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

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Key West (08.20.14)

Ah, Key West. It's like a breath of fresh air in Second Life. I can always count on a few things there that don't always happen at every show in SL. Thanks to the efforts of the venue's owner and staff (along with those of my fine manager, Maali Beck), we always get a good crowd there. Let's face it; even a smallish crowd at Key West is pretty decent sized by SL standards. The other thing that Key West has going for it is that I always seem to have some of my own personal favorite SL artists performing there at times before or after my own show, so it's a pleasure to check them out as well. For last night's show, it was none other than Strum Diesel (aka Sean Kagalis) performing while I readied for my own show, and I'd forgotten just how great he was. It was invigorating for me to hear him rock, and after a long day of work, listening to his show got me energized to do a good show of my own.

It also happened to be the birthday of one of my great friends in SL, Aurelie Chenaux, so as a small present, I arranged my set list with some of the stuff I knew she'd enjoy... particularly, a three-song Nick Drake mini-set. She seemed to enjoy it. In fact, the entire show went really smoothly, and it couldn't have happened at a better time for me. I'd been stressed and complaining about work-related life not long before it was my time to play, but as soon as I strummed the first chord, I felt exponentially better. Playing music usually has that effect on me.

Key West set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Waking Light (Beck)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
Everybody Knows this is Nowhere (Neil Young)
Rubbing It Out (They Stole My Crayon)
Mexico (James Taylor)
All I Want (Joni Mitchell)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Improvised Key West Blues (Zak Claxton)

Many thanks to all who came out to Key West, especially the following who helped support my show!
heavenlei Lexenstar, Really Ansome, Nymeth Vale, Trouble Streeter, OniUdoka Resident, slider Xenno, TheaDee Resident, SweetSeamless Radford, Aurelie Chenaux, my manager Maali Beck, and Key West's Liz Harley.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Green Dragon (08.16.14)

A few days before a show that I'd had on my calendar for Saturday August 16, I got an email from my manager Maali Beck.

"The venue you were going to play has changed its name and location. You'll be performing at The Green Dragon Live Stage, Hobbiton, The Shire."

Well I was certainly okay with that! I'm not the world's biggest geek, not by a long shot. But I did grow up reading J.R.R. Tolkein's masterpieces, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and have enjoyed the films based on the books. So, while I'm not fluent in the Sindarin elf language, I do know quite a bit of apocrypha about the Middle Earth universe. So, I decided to put together a themed show based on this.

Arriving at the venue, it was obvious that a lot of care had been put into the build. It really did have a Shire-like feel to the place. Quite lovely. The stage I was on was similar to the place where Bilbo had given his famous goodbye speech at the start of LOTR. And yes, we had a number of people in hobbit avatars and Middle Earth-type clothing. It was pretty fun before I even got started. The set itself was cool; I didn't have a full hour of Hobbit-inspired songs to play, so I tried to find connections -- sometimes strenuous and downright ridiculous -- between the tunes I did play and the theme of the event.

Photos by Kat.

*A Walking Song (J.R.R. Tolkein, Billy Boyd, arranged by Zak Claxton)
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)
*The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins (Leonard Nimoy)
Never Run Away (Kurt Vile)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
Ramble On (Led Zeppelin)
Lost Cause (Beck)
Tribute (Tenacious D)
*A Walking Song - Reprise (J.R.R. Tolkein, Billy Boyd, arranged by Zak Claxton)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Big thanks to all who supported my debut show at the Green Dragon!
Diana Renoir, Kalli Birman, NicoTime Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, TheaDee Resident, Kat Claxton, my great manager Maali Beck, and Green Dragon owners Bryan and Kitten Bournewald!

Rhi's After Dark (08.10.14)

Rhi's After Dark is a beautiful live venue in SL, and I probably should have performed there long ago. I like this venue's owner, Meegan Danitz, and she enjoys my music. We then had the opportunity to meet face to face at last May's Nashville SL Jam, and she seemed like a super nice person who definitely had a great understanding of the Second Life music scene. As soon as she and my terrific manager Maali Beck worked out the details, I found myself with a show at Rhi's on my calendar, and was quite happy.

It's a very nicely-designed SL venue, and has the vibe of a very cool lounge-type club. I was impressed from the moment I walked in. The other thing that happened when I arrived made me laugh; I'd performed the day before at LC Live, and the artist performing before me there was Caasi Ansar. Who was randomly playing directly before me at Rhi's After Dark? Yeah, Caasi Ansar. With the number of different SL artists and venues on the grid, this was a pretty unlikely coincidence for two shows in a row at different venues, and it made me smile as I got ready to play.

Photos by Kat

I decided to do a themed show, as I do every so often. It was Sunday, and I was in a particularly mellow mood, so I decided to do "Songs for Sunday", which comprised a set list of songs that were somewhat introspective and thoughtful. We had a nice crowd there and it all worked out just fine. I enjoyed my debut there, and am hoping to do more shows there in the near future.

Rhi's After Dark set list...
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Games Without Frontiers (Peter Gabriel)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Don't Let It Bring You Down (Neil Young)
*Vendetta (They Stole My Crayon)
The Crystal Ship (The Doors)
Go Easy On Me (Zak Claxton)
Breaking Us In Two (Joe Jackson)
Coyote (Joni Mitchell)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
*Waking Light (Beck)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Many thanks to all who came to the show, especially the following who supported it!
TheaDee Resident, Mimi Carpenter, Jordan Morgenrote, Alexis Fairlady, Brique Topaz, GraveyJones Resident, Kat Claxton, Vampireratz Lupino, Caasi Ansar, my great manager Maali Beck, and most of all, Rhi's owner Meegan Danitz!

LC Live! (08.09.14)

On Saturday August 9, I had my second show at the recently-reopened LC Live, a nice park-like venue owned by Tyro Hollwood. I had performed there last month at its grand re-opening. My life has been a non-stop whirl of work-related craziness lately, and it turned out to be a good thing that I had Second Life shows to do over the weekend, if for no other reason to a) prevent me from continuing to work every single day in order to b) preserve what's left of my sanity.

We had a reasonably nice crowd at the show, and with the relative sparsity of my performances lately, I've been using each opportunity to add some new tunes to my set list. I arrived as usual at about 20 minutes before the start of my show, giving me time to get ready to play, and some time to hear the artist who was performing before me, a nice Scottish woman named Caasi Ansar. This will be of interest perhaps when you read my next blog post.

Photos by Kat.

In any case, as usual, it was nice having a mid-day show on a weekend. I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: I don't mind my typical evening weekday shows at all, but the fact is that it's sometimes difficult to get my mind out of "responsible hard working business owner" mode and into its "virtual rock star" setting at the flip of a switch. Weekends seem much better in that regard.

LC Live! set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Tea in the Sahara (The Police)
*Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
Come Around (Zak Claxton)
Swing Lo Magellan (Dirty Projectors)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
*Pride In the Name of Love (U2)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Longing On (They Stole My Crayon)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
*Thanks LC Live! (Zak Claxton)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Many thanks to all who attended my show at LC Live!, and special thanks to the following people who helped support it!
Owl Dragonash, Danick Firehawk, dls Falconer, Alexis Fairlady, Sallyann Tolsen, Kaylantra Kasshiki, Kat Claxton, Aurelie Chenaux, my manager Maali Beck, and LC Live's awesome owner Tyro Hollwood!