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Jesse Malin and Alejandro Escovedo at the Federal Underground, Long Beach February 22.

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The Federal Underground is one of those unique intimate venues that, when you see a show there, you feel a little a part of a secret tribe. It has an old-school underground industrial feel with Edison lamps at the end of steel girders as chandeliers, and an exposed staircase with metal grilles below the banisters. There’s a SHINING-style blood-red hallway backstage that leads to a speakeasy deep in the basement. The band green room, poorly hidden from the audience, is INSIDE a vault with a 10-foot diameter door that must weight several tons. It’s in this environment that hundred fifty or so indie fans and South Bay and OC punks gathered for Alejandro Escovedo and Jesse Malin’s Long Beach leg of their ongoing tour.

My wife always says about art and artists, “They are not ‘like’ anything; they are themselves!” I continue to disagree. Escovedo is like a Latin Nick Cave and he hates comparisons with Tom Petty. What if I like both (and I do)? His lyrics are piercing and incisive, his styles span genres from roots to country to punk to rockabilly, and like Nick Cave, he’s a tortured soul who wants to share his pain. But as far out on the edge he goes, there’s an accessibility to his performance and music that’s…well, like Tom Petty. So there.

Jesse Malin’s an iconoclastic performer who’s played solo, with punk and rock bands, and just about everybody else. He’s famous for performing tribute shows featuring Lou Reed and most recently, The Rolling Stones’ Goats Head Soup. Here, he stuck to his own compositions with a keyboard accompanist. Tunes included “All the Way from Moscow,” and the punky “Black Haired Girl.”

The audience is as much a part of these shows as these performers. There’s a communion between them that drives the show. Malin in particular, whose confessional patter between tunes drives the likewise confessional nature of his performance. At one point he told a long story about how his mom essentially caught him playing guitar at some VERY early age (he fronted a hardcore band at age 12 that couldn’t get one booking because he couldn’t recruit a drinking audience).

Escovedo’s set interspersed classics from his repertoire but featured numerous cuts from his first new album in four years, Burn Something Beautiful. He was joined for the set by Aaron McClendon on bass; Sean Peters Austin drums and Jason Victor on guitar.

His second tune “Horizontal” had hints of Tom Petty in it (!), singing “I wanna go where you go and that’s all right.” He went on to the urgent and energetic “Sunday Morning Feeling” then offered up two audience favorites; the first, “Castanets,” featuring a 50’s roots rock guitar and punkabilly beat with the clap/sing along refrain, “I like her better when she walks away.”

He introduced “Sally Was a Cop,” saying “This song goes out to Donald Trump.” This was a long, loping arrangement with a martial, almost Irish beat underneath the screaming guitar work. It features his favorite vocal toy, a big metal police dispatcher’s microphone. There’s a terrific audience video of the whole nine-minute song here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LVH1dYAziw. He then brought things downtempo with “Suit of Lights.

Though Escovedo has one song called “I Don’t Want to Play Guitar Anymore,” his performance certainly belied that sentiment, because his axe, emblazoned with a picture of Joe Strummer, was put through its paces on rhythm and lead, on power chords and piercing melodies. At one point in “Johnny Volume,” he leads a chugging messy psychedelic guitar program. He swished his hands across the strings and dissolved it into fuzz–a ten minute jam with numerous crescendos, even windmilling at times.

“Burnt a hole in my jeans/I want to be your man/I want to be everything I promised you.” Across his set, Escovedo’s deeply cynical but hopeful lyrics paint a picture of a self acknowledging, flawed man who yearns for acceptance and redemption. He combines David Lynch’s dark vision invoking the memory of his late brother and the hope of true believers on “Sensitive Boys.”

He performed his first encore, “Chinese Rocks,” with Jesse Malin back on stage and rather than describe it, I’ll simply point you to the second remarkable bootleg video of it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QiFPTLOH3Hs. He wrapped up the set with Leonard Cohen cover “Boogie Street,” lending his guitar to Malin’s accompanist and brought the audience down a funky boulevard of broken dreams and a thousand kisses.

Photos by Paul Neuman here:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/8akmas8h8kfmb44/AAAVi7RADHo49oGYjes_dWLda?dl=0

–Henry Eshelman

 

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Mimosa Music Series—Angela McCluskey and Chris Stills at The Federal Bar North Hollywood, November 29, 2016

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As the weather turns cool there’s no cozier place for music fans than KCRW-FM’s Gary Calamar’s Mimosa Music Series at the Federal Bar North Hollywood, CA.

Each show is crazy intimate for the caliber of artists featured, with performances taking place upstairs at The Federal over that gastropub’s signature brunch. Amazingly, admission is free with reservation. For cheapskates, there’s free bagels, cream cheese and coffee. It’s an unnecessary incentive; performers over the past months have included artists as diverse as Courtney Barnett, Jenny O. and The Bird and the Bee.

Last month’s performance by Stephen Stills’ son Chris and Scottish siren Angela McCluskey was a unique and very personal experience for me. Way back when, we worked with McCluskey when she fronted The Wild Colonials and put on some of her earliest shows: one to open the Virgin Megastore in West Hollywood and another at the old Atlas Bar & Grill by the Wiltern. McCluskey went on to a rich and varied solo career, and remixes of her “Breathe” with Telepopmusik had become oft-spun house anthems by the time I launched my DJ career in 2002. Since then, she’s collaborated with dance artists Morgan Page and recorded with Robbie Robertson and Joe Henry, among others. And heck, she’s managed by my friend Norena Barbella. Who knew?

Calamar introduced opener Chris Stills as “Chris, Stills and Nosh.” Performing acoustic guitar (a gorgeous sky-blue model Gibson hummingbird lookalike if it wasn’t the real thing) with a solid electric bass accompaniment filling in the bottom end, the duo offered gentle, nostalgic harmonies with crisp, bold, clear folk/rock tunes including “Hellfire Baby Jane;” “Criminal Mind,” –“a song about the women in my life,” Stills offered. Like his dad, Stills is an adept balladeer on both guitar and piano, with both serious and whimsical songs, including a number called “That’s Cool” and concluding with “The Weekend,” about a college student who had “too good of a time and lost their phone”—possibly the most stage time ever devoted to this very mundane yet common subject. Stills was an unexpected and pleasant surprise.

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Angela started her set with “a couple really depressing songs, because we’ve just come from New York and it’s rainy and cold there.” Complementing her tortured and careworn vocals—always sounding pushed nearly to the breaking point, musician husband and frequent collaborator Paul Cantenon played piano and violin in a Utilikilt; the remarkable Lili Haydn also joined on violin. Mic stand festooned with flowers and glittering lights, Angela left that stand all alone after the two ballads, “8 Stories High” and “You and Me.” Suggesting that “I don’t think I can get you off your arses to dance, but just put on your Hollywood shades and do it” she proceeded to do both. Audience members pulled the window shades, cutting off the slanting midday winter light, and Matt the sound and light tech did his best to offer the newly darkened room that Berlin cabaret feel with Angela’s frequent instruction and encouragement.

With added drums by the laconic Davey Chegwidden, with bass and loops from Kiran Shahani (Angela’s writing and producing partner), she introduced barrelhouse anthems “Let’s Get Lost” and “Crying Anymore,” and one she played at the Atlas Bar & Grill way back when she was heralded as “Britain’s newest singing sensation,” a sobriquet that both surprised and amused her. She then moved on to some more dance numbers such as “Paris To Hollywood,” from her latest album, The Roxy Sessions—get it here: (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-roxy-sessions/id1139030979). Other tunes showing the more dance and rock side of Angela included “Electric Sky;” “In the Air;” and “The Little Things.”

For her last song, the house/lounge standard “Breathe,” she replaced the words with Gramma Funk’s [I See you Baby] Shakin’ that Ass” Fatboy Slim Remix as performed with Thievery Corporation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDjoouqRnhk). Dancers outnumbered sitters by far for this last number, and by the time the audience bundled up scarves, gloves and leather jackets—I swear—to ward off the unaccustomed 60-degree chill, the downtempo start to the set was long forgotten.

Next up for the Mimosa Music Series? A holiday show with Maria Taylor and Matt Costa today, December 18, 11AM-2PM. You should go over there right now.

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The Federal Bar, Lankershim Bl., North Hollywood, CA 91601. Reservations: 818.980.2555.