Thursday, February 19, 2009

Los Angeles is (finally) big enough for the both of us

For those of you not in the know, your very own Beelzebub von Wünderbang/DJ Dr. Benway/WOZQ Webslave is in Los Angeles this semester for some R&R.

But, since I run this xit, I still get to blog. (THE POWER!)

As awesome as Northampton is in terms of providing opportunities for live music, few places can beat the total badassitude of Los Angeles. On Valentine's Day, I saw the inimitable Mael brothers perform their latest album Exotic Creatures of the Deep and their 1974 classic Kimono My House at UCLA's Royce Hall.

I love Sparks. Russell and Ron Mael provide the perfect combination of cheese, humor, weirdness, electronica, rock and roll, and performative awesomeness. For those of you unfamiliar with these Los Angeles natives, the Maels have been putting out music since the 70's. The 21 albums were written almost entirely by the stern, mustached, elder brother, Ron, who rarely speaks or smiles from behind his Roland synthesizer. Russell, the charismatic singer, proved last night that he can still leap about and sing falsetto like a pre-pubescent boy (in spite of being in his mid 50's).

They started the show with Exotic Creatures of the Deep, a really weird and very funny album. Highly stagey, including a few numbers performed by (I'm assuming) female members of the UCLA dance department, they kept us entertained. The album pales in comparison to Kimono, but there were some great songs. "The Director Never Yelled Cut" was really weird, really long, and really rather creepy. "Let the Monkey Drive" had a similar quality, though it was funnier. The title "Lighten Up Morrissey" promises more than it delivers, sadly, but I was quite tickled by Steven's silhouette in the background. "Photoshop" was also brilliant. Ron Mael pretended to play a projected animated piano that was constantly being stretched and rotated in Photoshop, much to the audience's amusement while his brother sang "Photoshop me out of your life." I had a great time, but the best was yet to come.

After a brief intermission (during which I scored a free carton of cigarettes and a Sparks pin), we went back inside for the main event: Kimono My House, their glam/electric/proto-new wave/powerpop masterpiece. It's funny, it's beautiful and it makes you want to get up and dance. Russell didn't miss a single word or note. He explained how happy he was to play the songs to an audience in LA who finally liked it, recalling how "weird" people thought it was when they would play Kimono material in the 1980's. The set ended, as the album does, with "Equator," which was "ending" for at least a few minutes. They did a remarkable job. For their hefty encore, they invited all of us to get out of our seats and move to the front of the theater. They played a nice block of hits (the highlight of which was indubitably "Dick Around") and said goodbye.

But honestly, the fact that the music was so good, that the brothers Mael are so fucking funny, that the band of young long-hairs they got to accompany them were having such a great time, that the performative gimmicks were so cheesy and yet so entertaining-- these were not the aspects of the show that really struck me. What I thought was so fascinating, and also so moving, was the incredible turnout. Royce Hall, with its capacity of about 1800, was completely full.

I took the bus from Hollywood and found myself not only among the usual commuters and sleeping homeless people smelling of piss, but also a group of New Yorkers who, I kid you not, flew out just for the show. They were the types you might expect to see at a They Might Be Giants concert. Also on my bus was a gorgeous couple who live downtown. She was quite rockabilly with her bleach blonde lady-pomp, false eyelashes and tight clothes, while he was just pretty, with long matching platinum locks and a velvet blazer. In Los Angeles, one of the unfriendliest cities in the world (particularly when it comes to music people-- if you don't believe me, I can point you in the direction of some of the hipper live music venues [disclaimer: two of which I have frequented and have often found nice people]), it is quite a trip to go to a show and meet so many buddies for one evening. I met another very fashionable couple who had driven down all the way from Seattle.

All of Los Angeles (and portions of the rest of the country as well) was represented, from aging fans of the Angst in My Pants days (and their young, gorgeous girlfriends) to 20-something hipsters in tight jeans to chubby nerds with acne to the avant-garde elite to little kids with their parents. And everyone was friendly. Something about the silliness of it all, the fact that the crowd was so diverse, that we could all be united by a common sensibility knocked down our pretensions for one night.

For those of you who missed out, don't worry. Their 21-part London concert series during which they played their entire ouvre is online somewhere.

1 comment:

bessie bessie said...

this reminds me of two things, 1. of how my mom and her asian friend drove down to ucla last week to see a performance only to find out that they had misread the date on their ticket and so instead sat in (uninvited) on a community meeting they stumbled upon and 2. how much i miss you.