Author Archives: Rock Is A Girl's Best Friend

Writer, traveler, diver, explorer, music lover.

Nick Hornby, Ben Folds, and Juliet, Naked

October 6, 2009
Skirball Cultural Center, LA

Hornby reading "Juliet, Naked"

Hornby reading "Juliet, Naked"

Now that I’ve got your attention. . .

If I could sit next to one person on a long flight, it would be Nick Hornby.  That is, of course, assuming he’s always in a good mood and likes flying.  I’m sure I could think of other people I’d like to travel with if I really put my mind to it, but I don’t have time for that kind of thinking at the moment – I’m on my way out to another event.

That’s not to say I’m picking Hornby because I’m in a hurry.  Quite the opposite actually.  Hornby is one of my favorite writers and he also happens to love music (possibly more than writing).  So we have at least two fundamental things in common.  Though the topic of music was discussed tonight, we didn’t even scratch the surface of where we could go during a good eight-hour flight.  “I wish I brought my iPod with me. It makes it a lot easier to answer that question,” Hornby said when I asked him what new artists he’s excited about.  “I really like that Elvis Perkins record.”

“Have you heard of Portugal. The Man? Or Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros?” I inquired.

“No, no. . . But I’ll check them out.  Their names are easy enough to remember,” Hornby replied with a laugh.

So this is why I’d like to be on a long flight with Hornby – so we could discuss music at length; so that we could trade iPods for an hour and introduce each other to new music; so that I could subliminally (or perhaps overtly) encourage him to write more than one book every two to three years; but mostly so we could talk about music.

Music is an integral part of several of Hornby’s books.  Music is the device utilized to unveil Rob Fleming’s stories of love and loss in High Fidelity. Music is the reason Will Freeman has never had to work a day in his life in About a BoySongbook is a non-fiction work by Hornby that is dedicated to discussing pop music and the ways in which it moves us. And, Hornby’s latest release, Juliet, Naked is about the connection between a couple and a rockstar who underwent a self-imposed early retirement.

Hornby doesn’t just use music to set the scene of his stories.  He uses music to help define his characters.  In some cases he uses music primarily to define his characters.  We learn about their neurosis, fears, losses, and perception of love based on the music the characters choose to listen to. . . or choose not to listen to.  When reading Hornby’s books, music adds another layer of emotional connection and understanding.  We all remember the songs we broke up to, songs we made love to, the first concert we went to, our favorite mix tapes and who gave them to us (well, not everybody remembers the days of cassette tapes, but I do). . .  so when Hornby references similar experiences in his stories, you don’t just read about them, you actually feel them.

Tonight’s free event at Skirball Cultural Center included a reading and Q & A session with Hornby.  I’ve never been to a book reading before.  Typically, I choose books (like Hornby’s)  that are written so that I can hear the character’s voices in my head.  I don’t need the voice of somebody reading to me cluttering my mind.  Thankfully, Hornby read the characters exactly as I hear them which means he’s either a really good reader or a really  good writer.  The evidence seems to prove he’s both.

Following the reading, Hornby answered several questions from the audience. I was happy to learn that Hornby is as quick-witted in person as one might expect given his body of written work.  For those of you who haven’t read Hornby, that last sentence is another way of saying he’s extraordinarily funny (as are his books).

Hornby answered questions about his influences, characters, story locations, and favorite music. About his writing process Hornby said he has an office that’s approximately a 10 minute walk from his home.  “The office started mostly because of kids – just having  a place they couldn’t mess up,” Hornby began. “I enjoy the walk to the office. I don’t work weekends or nights.  I don’t bring my work home with me.  I do a day’s work . . .  which equates to about 43 minutes of writing per day. I dream of that 43 minutes happening at the beginning of the day and then I could leave, but that never happens.”  Hornby went on to explain that he typically answers emails, hunts for new music online, gets a burst of inspiration and writes what he can (which generally lasts just a few minutes) and then he goes back to looking for new music online.

“You know, if you commit to writing 500 words per day – which isn’t really that much – then you should be able to write a book in under a year,” Hornby calculated.  “But books seem to come out every two to three years.  Something seems to have gone wrong. There’s a lack of productivity,” Hornby laughed with the crowd.

Hornby went on to to discuss some recent collaborations, including an album he’s working on with Ben Folds which they hope to put out in the Spring.  Hornby sends Folds the words and Folds sends back the songs. I look forward to hearing that album.

In the spirit of High Fidelity, somebody put Hornby on the spot and asked him to name his “Top 5 Acts of all time.”

“Live? Or Recorded?” Hornby asked for clarification, also in the vein of High Fidelity.

“Whatever you want,” the man replied.

“This is really hard. . .  Well, I guess in terms of lifetime plays:  Springsteen, Dylan, Marvin Gaye, J. Geils Band, and. . .”  Then, Hornby went on to explain that he used to listen to J. Geils Band all the time as a kid.  “I used to think if I could be anyone, I’d want to be Peter Wolf,” Hornby added.  “The thing is, sometimes your favorite music isn’t what gets the most plays.  Sometimes, it sits on a shelf and you just know it’s there. . . that’s what makes this so hard. . .  I like the new Elvis Perkins – I’ve been listening to that a lot.”

“What I really like is finding new music.  That’s why I’m a writer. . . because you have all day.”

Hornby is currently on tour, promoting his latest release, Juliet, Naked. If you like music, or if you like to read or laugh, then try to go see Hornby during his remaining tour dates.  If you don’t like music, reading, or laughing, then I’m not sure why you’re here.

Thom Yorke Band at The Orpheum, Night 2: A Surprise

The Orpheum Theater, LA
October 5, 2009

Although I was there tonight, I respectfully decided not to cover the final Thom Yorke show in order to give the real journalists time to catch up with the news and post more than a “quick take review.”

Besides, you don’t need me to tell you what happened. . . Somebody has probably already posted the entire concert on YouTube.

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It seems you need to give the New York Times your email address (if you’re not already a member) if you’d like access to their article now. However, if you read the NYT review, this post makes a lot more sense.

Thank you.

Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend (where you can read reviews without giving away your personal info)

Thom Yorke Band at The Orpheum, Night 1

The Orpheum Theater, LA
October 4, 2009

Anne Hathaway, Tobey Maguire, Woody Harrelson, Edward Norton, Colin Greenwood. . . where were they and 2,000 other fortunate souls? The answer, ironically, is: ??????

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??????

The Thom Yorke Band, ??????, took the stage for night one of their two-night stint at The Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles.  The band came together approximately 3 weeks ago and is already blowing the minds of fans, friends, and yes, celebrities (seeing as these shows are the place to be) with their live performance.  Not many musicians can form a band and successfully hit the stage so quickly.  But we’re not talking about just any musicians – we’re talking about Thom Yorke, Nigel Godrich, Flea, Joey Waronker, and Mauro Refosco.

Tonight the Thom Yorke band played a set nearly identical to their rehearsal show at The Echoplex on Friday. They began by playing The Eraser, start to finish, in sequence.  The crowd sat down during the first 4 songs which felt strange, considering the talent that was on the stage and the music they were playing.  It must have felt strange to Yorke too because as soon as they finished “Black Swan” and before they kicked in to “Skip Divided” Yorke requested the audience stand up.

Skip Divided

Skip Divided

“You know when I was getting ready to do these shows, I was saying to a friend of mine, ‘Y’know I really hope they dance to this music.’  This was all about making a dance record. So if you do want to sit there like it’s a cinema, that’s ok. . .  But if you do wanna get up, well. . .” Yorke announced as the crowd (finally) stood up and cheered.

I’m happy he said something.  Otherwise, I was going to be that a$$hole who stands and blocks everyone’s view because I don’t know how to sit still for “Skip Divided,” “Atoms For Peace,” “And It Rained All Night,” “Harrowdown Hill” and “Cymbal Rush” (certainly can’t sit  during “Cymbal Rush”).  It was hard enough to sit during the first 4 songs (albeit easier to see).

Indeed, the show at The Orpheum had a different feel than Friday night’s intimate gathering at The Echoplex.  For one thing, The Orpheum is a seated venue which divides the audience, interferes with one’s ability to dance, and requires an immense number of security staff to ensure people stay in their seat and don’t step outside the black tape and into the aisles.  In this economy, it’s good to see there are jobs for such a large security team.  At the same time, it definitely impacts the vibe of the show and restricts the crowd’s ability to express their excitement wholeheartedly.

Waronker

Waronker

Regardless, the show was spectacular.  The percussion team of Waronker and Refosco put drum machines to shame as they somehow replicated and enhanced the beats heard on the recorded versions of the songs.  Yorke danced around on stage some, but seemed quite a bit more reserved than he did at The Echoplex, where he danced like this (and then some) during every song. Perhaps he restrained himself, realizing the crowd wouldn’t be able to join him as they previously could due to the restrictive nature of the venue layout (and security crew).

But I know Yorke wanted to dance more.  And he wanted us to dance more.  So if you’re lucky enough to be attending the show Monday night, at least pretend you know how lucky you are to be there. There may be a lot of guys and gals in bright yellow jackets. . . but there are more of us!

Videos from the show (watch in HD for a better viewing experience):

Here are some photos I captured:

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Thom Yorke at The Echoplex: “Kind Of A Rehearsal”

The Echoplex, Los Angeles
October 2, 2009

Tweet of the day: “Secured tix to the semi-secret Thom Yorke and friends show tonight. This is why I live in LA…they don’t do this shit in Kansas” (@brandonyano).

Thom Yorke and Flea

Thom Yorke and Flea

At 8:28pm Monday night, September 28, The Scenestar broke the news that Radiohead front man Thom Yorke had put together a new band and would be playing at The Orpheum in Los Angeles on October 4th and 5th.  Actually, let me rephrase – Yorke broke the news on Dead Airspace (although many of us heard about it first from The Scenestar), stating: “in the past couple of weeks I’ve been getting a band together for fun to play the Eraser stuff live and the new songs etc.. to see if it could work! At the beginning of October the 4th and 5th we are going to do a couple of shows at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles. We don’t really have a name and the set will not be very long cuz ..well …we haven’t got that much material yet!”

Thom Yorke singing a new, untitled song

Thom Yorke singing a new song

Tickets for the October 4 and 5 shows went on sale Tuesday morning (September 29) at 10:00am and, as expected, sold out in minutes. Then, on Thursday morning (October 1), The LA Weekly posted a story surrounding a possible Thom Yorke and friends “secret show” at The Echoplex on Friday, October 2nd. Bloggers and fans speculated until Yorke posted another update on Dead Airspace late Thursday, confirming this additional, intimate show. Yorke’s post included a faulty link to purchase tickets, an announcement that tickets would go on sale at 8:15pm Thursday night, and the disclaimer, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  That post has since been edited, because Yorke’s suspicions proved true and tickets did not go on sale at 8:15pm Thursday night.  (Yorke also included a working link to buy tickets in his revised post.)

Kind of a rehearsal

The band with no name

Instead, tickets were sold via TicketWeb at noon on Friday.  The gap between the initial announcement and the actual on-sale gave scalpers (who later attempted to sell tickets for as much as $3,500 on eBay)  enough time to ready their troops.  Unfortunately, it seems TicketWeb may not have had enough time to ready their servers.  Just minutes after the clock struck 12, there were hundreds of Tweets complaining of TicketWeb crashes and claiming “TicketWeb Fail”.  I know it’s frustrating, but to be fair, some major ticketing sites (including Ticketmaster and Live Nation) have been reported to crash during high-profile on-sales. Furthermore, in this case, we’re talking about one of the largest artists in the world, playing at a very small venue (approx. 700 capacity).  If the system did indeed crash, it should come as little to no surprise. As it happened, I was stuck in the “processing” queue for 12 minutes before the “sold out” message appeared.

Kind of a rehearsal

Kind of a rehearsal

For the lucky friends and fans of the band who got in, well. . . we were lucky.  Prior to the show I heard several audience members discussing the “little miracles” that allowed them to be there. Indeed, it felt miraculous to be introduced to new material and the formation of a new band led by Yorke, in such close proximity to the stage. This show was billed as a “warm-up,” as Yorke put it, “kind of a rehearsal.”

Well, I always imagined Yorke held himself to extraordinarily high standards, but if that show was a rehearsal, then a “rehearsal” has made its way into my top concerts of all time.

The band is comprised of exceptional musical talents: Thom Yorke (of course), Joey Waronker, Nigel Godrich, Flea , and Mauro Refosco.  To kick off the show, the as of yet unnamed band played Yorke’s solo album, Eraser, start to finish.  Yorke also debuted some brand new songs, solo, during one of two encores. He then invited the band back to join in on the remaining three songs.

Yorke gives the bird to requests for "Freebird"

Yorke gives the bird to requests for "Freebird"

If you were fortunate enough to find a place toward the front of the venue (under the high ceiling), you were treated to great sound, enjoyed watching Yorke lose himself in dance (although, you likely couldn’t miss that, regardless of where you stood), and watched closely as Yorke masterfully created and replicated the magnificent sound he’s known for.  The intimacy of the venue was further appreciated as Yorke joked, interacted with, and flipped off the audience.

Yorke didn’t flip off everyone, just the handful of people who were requesting “Freebird!” between songs.  Surprised people still do that?  Well, so was Yorke, “Shouldn’t you be calling out Stone Temple Pilots or something more current? Freebird is so 80’s!”

Thankfully, ignoring the audience (after showing them how he felt about the “Freebird” requests by giving them the bird), Yorke kicked in to more of his own songs.  “That sounded great!” yelled a fan, following the next song.

“Thank you,” Yorke replied with a smile, “it’s my job.”  Then, with another smile (bordering on a smirk), Yorke added, “sometimes I get paid for it.”

And therein lies another small miracle of this show, tickets were only $20 each. Thank you, Thom and the unnamed band.  Seeing as that was the rehearsal, I think you’re ready for the shows on Sunday and Monday.

Videos from the show:

New Song “Skirting On The Surface”:

New Song “Open The Floodgates”:

Next time, dance like you mean it, Thom 😉

Since it was a special show, here’s the set list (via At Ease).
01 The Eraser
02 Analyse
03 The Clock
04 Black Swan
05 Skip Divided
06 Atoms for Peace
07 And It Rained All Night
08 Harrowdown Hill
09 Cymbal Rush

Encore one [Thom solo]:

10 Open the Floodgates
11 Lotus Flower
12 Skirting on the Surface
13 Judge, Jury, Executioner

Encore two [full band]:

14 Paperbag Writer
15 The Hollow Earth
16 Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses

Alice in Chains at The Avalon

The Avalon, Hollywood
September 30, 2009

Alice in Chains at The Avalon

Alice in Chains at The Avalon

I never saw Alice in Chains perform before Layne Staley passed away so I have nothing to compare this show to, which is probably a good thing.  I wasn’t upset that the band didn’t live up to some pre-conceived standards some fans may have held them to.  I simply saw this show for it was – the return of Alice in Chains after a long hiatus.

They were good.  The music is consistent, they sounded great, and watching Jerry Cantrell’s guitar solos never got old.

Cantrell Guitar Solo

Cantrell

The crowd, on the other hand, I’m not so sure about.  Theoretically, this is one of their favorite bands, making a return after several years, playing some of their favorite old songs and debuting long-awaited new material.  There were a handful of fans giving off the amount of energy I would expect for an event like this – screaming, jumping, fists in the air.  But the majority of people seemed moderately excited.  “Give us some fucking energy!” the band demanded on several occasions, leading the first 10 rows of fans to jump and scream while everybody else nodded.  Having just come off of seeing fans go absolutely insane for Nine Inch Nails, Portugal. The Man, and Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros, perhaps my expectations were too high. Yet, it seemed the band was disappointed as well.

AIC Acoustic at The Avalon

AIC Acoustic at The Avalon

I can only imagine it’s hard for fans to witness the reformation of their favorite band, without the lead singer they’d come to fall in love with.  I’m not sure I’d be interested in seeing any of my favorite bands perform live (as the same band) after their front man passed away, so I understand.  Or perhaps Alice in Chains fans are more reserved in expressing themselves.  Although, I doubt that’s the case, based on some of the conversations I heard. . .

But regardless of the crowd’s expressed (or unexpressed) enthusiasm, I thought the show was great. Willam DuVall, Alice in Chains’ new lead singer, is a compelling performer and delivers these songs with passion.  I went to the show with a friend who had seen Alice in Chains previously and he too seemed very pleased with the show.

Anyway, here’s some video from the show.  What do you think?:

Watch Out World! Here Comes Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros

September 27, 2009
Abbot Kinney Festival
Venice, CA

Let’s just say: you’ve been warned – Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros have arrived.

Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros

Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros

The Abbot Kinney Festival is a free annual event in Venice, California, that includes music, food, and merchandise vendors.  It seems to get more and more crowded every year.  People patiently maneuver the streets on foot at a snail’s pace (or if there’s anything slower than a snail, that’s how slow you’re walking).  The only exception to this is when Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros are about to go on stage.  Then, everybody at the festival congregates in front of the stage and comes to a complete standstill. . . until the band comes on.  Once the band hits, the audience claps, whistles, and jumps along to the songs.

Edward Sharpe and Jade Castrinos

Edward Sharpe and Jade Castrinos

I’ve been hearing about Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros for some time, but have been out of town during each of their prior performances.  What I’ve been hearing is that they’re the greatest thing anybody has seen all year.  When they took the stage, Sharpe commented that they love playing free shows. “Everything should be free!” Sharpe announced.  “But that’s a conversation for a later date.”

Indeed, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros have played a few free shows in the LA area – the Hammer Museum and Amoeba Records in July, and Abbot Kinney today.  Of course, they’ve also played some ticketed shows, including a sold-out show at The El Rey last Tuesday.  They are one band that’s definitely worth paying for!

Larger than life instruments appropriate for the magnitude of the band

Larger than life instruments appropriate for the magnitude of the band

Start to finish Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros are performers.  The 10-piece band uses a variety of unusual instruments including an aged piano with warped keys, a toy keyboard, a giant tambourine (there’s probably an official name for it), and a super-sized xylophone.  Sharpe sings directly to specific fans in the audience, takes their hands, calls them out by name (or – “oh – you’re that crazy guy from the other night!”), and may even toss someone up in the air.

Literally singing to the audience

Literally singing to the audience

He dances around the stage to the point of nearly levitating.  Jade Castrinos is extraordinarily expressive as she plays and sings.  Sharpe (the stage persona of musician Alex Ebert) and The Magnetic Zeros sing to each other as if they’re carrying on a dialog; and often they are as the songs tell a story and sometimes relay conversations between friends and lovers.

Singing a conversation

Singing a conversation

But above everything else Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros are musicians.  What does this mean? It means if there’s no audio on the keyboards, “play the song on your horn” (as Sharpe instructed Stewart Cole to do during one technical failure).  If the sound guy doesn’t turn the mics back on for your encore, just play the song anyway and “sing without the mic” (as Sharpe encouraged Jade to do this evening).

Castrinos sings the encore without a mic

Castrinos sings the encore without a mic

Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros are musicians in the truest sense of the word – even if you take away their instruments, deprive them of their mics, or deny them an encore, they’re going to keep playing music!

No mics for the encore? Ok, well we’re still going to play!

Here are some pictures from the show:

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The audience begs to have the mics turned back on for one more song

The audience begs to have the mics turned back on for one more song

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