Show Review: Iron & Wine & Orchestra @ Disney Hall

Step in to a painting with Sam Beam

March 28th, 2019
Kyle B. Smith
Category: Review

The songs of Iron & Wine evoke a place where there is no calendar hanging on the wall to mark time, no jet planes flying overhead, and certainly no telecommunications. Our modern world has yet to arrive.

Listening to Sam Beam at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on Sunday night was to step into an oil painting on the wall of an old museum, the scene lush with references to the natural world. It was, without question, a landscape.

Sunsets and wind, the sea and summer, bougainvillea and blooms, rain, and ravens in the corn. A mountain stream, a pasture, a mare, ashes, cinder and smoke, weeds, and a bucket of snow. Juniper, rosebushes and leaves. Thunder clouds, a creek, cedars and roaming dogs. Thorns, roses, and blue-eyed birds.

Upon a closer listen, you find errant fragments scattered in the songs like a detonated time capsule working in reverse; a pistol, a pizza parlor, an automobile, a photograph, or a train. But Iron & Wine stays true to its moniker. It is poetry frozen in a world that never progressed past the 1950’s, and one that trades in the currencies of the things that don’t change from one century to the next; love, death, childhood, heartache.

The night broke orchestral with a short tranquil piece (“Follow My Heart”) written by Pauline Frechette, who was in attendance. Conductor David Campbell (Beck’s dad!) then brought Iron & Wine to the stage, joking that on this occasion, the collective would be known as “The Sam Beam Orchestra”. And what a collective it was.

The performance served as a fifteen-year anniversary celebration of the release of Our Endless Numbered Days, Iron & Wine’s widely-admired 2004 LP, and included ten of the album’s twelve tracks. Early selection “Free Until They Cut Me Down” was laced with some attitude, and moved along at the snappy pace of a movie score played under a chase scene.

The molasses drip of Beam’s vocals guided twenty-two songs split over two sets; the first with the orchestra, the second without. Buoyed by the pristine acoustics of the Hall, the interplay of lead guitar, orchestral elements, and a trio of backup singers echoed languidly around the room.

“Sodom, South Georgia,” another cut off of Our Endless Numbered Days, got real with Beam quivering about how “all dead white boys say, ‘God is good.’” Backup vocals added by Kelly Hogan, Eliza Hardy Jones, and Nora O’Connor were pretty, but mostly unneeded on the orchestra-backed “Sodom.”

A better fit for the trio’s harmonies came on the one-two punch of “Weary Memory” (the only track played off of Iron & Wine’s glorious debut, 2002’s The Creek Drank The Cradle), and “Flightless Bird, American Mouth.”

Sam Beam, so pensive and restrained on his records, was at ease and in constant motion on stage. If not turning to lock eyes with a member of this enormous backing band, he could be found swaying his hips and striking his guitar strings with percussive flair (especially on “Jezebel”).

Whereas some such orchestral collaborations are thrown together to sell tickets, or because it might sex up a concert hall’s annual calendar, following through with thoughtful arrangements of eleven songs is no small feat. David Campbell’s arrangements were impeccable – “Milkweed” was a particular standout.

Sam Beam, meanwhile, delivered on his own part of the bargain with orchestral precision. Altogether, there was nary a sour note, each rendition played as cleanly as the next. “Last Night” flirted with an acoustic funk rare to these parts of the Disney Hall; forceful plucks on Beam’s guitar found an unlikely call and response answer from the woodwinds.

“Passing Afternoon” unearthed the titular lyric, “There are things that drift away, like our endless numbered days.” This simple endless/numbered oxymoron slipped us a gentle reminder on mortality, a theme Beam would return to at the end of the orchestral set with “The Trapeze Swinger.”

In what was perhaps the centerpiece of the performance, and his oeuvre at-large, Sam Beam stares death in the face. Eight verses each include a plea to be remembered for a unique quotidian memory, before finally landing on the existential conclusion that “the trapeze act was wonderful, but never meant to last.” To say their good bye, the orchestra ended the tune with a hushed pastoral wave.

With little to no variation in their overall sound, Iron & Wine somehow keeps things fresh with just a few shades of their smoky autumnal color palette. For some artists, this would create redundancies and boredom for fans. For Beam, it illuminates a sense of security, comfort, and coziness. The Danish feeling of hygge. Sitting by a fire with your parents, or under a tree with a lover.

By the night’s end, the audience possessed a collection of images like snapshots in a dusty box; broken rosary beads, a child’s feet lost in his father’s shoes, a burning farmhouse, and a body buried in Christmas bows.

Iron & Wine at Walt Disney Concert Hall Setlist

Set I with Orchestra

Sunset Soon Forgotten
Free Until They Cut Me Down
Passing Afternoon
Fever Dream
On Your Wings
Last Night
Naked As We Came
Sodom, South Georgia
Cinder and Smoke
The Trapeze Swinger

Set II solo/with backup singers

Right for Sky
Waves of Galveston
Each Coming Night
Weary Memory
Flightless Bird, American Mouth
Tree By The River
Boy With a Coin
Love and Some Verses

E: Waitin’ for a Superman (Flaming Lips cover)

Show Review: Metric @ The Palladium

Canadian indie rockers deliver guitars and grooves

March 14th, 2019
Lesley Park
Category: Lead Story, Review

Canadian indie rockers Metric are no stranger to LA or The Palladium for that matter, having played the venue previously in support of 2015’s Pagans in Vegas several years ago. Unmistakable feeling of déjà vu aside, when a band’s seventh album is as danceable and slickly produced as 2018’s Art of Doubt, it’s difficult not to want to see how it’ll fare live, particularly given Metric’s stellar live track record.

As I watched the quartet confidently taking the stage at The Palladium to the tune of “Love You Back” off the aforementioned latest release, I suddenly remembered that this is a band who has been at it for over 20 years. You’d be forgiven for not coming to that realization immediately, though; the carefree energy they exuded was raw, youthful, and infectious.

Art of Doubt fans were well-satisfied here with close to half of the set being comprised of new material the highlights of which include a blazing rendition of “Dark Saturday” which I correctly suspected would translate insanely well live and “Now or Never Now.”

Their sprawling, seven-album catalog is rife with fan favorites such as “Gold Guns Girls” (dat guitar intro though) and “Synthetica,” both of which the audience ate up with relish. The flip side though is that it has now gotten to the point where there are, by necessity, notable omissions from a packed, 18-song setlist. Pour one out for “Youth After Youth” and “Too Bad, So Sad.

Still, for longtime fans there was plenty to love. In a memorable moment, the audience was asked to vote between “Dead Disco” and “Gimme Sympathy.” After delivering a seriously stunning rendition of the latter per the crowd’s choice, frontwoman Emily Haines briefly paused before announcing “Fuck it, we’re playing ‘Dead Disco’ too,” transporting all in attendance to 2003.

“Cascades,” a track I recall falling in love with the when Metric was touring 2015’s Pagans in Vegas has settled nicely into the band’s older material with its dreamy hook and groovy vibes. And I’d be remiss not to give props to “Black Sheep,” which was featured as the memorable introduction to the secondary antagonist of cult classic Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Envy Adams (played by current Captain Marvel, Brie Larson).

But of course, the big crowd pleaser remains “Help I’m Alive” which the band played to close out the encore. If there’s a song that better shows of Haines’ vocals or spirit, I’m hard-pressed to think of it.

Although I’m no stranger to the live Metric experience, they continue to impress every time they play. Their track record for being a reliably fun time is well-tested and spotless. If you, like me, consider a night of dancing to no frills, fun indie rock to be a night well spent, then you best catch them the next time they roll through.

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Planes Mistaken for Stars at the Wiltern

Outsiders even among outsiders

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

It says something about a band that, even while opening for one of the more deliberately avant-garde acts within the scene like The Sounds of Animals Fighting, Planes Mistaken for Stars manages to stand alone. There isn’t really another band that shares the same sonic arena as the punk/post hardcore veterans. In fury and vulnerability, Planes Mistaken For Stars music is an open wound and a rabid howl cut with a deep and moving softness and on Friday night at the Wiltern, they showed nearly 1800 scene kids just what it means to truly push the bounds of music.
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Henry Rollins: Keep Talking, Pal

Hope from the hot animal machine

February 19th, 2019
Lex Voight

Growing up in DC as a quiet, angry, alienated teen with an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema and an obsessive interest in music, my discovery of the oeuvre of Henry Rollins, renaissance man, was something of a revelation. My first encounter of him was actually through the cinematic medium–popping up in bit parts like Bad Boys 2 or Johnny Mnemonic or a handful of other roles, knowledge of him happened almost through osmosis before a school administrator I was friendly with placed “Smile, You’re Traveling” in my hands.
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Celebrating John Williams @ WDCH

The LA Phil Goes to the Movies!

January 30th, 2019
Melissa Karlin
Category: Review

Sitting in the Walt Disney Concert Hall, listening to the LA Phil led by Gustavo Dudamel perform a series of John Williams’ compositions, I realized something. John Williams has scored my life and the lives of countless others. It’s the music of memories. Collectively, the audience sat entranced, drawn in by a whole orchestra breathing life into these iconic scores and themes. Think of the theme from “E.T.”, “The Raiders March”, “Jurassic Park” or “Harry Potter.” They all go beyond the screen and into the mind. It became clear as the concert progressed that it is hard to separate the images from the music and the music from the images.

And so this 3-show series is smart; it utilizes the visuals only when it wants to. This allowed us, the audience, to engage in different ways and that act affects the audience on multiple levels. It revealed Williams’ contrasts, his variations, and penchant for exploring and pushing the limits of film music but most importantly, presented him as the King of the Theme.

The show began with his “Olympic March” and immediately it created an otherworldly feeling of watching TV. As if I’m sitting on a sofa, watching the stats of people much younger and more physically talented in every possible way in a replay doing moves I will never be able to do. Images of these sport stars and their Herculean feats (plus a really intense curler) were the blast off to a concert of pure drama and imagination.

Next came Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a stark contrast to the prior commercial enterprise entry. The arrangement was elastic, beginning Avant Garde with symphonic noise before morphing into hopeful, romantic melody. It was something coming into focus, like a mountain that keeps appearing in the mind, and finally, it is right there, turning chaos into sense. This is also the moment, when I began to cry. There was something about this arrangement, a condensed version of everything I love about this score, and hearing it performed in this way, it just made me tear up. It’s the power of John Williams.

From here we went out to sea with a jaunty fugue from “Jaws,” because why do the main theme when you can twist it up a little and explore other elements of the score. But enough about killer sharks, it was time to hang with our good friend Harry Potter for a set of three pieces. In the performance of “Hedwig’s Theme” there was a nuance revealed throughout the performance. The way in which a little light string wistfully breezes in: it is arrival personified. Then it was Fawkes theme, a less obvious choice, which showed off Williams’ penchant for wonder. But it was the performance of “Harry’s Wondrous World” that showcased everything. This piece is a collection of things colliding. Proper announcing English horns, Hungarian Rhapsodies and American film music all coming together and looping between in texture and form.

Then, a perfect choice for Holocaust Remembrance Day*, came a little “Schindler’s List”. Soloist Simone Porter cued up that sad violin and broke all our hearts with her performance. But don’t worry, then it was back to Universal Studios for “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial”, a theme that just screams “THE MOVIES!”

Now, I love Hook as much as the next 90s kid, but “Return to Neverland” is the one piece in the program that didn’t quite make sense to me. As this is a retrospective, why not include one of his jazzier themes like “Catch Me If You Can” or “The Terminal”? This theme is in the same vein as a Harry Potter or an E.T. and ultimately was a beautiful performance, but to include something from a totally different genre of film would have rounded out the selections.

Off to another island filled with danger, wonder and kids getting into a trouble, it was time to take a little trip to “Jurassic Park.” When watching a single French horn player begin this piece, with a kind of call to the rest of the orchestra, it becomes clear how expressive this theme really is. It’s quiet and then immediately bombastic and confident; the whole orchestra just bouncing back and forth between phrases.

Another set of three selections, the “Motorcyle Scherzo” from Last Crusade began the adventures of Indiana Jones. This choice was inspired. The Last Crusade is one of Williams’ most well rounded and joyful scores, and damn it, it does not get enough attention for being great. From there we were all romanced by “Marion’s Theme” and enthralled with “The Raider’s March” as clips from the first three movies played above the orchestra. This montage showcased much to my amusement, a healthy amount of the greatest chick in the bizz: Marion Ravenwood. Because the LA Phil gets it. Next up was an expressionistic performance of “Sayuri’s Theme” from Memoirs of a Geisha headed by cellist Robert deMaine.

Then the moment all the kids were waiting for: Star Wars. This 3-piece finale to the program featured another inspired selection of works from a vast catalogue. Beginning with “The Imperial March”, then “Yoda’s Theme” and ending with the “Throne Room and Finale” …it was, dare I say, magical. The screen above was a montage of moments from all eight main line Star Wars movies, cut to the pacing of the orchestra. This projection started off so classic though that it was a mild shock to the system when suddenly Ewan McGregor appeared. I must admit, though at first I found myself thinking, “ugh the prequels and no Jimmy Smits in sight!” it was then quite a joy to see Poe Dameron up on screen because Poe Dameron can show up anywhere and the world is suddenly a brighter place.

The show ended with a surprise two encores, one a beautiful and emotional relatively new arrangement called “Adiago from The Force Awakens” and “Superman!” Because remember, John Williams also wrote the theme to Superman! Most exciting of all, the man himself, John Williams was there, sitting in the audience like a proud father. When he walked to the stage at the end of the show with Dudamel, there was so much joy radiating throughout the concert hall. We were lying witness to a living legacy as the LA Phil revealed why on a deeper level, this kind of celebration of film music is important, entertaining and moving.

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*This review is in reference to the Sunday Jan 27, 2019 show.
Images from the Saturday Jan 26 performance and are by Ryan Hunter.

2018: The Year Emo Went Inward

Navel-gazing with the 00’s Emo crowd

January 20th, 2019
Lex Voight

Emo has always been somewhat of a inward-looking genre. From Rites of Spring, to Capn’ Jazz to American Football to the emo boom of the mid 00’s, the genre has seemingly always been identified by the feelings of the lyricist, acting as something of an avatar for the audience to project on to and through. But rarely, perhaps with the exception of the self-parodying song names of bands like Fall Out Boy or Panic! At the Disco, has emo gotten as obviously meta and self-legacy aware as we saw from 2018, for both good and ill.
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Snapcase @ the Observatory

A night of unlearning

Lex Voight

With the number of times I can call a band “legendary,” one might think that the hardcore scene is nothing but legends. But here again, is the monicker accurate for the Buffalo hardcore stalwarts Snapcase. Gather together a large group of the bands who have influenced the most recent crop–your Converges, your Modern Life is Wars, your Have Hearts–and ask them the bands that influenced them. Nine times out of ten, Snapcase would be name dropped. The Victory band’s Lookingglassself and Progression Through Unlearning are seminal hardcore touchstones–eternal classics that cemented their legacy in the hardcore hall of legends. This was hardcore approached in a new way–angular, intelligent but lacking none of the brutality of their peers. This was a new way of doing things that created a sea change in the scene at the time and spread their influence beyond the confines of the genre.
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On Jeff Goldblum and the Myth of Hollywood

A joyful emcee and a night of jazz

December 26th, 2018
Lex Voight

Growing up, those of us who don’t live in or near LA are taught, through media, two opposing myths of Hollywood. The first is an unattainable dream–an olympian pantheon where heirs and heriesses mingle with publicly worshipped demigods. Where socialites and producers clink champagne glasses in ostentatious Gatsby-like homes. It of a world apart–above and away from the cares and worries of the real world, untouched and unsullied by plebeian influence. The other is the jaded nightmare of hollywood–the crabs-in-a-bucket competition, the horrors of the casting couch and backroom deals, the narcissism and desperate pandering. And both, while true in degrees, whats struck me most after living here for the majority of a decade is not witnessing either of these opposing worlds, but in the mundanity of the wide liminal space between dream and nightmare.
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Iceage / Black Lips / Surfbort @ The Regent

Mosh Ado About Something

November 15th, 2018
David Fisch

There’s an exhilarating rush knowing that you’re about to be surrounded with living, breathing music and wild personalities for an hour or more. Sure, it’s likely the band you go there for that gives you those feels, but sometimes it’s the venue. Some of the best ones have this storied allure of being small but feeling large and procuring energy from like-minds and enjoyment in togetherness.

Photos by David Fisch

It’s how I feel about The Regent in Downtown, and it might be why Danish toughs Iceage performed there twice in the same year during the same album-touring cycle. Though you might expect the band to put on the same show, you’d only be partially right: the set was mostly the same, with most of the material devoted to this year’s Beyondless. But the energy was more tense and, in a sense, controlled, like the band had refined what was otherwise an already formidable concert act from months before.

The crowd was also more riled up, given the co-headlining of Atlanta’s dependable garage punk rockers Black Lips (who played material both old and new) and the fervent speed punk stylings (and wow-ings) of Brooklyn newcomers Surfbort. It made for a night at The Regent another one of giddy joy, in which moshing is par for the course and the bands put on a display of power in a room that handles it nicely.

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Black Lips

Young Fathers / Algiers @ Fonda Theatre

Two doses of experimental soul and something else

November 12th, 2018
David Fisch

The 2010’s have proven to be the most remarkable showcase of indie experimental hip hop and soul, birthing some of the most ingenious acts who have traversed new compositional territory and blending genres so outside the realm of hip hop that it might not even be considered hip hop at all. To witness two of those acts on the same bill is something of a wish come true.

Photos by David Fisch

Scotland’s Young Fathers and Atlanta’s Algiers appeared together Friday night at The Fonda Theatre in Hollywood for a brief U.S. tour, and while their studio recordings offer good insight into their instrumental drive and meticulous dexterity and conceptual thought, their live performances are another thing entirely, reverberating all of that energy into two sets that easily topped this year’s list of best concerts experiences.

Although they were only allotted a 30-minute set, Algiers made the most of it with a rapturously seismic performance, supporting one of 2017’s best efforts overall, The Underside of Power. The piercing dramatism of “Cleveland” and the industrialist gospel of “Cry of the Martyrs” and the post-punk fury of “Animals” brought out the wild of just about everyone, with vocalist Franklin James Fisher and bassist Ryan Mahan frequently exchanging close-ups as if they each wanted something extra out of their performances, more-so than the crazy energy already emanating from the stage presence.

Similarly, Young Fathers were just as if not more electric, the trio entering the stage in complete darkness before completely bursting through the strobes to “Wire” from this year’s Cocoa Sugar. The album was only slightly indicative of what a performance we would get, with its wide array of grooves and punches that could translate into a strong live show. What we got instead was something else, something otherworldly, in which this collective gathered to perform to all of their strengths with “we are not worthy” shining confidence.

The mostly bare stage felt larger than life when the colorful strobes against white hit the audience in blinding fashion, mixed together with the band’s impressive movements during “Old Rock n Roll” or “Get Up” or any one of their songs. They treated the audience to perhaps their most recognizable of the bunch, “Shame,” but they also gave their performance some refreshing nuance with tracks like the slow-burn “Lord” and the thick and sticky “Toy”

Both acts provided full-bodied performances that rank up there with the best this year has to offer, with their recent studio efforts ranking among the best in indie experimental music this decade. Your best best is to see them this month, together under one roof, sonically pleasuring the senses.

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Young Fathers