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:
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.”
“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 Boy. Songbook 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.