It’s always a gamble for an artist to namedrop. Touting his relation to author William Faulkner (his second cousin) was a sure way for singer-songwriter John Murry to catch my attention, but made me approach his musical with a more skeptical ear. Fortunately, Murry has the talent to back up the fame claim. His press release descries his music as “indie-noir,” but I think it sounds like gritty Americana. There are hints of Tom Joad-era Springsteen, but I’d have to hear the whole album before fully giving him that compliment. You can watch his debut video, “California,” below. John Murry’s debut solo album, The Graceless Age, has already received rave reviews in the U.K. and will be released in the U.S. March 5th.
Muruch’s L.A. reviewer Laura Foxworthy joined the crowd at The Wiltern last Thursday night for a live performance by Okkervil River. You can read Laura’s review of the concert and download a free, legal mp3 from Okkervil River’s new album, I Am Very Far, below…
There are two kinds of concerts that I love most. The first is a live performance by a favorite band/artist whose songs I know by heart. The kind of experience that feels like an evening spent with a best friend, or true love, having one of those long, meandering conversations that lasts into the wee hours, where everything makes sense, and you feel completely understood and engaged.
The second kind involves being semi-introduced to a band/artist that I may have heard a song or two from before, or spun one of their albums a few times – familiar enough with their music to be intrigued and interested in hearing more, but not yet tied by my musical heartstrings to them. Those concerts carry all the trepidation, uncertainty and curious excitement of a first date. I feel engaged, because I want to know more, but also cautious. I am there to learn and see how it goes.
Thursday night, at the Wiltern, Okkervil River and I were on a first date, and I dare say it went pretty well.
To begin, the setting was well-chosen. Classy, with the ambiance of intimacy, yet spacious enough to provide tremendous acoustics and a sense of community (crowd) support. The Wiltern is reminiscent of old Hollywood movie theaters, almost too beautiful for a concert venue, but it somehow manages to transcend into the now. It has been, and always will be, one of my favorite places to hear a band (honestly, I am not over-exaggerating when I say “tremendous acoustics”).
Will Shelf was quite the musical companion. Quirky and slightly off-key, his vocal delivery is a type of flawed perfection – a quality that most often draws me to other people.
He was at his most memorable during “John Allyn Smith Sails and A Stone,”
alone on the stage with only his guitar, singing lonely into the night. The intimacy of his songs completely moved me, made me want to hear more, to hope for a second date.
“Wake and Be Fine” was the song I was most familiar with, one that I had listened to and enjoyed more than a few times before. Live took it to a new level for me, grabbing hold and waking me up with its hard-not-to-move beats.
“Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe” was the song that immediately made me smile. Shelf’s delivery just exuded joy. He seemed to be having just as much fun as those of us in the audience, if not more.
Last, but certainly not least, another favorite moment was at the end of this musical date. The encore, a shattering and energetic rendition of “Unless It Kicks,” was a powerful kiss goodnight. This was the kind of song that you feel everywhere, the kind of song that you hear in your head for the remainder of the night, and find still lingering with you the next morning.
I left hoping the band would call me in the next day, and that we would see each other again.
The next morning I threw on their newest album, I Am Very Far – very loudly – while I put on a pot of coffee and reflected on the night before. I guess that means I am the one who did the calling.
Muruch’s L.A. reviewer Laura Foxworthy joined the crowd at the Satellite Club on May 28th for what was apparently a very evocative performance by Chicago’s Scattered Trees. Laura’s review of the concert follows…
Vulnerability, melodic sadness and strength are the words I would choose to describe my night with Scattered Trees at the Satellite Club in Los Angeles on May 28th. It was a mood akin to my own mindset of late and the show was, unexpectedly, a deeply cathartic experience for me. There is something to be said for being surrounded, right there in-person, by music that fits perfectly into the current temperament of one’s soul – Scattered Trees did that for me.
Singer, Nate Eiesland, reminds me a great deal of Conor Oberst in his somber tones, folk sensibilities and alt-pop vocal stylings. The power of the musicians, especially bassist and sometimes co-singer, Ryne Estwing, kept the night from sinking completely under the bell jar. The music encircled us like an embrace, or a soothing dose of anti-depressants, and the lyrics held our hands to deliver the (sad) news of the day.
“A Conversation About Death on New Years Eve” was by far the most memorable of the night, the song so lyrically bittersweet and poetic, reminding me of Death Cab For Cutie in the Transatlanticism era. The singer lamenting his apologies, over and over, and proclaiming that we are all falling apart, seemed to hit all of us in the audience at once. I felt my own eyes sting with the threat of tears, and could feel without looking around the weight of emotion around me.
My personal favorite was the stark “Bury the Floors.” This one brought the tears out in full force, no moment of hesitation on the tips of my eyelashes, but instead eyeliner-smearing drops sliding down my cheeks. The delivery of this song was everything that one would want it to be – so emotional, so defeated, so heartbreakingly beautiful. “Where You Came From” was another softly performed favorite of the night, bringing to mind those songs I tend to listen to when my own heart hurts, when all I want to do is sing, and cry, a-long.
My co-concert friend claimed her favorite to be “Five Minutes,” which had an interesting melding of broken hearted lyrics and an almost jam band level rock sound. The guitar built up and over the bassist’s low, trembling undertones, while the drummer’s rhythm crept in, pulling us in hypnotically until Eiesland brought us to a stirring ending with a scream-sing-shout of the song’s final line, “I’m not myself.”
He was more like all of us, a part of the collective grief we’ve all encountered sometime in our lives. This was an emotional night, one I will not soon forget, nor wish to. I look forward to what lies in the future for Scattered Trees.
When Muruch’s L.A. reviewer Laura covered The Black Angels concert at El Rey Theatre for us on May 15th, she took along her daughter, Julia. A freshman in college studying music history among other things, Julia has inherited her mother’s enthusiasm for music as well as her writing talent. Julia’s debut concert review for Muruch is below…
On Sunday May 15th, I was assaulted; Assaulted by a wave of sound so forceful, that it practically knocked me down. This assault was given by the “Psych-Rock” band The Black Angels. While labels in music are often extraneous, and more often complete nonsense, “Psych-Rock” is an accurate description of this band, whose influences happen to be some of the very bands who brought about the label, or at least helped to raise it (The Doors, The Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, etc.)
The band played at The El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles, and somehow transformed it into a time machine, catapulting the crowd to the late 60’s-early 70’s drug induced haze of psychedelia. The opening band, Sleepy Sun, acted as a prelude to the madness, subtly readying you with a quieter intensity, lead singer Bret Constantino’s voice lulling you into a reverie, which would be heightened, sharpened, and shattered by The Black Angels’ harmonious cacophony of sound.
The Black Angels had a fabulously loud instrumentation, with each instrument being played ferociously, and each member playing multiple instruments throughout the duration of the show. The shining example of this ferocity was the drummer of The Black Angels, Stephanie Bailey. Stephanie is by far the best female drummer that I have ever seen, or heard, and could out-drum some of the best male drummers in the business. A compact package of raw power, she beat her drum kit into submission, slamming the sound right through you so you had to keep checking that there wasn’t some beat-laden gaping hole in your chest. Though the tempo of each song flowed from the more upbeat ear-drum destroyers, to the hazier trance-inducers, Stephanie’s drumming never lost an ounce of its teeth-rattling power. Though I could string together a slew of adjectives here, there is one word, bolded and capitalized, that fully encompasses the volume of this band: LOUD.
As I have repeated, possibly more times than necessary, The Black Angels bring to mind a throwback to psychedelic 70’s rock, but not just with their music. Everything about this band screams it. The glazed look on each of their faces was mirrored by the faces of each and every person in the crowd, showing that they were as lost in their own music as the rest of us. The dizzying display of lights, and projected images onto the band and the backdrop, synchronized with the music, turned each song into a drug that swept you deeper into a daze, like some vivid, murky, colorful, woozy, vibrant, vaporous trip.
It was a welcome sensory overload, ears full of rapturous music, eyes bright with swirling luminescence, inhaling with ever breath the cloying smells of sweat and marijuana, every person crammed together, swaying as if one large amorphous being. They left you feeling lost, adrift in their music, tethered and grounded only by the rattling sensation that vibrated through the floors, walls, and ceiling from the beat. All in all, it was an intense experience that I am very glad to have witnessed.
Muruch’s L.A. reviewer Laura Foxworthy joined the crowd at El Rey Theatre for The Black Angels’ concert Sunday night. Laura took along her daughter, Julia, who is a freshman in college. You can read Julia’s take on the concert at this link and read Laura’s review below…
Growing up in a house of music obsession, I had an early appreciation (and eventual obsession) for a varying array of musical genres. As a young girl, I remember my Mother spinning album after album of her favorites and weekends visit by her friends who winvariably brought along a bottle of something and a small stack of their own musical offerings. There was always this cacophony of sound during those gatherings, which often went on into the early hours of the next morning. I would be sent to bed at a certain point, always earlier than I desired, and I would lie in bed with my ear pressed against the wall listening to the music.
My most intense memories of those younger years – particularly once I had been banished to sleep – was not even the sound of the melodies, but the way the music felt. I can recall the reverberation of the bass and drums on my bedroom wall, the opposite side of which stood over-sized speakers nearly as tall as I was at the time. Sometimes it felt like my chest was rattling and that the music had become part of the blood pulsing through my veins. At times it felt like the music was becoming a part of me.
The Black Angels at the El Rey Sunday night was a bit of a flashback to those days of pressing my ears against the wall; except this time I was there, in the same room, feeling the music throughout my entire body as the beats and progressions pulsed in my bloodstream. From the moment it began, the music felt like a rush of sound crashing over me and all those in close proximity. We found ourselves nearly clinging to each other as we swayed on the over-crowded floor together. The pounding of the drums felt as if it was coming from deep inside my chest, playing bounce with my heart, tying it to the strings of the bass and tethering it to and fro as Alex Maas sang to it, lulling it into submission, leading it down a dark path, disoriented and hypnotized.
To be completely blunt, I felt like I was floating in a drug-induced haze. The black and white moving, melting colors on the screen behind blurred my eyes as the music kept pulling at me, nearly dizzying me. I felt like this “trip” had ricocheted me off the walls of the El Rey, knocking me cold on the floor, only to wake up transported into some melding of Jim Morrison and The Velvet Underground. Part of me wanted to spin around, shake my hair, kick off my shoes and grab hands with strangers next to me. Let the crowd become one and float together, into the sound. Another part of me wanted to shut my eyes, forget there was anyone else around and imagine that I was at a Doors show in late 1960s Los Angeles, as my mother had been many times before I was even in existence.
I wish I could report a song list, or even a notation on which I liked better, but I can’t. It was as if the songs all became one, and the experience was just letting myself get lost in it – and this was a good thing. I felt transported and I felt in awe, especially of Alex’s amazing vocals (at times, I swear, he was Morrison re-incarnated) and the beyond description drumming of Stephanie Bailey, for whom I honestly cannot sing enough praise for.
After the show, as I stood out in the cool Los Angeles evening, I felt shell-shocked and disoriented. I looked around at everyone else wandering around the pavement in front of the venue, and they all looked like they felt the same. We looked like the victims of an abduction who had been dropped down in the desert after being swept through some far away galaxy. We had been on a voyage, with no control of the journey or destination, and I think we were not necessarily ready to come back home. It left us changed, if only for an evening, and the music was still dancing on our skin.
This was much more than a show, it was an adventure in sound.