected to in the first place: the emotion. That didn’t go away when our relationship dissolved. Music can endure and evolve, as we connect with it individually and collectively, over time. I appreciate the freedom that provides – a song or album’s meaning to each person can be drastically different, dynamic throughout time.
Sometimes we select a song because we “need a pick-me up” or we want to create a mood in a room. I may not connect with an album on first listen and years later may discover something I missed or have an experience that allows me to connect with and appreciate it differently.
This isn’t “right” or “wrong” or the way it “should” or “shouldn’t” be. It’s just how I feel. I can write about live music because it’s overtly contextualized in a unique moment – “This is what it feels like right now.” At that moment, what we’re experiencing intersects with the music being created in front of us at that same exact time and it won’t ever happen exactly like that again. Even if it is the same set list, touring on the same album, with the same visuals and sets, the show is not the same. I can go to an artist’s residency and write a vastly different review each of the 4 weeks they play.
So that’s one reason I don’t typically write about recorded music. There are many. Yet, as I was driving to a show last night, listening to Telstar‘s album, Hot Knives I had the first bit of anxiety I’ve felt in years. . . about anything. I had “Are You Hungry” on repeat, listening to all the various attributes and elements that make that song “work” so well; discovering and appreciating something new on each listen.
I was smiling as I experienced the way all the sounds “get along.” I could write 10 paragraphs about one 28-second portion of “Are You Hungry” and another 10 about what it feels like the next time that 28-second bit of music comes in. Then, it would only be fair to express how that piece of music “sits” with the other pieces of the song. Is it the portion that elevates the rest? Or do the 57 seconds that directly precede it create the perfect moment for that piece to come in, and the foundation for it to stand on? I can’t separate it. I love the way it all works together and that my appreciation for it grows deeper each time I hear it.
The background vocals kick in at all the “right” moments and they’re additive to the feeling of the song, not just placed there because that’s “what you do”. At the same time, with every element of the song, in perfect dynamic relationship with the others – none of it feels contrived. It’s organic. It’s precise, but it almost feels like an accident. 3 friends got together in a room, decided to have some fun and remembered to hit “record”. Yet another reason I don’t typically write about recorded music – I’m not sure I want to be so “academic” about art. I’m in love with a song. I like how it sounds and how it makes me feel. That’s what it comes down to.
The “anxiety” I mentioned? Much like that relationship that’s going so well – you finally found your “soulmate,” it gets better every day, you appreciate every second of it. . . what if something gets in the way of it? There are a lot of things that can “get in the way” of music – it’s not easy to create it, get the right mix of people working on it, put it out, get it out, make sure people know it’s out. I don’t worry about those things with Telstar though. As long as they’re doing whatever it is they’re doing to create what they’re creating – live and recorded – having as much fun as they do, while also simply being genuinely kind people. . . I don’t foresee any of the “usual” things “getting in their way”.
So, what could get in the way of Telstar? The best possible thing: the fact that the individual musicians who make up Telstar, Chris Unck, Eva Gardner, and Stew Heyduk, are the musicians everyone else wants in their band. At any moment, any one of them could be offered a substantial tour as they have been previously. . . and then what?
After their show at Three Clubs last week, I asked Eva, “Is this what you’re doing now? Are you going ‘out’ as Telstar?” No words were exchanged. The rest of that conversation was communicated in looks. Eva’s look: “Well, yes. . . you’re here, aren’t you? Didn’t you just see ‘Telstar’? You have our music. You’ve been to our website. We are doing it. We’ve been doing it. This is happening. Yes.”
My look: “Yes, I see. I know. It’s happening. . . and I love it.” And perhaps, even my real question was communicated: “But are you going to let anything get in your way?” Which is why no words are necessary. It doesn’t matter what happens. Like a great relationship, like music, like the best things about life: it’s all an ever-evolving adventure. If you don’t get too attached to one thing or one idea of something, then you allow the freedom to experience a potential that continues to be created and evolve throughout time.
Ultimately – especially if you have the opportunity to connect with Telstar as I have – you’ll want for them whatever they want for themselves, as that evolves throughout time. Telstar has a way – whether through song, performance, or an unspoken conversation – of reminding you to enjoy this very moment, right now. The next spoken conversation between Eva and I was about the high winds wreaking havoc in LA that night – power outages, downed trees, street closures, and all the things that remind us: you can have a plan. . . and then there’s the adventure.
Part of what makes Telstar Telstar is that they are just doing what they do. They’re great musicians, who enjoy each other and playing music. They like to see people have a good time, they enjoy providing the space and creating the atmosphere for that to happen. Chris’s eyes were wide with enthusiasm as he described how Telstar would be spending the next few months. “Playing shows” sounds like something as fun and exciting as winning The Olympics. “Writing new songs and recording” sounds like hanging out with your best friends in the desert, opening a bottle of whiskey, laughing, reminiscing about old-times while dreaming about the future. None of it sounds like “work”.
Conversations with many musicians sound and feel vastly different from conversations, like those described above, with the members of Telstar. “Playing shows” sounds exhausting. Hanging out after the show is something they “have to do”. “Writing and recording” requires seclusion; adopting a raw, vegan regimen or some other short-term support system; and being laser-focused. It’s work. It’s serious. It’s hard. That’s all valid, true, and real. But that’s not the feeling I get from Telstar during their shows, casually speaking after the show, nor through their music.
In fact, part of the reason Telstar inspires me so much is because they represent something I feel very strongly about in life: do what brings you the most joy. Have as much fun as possible. That is my definition of “success” and I’ve witnessed it translate into others’ definition of “success” because people are attracted to it.
Musically, Telstar creates something unique that is experienced on multiple levels. I think it’s fair to say a lot of bands have tried to recreate the sound of The British Invasion. It may even be fair to say some have reasonably accomplished that. Telstar creates the feeling of The British Invasion through their sound. There’s a big difference.
And now, we’re full-circle back to the reasons I don’t like to write specifically about music. Should you choose to, I’d like you to have your own relationship with Telstar. Maybe you know the historical significance of their name and that gets you to listen to them for the first time. Maybe you read something about them, you go see them live, then you investigate further and get into details such as their name and the ever-present influence of Eva’s father. As with all great things in life, and all enduring music, there are an infinite number of elements and layers to be discovered. Discovering Telstar continues to be an adventure for me and I’d like you to have your own experience, your own adventure.
Another reason I typically don’t like to write about recorded music is because I don’t like reading about it either. There’s a tendency toward negativity surrounding music, maybe more so now than previously. People are complaining about the music they’re exposed to. I hear you. I understand where you’re coming from. But then – stop listening to what everyone else says you should listen to. Stop listening to what you think you “should” listen to. Don’t let this age of everything-at-our-fingertips-for-free get in the way of the joy of discovering music. Rediscover what moves you.
I don’t care if you don’t like Telstar; if it’s not your “thing”. That’s OK. I’m not going to tell you what you should be listening to. But do yourself a favor and discover music that inspires you to do something different. Telstar has done that for me twice already, in the first week of our “relationship.”
The truth is: I almost didn’t go. I had just experienced one of the most magical musical nights ever at Largo and wanted to race home to write about it. Also, in fairness to all the amazing musicians I have the opportunity to see, some shows just shouldn’t be “followed”. I’ve taken mini hiatuses from live music after experiencing shows that transcend. I wrote specifically about that after Nine Inch Nails played their final shows.
When experiences like the one that inspired me to write A Love Letter to Largo, or to post three videos of the sound of audience applause demanding a fourth encore at a Thom Yorke show occur, there is more at work than the talent of the musicians. There’s an element of magic. . . divine collaboration. . . universal support. . . which causes transcendence.
I revere experiences like these. I can remain high (metaphorically speaking) for months following a show like the one at Largo Wednesday night. My inclination after shows like that is to go home, open a bottle of wine, write, and watch the sunrise. I sometimes take a break from seeing other, exceptionally talented musicians because it’s not fair to them – nor others in the crowd – if I’m not fully present and “at” their show. Yes, we all do affect each other that much, even when we, or they, are not consciously aware of it.
I had committed to many, including the band, to attend Telstar‘s show following the magical Largo show Wednesday night. Yet, for all of the reasons mentioned above, I almost didn’t go.
But I did go see Telstar that night and I’m writing this, specifically, so that you see them as well, every opportunity you get.
You may be wondering, “Who the fuck is Telstar??”
Chris Unck, Eva Gardner, and Stew Heyduk (“Telstar”) have “official bios” and credits that include P!nk, Feist, Mars Volta, Butch Walker, and Veruca Salt. Not to take away from how impressive that is, but blah, blah, blah. . .
To really appreciate Telstar, you need to experience the people they are. These are the kids you were hanging out with when your parents thought you were studying for finals. They’re fun, they’re funny, they’re passionate, imaginative, playful, creative, exceptionally talented, and they love what they do. They have a lot of friends because they treat people well and they’re fun to be with. They’re the friends you call when you just need to laugh. They’re the accomplices you call when you just need to party. They’re the band you see when you want to have a good time. A Telstar show is like a public service announcement to have more fun, enjoy what you do, surround yourself with good people, relax, and reconnect with what’s truly important.
When managers, labels, agents, publicists, and musicians invite me to a show, there’s always a corresponding “pitch”. “They sound like. . . “, “They’re the next. . . “, “They play with. . . “, “As heard on. . . ” That’s how it works. There are numerous things that compete for our attention and it can be a hard “sell” to get people out to a show.
My invite to see Telstar was in the form of a text message that began with “The band’s name is Telstar. . . ” and went straight to “It’s Chris Unck, Eva Gar. . .” I stopped reading and replied, “I fucking LOVE them!”
Butch Walker has an exceptionally commanding stage presence. He’ll hang from the rafters, get the audience dancing on tables, squatting down to the ground, and jumping up to touch the ceiling. That guy could be on stage with the Dalai Lama and a running chainsaw and you wouldn’t notice the Dalai Lama nor the chainsaw. But as you can see from the video above, you do notice the band, which includes Eva Gardner and Chris Unck of Telstar. Their contribution musically, as well as to the spirit of the show, is undeniable. Those secret shows at The Basement Tavern would not have been the same without that band. I showed up, week after week, as much to see the band as to see Butch Walker. Eva Gardner and Chris Unck grabbed Stew Heyduk and formed a band called Telstar??? Hell yeah, I’ll go to that show.
So I went to that show. And, I completely forgot that I almost didn’t go. I forgot about everything. Telstar teleported us back to a time when music was music, not a marketing ploy. Music unifies people. Telstar made everybody in the room feel like old friends. Although the music is timeless, The British Invasion was before my time, so I didn’t get to experience it live. Telstar’s music and show made me feel like we were back in that era.
The separation between the band and the audience would be nearly imperceptible if not for the instruments in the hands of the band (and the fact that they can play). Everyone is part of the show. Everyone is having a good time. There was one instance, between songs, when people were having such a good time that the band waited a moment before they kicked into the next song. It wasn’t about “Hey, look at us!” At Telstar’s show it’s, “Oh good, you’re enjoying yourselves! We love that. That’s why we’re here.”
When they do transition into the next song, it’s time to dance and sing along. It feels like a party, but not like one of those shows with sloppy drunk fans who spill their Miller beer on you. People at a Telstar show will not spill their drinks at any cost. These are the pros – the musicians and the fans. They know what they’re doing and they know it only matters if you’re having fun.
I had a lot of fun with Telstar, but they also made me think. They’ve made me reconsider my long-standing tradition of taking a break after a single transcendent experience. There’s magic everywhere and you can continue to transcend, if you’re open to it.
Where do I begin? If I start at the beginning, at our old stomping grounds on Fairfax, they’ll know how old we are.
If I attempt to talk about the extraordinary shows. . . Neil Finn. . . Fiona Apple. . . Aimee Mann. . . Jon Brion every Friday night. . . I won’t be able to name them all. I’d forget to mention someone who should never be forgotten.
Speaking of someone who can never be forgotten, I would like to bring up Elliott Smith. I used to watch him transform on your stage. He may not have wanted to perform, but you had a gentle way of reminding him how much he needed to. It went from not being sure whether he’d get on stage to being hopeful that it may not come to an end. Those were special nights. And, in addition to Elliott Smith, you offered us the space to experience the deep friendship between Elliott Smith and Jon Brion. It seemed as if they felt, on some level, that they were the only ones who understood each other. Jon had a way of “being” with Elliott that seemed to put him at ease, or at least make him feel significantly better. And Elliott had a way of sparking a look of pure admiration and awe on Jon’s face when he’d sing “Say Yes” with his eyes closed. This kind of experience can’t happen everywhere. The moments that “happen” at Largo happen because you’ve created, and consistently provide, the space and tone that are required for them to occur.
We’ve had a long history, you and me. And I only have good memories. But tonight, you outdid yourself. I was having dinner before the show at La Cienega Sushi, across the street. They’re really nice people and the sushi is great. They’re next door to the strip club and they have a sushi roll called “Spicy TT.” I fucking love that place.
Anyway, I was having sushi (and maybe some sake) and the power went out. The blackout spanned a couple blocks. There was an awkward pause as everyone waited to see whether the lights would come back on. When it became clear the power wasn’t going to come back on, the first thing each person in the restaurant said was some version of, “but. . . The Watkins Family. . . at Largo. . . oh no”
I did my best to assure everyone that the show would go on, without power. They humored me, hoping for a self-fulfilling prophecy, but also wondering just how much sake I had drank. They were convinced enough to play Frogger across an unlit La Cienega Boulevard, to see if you’d do it. They wanted you to pull it off, but it was hard for some to imagine.
You reminded them, and all of us: music pre-dates electricity.
You are one place that can confidently continue a show without electricity. The musicians who play at Largo can actually play instruments and sing. Your acoustics are great. You look beautiful in candlelight.
I do owe you an apology though. I’m sorry for using that photo at the top of this letter, without permission. . . but I know how you feel about cameras, so I’ve never taken a picture of you. Truth be told, you are the only place I’ve never felt compelled to break a “rule.” No cell phones. No cameras. No electronics. No talking. Do you have any idea how much I despise the concept “no”? No, you wouldn’t because you’ve convinced me to agree with “no” at Largo.
I remember a time, at the ol’ Fairfax home. . . I was sitting at one of the tall bar tables, along the side of the room. “Two drink minimum” – as if that’s some kind of challenge we might not enjoy. There were some friends quietly talking at the table behind me. It happened from time to time throughout the show, but I was immersed in the music nonetheless. “Are they bothering you?” the voice of Flanagan came in from behind. That’s the thing about you, Largo, and Flanagan – you don’t have rules just for the sake of having rules. Flanagan wasn’t going to kick them out for an occasional whisper during the show. He just wanted to make sure they weren’t interfering with anyone else’s experience. There’s a difference between “rules” and “respect”. Largo is about respect.
I watched people enter your courtyard and bar this evening, somewhat uncertain. Their steps were cautious. They were quiet, with frequent bursts of giggles, sounds reminiscent of a childhood sleepover. But, as time went on, they realized you were serious. The show tonight would happen, by candlelight, and they’d always remember it. The volume in the bar increased by 10 decibels. People ordered drinks and celebrated. Inside the theatre, David Garza was playing piano as people enthusiastically absorbed every ounce of candlelight and music you shared with us.
Whose idea was it to invite John C. Reilly tonight? That Watkins Family’s?
It was a really good idea.
When Fiona Apple walked on stage tonight, she scanned the room, with a “yep, this is right” smile. “Isn’t this amazing?” Sara Watkins asked Fiona. “Although, it’s kind of weird to be able to see everyone out there,” Sara continued, alluding to the irony that the musicians could see the audience better without electricity than with it.
“Yeah, I was thinking about that. . . ” Fiona replied, standing in the dark alongside her family of brilliant musician friends. “But I was also thinking – and you guys don’t know this,” she said as an aside to those of us in the audience. “This is actually what it’s like when we hang out. It’s just like this.” “Welcome to our living room,” Sean Watkins chimed in.
Please tell Fiona that we do know. “It’s like being a fly on the wall” I quoted when I wrote about one of Fiona Apple’s previous shows at Largo. Whether the lights are dimmed or the power’s out completely, there’s a feeling Fiona, The Watkins Family, and their extended family create that makes you feel like you’ve been invited to the dinner party. We get to sit there and experience what happens as their talents, playfulness, humor, and sounds intertwine.
I also greatly appreciated the “bear” theme tonight. It made me feel as if you and your kind musician friends had been reading My Travel Tales and knew how important bears are to me. Everyone sang a bear song. There was that teddy bear, holding things down, stage left. . . Nick Kroll’s hysterical bear story. . . We all loved the dancing bear that carried Fiona Apple off stage and then returned a few numbers later to dance with John C. Reilly. As we individually solved the puzzle of who was in the bear suit on each occasion, it felt akin to the moment you first realized what’s going on in The Sixth Sense.
Tonight we sat with you in candlelight. The musicians performed without mics nor amps. Flanagan and Michael lit our way with flashlights if we needed to get up during the show. The music was exceptional as it always is at Largo. Each of us who was there tonight will “remember that time when. . . ”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, could you please light up your cell phones. Help each other out of here” Michael suggested as we attempted to file out of the theatre in darkness. Yep, that happened. We were instructed to use our cell phones at Largo. *That* tells you what a special night it was.