November 30, 2011
Los Angeles, CA
Telstar: Eva Gardner, Stew Heyduk, Chris Unck
The truth is: I almost didn’t go. I had just experienced one of the most magical musical nights ever at Largo and wanted to race home to write about it. Also, in fairness to all the amazing musicians I have the opportunity to see, some shows just shouldn’t be “followed”. I’ve taken mini hiatuses from live music after experiencing shows that transcend. I wrote specifically about that after Nine Inch Nails played their final shows.
When experiences like the one that inspired me to write A Love Letter to Largo, or to post three videos of the sound of audience applause demanding a fourth encore at a Thom Yorke show occur, there is more at work than the talent of the musicians. There’s an element of magic. . . divine collaboration. . . universal support. . . which causes transcendence.
I revere experiences like these. I can remain high (metaphorically speaking) for months following a show like the one at Largo Wednesday night. My inclination after shows like that is to go home, open a bottle of wine, write, and watch the sunrise. I sometimes take a break from seeing other, exceptionally talented musicians because it’s not fair to them – nor others in the crowd – if I’m not fully present and “at” their show. Yes, we all do affect each other that much, even when we, or they, are not consciously aware of it.
I had committed to many, including the band, to attend Telstar‘s show following the magical Largo show Wednesday night. Yet, for all of the reasons mentioned above, I almost didn’t go.
But I did go see Telstar that night and I’m writing this, specifically, so that you see them as well, every opportunity you get.
You may be wondering, “Who the fuck is Telstar??”
Chris Unck, Eva Gardner, and Stew Heyduk (“Telstar”) have “official bios” and credits that include P!nk, Feist, Mars Volta, Butch Walker, and Veruca Salt. Not to take away from how impressive that is, but blah, blah, blah. . .
To really appreciate Telstar, you need to experience the people they are. These are the kids you were hanging out with when your parents thought you were studying for finals. They’re fun, they’re funny, they’re passionate, imaginative, playful, creative, exceptionally talented, and they love what they do. They have a lot of friends because they treat people well and they’re fun to be with. They’re the friends you call when you just need to laugh. They’re the accomplices you call when you just need to party. They’re the band you see when you want to have a good time. A Telstar show is like a public service announcement to have more fun, enjoy what you do, surround yourself with good people, relax, and reconnect with what’s truly important.
When managers, labels, agents, publicists, and musicians invite me to a show, there’s always a corresponding “pitch”. “They sound like. . . “, “They’re the next. . . “, “They play with. . . “, “As heard on. . . ” That’s how it works. There are numerous things that compete for our attention and it can be a hard “sell” to get people out to a show.
My invite to see Telstar was in the form of a text message that began with “The band’s name is Telstar. . . ” and went straight to “It’s Chris Unck, Eva Gar. . .” I stopped reading and replied, “I fucking LOVE them!”
Watch this video from a Butch Walker and The Black Widows “secret” show in LA a few months ago:
Butch Walker has an exceptionally commanding stage presence. He’ll hang from the rafters, get the audience dancing on tables, squatting down to the ground, and jumping up to touch the ceiling. That guy could be on stage with the Dalai Lama and a running chainsaw and you wouldn’t notice the Dalai Lama nor the chainsaw. But as you can see from the video above, you do notice the band, which includes Eva Gardner and Chris Unck of Telstar. Their contribution musically, as well as to the spirit of the show, is undeniable. Those secret shows at The Basement Tavern would not have been the same without that band. I showed up, week after week, as much to see the band as to see Butch Walker. Eva Gardner and Chris Unck grabbed Stew Heyduk and formed a band called Telstar??? Hell yeah, I’ll go to that show.
So I went to that show. And, I completely forgot that I almost didn’t go. I forgot about everything. Telstar teleported us back to a time when music was music, not a marketing ploy. Music unifies people. Telstar made everybody in the room feel like old friends. Although the music is timeless, The British Invasion was before my time, so I didn’t get to experience it live. Telstar’s music and show made me feel like we were back in that era.
The separation between the band and the audience would be nearly imperceptible if not for the instruments in the hands of the band (and the fact that they can play). Everyone is part of the show. Everyone is having a good time. There was one instance, between songs, when people were having such a good time that the band waited a moment before they kicked into the next song. It wasn’t about “Hey, look at us!” At Telstar’s show it’s, “Oh good, you’re enjoying yourselves! We love that. That’s why we’re here.”
When they do transition into the next song, it’s time to dance and sing along. It feels like a party, but not like one of those shows with sloppy drunk fans who spill their Miller beer on you. People at a Telstar show will not spill their drinks at any cost. These are the pros – the musicians and the fans. They know what they’re doing and they know it only matters if you’re having fun.
I had a lot of fun with Telstar, but they also made me think. They’ve made me reconsider my long-standing tradition of taking a break after a single transcendent experience. There’s magic everywhere and you can continue to transcend, if you’re open to it.
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.”