Saturday, August 23, 2014

Real Life Notes -- Doing the Hollywood Thing (08.22.14)

While I am on a brief hiatus from performing live music shows, I still have plenty to tell you about, whoever you are who reads this blog. Last night, for example, I did something extremely rare and unusual: I actually left my house, left the entire South Bay (crazy, I know) and drove into Hollywood to see an amazing band at a great club and... wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. We'll start from the start.

Kat and I love to discover new music, and every Saturday morning, we listen to the new releases in alternative music on iTunes. One day in May, we stumbled over an album by a band called Syd Arthur from Canterbury, UK, and immediately were entranced by their sound, their songwriting, and obviously fantastic musicianship. We both ended up buying the album, and became ardent evangelists of their music to anyone who would listen. Anyway, they'd bagged the opening slot on Yes's US tour, which was great for them. But I've seen Yes a few times back in the day, and really wasn't interested in buying tickets to that show just to see Syd Arthur in a huge amphitheater for a few minutes. Imagine, if you will, how happy we were to find in late July that they'd managed to book a slot of their own at a club in Hollywood called the Hotel Cafe. Conceive, if you can, of my thrill at being able to see them in a small venue on their first-ever show in Los Angeles, for ten whole bucks per ticket. Sweet! We asked Bunny, the third member of They Stole My Crayon (whom we'd also indoctrinated as a Syd Arthur fan) if he was into going. He completely was. Awesomeness. Also, all of our hip friends who'd been to the Hotel Cafe raved that it was one of LA's coolest places to see live music. More awesomeness.


On Driving in LA on a Friday Afternoon
It might be one of the most horrible experiences that any human has had to endure since the Spanish Inquisition. Our plan had originally been to leave Redondo at 4PM, meet Bunny at Amoeba Music at about 5:15, chill there and browse some music, then get dinner and still have plenty of time to casually meander over to the show which started promptly at 7PM. Here's what actually happened: we left at 4PM, and it took two solid hours before we pulled into the parking lot across from Amoeba after 6PM. The 110 going through downtown was one of those "It's Friday, let's all leave our offices early" rush hour nightmares that I was hoping wouldn't happen, but did.

However, it seemed like the gods of rock, in balancing the scales of justice for our terrible drive in experience, smiled upon us for every subsequent moment of the night. We got a good parking spot, met Bunny inside Amoeba, and (not having any time to browse the stacks, as we'll have to do another time) headed up the street to our dinner destination.

Enjoying Stout
We headed up a block up Cahuenga until we got to Stout Burgers & Beers, a restaurant we'd chosen for its intriguing menu and it's proximity to the venue. After our traumatic drive in, it was a perfect kind of place to enjoy some food and drink. Open and airy, casual yet hip, the food smelled heavenly as its essence wafted around the nicely-appointed room. We all ordered the same thing: the Stout Burger, a large slab of excellent ground beef with blue cheese, emi gruyere, rosemary bacon, caramelized onion, horseradish cream, and roasted tomatoes. We also each had a beer, Bunny opting for some extraordinarily hoppy beer while Kat had a wheat beer and I opted for a lager. We all sampled each other's beers (bandmates are allowed to do this), and each was delicious in its own way. We also added an order of fries and some onion rings, and the whole experience at Stout was perfect for the occasion. We really had to jam through our meal, though, because our show was scheduled to start in about 10 minutes. Fortunately, we were maybe 100 yards from the door of the Hotel Cafe.

Me (the selfie master) with Kat and Bunny at Stout.

We Discover The Hotel Cafe is Great, Syd Arthur Blows Our Minds
As has been described in other reviews, the Hotel Cafe is pretty interesting. To get inside, you walk through an alleyway off Cahuenga, and then take a left in between buildings into yet another alley. It has almost a speakeasy feel; you have to really want to get inside just to find the place. Once inside, I hope you have excellent night vision; you enter to near pitch darkness, and have to kind of intuitively feel your way through the foyer to the double doors that are the club area's entrance. But once inside, there's a terrific vibe. The place is tiny, really tiny, as in a 165-person capacity. But talk about intimate; it felt like we were seeing a band in someone's really nice (though rather dark) living room. I loved it.

We'd only been inside for a few minutes when the band walked through the crowd and took the stage. I really did have high expectations for Syd Arthur; I'd listened to all their recorded output and caught clips of their live shows on YouTube, so I knew that they weren't some studio-manufactured product. But honestly, nothing prepared me for what I heard and saw a few feet in front of us on the stage at the Hotel Cafe. Their set consisted mostly of songs from their new album Sound Mirror, as well as a couple from their debut LP On and On. A couple of specifics: the band is amazingly tight, and I don't just mean their timing. It takes huge commitment to rehearsal to do the dynamic changes these guys made seem effortless. Second, multi-instrumentalist Raven Bush (the nephew of another innovative and excellent musician, Kate Bush) handled keys, violin, and mandolin in ways I didn't even know were possible. His mastery of using effects as part of the overall sonic experience was beyond compare. And the rest of the band, including singer/guitarist Liam Magill and his brother Joel on bass. We noted that the spot of their usual drummer, Fred Rother, was being filled by another guy. More on that in a moment.

Syd Arthur onstage at the Hotel Cafe.

On Our Departure and Return Home
The show ended, and the experience just blew my mind. I somehow staggered outside the venue into the alley, talking a mile a minute to Kat and Bunny, or anyone nearby, sounding like a raving lunatic about the show we'd just seen. In my defense, both Kat and Bunny were equally impressed. We stepped around the corner back onto Cahuenga, and the band was loading out right there in front of us. I've done the load-in/out for gigs in places like Hollywood on a Friday night, and the last thing you need is some fan getting in your way, but then Bunny realized that he wanted to hit the merch table before we left and get their CD... Bunny still like physical media for a reason that is incomprehensible to me. While he ducked back in, two young ladies who seemed to be with the band (judging by their accents) asked us if there was a grocery store in the area. I consulted Siri on my phone and sent them toward a Trader Joe's a couple of blocks away. Meanwhile, Raven popped out carrying his massive pedalboard of effects, and ignoring my previous restraint, I stopped him and talked for a minute about what a great show they'd just done. He seemed genuinely nice, and I let him get back to loading out his gear when Bunny returned. As we walked to the car, Bunny reported that for whatever reason, it had been another Magill brother who was filling in on drums (who, I should add, sounded really great) for the night. Who did he hear this from? A fourth Magill brother who was minding the merch table. So, there you have it.

Raven Bush's pedal board on the streets of Hollywood as he's loading gear into the van.

We drove Bunny the relatively short distance to his place in the Valley, and then headed down a shockingly speedy 405 South to our own home. The whole night had been excellent, and I'm glad to recommend every aspect of it to anyone who enjoys life and stuff.

Amoeba Music


The Hotel Cafe

Syd Arthur

No comments: