“If you were here ten years ago, you were probably eating honey chicken” may sound like an odd intro, but it was the perfect statement to kick off The Watkins Family Hour 10-Year Anniversary show at Largo.
Those of us who have been attending the Watkins Family shows for ten years (or more) remember the honey chicken tradition well. The best way to ensure getting into a show at the old Largo location on Fairfax was to reserve a table. There was a $15 per person food minimum and the honey chicken was a crowd favorite.
The process seems so analog now. You’d dial into an answering machine and leave a message with your name, phone number, and the show you’d like to see. You then waited by the phone for the next two to three days, hoping you weren’t too late, that there were still tables available. If you were lucky, you’d receive a confirmation call from Largo to lock in your reservation. Thanks to technology, the process has since been updated, but I still feel that lucky each time I experience a show at Largo.
With the venue’s move from Fairfax to La Cienega, went the kitchen, the honey chicken, and the sound of knives and forks clanking against plates during the show. It was all part of the experience and core to the foundation of Largo that remains today – a place like no other.
As I’ve written previously, The Watkins Family Hour is one of my favorite ways to spend a night in Los Angeles. I was in Africa during much of December, without phone or internet, gazing into the eyes of lions, giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and leopards. The first thing I did when I returned home – prior to unpacking, calling friends and family, and eating – was check Largo’s website for a January Watkins show. The January 11th 10-year anniversary show was indeed listed and, like the old days, I was grateful it wasn’t too late to get a ticket.
The collaborative and uplifting spirt of The Watkins Family Hour is undeniable. Each show feels like a celebration of music and friendship. In this case, the friendships were further highlighted, as the Watkins reminisced about the past 10 years, sharing stories each time a special guest took the stage.
After Fiona Apple joined The Watkins for an extraordinary performance of “You’re The One I Love”, she and Sara laughed, remembering the intensity of recording the song. They explained that they stared into each other’s eyes the entire time they sang the song, take after take. “Then… I don’t know what happened. It was so intense!” Fiona exclaimed.
“I think we eventually erupted in laughter,” Sara responded.
“Yeah, because it was so intense – it was funny,” Fiona added.
“It’s a funny song,” Sara joked.
The Watkins Family Hour is essentially a show down between the songs and the moments between songs. Hearing the music, watching the band – each member lost in his own world, yet connected and communicating with the others – is magical. I find myself filled with gratitude, so happy to be there, lost in time. Then, between songs, another kind of magic happens. The spontaneous conversations, the humor that’s delivered as if you’re in on the inside joke, the stories shared. . . No longer are you in a theatre. You’ve been transported to the Watkins’ living room.
Tonight, we also experienced magic in the traditional sense of the word. Comedian and magician, Derek Hughes, made a guest appearance and “a commitment to our astonishment” as he performed numerous mind-blowing card tricks. I’m happy I drank a bottle of sake prior to this show or my mind would have been reeling, trying to figure out the tricks. Instead, I was simultaneously laughing and “astonished”, non-stop, throughout the show.
When Glen Phillips joined The Watkins on stage, Sean told a story about the first time he and Glen connected. Sean wrote Glen a note and sent him some songs. Glen finished the story, explaining how – upon hearing their songs – he invited Sean and Sara to play with him at Largo. As he spoke, Glen appeared to be overcome with awe. Everyone on stage looked like they couldn’t believe they were playing with each of the others, as if it were all a dream.
Fiona joined Sara and Sean for a few more songs, allowing us to witness the reunion of an exceptionally talented, fun, playful, and supportive family. If you haven’t seen Fiona sing “Jolene” with The Watkins, consider adding it to your bucket list. The spirit of friendship, artistry, happiness, musicianship, trust, respect, and love, fills the room as they sing. It’s spectacular. The Watkins Family Hour isn’t so much a “show” as it is a dynamic expression of music and life, in the purest sense.
Years ago, at The Fairfax venue, you’d often hear Flanny make a request from a back corner of the room. It was a reminder of how much Flanny loves music and the musicians who play Largo. His respect for and appreciation of musicians, and those who share that respect and appreciation, was – and still is – carried throughout everything that happens at Largo. To this day, Largo is the epitome of what can be when people operate with unwavering integrity and intention. “This one’s at the request of Flanny,” Sara said, introducing the next song.
When The Watkins Family Hour concluded in the theatre, a line formed down the block, outside The Little Room for another intimate performance. The Little Room is reminiscent of the Fairfax days – tables and chairs, a bar at the back of the room, and the shouts of audience requests. After a few songs and some more astonishing magic, the evening came to an end, feeling much like it did at the very beginning.
A few people were at a loss for words as they expressed their gratitude to Sean, Sara, and the band, after the show. Even as I write this now, it is challenging to articulate what a truly “astonishing” experience The Watkins Family Hour is.
Friday night was a celebration of The Watkins Family, which includes enduring friendships, the home known as Largo, and an audience that can’t get enough.
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: