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.
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.
You know about this band, right? Another Jack White side-project. When I first heard about The Dead Weather I was scared. I’m not afraid of references to death, the dead, nor the weather, but definitely skeptical when even the most talented musicians begin launching multiple side-projects. I love the White Stripes and have fond memories of seeing them play intimate shows at The Troubadour long before they signed to V2 and exploded to the forefront of mass consciousness.
The Dead Weather rocking The Wiltern, LA
Then came The Raconteurs. Another group I enjoyed – both live and recorded. Along the way, of course, I’ve seen The Kills and Queens of The Stone Age several times. So effectively, we’re talking about a super group comprised of musicians from four different bands I really like. You see why I’m scared, right?
What if it sucks?
An unlikely scenario considering the fact that I’ve been enjoying The Dead Weather’s debut album “Horehound” since it was released. Even a less likely scenario when you consider how talented each of these musicians is individually, let alone collectively.
Still, I was a bit hesitant.
Well, my skepticism was short lived because the second I saw the set design and the aged family photograph on the drum, I was instantly reminded of the artistry of these musicians. Yes, this night was going to be about the music first and foremost, but it would also be a show.
And indeed it was. It didn’t hurt that I recently saw the documentary, It Might Get Loud, which gave some great insights into Jack White’s character and his musical influences, detailing the specific Blues song that helped define his sound. Then, to see him drumming in The Dead Weather with such passion and energy, while at the same time reflecting back on the endearing observations Jack shares when discussing Meg White’s style of drumming in the movie. . . But even if I knew nothing about Jack White, I’d be mesmerized by his sheer talent – on the drums, on the guitar, and on vocals. Another thing I love about Jack White is that it’s truly about the music. He doesn’t need to be “the star” of the show and in fact, he seems to recognize that they’re all stars, so he can just sit in back on the drum kit and do his thing.
Alison Mosshart takes the lead
Alison Mosshart is a large presence. Her voice sounded great, she moves around the stage, grabs the attention of the audience, and holds on tight throughout the 75 minute show.
Then you have Dean Fertita (QOTSA) and Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs). Both are amazing.
The Dead Weather. Even though it was a relatively early show (9:30 – 10:45 pm), I was so amped when I got home that I stayed up until 3am. And then the alarm went off at 6am… So off I go. But I don’t need to tell you much more anyway. Check them out when they come through your town. Or watch some videos from the show last night: