If you're going to be in Austin next weekend, you are invited!
Last Friday, my parent's hosted The Family Crest in their living room to around 50 people. It was a total blast.
Leah Paul, my talented friend who has recently relocated to Los Angeles, joined the extended family and played a on a couple tunes (with only a 10 minute rehearsal). Fun, good music, conversation, cheese and brownies were had by all. Even my 92-year-old grandmother enjoyed herself!
Not only does The Family Crest make good, crowd-pleasing music, they're super nice, respectful, helpful people as well. We're going to be working together again at a South by Southwest backyard party in Austin on March 17th 1-6pm. After the success of the parties I helped organize last year, we're going to do it again! This time with a whole line-up of bands coming to Austin from Copenhagen to Minneapolis.
Email me at alwaysmoretohear[at]gmail.com if you'd like more info (invite and lineup above)!
I love the joke that percussionists wait around to hit things.
I've just come home from seeing the Los Angeles Philharmonic perform Mahler's 6th Symphony. Mahler pulls out all the stops for this piece, with something like a 100-person orchestra, including six percussionists.
I saw the San Francisco Symphony perform Verdi's Requiem a couple months ago, and the bass drummer stole much of my attention. This particular drummer hit the three climactic beats with two bass drums and then adjusted one drum to play the rest. He repeated the exact same procedure of tilting the drum and adjusting it each time that bit of the piece came around. Noticing the repetition of his process was fascinating. The movements were perfectly calculated.
Everyone in the hall had to be thinking that that guy is the coolest dude in the room. And that guy knew it. I figure, for a percussionist, it's the thrill of a lifetime. He's thinking, "yeah, I'm the badass that gets to play the bass drum in the Verdi Requiem. You're welcome."
Watching a world-class orchestra perform is watching lifetimes of practice, precision, timing and technique. And no one is so on display than a symphonic percussionist. They practice, practice, practice and then often hit something once, maybe twice (unless on timpani).
The photo above is an image I found online of a "hammer" used in Mahler's 6th Symphony. It is only played two times in the whole performance. The instrument I saw for this LA Phil performance (conducted by the 31-year-old Gustavo Dudamel, or as my Dad lovingly calls him, "Gus the Dude") was probably five feet tall and six feet wide, made out of simple, unfinished pine wood and had a giant whole in the middle of it. The mallet looked like something out of a Looney Toons cartoon. The percussionist (Perry Dreiman) had to walk up a couple of stairs to hit this thing.
There's also a moment in the last movement where five of the six percussionist bang the cymbals at the same time. The moments watching them prepare is exciting. I felt like a little kid waiting for this big bang, "Oh man! FIVE CYMBAL CRASHES!" And then it's over, and they move on to the next thing to hit, or wait for another 100 measures.
Two percussionists, including the same guy who played the hammer, also play off-stage bells. But I didn't realize what was going on. These guys kept exiting and entering stage, and I was thinking, "what the hell is going on here? This is so distracting!" But once I figured out what was going on could enjoy it as a super cool effect.
These guys have the best jobs.
(No offense to the rest of the orchestra, you guys are pretty fabulous yourselves, but you're not quite as amusing to watch way up in the balcony!)
Finally I got to see Fitz & the Tantrums live! I'm also happy to say that I also converted two of my friends over as well who had not heard of them. I, myself, was converted after Amber Gregory's excitement of their Bay Area shows last year. So after finding rockstar parking, we slid over to the Waterloo Records parking lot (they no longer have SXSW shows in the store, which is good news for everyone) and were treated to the funky sounds of Los Angeles based Fitz & the Tantrums.
We found front duo Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs outside Amy's Ice Cream around the corner and had a quick chat, they were as nice as can be. The fangirl in me waited in line to get them to sign my newly purchased copy of their first album Pickin' Up the Pieces.
The music is a sort of reinvention of soul music. It's modern, yet very much firmly based in Motown and STAX. Fitz has no guitar (score!) and instead has a baritone saxophone (double score!) played by Jamie King. The music is fun, but definitely has a certain edge to it, and a good amount of passion and anger. And that's what I think drives it. The performance is super tight and groove-worthy. The vocal combination of Fitzpatrick and Scaggs is perfect. And although Fitzpatrick has a great voice that suits the music wonderfully, I wish Scaggs would get to sing more lead. But, really, that's my only complaint.
I don't know the history of each of these musicians, but these guys are seasoned professionals that know their stuff. Bassist Ethan Phillips and drummer John Wicks lay down tight, funky grooves and keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna has chosen the perfect keyboard tones for each song that gives each song a specific personality of sorts.
The song "Dear Mr. President" pleads with (I assume) Mr. Obama, "Hey put your foot down, and take a look 'round, if you don't like what you see." Say it. Hallelujah. And songs like the fabulously catchy "Money Grabber" (see the video below) and "Rich Girls" suggest that Fitzpatrick might have had some specific troubles mixing money and women. I'm really enjoying the dark "News 4 U" with a chorus of call and response between Fitzpatrick and Scaggs that gets in your head.
Photos by JamieFreedman
I took video (including a cool cover of Sade's "Sweet Dreams"), but the amplification was too much for the little flipcam, so I give you their performance on Conan, the late night talk show host with the best taste in music.
Tim Matson in my living room. photo by Shelli Owens
It's one of those romantic things to have a touring musician stay in your house on their way through. And it's even better when you actually enjoy their music and they happen to record a video in your living room. This is Tim Matson, my roommate's cousin. She sent me a link to his music a few weeks ago and his cover of U2's "40" (or "Psalm 40") blew me away. I'm happy to be a new fan.
With his unique brand of spirituality (à la U2), Tim's thick, gravely voice seems to come from somewhere beyond his throat. He's touring without a band right now, so the focus is on his voice and the simple accompaniment.
Tim has just made his first tour stop in San Francisco and is onto Salt Lake City, Denver, Austin, Tennessee, Florida and then back to the Bay before he returns to Los Angeles.
This is Tim's cover of "Wagon Wheel." The song was suggested by a fan a couple days ago, Tim learned it and recorded this video in my living room. Wagon Wheel was originally performed by Bob Dylan and Old Crow Medicine Show.
I interviewed Farfisa (keys) player Ethan Holtzman for this story, he's on the left.
Dengue Fever is not just another band from Los Angeles passing through the Bay Area Friday night (they were an answer on Jepordy the other night!). They are carriers and interpreters of an art form from another time, place and represent a community of musicians who died for making that art. I don’t think that they look at themselves that way and I know that sounds a little dramatic, but hear me out:
Dengue Fever plays covers as well as their own tunes, inspired by Cambodian rock popular in the 60s and 70s. On January 10th, Minky Records will release Dengue Fever Presents Electric Cambodia, 14-track collection of vintage recordings popular during that era, featuring musicians such as Sinn Sisamouth, Pan Ron, Ros Sereysothea and Dara Chom Cha. Proceeds of this record will donated to Cambodian Living Arts, an organization devoted to supporting the revival of traditional Khmer performing arts and inspiring contemporary artistic expression. The organization was featured in the documentary Sleepwalking Through the Mekong about Dengue Fever’s visit to Cambodia. Dengue Fever wants to give back to the community that inspire their music.
Who was Leo Frank? No, he was not Ann Frank’s father. And, while he was also a Jew, he was an American and not a German. And no, he did not die at the hands of the Nazis. He was lynched by Georgia whites in 1917 for a murder he may not have committed and after the Georgia Governor had reduced his sentence from death by hanging to life imprisonment.
Why are we talking about Leo Frank? It’s because the play with music Parade is currently being performed at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles . Fresh from runs in New York and London, where, respectively, it won a Tony award and was nominated for an Olivier award, an ensemble of about two dozen talented men and women deliver a powerful performance of this “musical” about a subject which, although almost 100 years old, still has relevance today in our “red state vs. blue state” reality.
Hey ya'll, I'm back from my trip to New York City where the weather was hot, humid and nasty. I spent a lot of time in air-conditioned museums and theaters and the Daily Show (I got to ask Jon Stewart a question)!!
The length and style of one's hair is a symbol of fashion. But in recent decades it has also been a symbol of ones politics and lifestyle.
In the 60s, having long hair (usually for men) meant that you were one of those hippie freaks that protested the war in Vietnam and smoked the marijuana. But in the 80s, the “sexier Regan era,” it meant that you wore leather, drank a lot and listened to loud guitar music. And according to the musicals Hair and Rock of Ages (ROA) you also had a lot of sex. Or at least you wanted other people to think you had a lot of sex. When I saw both shows last week during my visit to the Big Apple, there was a lot of hip motion on stage. A LOT.