Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Death Cab!

 KCRW hosted a private Death Cab for Cutie show at Bob Clearmountain’s Berkeley Street studio in Santa Monica. This intimate setting is a perfect venue for watching a band you truly love. The past few times I’ve seen Death Cab in concert I was really far away amongst a crowd of thousands, so it was such a treat to see them up close and personal. The excited crowd of 150 people stood shoulder to shoulder in eager anticipation waiting for the band to take the stage. 

After 14 years together, Ben, Chris, Jason and Nick released their seventh studio album, “Codes and Keys,” back in May. Throughout their ten-song set, they performed songs from the new album as well as some fan favorites. Opening with “Crooked Teeth” (one of my favorites) from their seminal album “Plans,” the quartet seemed right at home on a relatively smaller stage than they’re used to. 

They led right into “A Movie Script Ending,” followed by a song from the new album, “Doors Unlocked and Open,” which had everyone moving in unison to the strong and steady beat. That’s just one of the many things I love about this band. No matter how mellow they may seem, their live shows always get people moving. 

They performed the new album’s lead single, “You Are a Tourist” next. The audience hung on to every word as lead singer Ben Gibbard sang “define your destination/there’s so many places to call home.”
Following “Tourist,” there was a mini-break in the show where the band was interviewed by KCRW’s Annie Litt and we got to know a little bit more about the quartet. For any Death Cab fan, it was a brilliant dialogue where they discussed their lyrics, music, touring, books they’re reading and how they’ve managed to stay strong as a band throughout the last decade and a half.

After the interview, they kicked back into gear with “Portable Television” – laden with a groovy tambourine (tambourines are ALWAYS groovy!) and a predominant drum beat. 

After “Blacking Out the Friction,” they played a couple more songs from “Codes and Keys,” including the album closer, the sweet and carefree “Stay Young, Go Dancing.”

For their “non-core” – as Ben called it – they closed with the full and rich “Sound of Settling.” The show was over way too soon, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. This really was an incredible venue and the acoustics were top notch. 

The performance and interview will air on Tuesday, November 1 on KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic.” Be sure to tune in! It will also be streaming live on line during the radio broadcast.

You can catch Death Cab for Cute currently on tour and their “Keys and Codes Remix EP” will be available on November 22.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sad News!

Awww man.  I was so excited when  Jenny Lewis announced her "I Heart Cali" tour.  I got my tickets to see her at McCabe's.  It would have been my 14th time seeing her in concert.  (Yes, 14th.  I'm a "JenHead."  What can I say?)  Well sadly, she just announced that the tour has canceled and rescheduled for a later time.  I'm bummed, but seeing as how she's citing a family emergency, more than anything I hope she's okay.  I can be patient and wait for new dates to be announced.  I just hope everything's okay.  Hang in there, Jenny.  We all love you.  You're worth the wait.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Performing Tonight!

It's been a while, but I'm performing tonight at Room 5 in Los Angeles.  Come one, come all and watch me perform original songs and some covers from my favorite artists!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lyrics of the Day

"I've just seen a face, I can't forget the time or place
Where we met, she's just the girl for me
And I want the whole world to see we met
La da da die die."

The Beatles, "I've Just Seen a Face"

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Elected at the Troubadour

It’s been four years since my favorite band, Rilo Kiley, produced a new album, but luckily for me, frontman Blake Sennet has been hard at work on his side project, The Elected, which has just released its third album --“Bury Me In Rings”.

The disc’s 12 tracks are full of dreamy pop with a 70’s vibe. One could liken it to the jingle-jangle feel of The Byrds, with a plethora of instruments creating a full and satiated sound. The effervescence of each song leaves the album sounding softer, smoother and a little less strident than their previous albums.
The album kicks off with two sprightly sounding songs: “Born to Love You” and “Babyface” – both consisting of spot-on, mellow harmonies. “Look At Me Now” is an upbeat and catchy tune with buoyant guitar riffs, while a more subdued “Trip Around the World” makes excellent use of the ukulele. (I’m always a sucker for a good ukulele song.)

In the sweet and soulful ballad, “Have You Been Cheated,” Blake brings the lyrics to life as he sings, “You put all your best words in your worst song and you can’t bear to sing it when they won’t sing along.”
The album closes on a bittersweet note with “Time is Coming,” where among the soft and melodic guitar, Blake sings “Will you hold me if I cry, will you miss me if I die? Will you come and heal my wounds?”
At the band’s record release gig at the Troubador in LA on May 17, Blake proved he has lost none of the passion or intensity he had on prior tours of either of his bands.

Opening with a cover of Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky,” Blake and the boys then dove into “Babyface,” before treating the crowd to “I’ll Be Your Man,” from 2006’s “Sun Sun Sun”.

During the few moments between songs when the venue was quiet, members of the audience started shouting out songs they wanted to hear. Most of them yelled out “Ripchord” (a song off of Rilo Kiley’s 2004 album, “More Adventurous”) while others requested The Elected’s “Bank and Trust,” which Blake himself admitted he didn’t know how to play anymore.

At live shows, I feel like the audience should just let them play what they play. There’s a set list for a reason. If the band asks for requests, then by all means speak up, but otherwise, just let them do their thing. I know fans want to hear their old favorites, but sometimes you have to let your favorite artists share their new material with you. That’s why they’re there. That’s why they’re excited and why they’ve been rehearsing over and over to give you the best performance they can.

Anyway, back to the show. After a few more songs off the new album – “Born to Love You,” “Have You Been Cheated,” and “Where Are You” – and after a little tuning problem with the guitar during “Time Is Coming,” they played a fan favorite “Biggest Star,” which had Blake rocking out, while belting “Honey, I can’t lose!”

For the encore, they only played one song: “A Response to Greed” from 2004’s “Me First”--leaving hungry fans salivating for more when the lights came up. I’m sure I speak for the rest of the crowd when I say the show was a big success and a great way to welcome back a guy who’s been gone from the music scene way too long. (Sure, it’s only been a few years, but it felt like a lifetime!) Welcome back, Blake!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Bad Religion/Rise Against

It was a sold out crowd at the Long Beach Arena where we were all treated to a genuine arena rock concert. This would mark my first time seeing The Descendents, Bad Religion and Rise Against in concert. I wasn’t disappointed.

All three sets were fast-paced and high energy, complete with crowd surfing and several mosh pits that were fun to watch from the balcony seating. It was like little moving crop circles running clockwise in the crowd. Maybe one of these days, I’ll be brave enough to try it, but in the meantime, I was quite content with my nosebleed seats.

After The Descendents opened the show, punk rock legends Bad Religion set the stage ablaze with their energetic and dynamic set. Playing many of their classic hits and fan favorites, including “Infected” and “Sorrow,” it’s hard to believe that they’ve been doing this for 30 years. They haven’t slowed down at all and had just as much endurance and gusto and twice the stage presence as any fledgling band that has only been touring for a couple years. They also performed “The Resist Stance” and “Cyanide,” newer tunes off of their most recent album, “The Dissent of Man.”

The only problem I had with Bad Religion’s 12-song set had nothing to do with the band itself, but the three people in front of me who spent the entire set on their cell phones texting and Facebooking. All three of them…the whole time. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: get off your phones and enjoy the music, people! Who wants to be distracted by an incoming text when you’ve got great live music to stimulate you? It takes away from the full experience, so do yourselves a favor and either leave your phones in the car or just use them to snap a few pictures to commemorate the show and then put them away and enjoy the concert.

Vent over. Now back to the show.

When the main act of the night, Rise Against, came out on stage, the crowd went nuts and more moshing commenced immediately. Playing hits like “The Good Left Undone” and “Prayer of the Refugee” off their 2006 album, “The Sufferer and the Witness,” they had the entire crowd fist pumping, head banging and singing along. One particular song that got me out of my seat and dancing around was my personal favorite, “Audience of One.”

Lead singer Tim McIlrath’s vocals were a little lost at times amongst the over-powering guitar levels, but once the kinks were worked out, he sounded great and his voice filled the entire venue.

Touring in support of their brand new album, “Endgame,” they didn’t stray from performing songs off that album, including their current hit single, “Help Is On the Way,” a song whose video is inspired by and depicts the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Being known as an activist band, Rise Against strongly advocates causes like animal rights, environmental issues, and even fighting against the bullying of gay teens and the onslaught of gay teen suicides last year, which they so passionately sing about in “Make It Stop (September’s Children).” As Tim McIlrath sang, “And too much blood has flown from the wrists of the children shamed for those they chose to kiss. Who will rise to stop the blood?” I thought about how great it is to see a band that stands for something and believes in the word they’re singing, especially when they do so while entertaining a crowd of thousands.

Their sixth studio album, “Endgame,” is available now. If you’re a fan of pure, pulsating rock combined with socially conscious and prevalent lyrics, then you’ll love this album.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Avril's New Album: "Goodbye Lullaby"

It’s been a long time coming. Four years, to be exact.

Now, Avril Lavigne’s new album, “Goodbye Lullaby,” is finally here!

Some might call the Canadian native’s style “pop,” some call her “rock” and some try to describe her as everything in between. Well, I say, ‘Let’s refrain from labeling her.’ She is simply a musician, plain and simple. And true musicianship means taking a leap and not being afraid to explore every kind of sound and emotion that inspires you, which is exactly what she does on this album.

So, we all know Avril originally from her “Complicated” days — and more recently, from her “Girlfriend” days. On her fourth album, the angst is still there, but it’s not as prevalent as it has been in the past. We definitely get that sound in the lead single, “What The Hell?”, but don’t let that catchy song fool you. The rest of the album is much more subdued and meditative. She’s showing signs of growing up as evidenced in songs like “Push” and “I Love You.” She poignantly explores heartbreak in “Not Enough” and “Remember When.”

Perhaps the most personal song on the album, “Goodbye,” is a hard one to listen to, particularly if you’ve ever had your heart broken. The words, as simple as they are, are all too true. As she sings, “I have to go, I have to go and leave you alone,” the song builds into a crescendo and tugs at the heartstrings.

Still, the album isn’t all “what if’s” and “goodbyes.” In “Smile,” she sings about making out with someone all night and then waking up with a new tattoo. Never one to be lacking in the lyrics department, in her signature ballad, “Wish You Were Here,” she sings, “Damn, damn damn, what I’d do to have you here… I love the way you are with who I am. Don’t have to try hard.”

Just as a fair warning, she makes good use of swear words on the album, which I’m personally a sucker for in songs.

Avril worked with producer Max Martin on “Goodbye Lullaby,” as well as ex-husband Deryck Whibley (of whom a lot of the songs seem to be about, but you can read into it what you will). Yet, there seems to be no ill will between the two.

The proof is in the words sung by an older, wiser Avril.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Getting to know April Smith

Tamara and I with April Smith!

If you don’t know who April Smith is, I guarantee you will soon. This girl is blowing up and shows no signs of slowing down. In the past six months, the New Jersey born, Brooklyn-based singer's music has been featured on Showtime’s “Weeds,” multiple commercials, and her band, April Smith and the Great Picture Show, also released their new music video for the dark and mischievous song, “Terrible Things.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gg9-I0ULERA She just finished up a successful tour and most recently, April’s song, “Can’t Say No” (a song inspired by her adorable dog, Scout) was featured in a montage on the season premiere of “American Idol.”

I caught up with April recently to chat all about her whirlwind year and what’s on the horizon for her in 2011, starting with her reaction to “American Idol” using her song. “I was so excited. People started calling me and were like, ‘Oh my God, your song is on ‘American Idol!’ I think they were just looking for a song that fit and I guess mine kind of came up in the search. I'm really excited!”

Seeing as how over 26 million viewers saw the premiere of "Idol," April is sure to gain even more momentum. This kind of success doesn’t come easily, though.

“I don't have a label, so it's basically a DIY operation. You kind of have to get a team together that's 100% gunning for you at all times. After you make the album, it's like you’ve planted the seed and now you have to water it. You have to get promotion and radio and marketing and all that stuff and you have to pay for a tour and it's all so expensive... I've been pretty lucky as an artist without a label that I've gotten the opportunities that I've had because it's really tough to get those things happening.”

With the success of April Smith and the Great Picture Show’s album, “Songs for a Sinking Ship,” April is just now starting to hit her stride and has big plans ahead for the coming year.

“I've been writing. When you're involved in the business side, it's so hard to take off the ‘business hat’ and say, 'Now I've got to be creative.' So, I'm trying to find the balance between the two. I'm writing now and I'd like to have the next album written by the end of the year.”

The underlying style of her most recent album is a retro pop ‘30s and ‘40s inspired sound fused with vintage, jazzy vocals. She says she's looking forward to exploring and developing that sound even more.

“The retro/swing/big band sound has always been a favorite of mine, so it was definitely a different direction for me when it started influencing my writing. And I'm really happy with the way that 'Songs for a Sinking Ship' sounds, but I think as an artist you should hope that you evolve and change a little bit, even if it's not a drastic change. I definitely feel that on the next album, it'll be a little bit of a different sound, different instrumentation. It'll still have that retro sound, but maybe different elements.”

Perhaps why April is doing so well is because her music really is unlike anything else people have heard before in our generation.

"I feel like it's accessible, but it's not typical mainstream music," she continued. "I hope that works in my favor.”

If you read my previous review on April’s album, you’ll remember that I marveled at her powerful, moving voice and it had me wondering exactly when she discovered she could sing like that and how she got her signature sound.

“When I was little, I used to sing all the time. I would not shut up. I loved the ‘Annie’ soundtrack, so I used to sing that anywhere. When I was 13 and I realized I wanted to sing, I had this horrible stage fright and I was really nervous and gradually I got less nervous. It's just really important to find your voice and not try to sound like other people. You should always try and be unique in your style. When I tried to tune out everything around me, all the mainstream music, I think that's when I became a better singer. It was really easy for me to find my own voice."

If you listen to the entire album, each song tells a story and they all seem to be connected in a way, which led me to believe it could be turned into a pretty stellar musical. I asked April if she would ever consider taking on the task of turning her songs into a musical someday.

"I would love to do that, actually. My first college major was musical theater, but I switched to broadcasting. My big passion is to create my own music. I would love to do a musical. I've been approached by a couple people who are playwrights who have asked me if I wanted to write something and that would be a really fun thing to do when I have some downtime between albums, even if it's a really short show or writing a couple of tunes for a musical."

While a musical isn't out of the question, there is one goal that April would love to attain:

“What I really would love ultimately, is I would love to have one of my songs on ‘Glee.’ That would seriously rule. If someone told me I'd have sell my kidney, I'd say, ‘All right.’ I just want to have a song on that show. I think ‘Colors’ would be an amazing song for them to do.”

OK Gleeks, so have a listen to April Smith -- and after you discover exactly what I've been raving about, let’s get a Facebook campaign going to get one of her songs on “Glee”!

5 Quick Questions With April Smith:

What is the song that made you want to become a musician?
"'Somebody to Love' by Queen."

What is your biggest guilty pleasure?
"Listening to Wham."

What is one thing you want to try that you've never tried before?
"I would love to jump out of a plane someday. With a parachute, of course!"

What is your favorite city to play live in?
"Spokane, Washington."

What is one thing you can't live without on tour?
"A fingernail brush. I am super creeped out by dirt under my fingernails."

Monday, January 24, 2011

AvLav is back!

I’ve been waiting a long time for this: new Avril music!!! Nearly four years since her last record, her fourth studio album, “Goodbye Lullaby” is set for release in March. The track list has already been revealed. While I’m anxiously awaiting the release, the Max Martin produced kick-off single, “What the Hell,” gives us a taste of what’s to come from the new album and if this song is any indication, we definitely have a lot to look forward to from Avril this spring.

With synth-filled, steady beats and a prominent keyboard sound that doesn’t let up, “What the Hell” is an infectious, in-your-face, fist-pumping good time. Avril shows off her young, carefree attitude with taunting and teasing lyrics reminiscent of her lead-off hit song from her third album, “Girlfriend.” Her cheekiness is unrelenting in the power-pop single as she sings, “All my life I’ve been good but now I’m thinking ‘What the hell?’/ I don’t really care about if you love me, if you hate me, you can’t save me…” She even ends the number with a few playful “la la la’s.”

Avril kicked off the New Year by debuting the catchy, party song on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” to an amped-up audience. Based on that performance, the new single and the forthcoming album, it looks like 2011 is poised to be the year of Avril.

So… have you still not heard the song yet? “What the Hell” are you waiting for?!