As with all the amazing music experiences noted above, I found out about Brett Dennen’s performance at Library Alehouse via Twitter. Dennen announced this show with a Tweet, at 1:43pm today. I re-read the Tweet a few times because Library Alehouse is not a music venue (not that all shows must take place in a proper venue, but. . .). Library Alehouse is one of my favorite pubs slash restaurants in Santa Monica. They have an amazing selection of beer on tap, including a few that are hard to find elsewhere (I only know this because I’ve been there with some guys who know this). They also have a great year-round outdoor seating area in the back (I know this because that’s where I like to sit).
Brett Dennen at Library Alehouse
So when Brett Dennen Tweeted that he was going to be performing at Library Alehouse for a Carson Daly taping, I thought perhaps he had one too many glasses of really good beer. Yet the Tweet was very specific and Library Alehouse was on the way home (as “on the way” as anything is in LA), so I decided to stop by. Good thing I did because Dennen was entirely sober and indeed performing at Library Alehouse tonight.
I first became aware of Brett Dennen several years ago (2004-ish), at The Hotel Cafe. Marko, who co-owns and books the venue, told me I had to come down and “check out this guy Brett Dennen.” I remember it was a late show. . . No, actually. . . Whoever had played before Dennen started late (or ran over time) which pushed Dennen’s set back. It was approximately 11:43pm on a weeknight, after a very long day, and with an early morning ahead of me. If anybody else told me I needed to be out that night, I would have ignored them. But when Marko tells me I need to see someone, I show up.
Consistently, 0n any given night, The Hotel Cafe has a solid line-up. It’s the kind of place you can go, even if you don’t recognize the names of the artists playing, and be guaranteed to hear some good music. In fact, I often go there “on the way home” because I’m certain to hear something I like. Marko doesn’t call me every time an amazing musician is playing at Hotel Cafe (if he did, he’d be calling me four times a day). So when he does say, “you’ve gotta come check this out,” I don’t question it; I just show up.
In the case of Brett Dennen, that meant I was one of approximately 8 people in the room when he performed what are now some of his most requested songs. He was, without a doubt, phenomenal which left me thanking Marko profusely and questioning where everyone else was. It also reminded me of a time when I was one of only 5 people seeing Jack Johnson perform at The Mint several years prior to that. In both instances I wondered how long it would take for people to catch on. And in both instances the answer was: not very long at all.
Brett Dennen at Rothbury 2009
The next time I saw Dennen perform at Hotel Cafe the room was packed. The time after that it was sold out. After playing a few sold-out shows at Hotel Cafe, Dennen graduated to larger venues, but he’d often come back to Hotel Cafe and play special shows. The last time I saw Dennen perform at Hotel Cafe, not only was it sold-out, but people hovered outside the window on Hollywood Boulevard, with their ears pressed against the glass, straining to hear as much of the show as possible. Most recently I watched (or rather, danced) as Dennen performed to thousands of fans at Rothbury Festival.
So that’s Brett Dennen – nobody knew about him, then everybody knew about him, and now those who know him on Twitter are the ones who knew to show up for his Carson Daly taping this afternoon. And just like old times, we were among the few (40 people) who got to experience this show.
Dennen began by playing a brand new song, “Dancing At The Funeral.” It’s not as morbid as the title may lead you to believe. “Dancing At The Funeral” is a song about celebrating life, an important message to share. Next, at the request of the audience, he played “Desert Sunrise,” a song off his debut album. Dennen spoke about his fond memories of the Bay Area and how he weaved a break-up storyline into the song prior to playing “San Francisco.” “It’s really a love song,” Dennen said. “I love that city.”
Next, he told a story about recording “Heaven” with Natalie Merchant. Like several artists, Dennen likened the song to a child. But unlike other artists, Dennen’s “child” had a different upbringing. Hopefully they leave that story in the show so you can hear it for yourself (I’d only f*ck it up if I tried to repeat it). Dennen finished the set with “It Could Make You Cry,” another ironically happy tune.
And with that, the show slash taping ended, and some really good beer was the substitute for an encore.
Billy Corgan and Spirits in The Sky
The Hotel Cafe, LA
August 31, 2009
"Fall into the grace of where you are. . ."
It’s not often a rock band plays The Hotel Cafe. I may have just pissed off some bands that play The Hotel Cafe. However, it is rare that a true, plugged-in rock show takes place at the small venue most often recognized as the home of outstanding singer-songwriters.
But, it has happened: Perry Farrell has made a couple guest appearances at The Hotel Cafe, including one time with his side project, Satellite Party; Billy Corgan has played there previously (although it was a mellow, acoustic, solo show); Pete Townshend has stepped foot on that stage a few times; Butch Walker had people standing on tables at one time; and Cypress Hill once turned the intimate room into a hip-hop club.
Yet, for the most part The Hotel Cafe is a place where people watch quietly as songwriters sing about break-ups and alcohol. The beginning of tonight’s show was in line with that vibe, although rather than droning on about heartbreak, Corgan sang melodically about love.
Navarro and Corgan during the electric part of the show
Corgan was joined on-stage by Dave Navarro, 19-year old Mike Byrne from Portland who was chosen to play drums in the band after Corgan placed an open-call for drummers online, Mark Weitz on keyboards, Kerry Brown on percussion, Ysanne Spevak on violin, Linda Strawberry on backing vocals, Kevin Dippold on flute and mandolin, and bassist Mark Tulin.
When the mellow set of songs about love, devotion, and dreams came to an end Corgan had a surprise for the audience. Well, it wasn’t a surprise to everyone, just to those of us who didn’t see his note on SmashingPumpkins.com today: “The tour ought to end with a bang though, as tonight marks the faux Halloween show! Everyone is expected to show up in costume and there will be a costume contest held during the show.”
Intermission: Costume Contest
Corgan said he only expected seven people to show up in costume. Instead, there were about 50 people dressed in costumes ranging from an elderly angel to a pregnant alien. While unnecessary, the costume contest was entertaining, especially with Corgan’s sarcastic banter.
Throughout the show there was “that one guy” who kept disturbing the peace by shouting out obnoxious comments. So when the guy belted out, “What’s your costume, Billy?” Corgan responded, “My costume is a guy who fuckin’ hates you. . . it’s a little subtle, but I hope you feel it. . .” That was the last we heard from “that guy.”
The costume contest wasn’t the only form of audience participation. Corgan also enlisted the crowd to sing along to one of the songs. He got everybody going, singing “oh, oh, oh” and then realized he may have asked the audience to sing too many rounds. “It seems I made a rare mistake,” Corgan admitted.
Navarro and Corgan
After the costume contest Spirits in The Sky turned on the rock show. Navarro and Corgan crushed it on electric guitars. At one point, Corgan requested the bow from Spevak’s violin – and I don’t use words like this lightly (or ever, actually) – shredded.
The band played for 2 hours. Or just under 2-hours when you factor in the costume contest. When the band exited the stage, the house music came on and the musicians all went back to the dressing room instead of staying at the side of the stage, behind the curtain. This is usually a sign that show has ended and at least half the audience left. But the loudest yellers remained and did not stop screaming or clapping until Spirits in The Sky returned for one more song.
“You asked for it. . . ” Corgan warned.
Corgan playing guitar with the bow of Spevak's violin
Tuesday kicked off with an interview and live acoustic performance from Meiko at LP33.tv. After exchanging information about some of the restaurants we frequent in LA, Meiko, one of my favorite musicians from The Hotel Cafe family, chatted with LP33.tv about overcoming stage fright, her musical inspirations and writing process, and getting ready to record her next album. She then performed “Boys with Girlfriends” and her rendition of “Super Freak.” After Meiko sang “Boys With Girlfriends,” one member of the LP33.tv team was overheard saying, “that gave me chills!” A little close to home, eh?
Black Francis performing at The Mint LA
Later that night, I headed to The Mint to see Black Francis (aka Frank Black) perform. That was cool for several reasons. For one, he’s Frank Black. It was a nice surprise (for me anyway) to hear him chat between songs. I’ve seen The Pixies and Frank Black perform previously and I don’t remember him being quite so chatty… or perhaps I wasn’t paying close enough attention before. Anyway, he talked between songs and he was funny, which is important because otherwise I would have wished he didn’t talk between songs. (Remember when Flaming Lips played Coachella and rambled on about politics through 3/4 of their set?! All I can recall is that Wayne Coyne came out in that bubble, played 2-3 songs and then talked for an hour. Such a disappointment. And yet, I’m still going to see them at The Greek Monday night).
Frank Black... on and off stage (one of the look-a-likes)
Anyway, back to Black Francis. He played a nice mix of some old Pixies favorites along with his solo stuff. It’s a good thing I was sober-ish or it could have been a very confusing show – there were at least 3 Frank Black look-a-likes in the audience.
Meiko performing “Boys With Girlfriends” at LP33.tv. Just a teaser, the Meiko feature is being edited: