Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fun at the Hollywood Bowl and Other Musical Musings

Once again I’m going to ignore the rapid descent into pure insanity that we are watching this country’s right wing fall into. Instead you’re getting several music oriented tales.


The other day Skip and I went to the Hollywood Bowl to see a concert. This isn’t unusual in the summer. We usually end up at the Bowl to see a dozen or more shows every summer season. And there was certainly nothing unusual about the show. It was jazz artists Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White, three of the four members of the 70s jazz fusion band Return to Forever. I was a big fan of the band and wanted to catch them live again after three and a half decades to see what they had been up to lately. So it should have only been a nice evening out featuring some great jazz music. Instead we got one of the most bizarre, chaotic, and ultimately rewarding shows I’ve seen all year.

We started the evening by deciding to park up on Cahuenga Blvd, which is right around the corner from the Hollywood Bowl. We usually go to North Hollywood and park at the Red Line station and then take the subway to Hollywood Blvd, where we walk up the hill to the Bowl. That way we can avoid the traffic and the long lines of cars after the show due to the Bowl’s insane policy of stack parking. But we had decided to eat at the Loteria Grill on Hollywood Blvd before the show, so we were early enough to find parking on Cahuenga, which is the only legal place you can park near the Bowl. It fills up fast, but if you’re there early, you can usually find a space. We left the wine and water we had brought for the Bowl show in the car and walked down the hill to Loteria, about half a mile walk.

Now, keep in mind that Southern California was experiencing a really bad heat wave at that time and also has one of the worst fires in recent history burning nearby, so the air was hot, muggy and full of smoke. We ate a delicious dinner and walked back up the hill to our car to get our packs full of ice, wine and water. After swinging the packs onto our backs, we walked part way back down the hill to the entrance to the Bowl, then walked all the way up this huge hill to get to our seats in the second to the last section up. By the time we got there, we were red-faced and out of breath, and we had probably worked off most of the calories we had ingested at dinner.

I knew we were in trouble when we first arrived. Sitting right next to us were a very enthusiastic Latino mother with her adult son. They were already drunk and I think quite a bit stoned and were very loud and friendly. “Hey!” “Sit Down.” “Take a load off.” “Here, have a beer.” And it wasn’t long until we were asked, “Hey, are you guys significant others?” “It’s cool, man,” “Sure you don’t want a beer?” We thanked them every time they offered us a beer and explained that we really weren’t beer guys and that we had brought our own wine and we preferred that, which was probably why they figured out we were significant others.

Everyone was distracted though when an older black man arrived along with three middle-aged black women and they sat right behind us. They were all very excited about the show and started devouring a large basket full of fried chicken, ham and booze to prove it, all the while talking about how excited they were about the show.

It was about this time that the opener, guitarist John Scofield hit the stage. Dear God, I hated him. He played a set of what he described as “New Orleans Gospel” except there was absolutely no soul involved. It was just four musicians sounding like studio hacks and they weren’t even that good of musicians. But the audience loved it. The young Latino guy next to us started “WOOing” immediately and it wasn’t long until he pulled out a tambourine to beat along with his WOOs. I looked behind us and the whole audience was on their feet, swinging their hips and dropping wine glasses and bottles, and probably themselves, onto the aisles with loud crashes. I have never seen an audience so set on partying.

Forty minutes later, the torturous music stopped and the lights went up. The young Latino guy looked at us and screamed, “I MEAN, HOW CAN YOU FOLLOW THAT?” We just grimaced back at him. I certainly hoped that Chick Corea, et al, would be able to follow that quite easily, but I was really worried that perhaps we had made a big mistake by coming to this show.

The young Latino guy got a phone call and announced he had to leave. His mother seemed upset and asked if it was “that girl” and he affirmed her suspicions. He told her that “that girl” was down in Section F and he was going to join her and with that, he was off and I was relieved as I had just told Skip that if he was going to keep up that WOOing and tambourine pounding through the rest of the evening, we were going to have to move.

Mom just sat there drinking beers and talking to us about past shows she and we had seen at the Bowl that summer. The people behind us were still eating and drinking and seemed pretty oblivious to anything else going on around them. It was about then that I noticed the crickets. They were all around us and they were damned loud. We couldn’t see them, but they could be heard all over. I was sure those crickets had to be the size of small dogs to make a sound that loud. They didn’t seem to mind all the people around them and kept up their gleeful chirping without pause. I mentioned to Skip that we should have brought a couple hundred hamsters to let loose to eat the crickets (hamsters LOVE crickets) and the thought of that sent him into insane giggles, so I wasn’t sure if I was happy I had brought it up.

Then the lights went down and Corea, Clarke and White walked out, promised a night of “illegal melodies and illegal chords”, and broke into a pretty great acoustic version of “500 Miles High” from the first Return To Forever album. Immediately, one of the middle-aged black women behind us started screaming, “I LOVE YOU, STANLEY CLARKE!”, like he could hear her a quarter of a mile back and over the music he was playing on stage. By this time, all I could do was laugh. But she quieted down after a couple of minutes and I relaxed and enjoyed the music.

The trio did a couple more acoustic numbers and then brought on violinist Jean Luc Ponty, starting into a beautiful version of Corea’s “Armando’s Rhumba”, and then into a soaring version of Ponty’s “Renaissance”. (He announced the song by claiming that he pronounces the song title as “ren-e-sance”, while us American’s pronounce it “ren-a-sance”, which Skip and I found hilarious for some unknown reason.)

Then guitarist Bill Connors joined the group and it all started going south. They started playing “Senor Mouse”, but the only guitar the audience could hear was a crunchy feedback sort of thing that took any energy out of the music the band were trying to perform. The band didn’t seem to notice the sound problems and just kept at it and after 5 minutes or so; roadies started scurrying around the guitar amp, trying to solve the problem. They eventually got it sorted out, but by the time they did, the song had been ruined. Halfway through the song, the young Latino guy came back. I guess he hadn’t scored well with “that girl”. But he got right back into it by screaming “JEAN LUC PONTY” over and over again, obviously hoping that would get the band through their sound problems and back into the groove of things.

Then things really started to get weird. Chaka Khan was introduced and out she bounced. Skip and I had seen Chaka perform at the Bowl earlier this summer and thought she was pretty good. But she wasn’t cut out for this performance. I know she has sung with Corea, et al, on the album “Echoes of an Era” in 1982, and by all accounts, it’s a good album. But she’s no Ella Fitzgerald, and I found her attempts at scat singing and jazz in general to be sorely lacking and just downright irritating.

She announced that they were going to perform a song from the first ever black opera and the old black guy behind me yelled out, “CARMAN”. I turned around and yelled back, “NO, PORGY AND BESS”, and he just stared at me before yelling out, “SUMMERTIME”. I turned to Skip and said that they were probably going to do “I Loves You, Porgy” just as Chaka announced they were going to do just that. I didn’t hear another word from the old black man that night.

But it was just at that time that Chaka Kahn decided to talk about how much she loves working with that band and ran over and started hugging Stanley Clarke. The middle aged black woman behind me screamed, “I WANT TO HUG STANLEY”. Chaka said, “I love you, Stanley” and the woman behind me screamed, “I LOVE STANLEY”. Then Chaka saw Lenny White sitting behind his drums and said, “I love you too, Lenny”. And the woman behind me screamed, “NO. I LOVE STANLEY.” Then she continued to scream “STANLEY” over and over for the next five minutes or so until she lost her voice or passed out or something.

The band started into “I Loves You, Porgy” which is a beautiful song that wasn’t quite jelling, when a stir went through the audience. Over at the side of the stage a man was being led on stage and in moments the whole audience could see that it was a black-clad Stevie Wonder. This brought the audience to its feet as Stevie pulled out his harmonica and played a perfect solo over the band. Then he joined Chaka on vocals and the song suddenly seemed to soar. Stevie sang and the crowd went wild. I have to say, it was a pretty beautiful moment. (My favorite part was when Stevie finished singing his lines and tried to hand the microphone to Chaka. But she was excited and running all over the place. Stevie just kind of waved the mic around in a confused manner, then shrugged his shoulders and started singing again. Always a professional, that Stevie.)

The young Latino guy was screaming, “STEVIE, OH, STEVIE” over and over through all this and his mother turned to us and screamed, “NOW ALL WE NEED IS AL JARREAU”, the thought of which sent shivers of terror down my spine.

Then the song ended and Stevie sat down at the electric piano across from Chick at the acoustic piano. “OH MY GOD! WHAT ARE THEY GOING TO PLAY? CHOPSTICKS?” screamed the young Latino guy and Skip told him it was going to be the best damned version of “Chopsticks” any of us had ever heard. He just looked back confused.

They started playing while the audience was still going wild. The Mom turned and screamed “IT’S SPAIN” and “THIS IS SPAIN ISN’T IT?” and “SPAIN IS MY FAVORITE SONG” before screaming again, “THIS IS SPAIN, ISN’T IT?” I assured her it was. In fact, I think a couple other people behind us also assured her it was, hoping she would shut up and listen to her favorite song.

It was a beautiful version and I was surprised at how well Stevie held his own playing jazz chops. Chick Corea threw in a bit of Stevie’s own “Ribbon in the Sky”. The audience was going crazy. And then it was over. Corea thanked the audience and Stevie was led off the stage and everyone in the audience turned to each other to talk about how amazing it had all been. I was happy. It wasn’t a perfect set, but it was full of its own fireworks and I found it to be extremely beautiful when the band was one and at least fun when they weren’t, possibly due to the company around us.

As we were leaving, the young Latino guy and his Mom told us that they enjoyed spending time with us. “Hope to see you again soon”, they said. We nodded and walked away down the hill. I was glad we had come to this show, but if I ever see those people again, I’ll run screaming in the opposite direction.


This year’s FYF Fest was a whole different affair than past years’ have been. First, there was a name change. They used to be the Fuck Yeah Fest before becoming the F Yeah Fest. Now they’re just the FYF Fest. The organizers also took the Fest away from the Echo Park clubs, The Echo and the Echoplex, and moved it to the Downtown area’s LA State Historic Park. This enabled the Fest to be more of a legitimate, commercial-type Festival and it paid off as there were hundreds more people attending than I saw at last year’s Fest.

But the basic premise of a festival featuring up-and-coming to unknown indie rock bands is still in place and that’s a good thing. I usually go to this yearly Fest as a way to check out bands I might not have heard yet and there were a number I discovered this year.

My favorites included Woods (, the Thermals (, Eat Skull (, and Times New Viking (

I also quite liked Dios (, Darker My Love (, Crystal Antlers (, Wavves (, and the Strange Boys (

I was rather ambivalent about the typical punk rock of the Carbonas ( and the faceless electro-pop of Cold Cave (

And I absolutely hated the chaotic noise of Lightening Bolt (, which surprised me since so many people seemed to be into them.

I really wanted to see, but missed Kurt Vile (, Nobunny (, Avi Buffalo (, Telepathe (, and Glass Candy (

Dan Deacon ( cancelled due to illness or I would have seen him.

I’ve seen both Mika Miko ( and Peanut Butter Wolf ( before. I loved Mika Miko. I’ve seen Peanut Butter Wolf do much better, but his travels through 90s hip-hop was fun and had the audience going apeshit.

We left before No Age ( and Black Lips ( played. I love both bands, but have also seen both of them recently and just decided to get home at a decent hour.

All-in-all, I had a great time and certainly got my $20 worth. I’m already looking forward to next year.


Finally, I just want to make a couple of movie recommendations.

“It Might Get Loud” was one of the best rock music documentaries I’ve ever seen. It’s basically a conversation between Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), The Edge (U2) and Jack White (White Strips, Raconteurs, the Dead Weather). During this conversation, the three guitarists touch on their early years and what brought them into music in the first place. There is some absolutely amazing footage of the guys as youngsters just getting started. There is also footage of all three talking about their influences and the best footage comes out of that. The look on Page’s face as he plays and talks about Link Wray’s “The Rumble” is just priceless. More than any other movie I’ve seen, this one shows the pure joy and excitement in the love and creation of music. See it.

“Taking Woodstock” isn’t even close to being the best movie that Ang Lee has made, but it’s still a very likable and enjoyable film. It’s the story of how the Woodstock Festival came to be. Some people have complained that it didn’t include a lot of the music and performances, but that’s not what the movie is about. It’s about how some people with big dreams made them come true. There are some problems. Some of the characters aren’t properly fleshed out and at times the story seems to meander a bit. But I still enjoyed the movie quite a lot and so I’ll recommend it. You can wait for this to come out on DVD, but some of the cinematography is beautiful and is better suited for the big screen. Either way, try to see it eventually. I think you’ll enjoy it as well.

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