“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.
Thanks to the many incarnations of Maynard James Keenan, 2012 was a spectacular year in live music. It began with TOOL at Mandalay Bay, then Puscifer in Escondido, and finally A Perfect Circle at Planet Hollywood. The way Maynard keeps the many expressions of himself and his art alive is astonishing and inspiring.
Bookending 2012 in Vegas made more sense as the year progressed. There are so many diverse events happening in Vegas that, on any given day, you can observe all kinds of people. There are those who go to Vegas for the sake of consumption and excess – a place where anything is acceptable. For some, Vegas is obligatory as they attend stale business conferences and witness their colleagues drinking themselves through the pain. Others show up for special events – fights, concerts, Cirque Du Soleil. Sometimes it’s hard to discern who’s who, but when fans of TOOL or A Perfect Circle descend upon Vegas, it’s clear who they are and why they’re there.
One of my highlights this year was the unified and uproarious crowd exit that followed the TOOL show at Mandalay Bay. For those whose year began with TOOL, the bar for excellence, entertainment, and art had just been simultaneously set and exceeded. . . again. You see TOOL and think, “It can’t better than TOOL.” Then you see TOOL again and realize the experience continually improves. TOOL can outdo TOOL.
The energetic conversation between the band and the crowd could not be contained within the 12,000 seat indoor arena in Vegas. A release was needed. As the crowd exited the venue, exploding through the tunneled halls and pouring out onto the casino floor, they walked with their hands in the air, cheering victoriously. Heads turned as those gambling thought they’d missed out on the largest winning jackpot ever awarded. When they saw us emerging from the venue as a unified, loud, mass, outfitted in black attire, their faces froze, jaw open, eyes wide. Those who thought they’d seen it all in Vegas had never experienced anything like this.
The energy of that TOOL show in January extended beyond the venue, after the show, consuming the casino floor. For a few moments, even those who didn’t buy tickets, knew what it feels like to see TOOL. There was an instant infusion of life and soul on the casino floor – as the crowd exiting TOOL became a living defibrillator.
That’s how you begin 2012.
How do you end the year? With A Perfect Circle. Again, in Vegas.
Everything Maynard does artistically is with intention. Regardless of whether any deeper meaning is gleaned from attending his shows, Maynard’s intent to provide an exceptional, all-consuming, experience is achieved consistently. If he toured incessantly, we may begin to take it for granted, but he doesn’t. We have time to experience other shows, to gain perspective and set benchmarks, solidifying our own expectations of what a show should deliver. Then, he reminds us of what a show can deliver. Don’t be surprised if you feel a bit ripped off from other experiences. Just be thankful you’re getting more than your money’s worth here.
One of the things that greatly contributes to the experience of A Perfect Circle is the way the audience shows up. Cameras are left at home, cell phones are put away, drinks are raised. People traveled from all over the country to be there. We met people who flew in from Colorado, Hawaii, Chicago, New York. I inquired, “Are you staying in Vegas for New Year’s?” Negative. Like us, they’d come to Vegas specifically to see A Perfect Circle. Many of them were leaving the following day.
As usual – for anything Maynard is involved in – the sound was impeccable. The sound envelops you, every cell touched and transported. I attend hundreds of concerts every year and experiencing sound this good is exceptionally rare. “How do they do it. . . every time?” “Why don’t others implement this level of care, commitment, and quality control?” I imagined Maynard – during soundcheck – standing at every single chair in the venue, making sure the sound was heard precisely as intended in each location. That was my mind trying to rationalize how perfect it was.
Sprinkled throughout the setlist, cover songs. Seven of the eighteen songs performed by A Perfect Circle Saturday night were covers. John Lennon, Marvin Gaye, Depeche Mode, Black Flag, and more, as interpreted and articulated by A Perfect Circle. Each song, a perfect complement to the setlist as a whole. A story was told, the interpretation up to each member of the audience.
The band – Billy Howerdel, James Iha, Matt McJunkins, and Jeff Friedl – musicianship at its finest. I don’t wear a watch and A Perfect Circle extracts you from space and time, so I can’t tell you how long the show was. I can tell you they never stopped. They’ll tell you it’s because they’re “lazy” that they don’t walk off stage, take advantage of the obligatory encore break. In reality, they have to be far from lazy in order to sustain that level of energy and musicianship, without a break. There was one break – a time out for jokes – called by Maynard. Humor is present throughout the show, so designating a time for jokes was in and of itself a joke.
As with every A Perfect Circle, TOOL, and Puscifer show I’ve attended, what the audience takes away is up to them. Similar to a painting or a sculpture, the creation is the artist’s, the interpretation belongs to the spectator. There’s no screen telling you what to think or feel, no slogans printed on t-shirts to add context. At minimum, when you see A Perfect Circle, you’ll walk away knowing you’ve experienced an exceptional rock show.
For me, wrapping 2012 with A Perfect Circle was apropos. As we end one year and venture into the next, the themes of community, solidarity, and ego-destruction rang loud. The show felt celebratory – we made it another year, another day, another minute, we’re still here, together; reflective – what will we bring to the table to improve the future?; and promising – we have a lot to look forward to and to continue to create.
Watkins Family Hour is the perfect show leading up to the holidays. With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, Sean and Sara Watkins’ sheer talent, along with a healthy dose of murder ballads are welcome reminders of how blessed we are to be alive.
Once a month, for a decade now, The Watkins have been bringing their guitars, fiddles, and friends to Largo for what has long been one of my favorite shows in LA.
They often share the stage with some other people you may recognize, including Fiona Apple, Dawes, Jackson Browne, Van Dyke Parks, and John C Reilly. Yet, Sean and Sara are the foundation of the show and even if no on else were to join them on stage, they’d still have one of the best shows in town.
To play the way these siblings do requires that they actually listen to each other, constantly. It’s as if the universe has simultaneously presented them with a brilliant gift and ever-present joke – you’ll make great music together, but you have to get along. Perhaps that’s why the only detectable sibling rivalry seems to stem from their sense of humor. The murder ballads are balanced by Sean and Sara one-upping each other with witty observations. Their snarky sense of humor showdowns are a testament to how much they respect each other, as family, as musicians, as friends. Eventually, one of them acquiesces, “Ok, that was good!” and they jump into the next song.
The Watkins Family band is unparalleled: Benmont Tench on piano, Sebastian Steinberg on bass, Don Heffington on drums, and Greg Leisz on steel pedal guitar. It’s worth attending this show monthly, for the musicianship and camaraderie alone. Throw in a lot of laughs, some special guests, frequent surprises (dancing bears and such), and the perfect venue, The Watkins Family Hour is an exceptionally worthwhile way to spend an evening.
Last night’s show was no exception. Although I attend The Watkins Family Hour monthly, I’m always moved – as if I’m experiencing it for the first time – by how uplifting The Watkins’ shows are. The shows vary significantly from month to month, but some things are consistent: beautiful voices, blended with remarkable musicianship and laughter.
The next Watkins Family Hour takes place on December 19th at Largo. Sadly, it’s the one show this year I have to miss. Luckily for you, that means there will be a couple extra tickets available. I highly recommend you get tickets in advance and round out 2012 with what is sure to be an amazing and memorable evening.
For those of you not in LA – and those of you in LA who would like to re-live some of the shows – there are 7 free podcasts of The Watkins Family Hour at iTunes. Episode 7, recorded on an iPhone due to a power outage, is the show I wrote about here. It remains among my favorite lifetime experiences to date.
Thank you for another wonderful year, Watkins Family. I’m still campaigning to have a “Season Tickets” package available for purchase.
Late last year I saw Black Box Revelation open a show at The Wiltern. I had to reference Google to remember what show it was, but I had no problem remembering Black Box Revelation.
What struck me about their show at The Wiltern was its authenticity. It didn’t feel like it was about money or fame, a “hit” nor a label. With Jan Paternoster and Dries Van Dijck (Black Box Revelation) it was simply: music. After that initial show, I vowed to see them the next time they came to L.A.
October 17th was a particularly busy night in Los Angeles, musically speaking. There were, at minimum, five competing shows I would have liked to see. Depending on the set times and the distance between venues – if you’re not drinking – it is possible to see 2-3 shows in one night in Los Angeles. I’ve done it before, but on this particular Wednesday night I was drinking and I was determined to see one band: Black Box Revelation, at The Troubadour.
When Paternoster and Van Dijck started playing, I forgot about all the other places I had considered going, the other bands I might have seen. There was a reason I vowed to see Black Box Revelation the next time they played in L.A. and I was rewarded for sticking to the plan.
Perhaps it’s because they hail from Brussels where, I imagine, if you’re playing music, it’s truly for the sake of playing music. It could be the lack of props and a light show that keeps the focus on the music. Or, maybe it’s the way some people compare them to The Black Keys and The White Stripes, which makes sense in that they play rock music and it feels familiar. Yet, Black Box Revelation is different. Perhaps the familiar feeling is the comfort that comes with consistency in quality.
During the course of two shows, I’ve identified numerous things I find appealing about Black Box Revelation, yet they still maintain a sense of mystery. Not only do they play rock & roll music, they are rock & roll, to the core. Their music is your invitation into their world. The rest is up to you. Don’t expect this band to put out a lyrics video. They won’t stop the show to explain the meaning of the next song they’re going to play. They don’t hard-sell you to visit the merch table. Black Box Revelation doesn’t insult your intelligence. They trust you’ll get it.
Before the music business there was music. Black Box Revelation is keeping that era alive.