Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Album Leaf and Sea Wolf at the El Rey Theater

My appreciation for The Album Leaf dates back to when I used to see them open for Sigur Ros. Jimmy LaValle is the sole mastermind behind the Rhodes keyboard for The Album Leaf and recently relinquished some control to his skilled tourmates by recording their lastest album, A Chorus Of Storytellers as a full live band for a more cohesive output.

Sea Wolf

The fact that Sea Wolf was on the bill erased any doubts that this show would sell out. I was dissappointed that I missed their show in Las Vegas when they opened for Phoenix because of a photopass mix up. White Water, White Bloom is the latest release from Sea Wolf and displays a solid progression from their sparkling debut album, Leaves In The River.

Alex Church confidently stepped up to the microphone and proceeded to strum the warm chords of the title track from the new album. The singing cello intro of "Winter Windows" fluttered courtesy of Joyce Lee, as Lisa Fendelander delicately inserted the keyboards into the mix. The applause after each song seemed surprising to Church and his bandmates. It is safe to say that some folks definitely came solely to watch Sea Wolf.

"Dew In The Grass" starts off with a swooning cello line before picking up steam with its reaffirming chorus and cymbal splashes. Taking a slightly somber direction, the quiet plucked acoustic guitar parts of "Black Leaf Falls" highlight Church's vocals and demonstrate how well he can carry a song. The toe tapping beat of "Middle Distance Runner" wisely followed suit and sounded pristine.

Elevating the mood with the musically upbeat song "The Traitor", Sea Wolf easily had won over most of the crowd. "O Maria!" was another crowd pleaser from their latest album and lead nicely into "Turn The Dirt Over". Church missed a vocal cue during "Wicked Blood' but covered up his gaffe with a wry smile. "You're A Wolf" closed out their forty minute set that made me realize I still need to catch a full set by Sea Wolf as I didn't hear my favorite song "The Cold, The Dark & The Silence".

The Album Leaf

It was overwhelming seeing the amount of band members take the stage for The Album Leaf. I'm used to seeing The Album Leaf as a four man outfit back when they played the Echo and Detroit Bar. Accompanied by the Magik Magik String Quartet, the El Rey stage was completely full. The other surprise was seeing Gram Lebron holding down the low end as I'm used to see him play in Rogue Wave.

The iconic leaf image was projected on the background screen as the somber organ like notes of "Ferro" started to reverberate throughout the El Rey. Violins started to swirl during "Blank Pages" gently propelled by the drums of Tim Reece. The Album Leaf are masters of conjuring up lush collages of sound. Only within the past few albums have they wisely added vocals to their songs such as "There Is A Wind".

A stuttering electronic drum beat was overshadowed by Magik Magik String Quartet and the icy cool Rhodes keyboards notes for "Within Dreams". I started to suspect they were going to play the full new album in its entirety after playing "Falling From The Sun" and the hypnotic drum shuffle of "Stand Still" back to back. The familiar glockenspiel pecks of "Twenty Two Fourteen" garnered cheers from the crowd as they seemed eager to hear some older material.

Continuing to play material from In A Safe Place, "The Outer Banks" was another breezy Rhodes keyboard riff highlighted by the pitter patter of electronic drums and ringing repetitive guitar notes by Drew Andrews. Venturing back to their latest album, "We Are" is one of my favorite tracks with its driving percussion, yet the string section really made the song soar.

"Wherever I Go" was one of my favorite tunes from their album, Into the Blue Again and brought their main set to a close. "Always For You" , "Red-Eye" and "Tied Knots" rounded out the encore for a sublime evening. The Album Leaf will be back touring the country with Sea Wolf and I hope they make another Los Angeles stop before the tour ends or I may have to venture down to San Diego.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ticket Giveaway for Cold Cave at the Echoplex

Synthesizer enthusiasts take note. Cold Cave will be stopping by the Glass House on Wednesday and the Echoplex on Thursday augmented by Best Coast and Smith Westerns.

Contest closed. Winner was notified. Thanks to everyone who entered!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Editors at the House of Blues San Diego

Longtime fans of Editors were probably shocked upon initially hearing their latest album, In This Light and On This Evening. I will admit that I initially skipped through a number of songs looking for Chris Urbanowicz's trademark Rickenbacker guitar riffs.

It turns out the guitars were substituted for synthesizers with the help of super producer, Flood. Having reviewed Editors multiple times, I knew they would deliver an impressive live show but was curious to see how they would inject the new synthesizer based songs into their prior dominant guitar grounded material.


It took only a few songs from me to regret not seeing Princeton earlier. Based in Eagle Rock, Princeton has been generating some buzz locally and acquired the highly sought after Monday night residency at Spaceland this February. Kanine records just released their debut album, Cocoon of Love.

Fronted by twin brothers Jess and Matt Kivel, Princeton had a slight '80s style sheen sprinkled into their sensibly smart tunes. Guitars jangled and synthesizer swells meshed together for some moments that made me think of such bands as OMD and The Smiths. I highly recommend you to try to hit up one of their Spaceland shows or listen to KCRW on February 22nd for a Morning Becomes Eclectic session.

The Antlers

The Antlers were something of an enigma. I was excited to see their live show and the amount of pedals on the floor and stationed on an isolated stand next to Peter Silberman were impressive. Hospice has generated lots of praise based on its moody dense soundscapes. Darby Cicci was in socks stepping on his Roland PK5 bass pedal filling in the spaces between Silberman's expansive tortured guitar notes.

"Bear" played like a lullaby that slowly ascends and declines with washes of noise injected into portions of the song. While the recorded versions of the songs may trigger aural similarities of Arcade Fire, the Antlers are much louder live with no acoustic guitars in sight. "Atrophy" and "Thirteen" were highlights of their shortened set.

The floor of the House of Blues San Diego had filled in nicely by the time Editors were due to hit the stage. Tom Smith immediately headed towards his piano to play the opening notes of "In This Light and On This Evening". Russell Leetch performed an impressive mid air leap when the song hit the chorus as the members of the band were basked in blue light.

Strategically dipping back to their brilliant first album, The Back Room, "Lights" had Smith grab his Fender guitar to knife out the cutting riff augmented by Urbanowicz's guitar echoes. "An End Has A Start" kept the pedal to the metal with Ed Lay feverishly laying down the driving beat that was slightly overshadowing the other instruments.

Turning their attention to their synthesizers, "You Don't Know Love" sounded even better than the recorded version with the synth pads swirling around the room. It was even more impressive when they went back to their guitars for one of my favorite tunes "Bones". Editors definitely knew what they were doing when they arranged the setlist. It was a perfect balance of new into the old back into the new.

Editors never exceeded the limit of playing more than two new songs in a row. Urbanowicz was tapping on a sampler for the bouncy pings for "The Boxer" before switching over to his Moog Voyager. Leetch also had a turn on his synthesizer for "The Big Exit". The green lights started to intensely flicker at the climax of the song as the synthesizer melodies started to become more urgent.

"Blood" had the stage soaked in red light to match the title and mood of the song. "The Racing Rats" had the crowd clapping along with the tremolo riff from Urbanowicz. My favorite song from the new album "Like Treasure" sounded epic live with Smith extending his vocal range and delicately laying it over the Omnichord notes from Urbanowicz.

"Bullets" was a fury of bass and drums rumbling that was perfectly transitioned to "Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors". The escalating synthesizer groove to "Bricks and Mortar" was uplifting but clashes with Smith's lyrics "Pour salt water on the wound". It is fitting though that the last lyric before they leave the stage is "I hope life is good for you".

Smith dedicated "Munich" to the Antlers and Princeton as the crowd started jumping around upon hearing the opening notes. The icy cool synthesizers of "Papillon" sounded eerily similar to something from Depeche Mode in the Violator era. "Fingers in the Factories" capped an evening that was worth the four hour drive in rain down to San Diego.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Phoenix at the Joint at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas

Phoenix is everywhere. In case you have been living under a rock, you probably would instantly recognize the synthesizer pulses of "1901" featured in the recent Cadillac commercials. Even the Grammys had enough sense to award Phoenix with the Best Alternative Album.

I previously caught up with Phoenix when they rocked the Wiltern, blew up the Greek Theater and nearly stole the show at KROQ Acoustic Christmas. When I saw their scheduled appearance in Las Vegas at the Joint, I couldn't pass up the chance to see them one more time before their stop at Coachella.


Armed with Fender guitars, Laurent Brancowitz and Christian Mazzalai had the crowd immediately shuffling their feet to the breezy chords of "Liztomania". The Joint was packed for a Thursday night and probably outnumbered the amount of people that attended Morrissey at the Joint on a Friday night.

Thomas Mars had plenty of room to pace the stage and was dragging his red microphone chord across the stage while singing "Long Distance Call". Mars quickly apologized for apparently losing his voice on the way to Las Vegas from their show the night before in Reno. The crowd though impressively stepped up their game and sang along for a number of the songs which seemed to give Mars more strength and confidence.

Thomas Hedlund was still drumming as forceful as I remembered, leaping off his drum throne to pummel his kit. Robin Coudert was behind a trio of keyboards along with a hi-hat to add extra layers of sound to the mix. "Consolation Prizes" went over well with the crowd, but the energy level spiked once Phoenix went back "Lasso" from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Mars had some slight wobbles with the high notes of "Girlfriend" but shifted his voice after a few bars.

"Love Like A Sunset" gave Mars a well deserved rest as Brancowitz and Mazzalai exchanging guitar riffs for an extended slowed down version of the song. "Rome" was dedicated to Lisa Fendelander of Sea Wolf since it was her birthday. Who said French people weren't polite? A short encore break had Mars and Mazzalai on stage together for a sparse arrangement of "Everything Is Everything".

The Joint would finally erupt into chaos though when Phoenix fired up "1901". Since there was no photo pit, the audience easily jumped on the stage and danced along. I wish I had my camera with me, because a few hundred people had made it up on stage. One can only imagine if this chaos happened at Coachella.