Show Review: Why I am a John Mayer Apologist

Sonic stew bitches brew for your pop-loving heart

September 20th, 2019
Kyle B. Smith
Category: Lead Story, Review

John Mayer is an evolutionist. He came crashing through the gate as an unlikely torch bearer, defied the odds, perfected his in-studio craft, won major awards, blew THE FUCK up, dated the entire A-list, became a TMZ darling, said a bit too much, lost his voice possibly in a twist of karmic retribution, retreated to Montana, expanded his wardrobe, came back strong, joined remaining members of the Grateful Dead, apparently experienced an ego death, and then showed up Saturday night at the Forum to play his 2006 magnum opus, Continuum, from front to back as a surprise. But it’s how he played it that mattered.

Enter the band, John Mayer, and his seemingly endless wellspring of confidence. Mayer’s primary Jedi trick is the ability to play so loosely within the confines of such sturdily-built songs. When the group took the stage, they wasted no time dropping straight in to 5th gear with opener, “Helpless.” By its terminus, Mayer had already created his own pocket, a private world where he set an organic call and response loop between the titular lyrics and dagger riffs from his electric guitar.

Perhaps time spent as part of Dead & Company opened his eyes to the possibilities when playing a two-set show: the perfect set and spike. First, a career-spanning set inclusive of colossal Grammy-winner “Daughters,” a jazzy and percussive “Neon” (performed alone), a Beyoncé cover (“XO”), and more recent deep cut gems, “Edge of Desire” and “In The Blood”; and later, the spike: the presentation of Continuum in the second set.

Each tune of the night was played down to the last drop; a final lick from Mayer, or a cohesive ending that synthesized contributions from all nine humans on stage – a sonic stew bitches brew for your pop-loving heart.

If you overlooked some of the saccharine lyrics of newish single, “Love on the Weekend,” you found a piece that started with a boomy EDM pulse, but evolved in to an organic, driving rock jam. The brooding “Edge of Desire” sexed up a Police riff, slowed momentarily, then climaxed with a towering tension and release solo from JM himself.

The self-effacing “In The Blood” closed the first set with stomps and claps, striking a nerve with its naked inquisition, “what about this feeling that I’m never good enough? Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood?”

Anyone perusing the merch stands before the show might have seen a Continuum branded t-shirt, the Forum show date on the sleeve, and the track listing on the back. Having last performed the album at Madison Square Garden in July (its only other start-to-finish performance to date), this night was to bookend the summer on the other coast.

Continuum fully-legitimized John Mayer as a multi-dimensional warrior 13 long years ago. When most artists revisit entire albums in the live setting, it’s usually a sign that they lack new material, or are leveraging nostalgia for the quick and dirty cash grab. But for Mayer, this was an opportunity to reimagine 12 songs that best showcase his bone deep musicality.

Right off the bat, the funk-jazz shuffle breakdown in “Waiting on the World to Change” (one of three larger than life songs on the LP), preceded a solo that sounded like an homage to Eric Clapton’s 1980’s hits.

“I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)” crept along disguised in a sly lurch until JM unleashed newly refined tricks; riffs copped from Jerry Garcia’s palette. More Dead surfaced with double drum crashes in “Belief” that positioned the song to be accentuated by a white hot closing solo.

What can be said about “Gravity”? Clearly the fan favorite of the night (and probably of his career at-large), the audience illuminated the room with their phones as John and band walked the song on a deliberate upward trajectory towards communal pop oblivion delirium. This level of fanfare typically ushers in the dread that comes at the end of a show. So to hear “Gravity” mid-set was simply a treat; much music was left to be played.

The tender “Heart of Life,” was the unlikely death knell for any doubt lingering in the arena. Whereas some of John Mayer’s slower songs can sound like overt efforts to woo, the oft-overlooked “Heart of Life” registers as a sincere meditation.

“Vultures” got the room – and Mayer – moving again. He swaggered around the stage in the intro, relaxed a bit when the song found its 1970’s FM groove, only to ramp up anew with more Dead-inspired energy and tones.

The third song of the album’s worldwide hit trifecta, “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room,” provided the musical moment of the evening. Included in the supremely patient ten-minute performance were bent harmonic notes, and a mid-song finger-picked solo that would qualify as the best solo at most any live show these days; but it was just the second best solo in “Slow Dancing.” Like a prospector, JM discovered more and more room for the song to grow until he side-stepped away from the microphone and went for the Forum’s collective jugular with the final signature stratospheric solo.

The rest was gravy. Starting with the album’s Hendrix cover (“Bold as Love”), the band eventually found its sixth gear after the slow roast simmer of sleeper track “In Repair.” They ended with Continuum coda, the kiss off tune, “I’m Gonna Find Another You.” Mayer flirted with flaunting but executed with precision to close out the album set, the journey now complete.

It would have been easy to get caught up in the nostalgia of the Continuum moment if the songs hadn’t sounded so vibrant, colorful, and alive. But after taking a look back, John Mayer directed his focus forward. There was a statement embedded in the decision to encore with a pair of brand new songs. It was time to evolve again.

Setlist

Set 1:

Helpless
Moving On and Getting Over
Who Says
Love on the Weekend
Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey
Edge of Desire
Changing
XO (Beyoncé)
Daughters
Neon (acoustic)
In the Blood

Set 2: Continuum

Waiting on the World to Change
I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)
Belief
Gravity
The Heart of Life
Vultures
Stop This Train
Slow Dancing in a Burning Room
Bold as Love (The Jimi Hendrix Experience)
Dreaming With a Broken Heart
In Repair
I’m Gonna Find Another You

Encore:
Carry Me Away
New Light

Photo credit: Christina De La Torre
Assistance: Jamie Callahan

Silversun Pickups’ Christopher Guanlao

The band is getting ready for their set at KAABOO

August 20th, 2019
Lex Voight

It can be surprising to realize that Silversun Pickups have been around for as long as they have. For a band that made a name for themselves on a couple soaring indie bangers back in the 00’s, it’s tough to keep it in mind that this is now an accomplished, veteran band with many records under their belt. Their most recent is Widow’s Weeds and the band is prepping for an appearance at this year’s KAABOO in Del Mar. The annual fest invariably manages to pull some of the very best acts of the last three decades together in one place for one of the best organized festivals around. We got to talk to them just last week about their last record and preparations for the show. Check it out after the jump:
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Jurassic Park In Concert @ Hollywood Bowl

David Newman leads a dino-mite event

August 18th, 2019
David Fisch

Film director Steven Spielberg kicked off the unofficial start of the “summer movie event” when he released Jaws in 1975, and he has since perfected and dominated the fan-centric movie-going phenomenon every few summers with a tentpole release. In 1993, the “summer movie event” was Jurassic Park, and just like Jaws before it, it has become an entertainment mainstay that has its housing on the screens of everywhere from backyard barbeque parties to rooftop poolside lounges. It is tailor-made for the outdoor viewing experience, as its breezy thrills, iconic lines, meme-ified shirtless Jeff Goldblum, and impressive visuals can envelope and entertain viewers across all generations as they bask in the cool and calm nights before the workload begins once again toward Fall. Let’s also not forget that the roars of a T-Rex echoing throughout and the Velociraptor’s hushed brustling through the bushes would make anyone’s hair raise.

But the key ingredient, as with most, if not all, of Spielberg’s projects, is the score by John Williams. Spielberg is a master of evoking emotion visually with close-ups of expressions and lingering shots of familiarity, but it’s Williams and his penchant for motifs and themes that elevate these moments with overwhelming emotional resonance. With Jurassic Park, he provides the audience with a little bit of everything: tenderness, hijinks, tension, excitement. This is all brought on with rolling bass drums ramping up the moments a character has to escape or French horns to coronate us into the large and unexplored vistas of Isla Nublar or piano to symbolize the importance of togetherness in trying times.

It’s simply hard to imagine any other composer in Williams’ place, as he quite literally creates the world of Jurassic Park in the context of his orchestrations. I’ve heard and seen performances of the “Theme to Jurassic Park” on countless occasions by Williams himself and by Gustavo Dudamel, who is the musical director of the LA Phil Harmonic, but I had yet to see the film with the score performed in its entirely to the film onscreen. For fans of the film like myself and anyone who happened to grab a ticket this past weekend in Los Angeles, they got to witness just that with the LA Phil Harmonic lead by David Newman, who has once before been tasked to bring the best of Williams, and witness it at the Hollywood Bowl, which is the class example venue for the outdoor “summer movie event” experience.

For films exhibited in this nature, the music score is extracted from the film so that the orchestra can perform it, and though sometimes it’s a little hard to discern the score as it is in the film from one performed live (unless you’ve studied the film repeatedly and know every minutiae of the cues and have written a biography about it), this was a case in which I was able to focus on all of the little details in the performance. Specifically, it was interesting to see that the scene educating the characters about dinosaur DNA – a cartoonish anthropomorphic DNA strand explaining how the park could have even been conceived – was a part of the score at all, involving frolicking brass for a flying mosquito and fast-paced string stabs and xylophone as the DNA code overwhelms the screen. It’s not a part of the film I think about having been scored (it’s not technically a part of the soundtrack release), but it showcases just how much every musical component of the film has to be conceptualized.

What’s also fascinating is seeing how much of Williams’ score there isn’t. Arguably the most compelling sequence of the film – the entrance of the T-Rex – is virtually devoid of any scoring, allowing the dread of the T-Rex’s booming thuds and the torrential downpour of rain to soak the viewer in before the imposing T-Rex roar enacts the first realization of terror. Though seeing an orchestra taking a break during these moments isn’t captivating, it brings to a point how important it is when the music does cue up again when the film requires it. It’s a testament to the analysis and brilliant direction of Mr. Spielberg and his studied collaboration with Mr. Williams.

It’s a fun experience seeing any movie outdoors, but seeing a film made for the outdoor summer movie season, with the intricate sounds produced by a full orchestra, witnessed with thousands of adoring and newly-minted fans, right in the backyard of Hollywood itself, is something you just have to do.

For more info:

LA Phil
Hollywood Bowl

Sound and Fury 2019

Historical (imo)

July 26th, 2019
Lex Voight
Category: Lead Story, Review

In 1966 Robert F. Kennedy delivered a speech, during which he said “There is a Chinese curse which says ‘May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not, we live in interesting times.” Only about three years later, Janis Joplin followed that up with the maxim “Time keeps movin’ on.” This is all just to say that we continue to live in interesting times. Perhaps the most interesting, as far as old Chinese curses go. We look back in history–of which the Cold War era seems particularly comparative (when we aren’t feeling particularly unkind)–and we see more than a few contemporary resemblances. And while the news cycle can get brutal, its incredible to have spaces that can act as a temporary haven from daily woes…even when its a haven of brutality, itself.
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Thunderpussy at the El Rey

Long may the reign

July 22nd, 2019
Lex Voight

Thunderpussy are a force. I have spoken about them innumerable times and people, i believe, are finally starting to listen. They opened up for Black Pistol Fire this last week at the El Rey and CRUSHED crowded room with their rock n roll glory. Check out the pics below.
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Vale live at The Lexington

Living in darkness, destined for light

Lex Voight
Category: Lead Story, Review

An unassuming woman in Milo glasses ascends the stage and squints into the (relatively dim) bar lights with a frown. The guitarist backing her seems to shy from the dull yellow light, using his long locks as a screen from his eyes. A couple jokes are made before a small voice asks through the speakers,

“Can we turn those down please? Y’know…make it dark and creepy in here?”
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Show Review: Mitski @ The Hollywood Palladium

Mitski and her table electrify at The Palladium.

July 21st, 2019
Lesley Park
Category: Lead Story, Review

In response to one of many screams of “I LOVE YOU, MITSKI!” that would be heard between songs from the sold out crowd at the Hollywood Palladium, the artist looks up while adjusting on stage and replied, “That is a good diaphragm. You should consider singing.”

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Anderson .Paak at the Forum

Photog Chelsea Rae captures new pop glory

July 11th, 2019
Lex Voight

When you achieve a certain level of success in the pop world, it can be difficult to maintain what many see as “artistic integrity.” Anderson .Paak is defying all of those expectations with a firm and uncompromising artistic vision that is actively evolving pop music in new and exciting ways. He recently stopped by the Forum for an incredible performance, with a handful of like-minded artists in tow including Earl Sweatshirt and Thundercat.
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Murder By Death/Laura Jane Grace in Pioneertown

The Other Shore’s send off Down Under

June 14th, 2019
Lex Voight
Category: Lead Story

On the eve before the start of their Australian tour, Murder By Death and Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers stopped in for a sold out show at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown. Fans wandered in from the oppressive 100+ degree heat to the old saloon and got treated to an amazing set from both bands with Laura Jane Grace seemingly ecstatic to be there to treat people to her new project and MBD in their always consummate form.
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Lee Fields and the Expressions at La Santa

One of the best soul men of all time

Lex Voight

Lee Fields, perhaps one of the very last soul legends still alive, touring, and producing music, just stopped by the LA area last week and treated a sold-out show at La Santa, Santa Ana to classic soul showmanship and unbelievable pipes. His new record, It Rains Love, embodies the very best of his Al Green-style songwriting with Charles Bradley-esque energy. Check out the photos after the jump.
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