During the rare occasions when I consider the possibility of leaving Los Angeles, I remember experiences like Damien Rice playing at The Hotel Cafe Sunday night. It’s a “once in a lifetime” opportunity which thankfully has happened more than once in this lifetime.
L.A. – where you can wake up on a Sunday morning, ease into your day somewhat aimlessly, and find out that one of your favorite musicians – somebody who typically sells out much larger rooms – is playing a last-minute show, that same night, at one of your favorite and most intimate venues.
On Sunday morning, October 7th, it was announced that Damien Rice would be playing as part of Nic Harcourt‘s 88.5 KCSN Presents show at The Hotel Cafe later that night. It was the first in what is to become a monthly series hosted by Harcourt at The Hotel Cafe. It was also the first time Rice has played in Los Angeles since 2007.
The show sold-out in a matter of minutes. People who didn’t have tickets lined up 6-7 hours early in hopes additional tickets would be released at the door. People who did have tickets lined up 6-7 hours early with the goal of obtaining a prime position, close to the stage, for the standing room only event.
The evening’s openers, Kita Klane and The Lonely Wild, had an exceptionally rewarding and equally challenging job before them: opening for Damien Rice. Harcourt kicked off the evening, introducing the radio station (one of my favorites) and his new, curated, monthly concert series. He expressed his enthusiasm that Rice agreed to join the line-up, while sharing his concurrent enthusiasm about introducing the audience to two newer bands he’s passionate about. Harcourt did an amazing job of setting the tone for the evening and the audience was attentive, receptive, and engaged, during both opening performances.
The crowd’s attention to Kita Klane and The Lonely Wild is quite a testament to each band. What was once going to be an important, yet more low-key evening, was suddenly an even higher-profile show, playing to what could have been – and in many cases would have been – a difficult audience. Kita Klane and The Lonely Wild stepped up to the challenge in a way that inferred “we’re this good all the time, not just tonight.”
The spectacular evening was also a testament to the crowd. Rice’s fans appreciate music. They listen. They dance, laugh, clap, and cheer, when appropriate. They trust the venue and the evening’s curator to present shows that will be of the highest quality. Their expectations are high, as is their confidence that expectations will be met.
Rice began with “Delicate” and concluded with “Volcano”, complete with a crowd sing-along, in the round. Everything in between was as exceptional. Rice’s voice is impeccable, his songs honest.
Rice guided the audience through his set, describing the various stages of his failed relationships, the resulting introspection, and the songs that emerged in the end. He sang with eyes closed most of the time, but opened them each time he belted, “I remember it well. . . ”
His honesty and humor shared the stage with his music. Introducing “The Professor & La Fille Danse,” Rice asked the crowd to imagine if, when they were younger, someone gave them a million dollars every day, along with the advice, “do good with it.” Then, the next day they show up to give you another million dollars, and so on, for the rest of your life. “Well, we are given a million sperm each day,” he said, adding that this is the root of failed relationships. Later, endearingly labeling himself an “asshole,” Rice debuted a new song, “Greatest Bastard”.
What happens when Rice sings – and consider this your warning – is he unsuspectingly draws you in with his exquisite voice. Then, you’re enveloped in the story and you begin to feel what he’s experiencing. The pain is mitigated by his voice, his sense of humor about it all, and the drink in your hand. As Rice sings, and the songs build, you realize you’re fucked. Welcome to Damien’s world.
His relationships may fail, but his shows are always a success.
For a person so beyond their years in sheer talent, chronological age can be rather insignificant. In Laura Marling‘s case, her age is relevant only in that she can now enjoy a glass of wine on stage. Long-time fans have experienced this coming-of-age with Marling, surely the most noticeable change between tours. The quality of her voice and the content of her songs maintain their excellency.
The crowd was captivated as Marling delivered a beautiful set at Hotel Cafe Sunday night. As she tuned her guitar between songs, the room remained silent. “My father dreads coming to my shows. He just can’t believe I don’t do more to make everyone feel comfortable,” Marling said.
One of the unique things about a Laura Marling show is precisely that – these moments between songs, their silence further punctuating the songs themselves. Perhaps the reason her father noticed is because it’s rare – the uncomfortable silences as everyone hangs on whatever it is Marling may do next – tune her guitar, critique her wardrobe, or offer additional insight about a song. The crowd doesn’t stir, fidget with their cell phones, nor move to the bar for a drink. They are spellbound.
At one point, Marling mentioned that she was a bit nervous about the transparency of her dress. “My mom always said to wear matching underwear in case you get hit by a bus. . . but she didn’t say anything about standing in a room full of people in a see-through dress.”
Marling played for just over an hour. As she made her way toward the end of the set, Marling explained that she doesn’t do encores, joking it’s one way she avoids awkward, self-conscious moments. I can tell you about the silences and stillness between songs, but her performance and the songs themselves are something you should experience first-hand.
If you listen closely, there are multiple varying tones to applause: polite, obligatory, appreciative, supportive, congratulatory and many more. The sound of applause generates momentum and creates a feeling. Among the most special experiences is when audience applause sets the tone and spirit of a show, in contrast to coming after the events and moments of a show.
When John Paul White and Joy Williams (The Civil Wars) took the stage at The Wiltern, the applause led the show. It lasted a while. It was the sound of great triumph; the sound of victory. I don’t think I’ve experienced that specific tone of applause, in person, prior to this show. I imagine it’s heard during a parade when the hometown athlete brings home an Olympic gold medal. It may be similar to the sound of applause during the celebration of a victorious political campaign.
The applause of the crowd was amplified – we were applauding The Civil Wars, but we were also applauding ourselves. The Civil Wars are “our” band. There weren’t any radio stations, TV talk shows, publicity stunts, or million dollar marketing spends telling us we should listen to The Civil Wars. We discovered them and we told our friends. We purchase their music and sell out their live shows because we support true talent. The Civil Wars sold 100,000 records in 4 months, without a major label. The fans get credit for helping The Civil Wars succeed because there were only 3 factors in this “formula”: The Civil Wars, their music, and the fans. We did it. We “voted” for talent. And we won.
In Los Angeles, we’ve purchased tickets to The Civil Wars’ sold out shows at The Hotel Cafe (capacity: 165), Largo (capacity: 280), The El Rey (capacity: 700) and now The Wiltern (capacity: 2,300). We’ll follow them to The Greek (capacity: 5,900) and The Hollywood Bowl (capacity: 18,000). We’ll set up the “Who The Fuck Are The Civil Wars?!” website when they win their first Grammy. We’re proud of The Civil Wars. This is the music we’re choosing. These are the people we want to succeed. That is the sound of the applause that preceded The Civil Wars’ show at The Wiltern.
After the applause, the celebration, the fuck yeahs and the thank yous, the show began and, in contrast to the sound of uproarious applause, the crowd was silent. The music and voices of John Paul White and Joy Williams then carried us from one victory to the next, song after song, we celebrated The Civil Wars.
[Updated December 2, 2011]
The Civil Wars have been nominated for 2 Grammys this year: “Best Country Duo/Group Performance” and “Best Folk Album”. Here’s their interview with The Grammys upon learning the news:
I remember seeing The White Stripes at The Troubadour a few times a year, in the very early 2000’s. We also used to go see these singer-songwriters named Katy Perry, Sara Bareilles, and Brett Dennen, play at The Hotel Cafe all the time. I was one of 8 people who stumbled into The Mint and saw Jack Johnson play in 1999 or early 2000, well before the masses knew who he was. The Strokes, Metric, Snow Patrol, Keane, Scissor Sisters, Ben Harper, The Airborne Toxic Event, Amos Lee, Ray LaMontagne, The Black Eyed Peas (way, way, way back), Ryan Adams, Bright Eyes, Muse, Arcade Fire, Queens of The Stone Age, Portugal The Man (you’ll see what I mean about that one soon). . . the list of “new bands” that I’ve seen perform in tiny venues, before most people knew who they were, is endless.
What does this have to do with Jamie Drake? Well, if you want to get in early on this one, now’s the time. I was introduced to Jamie via a contest she won. Jamie was hand-selected by A&R veteran Michael Rosenblatt (Madonna, Depeche Mode, New Radicals, etc.) to receive his guidance and to record an EP with a respected producer. “Listen to this! Listen to THIS!” Rosenblatt would command, while bouncing out of his seat, with a huge smile on his face, referencing Drake’s early demos. Then, 2 minutes later, “did you listen to it??” By the third minute he was playing Jamie Drake’s music for me from his computer. At that time, I had worked with Rosenblatt for nearly one year and had never seen him that excited about anybody.
On first listen, Drake’s songs are unmistakably good. Upon subsequent listens, they’re brilliant. The art of the album is dying – people are buying (or not) singles and EPs. The coming generation isn’t familiar with the concept of the album as a holistic piece of work, as a story and art of its own. People are consuming songs, legally or illegally, at a rapid pace and churning through them as quickly as they find them. Yet to endure, the songs need to be better. As a listener, you need to feel something every time you hear a song, not just a catchy little tune that will soon annoy you, as it becomes overplayed. You deserve something that moves you, something you can revisit several years from now and still connect with, songs that are themselves a holistic piece of art. Jamie Drake gives you that.
The better an album is, the longer it takes me to get though the first listen. I geek out on songs, listen to them on repeat, hear all the parts, identify where the emotional hooks are, understand the impact of the intersection of the sound of various instruments at a specific moment, inflections in the singer’s voice. . . It took me two weeks to get to the final track of Drake’s album – which also happens to be the title track, and my favorite – “When I Was Yours.”
I listened to tracks one through eight, over and over, on repeat until I understood, down to the second, where and how each song made me feel a specific range of emotions. Eventually, I made my way to track nine, “When I Was Yours.” That song is still on repeat. Minutes 2:12 – 3:02 will break your heart even if your heart has never been broken before. But it’s minutes 0:01 to 2:11 that get you there. Drake’s songs are not simply “good,” they get inside you and fuck you up. The songs stand alone, but they also, conceptually, take you through the journey of the album as a whole. And just like we want to relive the best parts of our lives, I’ve repeated my way, song by song, through the album numerous times now.
I’ve seen Drake perform live a handful of times. The more she plays, the better she gets. Even if she never gets any better than this, she’ll still blow you away. Drake is currently playing Crane’s Tavern in Hollywood on Wednesdays and has an album release show at The Hotel Cafe on May 13th.
February 23, 2010
Butch Walker Record Release Show
Guest appearance by Pink
The Hotel Cafe, Los Angeles
Butch Walker and Pink at Hotel Cafe
Sometimes when Butch Walker announces a show in LA I think to myself, “I’ve seen Butch SO many times and I do love him very much, but . . . do I really need to see him again?” To which, my more intelligent, forget-that-you-haven’t-slept-since-New-Year’s, self answers, “Fuck yes, you need to see him again!!!” Then, upon taking my own good advice, and going to see Walker perform “again,” I think to myself, “Damn, I really wish he’d play here more often!” As a result, I see Butch Walker every time he performs in LA. Or, as the case may be, if I’m traveling and notice Walker is touring through the city I’m in, I’ll see him there as well. I have yet to travel to another city exclusively to see Butch Walker perform, but most of his fans have. . . repeatedly.
Let me take a minute to set the scene for you because if you haven’t experienced a Butch Walker show and his amazing, dedicated fans, then you should know about this. And for those of you who were there, or have been there before – well, you can attest. The Hotel Cafe is a relatively small room (although, twice as large as it used to be) and Butch Walker sells the place out within minutes of putting tickets up for sale. In order to accommodate as many of Walker’s fans as possible, The Hotel Cafe clears the room of the people who were there to see some of the earlier artists, and then re-opens the room only to people who purchased the special event Butch Walker ticket. Typically, at Hotel Cafe, you can pay a cover to see one artist and stay all night.
At 10:00 pm, Hotel Cafe staff “cleared the room,” which meant they moved everybody out of the performance room and into the back bar area. Walker’s set wasn’t scheduled to start until 10:30 pm. During that half hour break people could grab a drink and sit at the spacious booths in the lounge-y area, they could step outside and have a cigarette, grab a bite to eat, make some phone calls. . . they have half an hour to do whatever they like. Ignoring all of the alternative, more relaxed options, Walker’s fans crammed themselves within the small space boxed between the performance room, back bar, and women’s restroom. With the exception of the restrooms themselves, this is the tightest area of the venue.
It was nearly impossible to make my way through the crowd, to do one of the “more relaxed,” less healthy options. As I squeezed between and around people, apologizing for swimming upstream, I smiled and reminded everybody, “You have half an hour – you can do anything!” And one by one, people smiled at me, shrugged their shoulders and said, “yeah, I know.” So they stood, happy as can be, cramped among each other, peering through the glass doors as Walker sound-checked. When the doors finally did open, they poured into the room and took their positions as close to the stage as possible. In a sold-out, packed room, 99% of the people positioned themselves within the first 30% of the room, to be as close to Walker as they could get. You could have moved a 10-piece dining room set in the back of the room because nobody was standing “all the way back there.”
These are the kind of fans every Artist dreams of. For Walker, this is nothing new. These fans have been with Walker for many years, they’ve traveled around the country to see him, skipped finals, missed weddings, they were his “friends” on MySpace; now they’re his “fans” on Facebook and his “followers” on Twitter. Given the option between smoking, drinking, eating, and Butch Walker – they’ll choose Butch Walker every time. One might infer that Butch Walker is good for your health.
Once the show begins it’s easy to see why Walker has such dedicated fans. In addition to his expressive performances and songs everybody knows the words to, Walker is extremely engaging, authentic, and quite simply, silly. After playing a few songs from his newly released album, I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart, Walker asked the crowd, “Did anybody get the record today?” A majority of the audience cheered in affirmation. “I mean, did anybody get it legally?” As people responded with laughter, Walker clarified, “I mean, it’s okay. . . however you get it. . . I just want to make sure you know the words.” In reality, Walker’s fans did purchase his latest album legally, propelling I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart to #1 on the iTunes Top Albums chart on the afternoon of release. It’s currently still holding at #14.
As Walker played song after song off his new album, fans sang along. Between songs, there was a constant dialog between Walker and the audience. At one point, somebody shouted “Say ‘happy birthday’!” “It’s not my birthday,” Walker pondered bewildered. After giving it a moment to process, Walker continued, “Oh, it’s your birthday!! Not my birthday. . . What is this? Chuck E. Cheese’s?” Then, as only Butch Walker would do, he worked a “happy birthday” shout-out into the next song. He later reflected, “The whole time I was playing that song I was thinking about what a dick I was about the whole birthday thing, so I had to acknowledge the birthday – Happy birthday.”
Walker prefaced his performance of “She Likes Hair Bands” with a little insight, “This song is about hair. I used to be in a hairband and it’s haunted me forever. . . thanks to Google. Y’know, you think you’re gonna be cool; you think you’re gonna be alright; you think you’re gonna escape that old high school reunion photo. . . and then, there’s Google. . . and Classmates.com” Walker, accompanied by his band The Black Widows, belted out these words with a very catchy tune:
So Baby, lay down
Nobody is around
Watching as our bodies
Slowly sinking to the ground
Throw away your phone
and your inhibitions too
There’s a hundred dirty things
That I want to say to you
Upon finishing the song, and to bring things back full-circle,The Black Widows suggested that they record the video for “She Likes Hair Bands” at Chuck E. Cheese’s, with the Chuck E. Cheese Band. “Better yet,” Walker suggested, “because my mind immediately goes to demented places, the video should be of US playing the song to kids at Chuck E. Cheese’s and freaking them out.” (Now read the lyrics above again). Everybody laughed as Walker continued his set.
Pink joins Butch Walker
One of many highlights of the show was when P!nk joined Walker to sing “Here Comes The. . .” off of Walker’s previous album Sycamore Meadows. Now, P!nk may write very catchy pop songs, but the woman ROCKS. I’ve never actually been to one of P!nk’s concerts, but I have seen her jump on stage with Walker a few times. And every time I see her, I like her even more than the last. Like Walker, Alecia Moore (aka P!nk) is genuinely, 100%, who she is. And she is fuckin’ awesome. When they finished the song and Moore walked off stage, Walker began, “That was. . . ” and then looking at his long-time friend, Moore, said with a chuckle, “YOU!” The audience laughed. “It just feels so weird to say, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen – PINK!'” Walker added. [Scroll down to see video of Walker’s duet with P!nk]
It’s important to clarify that although Butch Walker fans may not jeopardize their place in line while waiting to get into the venue in order to get a drink, once they’re inside, it’s a different story altogether – everybody is drinking. One of the reasons people clamor to get into Walker’s shows is because the shows feel like a party at your best friend’s house, when the parents are out of town, and the liquor cabinet is freshly stocked. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Butch Walker show without hearing a glass break (and as we’ve already established, I’ve been to many).
A few songs and several broken glasses later, on a gracious note, Walker said, “Sorry it took us so long to make this record. Well, actually it didn’t take us that long to make the record – it just took us a long time to get it to you. It only took 5 days to make the record. . . that was a year ago.” He then thanked everybody for buying the album (these really are the fans every Artist dreams of). “It’s great to see it do so well.”
There’s one moment during all Butch Walker shows that, without fail, the dialog, laughter, and sometimes even the sing-alongs come to a halt; and that moment is when Walker sings “Joan.” There’s deep reverence, respect, and complete silence every time Walker sings this song. That’s the impact of Walker and his music – he will take you from the happiest, catchiest, highest of all highs, all the way to the other end of the spectrum, and you won’t want to miss a thing.
Walker finished the set with a favorite from his Marvelous 3 days, “Cigarette Lighter Love Song.” As he sat at the piano, trying to get started, Walker announced, “I didn’t plan to play this long. I thought I’d be peaking at the 4th drink and then I could leave the stage. . . and now I’m up here. . . and the white keys look like black keys, and the black keys look like white keys, and you’re like, ‘I know you’re not gonna get this right.'” That’s OK though, because in contrast to the audience’s revered silence during “Joan,” there’s one moment during every Butch Walker show that, without fail, everybody in the room finds themselves singing along at the top of their lungs, and that moment is when Walker sings “Cigarette Lighter Love Song.”
February 17, 2010
Hotel Cafe, Piano Bar, and everywhere in between
What is Adventures In Rock? On one hand, it’s what happens pretty much every night of my life. But more than that, it’s an idea my friend and talented musician, Jamie Drake (JD), and I (CW) came up with while hanging out last week.
You know those moments when you’re with your friends, laughing, having the time of your lives, and the question arises: “how can we keep doing this forever?” As we sat around a table at The Hotel Cafe, with some of our favorite friends late one night last week, Jamie and I decided that, at minimum, we’ll relive it the next day by writing about it. In addition to my live music reviews, we’ll post an Adventure In Rock once a week. . . for now. But if you like the series, we certainly have enough material to do it more often. At times we’ll include video, audio and interviews; we’ll always include pictures. And while we may set out to share one story, as the night evolves, so may our original concept. Chances are, that will happen more often than not.
The musicians we’re spending time with are not only talented Artists, at various phases of their careers, but are also really stand-up (depending how much they’ve had to drink), great people. They’re some of the most loyal, funny, dedicated friends we have. Some of us have been hanging out for close to 10 years. Some of us – Jamie and I, for example – have only known each other for a few months, but it feels like years. Over time, and through various Adventures In Rock, you will get to know some musicians and venues the way we do – after a show, instead of a show, during a show, at the 24-hour diner after the bars close, on the couch the morning after. Sometimes you’ll get insight into what was really going through a musician’s head when he or she wrote that song, designed that cover, ordered that “last drink.” Other times, you’ll learn that the sad, serious, always lonely singer-songwriter is actually one of the funniest people you’ll ever meet (while also sad, serious, and always lonely) or that the outlandish, wild, crazy drummer is actually quite shy.
So as Jamie and I started dreaming up adventures. . .
JD: we just began throwing out ideas about how we could share this community of music with other people out there who might be interested in reading about how “exciting” our lives were – or rather – how we are all just about the same. We love Frisbee. We love music. We love good beer (Colette prefers good tequila) and real people. We also just wanted to somehow make all of our artist friends feel super rad. You know, we musicians make about 2 bucks when it comes down to it. We have this undying desire and message we have to share with the world, and sometimes the world just doesn’t give a damn.
CW: Also, musicians carry a wealth of information. Touring allows them to explore various cities around the world, often at odd hours. If you ever find yourself in an unfamiliar town, Tweet a musician – chances are they can tell you the best bar, favorite bartender, taco stand, 24-hour diner, and perhaps some stuff you’d rather not know.
JD: So while we were sitting amongst some of the coolest people on the block at this round table of sorts, I had some good news to share: “Soooo… You wanna see the album cover for my first record?”
CW: “Yeah! Break it out!”
JD: (Turning to Cary Brothers, who was sitting next to me at the table) “Speaking of album covers, I saw yours via Twitter the other day. I totally dig it.”
CW: “Let’s see it, Cary!”
Cary Brothers Under Control
JD: Cary took out his iPhone and pulled up a very cool black and white photo of him facing west with a fresh hair cut and of course, wearing that darn leather jacket he’s always got on.
CW: Meanwhile, around the other side of the table, some of our other friends (who will remain nameless for now) were conjuring up ideas for “useful” Apps. The definition of “useful” takes on a new life after a few drinks. Of course, we were entirely focused on Cary’s new album cover so we hardly noticed those other people. Although, since we’re adept mult-taskers, we may share this with you in the future.
JD: The font on Cary’s album cover was in the most possible badass font: comic sans. Totally kidding. In hearing him chat to someone about it a few weeks before viewing the photo, he had said that this was finally the album cover he had always wanted. Apparently, when he was visiting friends or something, one of his buddies just started taking some photos and they ended up being really great. These are the kinds of cool things I really dig about being an artist. Not having plans all the time and just seeing where the wind blows.
CW: I’ve known Cary for. . . I’ve lost track of how long, but many, many years. For me, it’s been extremely fun, inspirational, and gratifying, watching from the sidelines as my friend created all aspects of his latest album, “Under Control,” exactly how he wanted to. The album cover was the remaining piece I had yet to see. As Cary showed us the final artwork, I smiled, “that’s you!” That may not seem like a profound observation, but every time somebody is able to express themselves authentically, without interference from people with different agendas, it’s to be celebrated. Just as the songs do, Cary’s album cover is an uncompromised expression of who he is, at this stage of his life. There’s a sense of confidence and stability, now that Cary has it all “Under Control.” Or, as he often puts it, is “all’s growned up now.” Don’t worry – he still smiles, drinks whiskey, and has a lot of fun.
After we had ample time to absorb Cary’s album cover, Jamie whipped out her phone and scrolled through photos until she found her album cover.
Jamie Drake When I Was Yours
JD: Taking my Blackberry Storm out of my old raggy purse that I got at an Urban Outfitters 4 years ago (and should probably replace), I pulled up my album cover. I was a little nervous to be honest. Having this be my first “legit” album (well, that’s yet to be determined), there was the fear of laughter at how green I am as an artist. I mean, I was sitting next to Cary Brothers, come on now.
CW: I wish I had a picture of Jamie with her Blackberry Storm and Cary with his iPhone. It looked like a simultaneous showdown of technology and art. I love it when those intersections happen. Anyway, Jamie passed her phone around so we could check out her album cover.
JD: “So here’s my album cover…”
CW: After considering it for a bit, I turned to Jamie and said, “I know that a lot of thought and work goes into this, so I say this with the utmost respect and sensitivity, but essentially, you and Cary have the same album cover.”
Now, as you can see from the pictures, the covers themselves look nothing alike and each one illicits a completely different mood. I went on to explain that just as Cary’s album cover boldly expresses where he is in life now, Jamie’s does as well. Theoretically, that’s what the album cover would do – express the artist and the music – so I also know this isn’t a revolutionary observation. But when you actually know the Artist, you have additional insight into how accurately this reflection is portrayed. Speaking of reflections, I later learned that the photo on Jamie’s album cover is literally a reflection. . .
JD: “Oh yeah, that’s interesting.. I see what you’re saying about them being ‘the same.’ My friend who took the photo, Daley Hake, just had this idea of shooting my reflection in a puddle and then adding texture by layering a photo of skyline in the water… kinda looks like I’m in space…”
CW: “Wait, that changes everything. I thought you were looking up toward the sky, but in reality, you’re looking down in the water?” It was one those mind f*ck moments where my eyes had seen one thing, my mind processed it a certain way, and then Jamie flipped it upside down. “I love how that shifted my perspective. That’s the kind of stuff I think we should let others in on.”
We asked Cary to share his thoughts, but he was unavailable to comment. Actually, we didn’t really ask him what he thought. Instead, we stood up and along with Austin Hartley-Leonard, The Brother Sal, Marko and Matt Ramsey, we headed to Piano Bar where more Adventures In Rock ensued.