Strange 80’s @ The Fonda

A cornucopia of stars for Sweet Relief

May 19th, 2017
Lex Voight

This past weekend was a star-studded benefit for Sweet Relief, a non profit seeking to provide healthcare for career musicians. Covering all the biggest hits of the 80’s, performers like Tenacious D, Weird Al, Sarah Silverman, Taking Back Sunday, Anberlin, Slipknot, Velvet Revolver and tons more all put on a night to remember at the Fonda.
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Interview with Taking Back Sunday

On the eve of Strange 80’s Sweet Relief Benefit

May 8th, 2017
Lex Voight

Taking Back Sunday are truly a band that needs no introduction. Anyone who hasn’t heard of them till now has been living under a massive pop-music sized rock. They may not be your bread and butter, but the impact that they have had on both popular music and punk is undeniable. The band is going to be here this Sunday, May 14th, at the Fonda Theatre with a whole host of other incredible acts including Tenacious D, Anthrax, Velvet Revolver, Weird Al and Goldfinger for “Strange 80’s” — a benefit for Sweet Relief Musicians Fund.
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Photo Gallery: Kiian’s “Beverly Hell” Music Video

Exclusive behind-the-scenes of the making-of

May 4th, 2017
David Fisch

Last week, Los Angeles held it’s first ever “La La Land” Day, in no doubt a nod to the recent Oscar-winning film about two loving souls making out their dreams in the City of Angels. Treacle as that is, no fear: the same week also saw the release of single “Beverly Hell” from an upcoming record by LA’s own and up-and-coming Kiian. The single practically takes the very idea of “La La Land” Day and tells it to shove it, exploring the irony of a city that produces hopes and dreams also manifests the unsightly depression and social anxiety that often comes with it.

The track is pop production on ultra, with vocals on full effect and warmth synths and crisp percussion. It lines right along with what you might expect from the “pretty people” Kiian writes about, but his lyrics juxtapose in a way that they’re sometimes hard to swallow. I’ve always held the notion that people who actually originate from LA can see right through the glam and masquerade that the city is often portrayed as, and seeing as how Kiian is a fellow Angeleno, he offers up a cynical and quite on-point view of a city that’s mostly seen through a glass prism.

You can listen to “Beverly Hell” below, ahead of the release of a music video in the near future. I was on-set in the Valley to capture some exclusive candid moments with Kiian and the filmmakers, which you can view in our gallery below.

On Thunderpussy and the Birth of New Gods

Prepare to be dominated.

May 3rd, 2017
Lex Voight

Rolling Stones. Black Sabbath. Guns N Roses. Aerosmith. Motorhead. Anthrax. Slayer. Metallica.
We music writers tend to throw around the term “rock gods” a lot. It has a way of conveying the larger-than-life, stranger-than-fiction personas of these modern legends. Their exploits approach myth, creating a new set of Western fables set against a back drop of a world at once our own and yet completely alien. A world of decadent excess populated by a cavalcade of parties, drugs, sold out stadiums, screaming or swooning fans, and above all…consummate, world-changing music.
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Show Review: Future Islands @ Apogee Studio

Samuel T. Herring is my spirit animal

Kyle B. Smith
Category: Lead Story, Review

Coinciding with this year’s edition of Coachella, there was a damn near month of top-notch shows from Santa Barbara to San Diego, and beyond.

On a recent Tuesday night in Santa Monica, Future Islands usurped the stage to record a robust 16-song live performance and interview with Jason Bentley for an upcoming broadcast on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic. Sandwiched between their Sunday sets at Coachella, Baltimore’s best is on tour to support new LP, The Far Field.

In many ways, the album is a continuation of the emotional magic on Future Islands’ 2014 breakout effort, Singles. The band’s performance, too, was in step with live appearances that made them famous.

You have William Cashion’s liquidy bass grooves, Gerrit Welmers’ masterful keys and buttons work hidden under a stoic presence, and then of course, the wild card of Samuel Herring as otherworldly front man with a Victor Price growl, and a cache of moves that will make your head spin. Altogether, it’s a emotionally dizzying experience, and a sort of wistful disco for hopeless romantics.

Future Islands preceded their set (and new album) opener “Aladdin,” as they do all shows – with a team huddle and handshake. Before you knew it, Herring was snatching imaginary stars from the sky, reeling them in, and then singing to them as they sparkled in his grasp. Cashion wasted no time in bringing the room up and down staircases with a trademark circular bass line.

During “Beauty of the Road,” Herring somehow melded cutting a rug with a mimed version of a hanging himself with a noose. But he let himself off the hook, resolving to lose himself with another hybrid concoction; a joker’s-grin-turned thousand-yard-stare of longing during the desperate refrain of “Time on Her Side.”

By the fourth song, “Walking Through That Door,” Mr. Herring had self-flagellated his own skull until a bright red mark appeared as backdrop to cascading beads of sweat. Ever loathe to rest, he turned outward and worked the front row like a politician, singing eye-to-eye with audience members, then lunging side to side like a skulking speed skater.

The set included all but one song off of The Far Field. Touring drummer Mike Lowry laid down excellent work on new one, “Day Glow Fire,” which segued in to “Through the Roses.” The latter contains an affirmation that could aptly sum up the resolve in Future Islands’ ethos: we can pull through, together.

Perhaps the high point of the LP, “North Star” kicked off with a Talking Heads head-bobbing groove, and then saw Herring battling the elements for his dear against a howling synth wind.

The latter part of the set reached farther back in to the catalogue for “Seasons,” the song which buttered the band’s bread, and a few particularly emotional cuts in the encore (“Black Rose,” “Tin Man,” and the wrenchingly beautiful, “Little Dreamer”).

The evening began with a discussion between Future Islands (Herring, Cashion, and Welmers) and KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley. Details are to be saved for the broadcast, but the conversation touched on Herring’s mom’s observation on the band, their unique relationship with fellow Baltimore artist Dan Deacon (and his Daffy Duck t-shirt), and Future Islands’ beginnings “in the neon days of the early 00’s,” as “wild feral children with crazy ideas.”

For a relatively brief exchange, the interview sheds much light on the history and inner workings of the group, and how the “succinctness of form” in The Far Field is a logical output at this point in their evolution. Listen in, and find out which new song contains a discrete shout out to James Taylor.

KCRW will broadcast portions of Future Islands’ set and interview on Morning Becomes Eclectic on Tuesday, May 9.

Future Islands is back in LA at the Greek Theater on September 19.

All photos by Brian Feinzimer

KCRW’s Apogee Sessions featuring Future Islands Setlist

Aladdin
Beauty of the Road
Time on Her Side
Walking Through That Door
Ran
Cave
Candles
Day Glow Fire
Through the Roses
Ancient Water
North Star
Seasons
Balance
______________

Black Rose
Tin Man
Little Dreamer

For more information:

Future Islands
KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic

Show Review: John Mayer @ The Forum

The humbled icon returns to the spotlight!

April 26th, 2017
Zein Khleif
Category: Lead Story, Review

It’s by the grace of the Gods that I was able to attend John Mayer’s The Search for Everything Tour twice in the last three weeks. The first time, in Washington D.C., I spent the entire two hours with my mouth agape at the pure, unadulterated talent in front of me. The second time, at Inglewood’s The Forum on April 21st, my mouth definitely did not close, but it is with triumphant pride I announce I was able to keep it together just enough to take some photos and notes for this review!

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Show Review: Empire of the Sun @ The Shrine

Antipodeans awe and amaze Angelenos

April 24th, 2017
Lesley Park
Category: Lead Story, Review

Coachella 2017 came and went, and with it came this year’s iteration of Localchella, a series of concerts in and around the LA area featuring some of the acts set to grace one of the many stages at the world’s premiere desert festival. Last Wednesday at The Shrine marked the Antipodean invasion with New Zealand’s Broods and Australia’s Empire of the Sun taking a brief hiatus from the sweltering Indio sun to dazzle Angelenos in between the festival’s two weekends.

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Show Review: Miyavi @ The Belasco

The biggest and best from Asia throw it down in LA

April 13th, 2017
Lesley Park
Category: Lead Story, Review

Ask the average Joe walking down the street what he knows about music from Asia and he’s likely to come up with one of two things: manicured and manufactured K-pop or the annoyingly stereotypical–and also kind of racist–Oriental riff. It’s a shame considering the largest continent of the world has produced some truly incredible rock musicians who can more than pull their weight against their more widely recognized American/British counterparts.

One of Asia’s better known, non-pop exports is Miyavi, the self-dubbed “samurai guitarist.” If you’ve seen the way his fingers fly on the fret of his guitar or heard his unique guitar slapping technique, you’d know it’s a monicker he’s more than earned. After making a name for himself as a member of visual kei rock band Dué le Quartz, he’s embarked on a solo career that has taken him all around the world, including an appearance at SXSW and LA’s very own Belasco Theater.

Kicking off the evening was Seoul-based Kiha & The Faces, who in their own marketing swag describe themselves as “witty like Talking Heads, psychedelic like The Doors, and catchy like The Beatles.” The influence of all three is noticeable in the quirky melodies and lyrics that frontman Kiha Chang writes. There are few who could craft a compelling song describing various smells, but you can count Chang among them.

Although they played primarily from their own catalog, they paid an homage to Talking Heads with a slick cover of “Once in a Lifetime” which the crowd enjoyed almost as much as they enjoyed singing “내 사람!” (“my person” in Korean) when the band played “Mine.” Any band who can get an audience to sing foreign phrases wins in my book.

Next up was Thai band Slot Machine, whose catalog I’ll admit to knowing nothing about going in, but who I was pleasantly surprised by. I’ve since learned that they are a huge phenomenon in Thailand with their sights set on breaking into the Western market. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if they proved to be successful. With an arena-caliber sound, Slot Machine was a charismatic force on stage.

While casting the role Mutsuhiro Watanabe for her film Unbroken, Angelina Jolie said, “I had this thought of someone who would have real presence…I thought a rock star.” The moment Miyavi stepped on the stage at The Belasco I could immediately see why she went with him.

Very few artists I’ve seen command the stage the way he does. His rapid yet somehow elegant movements coupled with the sheer skill he possesses on the guitar make it impossible to look away. Even while shredding the riff of “Afraid to Be Cool” like his life depends on it, he takes the time to give the crowd a hair flip and a sly smile.

An unexpected (but surprisingly good) cover of P.O.D.’s “Youth of the Nation” preceded a stylish romp through material from his newer releases (“Firebird” in particular with its anthemic-quality sounded particularly incredible live). Not one for predictability, Miyavi can switch gears into electric renditions of the Mission Impossible opening theme at the drop of a hat. He is a consummate rock star.

In the era of whitewashing controversies and harmful stereotyping of Asians, I can’t tell you how much it means to me on a personal level to have witnessed people who look like me defying those stereotypes on stage. These aren’t just bands who are “pretty good…for Asians.” They are great. Full stop. Props to Live Nation for putting this together and here’s hoping they continue to put on events like this.

More info:

Miyavi

Festival Review: Treefort Music Fest

The best music festival you have yet to hear of.

April 3rd, 2017
Lex Voight
Category: Lead Story, Review

For it’s sixth consecutive year, Treefort Music Fest is beginning to draw massive crowds for its amazing lineup of music and arts. With multiple stages and venues, comedy, art, performance, dance, and seminars, Treefort feels like a SXSW-lite.
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On Lake Street Dive and Evidence for The Divine

Lake Street Dive can make me a believer.

March 24th, 2017
Lex Voight
Category: Lead Story, Review

I have an ambiguous relationship with God(s).

While on one hand I steadfastly believe organized religion to be mostly a terrible thing, I’m aware that the community that religion can foster can be beneficial. Historically, however, people have used that faith in one particular deity or another to draw lines and fight wars, rather than reach out and encompass their fellow man. And the deities have mostly kept out of it, either too ignorant, absent, trusting, or sadistic have been content to let us sort it all out for ourselves. This, of course, has been used, along with innumerable other arguments that are tough to contradict, as evidence that “God is dead” – either that they never existed or they buggered off or we killed them. Most of the time I fall on this side of things: religion is in general harmful, the divine is irrelevant because I have seen no concrete evidence of its existence and there are few arguments that I find satisfactory to explain it’s existence.

“The Unmoved First Mover”/Intelligent Design argument I always thought kind of nicely solved the pesky problem of there being science and everything – that some infinitely intelligent being just kinda set everything up like the most intricate 11-dimensional line of dominoes and then went “flick.” Its an argument that’s tough to argue with when one doesn’t understand how to explain the big bang.

“At first there was nothing, which exploded,” as Terry Pratchett once said.

The other argument for the existence of the divine is, of course, Lake Street Dive.

And I meant that with total (semi) seriousness. Lake Street Dive, who I saw for the first time this week at the Theater at the Ace Hotel, are clearly too perfect to have come from a cold, unfeeling, and uncaring universe neutral to the existence of humanity.

Lake Street Dive are a moderately successful soul/jazz/pop band that formed in Boston a number of years ago. Each member, an expert at their respective instruments, updated the New Orleans-influenced jazz-soul sounds of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Chet Baker, Sam Cooke, and Otis Redding, mixing it with a heavy dose of disco, pop, and rock and roll. What they’ve done just over the three records and one EP that I have heard (there are several LP’s in their oeuvre which are nigh impossible to find) is create some of the most soulful contributions to modern music that is infinitely enjoyable.

I often openly question why music, as a medium, didn’t just give up after Freddie Mercury died. People like Bridget Kearney, Mike Calabrese, Mike Olson, and the incomparable Rachael Price, are the answer.

Ms. Price came sashaying out at the Ace, clad in a flow-y pink retro jumpsuit that took the audience’s breath away. Believe me when I say this as a cishet man who gasped in pleasure when Jon Forte walked out in a tux when I saw him open for K’Naan and drooled when I shot Lenny Kravitz last year at KAABOO. I know what an audience – straight, gay, or whatever – loses its breath. And it was lost before Lake Street Dive launched into “Bad Self Portraits.”

We were never to regain it.

Pulling from all over their last three LP’s, as well as a couple covers featured on their Fun Machine EP, Lake Street Dive left the audience breathless, dancing, screaming, and shaken. To my infinite pleasure, LSD’s set wears its old soul influences on its sleeve. I always thought it an amazingly beautiful gesture when someone like Solomon Burke or Al Green–people who’s talent is legendary and who packed houses just on their own names–would then point to the members of their band, name them, and give them each a moment to stand out in front of the crowd as their own. In LSD, each member is similarly equally valued in their live show, each given a chance to shine despite Rachael Price’s frontwoman status. Bridget Kearney’s upright bass solo, in particular, is something to behold (woman can absolutely shred). Multi-instrumentalist Mike Olson, however, creates a quiet presence in the background, often at a slight remove, holding playing the trumpet or guitar masterfully but with little fanfare.

Belting out a string of room-filling soul/rock one does miss the quieter sound of some jazz and soul and, sure enough, halfway through their show LSD took a break to go acoustic for a couple of songs, before launching back into some of their most pop-influenced tracks off their 2016 full-length Side Pony.
Look, I’m not entirely sure of the existence of god, but I had a borderline religious experience watching Lake Street Dive play. There are few things in this world which I consider truly heavenly, but Lake Street Dive were clearly sent from on-high.

Probably, anyway.