The El Rey

The Civil Wars at El Rey Theatre: The Experience of Music

June 15, 2010
El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles

The Civil Wars (Photo courtesy of Tec Petaja)

If you read my review of The Civil Wars performance at Largo earlier this week, you won’t be surprised that I was compelled to see The Civil Wars play again less than 48 hours later.

Joy Williams and John Paul White (aka The Civil Wars) played another brilliant show at The El Rey Wednesday.  They played songs off their acclaimed album Barton Hollow, along with a few covers, interspersed with bouts of comedy that emerge naturally from their dynamic interplay on stage.

When people talk about the rise of certain musicians and what it took for them to “make it”, they may mention a record label with a dialed-in team of people and resources supporting the band, radio, placement of a song in a popular TV ad, timing, or “luck”.   Timing could be a factor- Williams and White met just over two and a half years ago.  As “luck” would have it, although neither of them wanted to attend the songwriting gathering in Nashville where they met, they both showed up.  The result of that songwriting session was the song “Falling” and the formation of The Civil Wars.

The Civil Wars have sold more than 100,000 copies of Barton Hollow in four months, without a major label.  They played 3 sold-out shows in Los Angeles, in one week.   A friend recently asked me “how are they doing it? Without a label? Without major marketing dollars?”

The refreshing answer to that question is: the music.  Barton Hollow is an exceptional album, and seeing The Civil Wars perform live is undeniable evidence that this is real. It’s good. It’s got soul.  The Civil Wars are “making it” because their live shows and their music is truly phenomenal.  They don’t have nor need flashy lights and costumes.  Selfishly, I hope they never tour with a band.  The Civil Wars instruments are simply: the perfect blend of their voices, White’s guitar, and on occasion, William’s piano.  That is all that’s needed.

White and Williams engage playfully with each other and with the crowd during shows.  They’re genuinely gracious.  “You guys are HERE.  And you bought tickets.  And you stood in line.  We don’t take that for granted,” Williams said upon looking out at the crowd of their sold-out El Rey show.  The one thing I say to every musician I meet is “You should go to as many venues as possible ‘as a fan’. You should buy tickets and pay the often-exorbitant service fees, stand in line, have your chewing gum taken away, pay money for drinks and parking — truly understand what the audience goes through to BE at your show, so you know how much you have to overcome to blow them away.”  Whether or not they’ve actually done this exercise themselves, this is something Williams and White clearly understand.  In fact, their entire show feels like a “thank you” to the audience.

I’m posting some video so you can get a sense of the show (or re-live it if you were there).  That said, there is NO substitute for seeing The Civil Wars live.  Videos can’t do it justice.  You can’t hear the silence nor witness the attentiveness of the crowd at what is often a noisy venue.  You can’t see the looks on the faces of the audience or feel the dynamic exchange between White and Williams, The Civil Wars and the fans, as pure as it is, in a video.   This is just to give you an idea, but to truly get it, you need to see The Civil Wars live…

Williams and White joke about replacing each other during the intro to “I’ve Got This Friend”:

Barton Hollow:


The Big Pink at The El Rey

March 9, 2010
The El Rey Theater, Los Angeles

The Big Pink

The Big Pink

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

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

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.

The Soundtrack of Our Lives at The El Rey

February 26, 2010
The El Rey Theater, Los Angeles

The Soundtrack of Our Lives

The Soundtrack of Our Lives

If you visit The Soundtrack of Our Lives website, you will read this:

The purpose for this band’s existence is:
The spiritual guidance through the great transformation that we are now experiencing as we move towards the zenith in the meridian of our galaxy, the Milky Way.

The Soundtrack of Our lives is simply a bridge to enlightenment through entertainment and is well on the way to complete their mission in this dimension for mankind.

Martin Hederos

Martin Hederos

Right now the band members are working on various classified projects and will start Part I of the 2009/2010 Winter Tour in November.

Don’t miss it if you have the opportunity to see them live. It will probably save your life!

If you go see TSOOL live, you will find out that statement is true.

The unpredictable language of you-don't-know-what

The unpredictable language of you-don't-know-what

Just a few songs into TSOOL’s set and you’re on your way to transcendence.  It’s not clear where exactly you’re going, as lead singer Ebbot Lundberg noted early during Friday’s show at The El Rey, “This is the unpredictable language of you-don’t-know-what.”

At times it seems they venture to the dark side, but not in a scary way.  TSOOL acknowledges the dark and encourages you to embrace those parts of yourself and society in order to transform them.  If you don’t acknowledge something, how can you possibly change it?



During this mind/body/spirit trip, TSOOL guide you with, as promised by their name, a Soundtrack.  While immersed in exceptional rock riffs, deep bass lines, soulful keys, mind-blowing drums, and a captivating, theatrical performance, you’re greeted by lyrics such as “Welcome to the other side,” “Show me what you got,” and “Welcome to The Future.”

Wayne Kramer

Wayne Kramer kicks out the jams with TSOOL

During the climax of the show, Wayne Kramer of MC5 joined TSOOL on stage and played “Kick Out The Jams.”  This portion of the set neared sensory overload.  Thankfully, I really enjoy sensory overload. And although they’ve taken you to the highest peak, it’s not over. The Soundtrack of Our Lives embraces you with the beautiful melody of “Tonight”. . . TSOOL knows it’s important to lie there and cuddle.

I’ve wanted to see TSOOL play since they released “Behind The Music” in 2001.  Unfortunately, I’ve been out of town each time they passed through previously.  Among other things I learned as a result of their performance Friday night, “Behind The Music” took on an even deeper meaning – there’s definitely more to TSOOL than music. . . and all of it’s good.


Welcome to the future

In early February they released an E.P. called “The Immaculate Convergence.”  Lyrics like “Little stranger, let me know, light the shadow of what used to be my soul,” take you further along this journey.

When they finished their set, I looked at my friend and said, “At what point do you begin describing that?”

I guess you’d start at the beginning.  But thanks to TSOOL, I’m somewhere else entirely now, so you best see for yourself.

Nico Vega Kicks It Up A Notch At The El Rey

February 26, 2010
The El Rey Theater, Los Angeles

Nico Vega crush the El Rey

Nico Vega crushes the El Rey

I love it when a band transforms a venue. I’ve experienced it before – that feeling that a venue I know so well, and associate with hundreds of other live performances, has been transformed into another band’s playground.  For a moment you’re transported to an alternate reality. You lose track of space and time, forget that you own a cell phone, and question what city you’re in. That’s what Nico Vega did at the El Rey Friday night.

Nico Vega Blood Machine

Nico Vega Blood Machine

I’ve seen this band perform countless times and have always been impressed, but something was different this time. I don’t think drummer Dan Epand sat on his stool for more than a few seconds. With each strike of the drumsticks, Epand levitated completely. Rich Koehler was playing guitar as if it were a rocket launcher and we were all headed to another galaxy. And Aja Volkman, who is and always has been, a star, took us there.

When their set concluded, my friend looked at me and said, “Well, I don’t need to see anything else!”

I’d say we should all see Nico Vega again.  Hopefully soon.

Band of Skulls: Death by Diamonds and Pearls

The El Rey, Los Angeles
September 1, 2009

This one’s gonna be quick because I’m in a hurry…

Death by Diamonds and Pearls

Death by Diamonds and Pearls

I love Band of Skulls. I first met them during an acoustic performance and interview session at in July. They’ve actually been together for several years, morphing and evolving from one band into another until they arrived as Band of Skulls.  Their name can be deceiving which is part of the “joke” they say.  All 3 musicians contribute to the writing process which sometimes leaves Russell singing lyrics Emma wrote, from a woman’s perspective.  Similarly, Emma may find herself singing about things written from a man’s perspective.  The moral of the story – listen to the lyrics and take notice of who’s singing them.  Russell and Emma switch off the lead on vocals, often at interesting lyrical moments.

The second time I saw Band of Skulls was at The Hotel Cafe.  After witnessing an acoustic set at, and knowing that shows at The Hotel Cafe are often acoustic, I just assumed the band would be playing “unplugged”.  Wrong. Thankfully, I was very, very wrong. Band of Skulls rocked a full electric show and played Hotel Cafe as if they were playing a much larger venue. I liked them when I first met them, but I fell in love with them at The Hotel Cafe.

Then, last night they played The El Rey, opening up for The Duke Spirit.  The show was great and it was extremely well-attended for an “opening act”.  The place was packed and the venue seemed to relax on their “no standing outside the taped lines” policy, so people were everywhere. They played a very short set (perhaps 25 minutes), but it was solid as usual. When they finished and the curtain closed the crowd tried to demand an encore and kept cheering for several minutes, until they were certain the band wasn’t going to appear again.  The last time I saw this happen for an opener was when Joseph Arthur opened for David Gray eight or so years ago.

Here’s some video from last night’s show: