As I sat at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles for KCRW’s Are Friends Eclectic holiday show, I mentioned to an out-of-town friend that KCRW was the most influential station in LA. After that I wondered if they were the most influential in the country. I thought of all the artists they have introduced to the US and that’s not just musicians from outside the country. Both Brett Dennen and Secret Sisters mentioned during their sets that KCRW was the first radio station to play their music.
The night was stacked with more bands than you think could fit on a bill that’s supposed to end at midnight. Jimmy Cliff and Iron and Wine were the ‘headliners’ but the crowd was just as excited and supportive of all the bands. Mia Doi Todd had the shortest set I’ve ever seen with just one song, but made the most of it with a drummer by her side that helped to set the tone for the night.
One of the bands I was most excited to see was Other Lives. They’ve had a couple great years and getting asked to open dates for Radiohead in the US next year has to be near the top of the list for them. They’ve got a pretty elaborate stage setup, so I’m guessing they put them on first so they could get everything dialed in. Hailing from Stillwater, OK, their sound is such a mix of new and old that I always wondered what a live show would look like. There were strings and keyboards and some extra drums filling out the standard bass-guitar-drums mix. I couldn’t help but think they sounded like if Midlake took a sabbatical and only listened to Radiohead for a few years.
Part of the reason I was excited for the show was that I could see a couple bands I hadn’t heard yet. Local folk, The Belle Brigade played in front of the curtain while White Denim was getting their gear setup and kept things chipper with their catchy songs. Anna Calvi, who I’d never heard of before came over from the UK to play the show. KCRW rewarded her with a great slot and a couple of the DJs gave her accolades for best album and best song before she took the stage. If you’re into PJ Harvey, Marni Stern and/or Nick Cave you should check her out. I was very impressed. You can check out her Morning Becomes Eclectic performance here.
White Denim is one of my favorite live bands and things have been going well for them, too. Their blistering guitar orgy took a little bit to warm up, but once they were in full swing they tore through their handful of songs and earned some new fans. Their live MBE set is a great introduction to their music and you can also catch them opening for Wilco in the southwest early in 2012.
I thought Jimmy Cliff was an interesting choice for the lineup, mainly because KCRW is mostly known for new and cutting edge music, but it made perfect sense once he hit the stage. Not only was it nice to mix up the style but Jimmy’s music is pretty revolutionary. It’s a mix of reggae, ska, pop and soul. His set was only around a half hour but there was plenty of time to bang out numerous hits including “The Harder They Come,” “You Can Get It If You Really Want It,” “Wonderful World, Beautiful People,” and “I Can See Clearly Now.” One thing is certain in LA and that is it’s near-impossible to get people out of their seats to dance at shows and Jimmy made it happen.
Brett Dennen had the unenviable task of following Jimmy Cliff and made it through a few songs before he finally was able to take a break and mention how nervous he was playing after the legend. His pop songs aren’t redefining music like some of the other performances this night, but he’s damn good at what he does and even simple(ish) pop songs like “Comeback Kid” and “Sydney (I’ll Come Running)” blossom with Brett’s addictive personality and style.
Iron and Wine closed things out and I was surprised to see so many people on stage when the curtain went up. Sam Beam, the main man behind Iron and Wine had been known to play many shows solo with his guitar and this was a welcome change.
This was the first KCRW holiday show I’d been too and I can’t wait to do it again. Everything that’s needed for a great show was crammed into one night; a bunch of new and good artists, a great venue and a crowd that’s not afraid to get loose. And all this is to help KCRW as well. Keep tuned to www.kcrw.com to hear great music and to find out about upcoming concerts you don’t wanna miss.
Thanks Rachel! Thanks also to Father’s Office for the super-yummy beers.