Augustines :: Bootleg Theater :: Los Angeles :: July 27, 2016 :: Live Review

d6e0ec09-c92e-4fd8-ad74-ed23dc681da3.jpg

Augustines
Bootleg Theater, Los Angeles, California
July 27, 2016
Live Review

My feet are bruised, blistered and sore. My voice is gone, its nothing but gravelly and war-torn. My ears are ringing – still. My body is riding high on post-show adrenaline, while I try not to over-caffienate to over-compensate for only an hour’s sleep. But, all of it, every bit, was worth it. The Augustine’s Los Angeles show last night, in support of their new album “This Is Your Life”, was one of those live music experiences that will live on, and on, and reside among my list of best gigs ever.

1.jpg

Let’s start with the venue. The Bootleg Theater was a new one for me. I was both a Bootleg virgin, and an Augustines’ virgin (yes, lads, last night was my first time).

“The bar stage” was where the band was playing. It was on the small side of the theater, dark with high ceilings and a slightly elevated, barrier free stage. The bar looked more like the cafe counters at roller rinks from when I was a kid, and the sign that hung above, stating “Cocktails” was flipped upside down – something the singer of Augustines, Billy McCarthy, spoke on mid-show. It fit, that topsy-turvy view, right along with the odd art pieces and disco ball spinning its glittery lights on the stage.

4.jpg
The adjacent part of the building is set-up for dramatic performances, and is significantly larger than “the bar stage” room. In-between “the bar stage” and the bigger theater was an entry way that led to a patio – a patio which housed a retro and working photo booth.

Yes, my friends and I took advantage of it, being blinded by the too quick bright flash, and striking our very best pre-selfie poses. Then we found our spot to stand. My favorite area, side of the stage/stage right. We stood right near where the Augustines’ roadie would end up, and where some damn beautiful guitars were there hanging out, and waiting.

2.jpg

It would also be the side that Billy would take to, playing most of the set (when he wasn’t dancing around, bouncing around, or throwing himself to the ground) stage right.

The crowd started to make their way into the room, heating the place up rather quickly. I would say the heat was my only real complaint of the night, but that is often the case with indoor venues during the summertime months, in Los Angeles, so that was to be expected.

I had no prior listening experience with the opening act, Cobi, so I had no idea what we were in for. Cobi (Jacob Schmidt) took to the stage, with just a guitar.

At first glance, I was reminded of a younger Pete Yorn (probably due to the hair), but when he started singing  – acoustically – it was Jeff Buckley that I was immediately reminded of. His voice was powerful, and at one point, when he began to wail, I got the flush of musically induced, all-over body chills. It was gorgeous.

5

When the rest of his band joined in, the music shifted into something fused between funk and classic rock n’ roll. His guitar playing was as impressive as his voice, though only the first song really stood out to me. Not that I didn’t enjoy the rest – I did – but that first number had blown me away so much that I never really fully recovered.

Cobi seemed to have a lot of fans in attendance, many singing-a-long to every song played. I was lost more in the guitar work, and hoping to hear him take me again to the emotional place the first song did. It never happened, but I am still seeking out more of his music, and would like to see him play live again – perhaps a longer set.

11.jpg

 In-between the opener and headliner sets, a good portion of the crowd made their way out to the patio. The room had doubled in both occupancy and heat. We were all glowing with sweat and clamoring for some kind of breeze. We were also all buzzing in that way that happens pre-show, that anticipatory collective pulse that beats, somewhat erratically, within our chests while we both want the show to start, yet don’t want it to be over yet either.

In that waiting period, beers were tossed back, conversations went on between us and fellow fans, as well as a bit of chatting with the Augustines’ roadie about guitars and set-up and being a part of the show.

Then it was time.

IT WAS TIME.

IMG_0065.jpg

Billy McCarthy came up on stage first, all big dimpled-smile, raucous laughter and a jovial/joker kind of persona that immediately drew us in. He had his signature fedora on, but tossed it off towards an amp, smiling even wider, then made his way over to the mic. He had this distinctive gait about him that seemed both light and lumbering, clumsy and precise, as his entire being  lit up, seeming to be made of a manic energy. The rest of the band followed on-stage, and all together they set the place on fire.

We were all theirs from the start – unwaveringly so – from the first song, to the second encore – and we gave the band all of our sweaty, ready and willing, make us dance and sing and scream and laugh and cry and feel best. We loved them together, and felt loved right back.

It was this incredible experience of electricity and music that connected the room together. I haven’t experienced something that powerful in a long while.

IMG_0067

I looked around the crowd many times during the show and never saw a bored, or unmoved experession. Never spotted faces glued to their “black mirrors”. On the contrary, everyone’s phones seemed only to be touched to hold up high and capture a piece of the music, and magic, happening onstage – whether in photographs, or videos. And no one was standing still.

Billy was beyond personable, beyond giving and generous, and fucking talented beyond my expectations. It was refreshing to see an artist – and an entire band – who looked happy being up there, who looked like they actually loved what they do.

And we were there, loving it, too.

All of us.

Together.

IMG_0086

Billy’s hat returned eventually, and then was thrown off again. Billy threw his entire body to the ground – more than once, guitar in hand, fingers in place, singing and playing and rolling around. He kicked over an amp once, leapt up on the drum set twice to bounce off, and sang his fucking heart out.

I mean it, his heart was there, dangling on his sleeves, and from the arms of his guitars, bleeding and beating and making us all feel so fucking much.

Eric and Rob were amazing, too. Adding energy and humor and magic to the music. But, honestly, it was Billy who kept connecting us all to each other, to the music, and at times, to our own human experience. He said we were all at a picnic (oh, and no one gets laid at picnics, FYI), as we were sweaty and without food, but here drinking and singing together.

And he made me believe, at least for a night, that everything was going to be okay.

IMG_0103

They played my two absolutely favorite Augustines’ songs – “The Chapel Song” (early in the set) and “Landmine” (during the first encore – this one made me cry). They played songs that have now become some of my favorites – especially live – “Weary Eyes” and “When Things Fall Apart”.  I fell more in love with “Are We Alive”, “This Is Your Life”, “Nothing to Lose But Your Head” and “Walkabout”. And I loved Billy’s renditon of “Waltzing Matilda”

At the end of it all, Billy came to the front of the stage, all by himself.

No guitar.

No backup music.

No microphone.

And he sang his heart out to a stripped down, acapella version of “Running in Place”, which was one of the most moving, emotional, amazing things I have heard in a long time.

It left us all awestruck, and then had us all cheering together.

IMG_0127

It was the wee hours of the night-turns-to-morning-time when the band came out to take a final bow together. I was drenched, sore everywhere, feet aching from dancing, ears ringing, and had the tick-tock reminder that I had to work the next day, and I didn’t care.

If Billy had asked us again if we were up for one more I would screamed YES.

I think we all would have.

IMG_0123

Thank you, Augustines, for bringing music and magic and emotion and laughter and tears and soul and wonder to Los Angeles for a late July, hot, sticky night. I won’t forget it for a long, long time and I hope you all make it out this way again – sooner, rather than later.

We miss you here already.

Tony Lucca at The Roxy :: Live Music Review

Tony Lucca at The Roxy, Hollywood
October 19, 2012
photo by me

Tony Lucca opened his set at The Roxy with his take on The Heavy’s song, How You Like Me Now, the song that grabbed hold of my attention when I first noticed Tony competing on The Voice last season, and I must say his performance this Friday night, in the intimate setting that The Roxy provides, far surpassed that initial attention grab, and most certainly set the tone for what would be an incredible, and unforgettable, night of music. Since my introduction to Tony’s music on the previously mentioned musical reality competition show I have been making my way through his albums and finding quite a few favorites that have made their way onto playlists and music mixes for quite a spell of time, some songs of which I was delighted to also hear live on Frida. The night was indeed a melding of Tony’s own songwriting catalog and show-stoppers from The Voice, that may or may not have been the reason for such a packed house. I know from my vantage point near the middle of the stage, I was surrounded by seasoned fans who had followed Tony’s career for quite a while, new fans who delighted in hearing Tony’s stories about Team Adam (Levine) and his famous feud with Christina Aguilera, as well as a few of Tony’s competitors from The Voice amongst us, including one of his openers, Justin Hopkins, who all seemed excited to be there supporting their friend. The song choices seemed to appeal to everyone present, and beyond the actual songs, the performance and energy of the night, was phenomenal, and by far surpassed any expectation I had prior to arriving that night.

Tony is quite a showman, very bigger than life, but also tremendously genuine in his overall stage presence, and in the way he envelops the audience into the show itself. His inclusive way of conversing and acknowledging the crowd – for better or for worse as we witnessed the latter when Tony asked a chatty member of the audience to quiet down (speaking for all of us here) – made the already small venue seem to shrink further in size, at times feeling more like we had gathered in a large living room with Tony and his band, and were all part of the show itself.

When the audience was invited to sing-a-long on songs such as show favorite, and encore, 99 Problems, as well as one of Tony’s own, also a fan favorite, Pretty Things, was enthralling to witness and be a part of; all of us raised together in song, a cacophony of voices and hand clapping, the experience almost overwhelming in such a small space, in a good way. It was absolutely impossible to not feel swept up in the music, and that rush and push of feeling that pulsed through the room was quite a testament to Tony’s talent. This was by far one of the best performances I have been a part of in a long time.

One of my favorite moments was when Tony recalled the notorious battle he had with ex-fellow Mouseketeer, and judge on The Voice, Christina Aguilera, introducing a song he wrote about the experience, reminding us all that he is a songwriter, which honestly is the best revenge. As a writer myself I could not help but smile and think “do not ever piss off a writer” because, well, honestly we will definitely put it into our words, and into our art. The song was powerful, but also I must add, respectful, which was truly impressed me, and spoke volumes to the kind of person Tony is.

Another favorite moment was Tony’s acoustic rendition of his autobiographical song True Story, a favorite of mine from his album Solo. This was another moment of the night where I felt Tony invited and included the audience, bringing them in close, even with a conspiring half-whisper and wink when he thanked Miss Russell, his “high school sweetheart” gone movie star.

I also loved when he invited his friends to join him on-stage (opener Justin Hopkins and Jenni Alpert, as well as Curtis Peoples) for one of my favorite songs of Tony’s, Pretty Things. Justin Hopkins joined him front and center, and at one point kept the song going when Tony fell into a fit of laughter. Everyone was so full of smiles and enthusiasm, which was completely contagious to all of us. The audience swelled with joy and again with raised voices as we all sung along, which once again made for quite a moving musical experience.

Other powerful and memorable moments were when Tony performed another favorite of mine, Death of Me, as well as his blind audition number from The Voice, Trouble, both songs showcasing what an incredibly powerful voice Tony has, and again, what stage presence he exudes. And, of course, his blues and rock-infused take on Britney Spears hit, Baby One More Time (see below), was fantastic.

Tony is an amazing talent and one I encourage you to seek out to see live if you get the chance. He played one hell of a show this past Friday night in Hollywood, reminding me once again of what I love about live music and how being there in the midst of it is one of those moments in life that I feel most alive. I look forward to his new album and what songs and stories are coming next. He is a truly remarkable artist.

Thank you, Tony Lucca, for bringing it on Friday for all of us.

Baby One More Time (live at The Roxy) :: Tony Lucca

Aimee Mann at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre :: Live Music Review

Aimee Mann
October 13, 2012
The Wilshire Ebell, Los Angeles

I have a longstanding relationship with Aimee Mann’s music, one that I have written about more than a few times, and one that I can use as a memory map to track and trace times in my life by. Her music has been with me since my adolescence, and has never ceased to be a presence in my life. Here music is a big part of my life’s soundtrack.

Saturday night, at the Wilshire Ebell theatre, I got to see Aimee Mann performed live for the third time with one of my oldest and dearest friends, who I have also had quite a longstanding relationship with. We met in our adolescence, too, and though we have drifted apart at times, and lived at opposite sides of the States at other times, we have always remained a presence in each other’s life. It seems fitting that we shared this musical experience together, singing-a-long and reveling in the joy of seeing one of our favorite artist’s live.

One of the most delightful parts about seeing an Aimee Mann concert is her dry wit and casual, at times self-deprecating, always genuine rapport with the audience. It is easy to forget at times that one is part of an audience, in a venue, and not sitting in a living room, albeit a large one, casually being part of an evening together. She has a way of making the entire evening feel inclusive, whether it be actively taking requests for songs, explaining her frustration with a guitar that just would not tune, or being humorous, often at her own expense, in a way that makes everyone feel they are in on the joke.

One of my favorite moments of the night was before the last number, pre-encore, when she summed up the evening saying “I think we all had a good time … We rocked you in a mid-tempo way in the mid-Wilshire district. Two people told me they loved me, which was awesome.” It was a good time and the audience was filled with more than just two people who love her, it was obvious by the overall energy in the room, the standing ovation after the encore, the singing-a-long that was everywhere, and the chorus of requests that went out when she opened it up, asking what everyone wanted to hear.

Although I did not yell out any of my song requests, I did not need to, as Aimee performed my absolute favorite songs during her set, including lesser known tracks like Fourth of July (off of her first solo album Whatever), Deathly (from the album Bachelor No. 2), It’s Not (the last track on Lost In Space) and my absolute favorite of Aimee’s, You Could Make a Killing (featured on the Cruel Intentions soundtrack).

It’s Not was by request, and Aimee joked that it was her most depressing song ever, saying “because apparently somebody’s not depressed enough yet. I like to think this is my depressing song. It’s a wide field!” Though it is one of the saddest songs I have ever heard, it is one of those songs that slips right into your heart and at least holds you in close while you are falling apart. I have said it before, and it bears repeating, sometimes sad songs are so necessary.

It was Aimee’s rendition of Wise Up, performed in the middle of the show when it was just her and an acoustic guitar, was the song that got to me the most. I was there in the dark crying my eyes out as the beautifully heartbreaking song wrapped itself around me, calling to mind both someone dear to me that I lost not too long ago, and my own current struggle deciding whether to make a possibly risky life change, or to stay stagnant, even as the stagnant now is failing, hoping for something to give. I felt internally touched as Aimee sang this song, as if the music and lyrics were helping to guide me in the midst of my feeling my own kind of lost in space. I was grateful for it, damn grateful.

Aimee performed quite a few songs off of her new album, Charmer, some that I enjoyed more than when I initially heard them on the album itself. My favorites of the night were Labrador, Slip and Roll and Living a Lie (which she sang, in duet, with the lead singer of opening band Field Report, Chris Porterfield). Aimee introduced Living a Lie to be written, together with fellow band mate Paul Ryan, in hopes to be part of a musical she is working on (and is rumored that she wants to write with Aaron Sorkin – which, oh my stars, just blows my mind thinking on).

My friend and I whispered to each other during the set, pointing out our favorites. After the show we discussed how much Aimee’s music means to us, comparing times we had seen her in the past, and agreeing that she puts on such an all-around fantastic show.  We spoke on our own history with Aimee’s music, and traded stories of memory recalled moments that her songs had an intricate part in. My longstanding relationship with both my friend, and Aimee Mann’s music, continues on, growing truly after such a wonderful show.

You Could Make a Killing (live at the Wilshire Ebell, October 13, 2012)

Ryan Bingham at The Fonda Theatre :: Live Music Review

Ryan Bingham
September 27, 2012
The Fonda Theatre, Los Angeles

I think I am still recovering from last night’s show at The Fonda, physically, vocally, and most significantly, emotionally. Seeing Ryan Bingham perform last night was an incredible experience, one that both expanded in that nearly larger than life rock and roll power kind of way, and contracted into something of a stripped down to the raw core intense vulnerability way. To say I was moved by the music would be an enormous understatement, as I was beyond moved. I was rocked and rolled, pushed and pulled, spun around, torn up a little, heart shattered a little more, way turned on and unbelievably blown away.

Let me pause for a moment though, and rewind to before Ryan and his fantastic band graced us with their music on stage. Plucked from the surrounding neighborhoods, the opening band, Los Angeles’ own La Santa Cecilia, was an unexpected delight. The opening song was a gut-punching, tear your heart out, Patsy Cline type of number that took the audience’s collective breaths away as they had started to fill in the floor at the Fonda Theatre. The first number they performed reminded me of the Llorando scene in David Lynch’s film Mulholland Drive. The lead singer, Marisoul, welcomed the crowd after blowing us away with that first song, letting us know that the remaining music we were about to hear would be a little bit of everything, and boy was she right. From alt-pop covers of Tainted Love and U2’s One, to original songs that genre-hopped between bossa nova, tango, traditional Latin, to 50’s style be-bop, La Santa Cecilia were a fantastic hybrid of sound and culture that felt indicative of Los Angeles itself. I will definitely be writing about this band again, in further detail, and sharing their music, so stay tuned.

After the fun and fabulous opening band, the crowd continued to fill-in to the historic 1920’s theatre. The people converging all-around were a wide array of styles and generations, a little bit of the young Hollywood crowd, a little bit of hitchhiked through the desert grit and grime, some ironic-facial hair and country clothed hipsters, a touch of the older and wiser music fan, and a dash of enthusiastic youth. I love gigs that attract a cross-section of the city itself, and this was definitely one of those shows. Ryan’s music seems to have quite a long-reaching musical attraction.

To pick a defining song, or moment, from last night’s show would be impossible. To even recall the exact order the songs were shared with us would not be possible either, because somewhere in all of it I got so incredibly swept up and lost in the music, and the experience of the music, that it became one momentous cacophony of sounds and musically told stories. So, instead I will talk about some of my favorite happenings of the night.

Western Shore delivered its powerful, life affirming message, with Ryan’s gritty, world weary yet hopeful vocals within the soaring band that lifted the music and thrust it out into the room, causing a chill-inducing pulse that started from the ground up, and working its way throughout my body. The passion that seemed to bleed out of Ryan’s vocals and guitar rollicked its way through the crowd causing a pounding of feet, a pushing forward of bodies, and an electrical current that buzzed in the air; all of it together seemed to pull all of us in the audience closer together, and closer, in turn, to the music.  This song last night gave me a jolt of belief in just about everything in my life, its inspirational impact felt almost religious.

One of the most moving moments of the night was Never Far Behind. Ryan introduced the song by saying it was for his parents, and as the song progressed the emotional vulnerability and raw honesty of the lyrics swept over me, and then the tears came. Reflecting back as I write this, the tears come again.

There was so much to relate to in the performance of this song, and so much to feel, and completely understand. There was a moment, towards the end, when Ryan was literally pounding on his guitar and watching that, experiencing it, made it so that I could barely breathe. The emotions, the realness of it all, it was overwhelming and fucking beautiful. I have the utmost respect for Ryan as an artist, a storyteller, a performer and a person after witnessing this song live.

There were moments last night where the music broke me, shattered pieces of my heart, and then managed to somehow patch me back together, and heal me, as well. Never Far Behind was one of those moments, and I am still shaken up some by it, and I am still in awe a lot by it, as well.

Hallelujah was an early favorite song of mine, and one I had hoped Ryan would play last night. First off, I feel that I need to convey that his live performance of this song far exceeded my love of the album recording of the song. The power and passion in the delivery of it last night was incredible. It felt as if the room shrank while the song’s story unfolded, an illusion that one was sitting in a darkened bar, whiskey poured generously, whilst your drinking partner sat close by on your right speaking to you of their life stories. The telling, rough and ragged and brilliantly real, was not cluttered by the weight of regret or over-sentimentality, but instead was a relatable, down-to-earth and down on one’s luck picture of life that is so familiar to me. The line “it’s just a song” felt like a reaction to Leonard Cohen’s famous Hallelujah, as if to say, like life, the importance is enormous and miniscule all at once, as it is just a life, as it is just a song; we listen, we live, we are moved, but it is all just the contents of another day.

Flower Bomb was one of my initial favorites off of Ryan’s new album Tomorrowland, so I was thrilled when the opening chords were played. The winding story of emotional strife and economic hardship is heart pounding and breaking, full of blood (“blood left on the stage”, as the lyrics suggest), and the sweat and tears, were unforgettable, especially performed with just Ryan and an acoustic guitar. Again, the room seemed to shrink, and for the length of that song I truly felt as if it was just Ryan playing and singing, and me there listening. That kind of losing oneself completely in the music is a feeling I live for, and one that is not all that common during a live show. From the reactions of those around me, I am quite sure they were feeling that intimate, one-on-one connection, as well. I know I said it before, but last night was truly awe-inspiring.

Guess Who’s Knockin’ was one of the notable powerhouse moments of the night, a raucous and rowdy expletive coated explosive song that was admittedly quite a turn on moment, for me. I have a penchant for the word “fuck” when sung with a certain power and intensity, and Ryan most certainly has miles of both. As mentioned earlier with Hallelujah, the performance of Guess Who’s Knockin’ live overtook the already brilliant power of the album recording on Tomorrowland. It was aggressive feeling, seething with anger, and teeming with sensuality; the band, along with Ryan, were without a doubt, fucking hot (expletive intended), in this song.

The audience’s reaction, and connection, to Bread and Water was enthralling to be amidst. Call-outs and exclamations of joy when certain cities were mentioned, and the (again) almost religious fervor in the “shit yeah’s” that followed certain lyrical lines sung, was amazing to witness. There were couples dancing, fans offering up shots of whiskey that Ryan had asked for, feet stomping, hands clapping, and voices rising in screams, and in sing-a-longs. Everyone was all in, totally and completely.

Audience response to one of the two encore numbers, the gorgeous South Side of Heaven, was also incredible, and was as moving as the song itself. This song was one whose name had been yelled out in request multiple times during the show, which I am sure added to the enthusiasm when it was performed. The harmonica-playing, guitar with a cigarette stuck in with the strings strumming Ryan was breathtaking during this number. Every word sung seemed to carry a million of their own stories while being tucked into the over-arching story of the song itself. The way it felt to hear, was like being lost within the dreamy aftermath that comes after rolling around in the rumpled sheets with a lover, heart still beating fast, breath still hitching slightly in your chest, and the glow of love and lust circling the space around your body. If I had not quit smoking a few months back I would have wanted to light up right after this song, as soon as the lights went on and it was time to go. Instead I just emitted a long, slow sigh.

What a way to end the night.

If you get the chance during this tour, or any one that follows, do yourself a favor and go see Ryan Bingham play live. As much as I tried to do the show justice in words here in this review, it still does not adequately express what last night was like for me. As I have mentioned, I am still a little bit awe-struck. Thank you, Ryan and band, for an incredible show.

Gig Review :: Concrete Blonde at the Troubadour

Concrete Blonde at the Troubadour, August 29, 2012

Editor’s Note: photography and video were not allowed at this show.

Women in music have always been, and will always be, incredibly vital and important to me. From the early memories of my mother’s Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and Fleetwood Mac albums, to my headfirst dive into Patti Smith, Cowboy Junkies, Tori Amos, Sinead O’Connor, Mazzy Star, Throwing Muses, Hole, 10,000 Maniacs, Aimee Mann, Kate Bush, Siouxsie Sioux and Johnette Napolitano’s music, women have always taken a leading role in the playlist of my life. Their stories sung, their presence and power, and yes, the fact that a part of me has always dreamed of being up on a stage with a guitar and a mic, playing and singing my soul out.

My all-time favorite woman in music is without a doubt, Johnette Napolitano. From her work with Concrete Blonde, to her side projects with Pretty and Twisted and Scarred, to her overall strength and raw persona, she has always been an inspiring, kick ass, personal hero of mine. Seeing her live last night, with Concrete Blonde, well I struggle to find the words that will sufficiently express how it felt. There were moments where I thought my heart would leap out of my chest, other moments where I was sing-screaming so loud I thought I would lose my voice forever, and moments still where I stood there in awe, tears in my eyes, overwhelmed by feeling.

Perhaps it is the fact that Johnette is born and raised Los Angeles, or it could be that Concrete Blonde’s first two albums were music that for a good, long spell just belonged to me. What I mean is that for the first time at that point in my life I had music that I had not discovered, nor shared (yet), with anyone else but myself. I discovered them in a favorite record store of mine, browsing alone one afternoon when I was supposed to be in a community college math class and bought them both (self-titled and Free). I played them incessantly in my first car’s stereo, memorizing and mesmerizing over the songs and how fucking real and relevant they felt to my life. I knew these stories, I knew these streets, I knew the broken and the beautiful, and I knew about addiction and loss and dirty and desperate hope. I felt as if I was living these songs and I could not stop playing them.

It was later that I found out that others loved their music as much as I did, but for that first little while they were all mine.

Then it was Bloodletting, the album thatcame around during a huge emotionally charged everything-is-changing time in my life. I clung to that album, hanging on for dear life, breathing in each and every song like they would save me.

The other albums, side projects included, seem to accompany significant times in my life, as well. The songs amongst them often feel like bookmarks to moments and memories. I play them and they feel like old lovers and friends come to share a drink with me, and I welcome them in, gladly and gratefully.

Last night, at the Troubadour, seeing Concrete Blonde and Johnette for the first time ever, I was saved, and I was glad and grateful for the experience. Crammed to the very front of the Troubadour (oh the Troubadour, I could write volumes on what this venue means to me) with close friends of mine, the music enveloped us, overwhelmed us and lit us up. We kept looking at each other, throwing our hands in the air and opening our eyes impossibly wide, an unspoken “this is fucking amazing” passing between each shared glance.

To pick a favorite moment would be impossible, but I will say that their cover of Everybody Knows nearly took my soul. Johnette thanking Leonard Cohen, tears threatening to fall from my eyes, my voice hoarse from singing so loudly along to every single word, was beyond amazing. There was also her ass kicking rendition of Midnight Oil’s Beds are Burning, or the soft-sad take on The Rolling Stones As Tears Goes By. Joey and Run Run Run brought me to actual tears, and both True and Scene of a Perfect Crime hit so deeply they still are reeling inside of me, and have left an undeniable inspirational kick in the soul that I think I have been starving for, especially hearing Johnette sing the line “if I had the choice, I’d take the voice I got, ‘cause it was hard to find.” God is a Bullet, Take Me Home (with the cutaway interlude of Rehab),and the closing sing-a-long of Still in Hollywood, the final encore, were unforgettable.

Johnette was glorious, powerful, raw, flawed at times, honest and outspoken, and so fucking amazing. Jim Mankey, with his subdued persona, should not go unmentioned, as his guitar work was unbelievable – quite easily he is one of the top living guitarist in the music world. It was great to witness the interractions and connections between Jim and Johnette, 30 years of being married to the band as they are.

All the love I have carried around for the albums was expanded exponentially seeing them play live.

Live music is something that fills me and moves me in a way that nothing else has ever managed to do. There is something that wakes up in me, races to the surfaces, pushing and pulling out of me, and lighting my entire body up like some kind of holiday festival of lights. I am a different part of myself in the presence of live music, as if a rare and often hidden part of me that waits to come out to dance and sing only in the music’s presence. Live music just does it for me.

Thank you, Johnette Napolitano and Concrete Blonde, for waking me up last night.

Gig Review :: The Kills at The Observatory

photo by me (hey, I’m a writer, not a photographer)

The Kills
The Observatory, Santa Ana, California
August 9, 2012

Some bands are great on record, albums so good they are on our constant rotation, played song-by-song, literally linearly, every melody a story. Often these album rich bands disappoint when seen live. Maybe they lack the presence and personality expected, perhaps the magic seems missing, or the real musical impact was brought to life by the trappings of modern recorded music, auto-tuned and adjusted to near perfection, a product more than a (press) play.  Every so often, though, a band you have loved on album takes hold of you, in-person, and blows you away, each song soaring and expanding, and exploding out of the constraints of an album, each song becoming something so much more, something electric and very LIVE.

Thursday night, at The Observatory, The Kills were that band.

Let me set the stage, the start, so to speak. The house lights went down, the stage lit up to expose a leopard-print backdrop and four drum kits. As the drum beats began, Alison Mosshart, donning a fedora, slinked on stage and began to pace like a jungle cat stalking her prey. The drums persisted; steady beats delivered by darkly clothed girls and boys with half-disguised their faces, puppet-like arms going up and down, near mechanically, thumping to her cat-like pace. Jamie Hince joined her, covered in shadows and leather, guitar in-hand, held almost like a weapon.  As No Wow starts up all I could think was hang on tight, here we go.

The show was incredible. Every song seemed to top the last, the building of the drums and guitar enveloping the audience so completely that I felt everything in my chest, in my heartbeat, in the pulse of the blood in my veins. Alison was a kinetic ball of energy, animalistic in her movement, feline, feral, non-stop action. Her movements, the way she would bend her body back and forth, were raw and almost carnal. When she sang “my little tornado, my little hurricane”, lyrics from the song Last Days of Magic, I could not help but think that is her, she is a force of nature.

Jamie was the hunter to her lioness, at times holding his guitar like a gun, pointing right at her, tilting back and releasing. His voice was deep, dark and sensual like strong coffee with a shot of whiskey. I was taken aback at what a presence he held, different than Alison’s, but equally as compelling. Their chemistry shot currents across that stage, again I say electric; it is hard to believe that these two are not a two off-stage, as well as on.

My vote for best songs from the actual show were Black Balloon, of course (a long-time favorite of mine that I was hoping to hear), Future Starts Slow (favorite of Jamie’s singing, especially the lyrics “you can blow what’s left of my right mind”), Baby Says and Pull a U.

The encore, Alison coming to the front of the stage, seeming stark and unexpectedly awkward, breaking out the band’s new single Last Goodbye. This was a breathtaking moment, a chance to hear just how damn good Alison’s voice is, accompanied by a slightly manic old-timey sounding melody, giving the break-up ballad a ghostly touch of the macabre. Afterwards, the shy smile from Alison to the audience was precious, and I mean that in the most non-demeaning of ways. After all of her howls and wails, predatory snaps and snake-like slinks, for her to share this quiet moment with her was quite meaningful.

The band returned, as did the pulsating drums, streaking lights, and racing guitars as Jamie and Alison sang a feverish Pull a U, a crowd-pleasing Fuck the People, and a vulnerable and confessional feeling Monkey 23 which they seemed to sing to one another, Alison sitting on the stage crooked smiling up to Jamie and his guitar. This moment gave me chills, and that sting to the eye feeling, teasing at some of my internal stories and scars. Alison stood up and reached a hand out to Jamie, the interlocked fingers and stepped to the front of the stage, taking a bow as the audience howled and clapped. The rest of the band came forward, faces revealed, applause once more. As Alison and Jamie embraced and walked off-stage I had the overwhelming feeling of satisfaction and oh my stars, I want more.

Last Day of Magic (live at The Observatory) :: The Kills
video from faketaper