A warm, gentle breeze has been blowing in from the West, sweeping awesome L.A. artists into town like an unpredictable weather pattern blowing exotic birds in from off their usual migration path. Ok well, it’s kinda like that. It’s also the case that a growing number of the Silverlake/Echo Park area bands that I’ve regularly featured here have been (rightfully) achieving wider success and have been madly touring all over the f’ing place. Robert Francis is one of those artists; a thoughtful and personal singer-songwriter strongly steeped in folk tradition, but rocking out more since last year’s Before Nightfall. He’s been back and forth between Europe and the U.S. so much lately, it’s more likely you’ll see him in Boston – or Brussels for that matter – than in his native Los Angeles.
With an early show starting at 8pm, there were only about 50 people up near the stage with Robert came on. Such is the plight of the opening act. But fortunately this number grew throughout his set, as did the audience’s appreciation of what they were hearing, which was quite heartening.
What comes across most is tremendous warmth and sincerity. Smooth, deep and soaring vocals that draw you right in. High romance – from the flowers wrapped around his mic stand, to his dramatic and heartfelt delivery, to his storytelling on Before Nightfall, fond and wistful remembrances of a lost relationship. Sad, but with a glimmer of hope for the future. Visually and musically, a very dreamy guy. His older material on the self-released debut One By One is more folky and Americana, with more varied instrumentation like strings, pedal steel and banjo, trumpet and accordion. His major label debut (for Atlantic) has a more stripped-down rock sound. But what remains constant is his soul-searching, thoughtful songs and powerful voice. Good stuff. His live band seriously rocks out, with nice interaction between band members – very loose, friendly, and infectious. Yet the focus stays on Robert’s lovely songwriting and vocals – and he’s quite a decent guitarist as well, especially evident on “Nightfall” and an impassioned cover of the Stones’ “Wild Horses.”
Robert will be back in Boston at the House Of Blues (moved from the Paradise) a week from today (May 7), this time supporting OK Go. Definitely get there early to catch his set!
With such a tongue-in-cheek name as Lawrence Arabia, I probably should have realized these guys were Kiwis. This was before my blogging days, but I had (and still do have) quite a fondness for New Zealand bands. These guys were cool; they seemed like several bands in one, but it made for a varied set which I greatly enjoyed. Starting with crazy psychedelic guitar frenzy and feedback, they mixed in a trumpet on the next song to make things even more festive, and then it was some folky calypso tempo and 3-part harmony.. very sweet! They then moved into a lighthearted 60’s vibe, which included a song called “Dream Teacher” about a young crush and stuffed full of double entendres. “Apple Pie Bed” was another sunshiny track with pretty vocal harmonies and a heavy dose of quirkiness. The last song of their set, continuing on this theme, was introduced as “the kinds of feelings that happen on summer beaches.” It drifted happily along with bells, tambourine, and those Beach Boys pop harmonies, building into a raging guitar fury to finish things off in grand style. Awesome.
London-based Fanfarlo were a delightful surprise. I had heard about them, but wasn’t so familiar. I’m becoming very fond of bands who fill their musical toolbox with less conventional rock instruments (though soon I suspect we’ll have to stop saying that, and hopefully around that same time they won’t all be compared to Arcade Fire). Mandolin, violin, glockenspiel, kettle drums, trumpet, clarinet, melodica – in addition to keyboards, guitar (electric and acoustic – love acoustic guitar in a live rock show), bass, drums. Orchestral and expansive, hints of the Old World and tasteful touches all over the place; never kitschy or cluttered or overdone. Simon Balthazar’s vocals pleasantly, dreamily slide around and in between the lush and artful arrangements; he’s been compared vocally to Ed Harcourt, but to my ear I hear hints of David Byrne here and there, especially evident on… I think it was “Finish Line”? I see now they name the Talking Heads as a favorite band… so there!
“We Live By The Lake” (from their Fire Escape single) was introduced by Balthazar as “an old song we reinvented, about a place in Sweden where I grew up.” An incredibly pretty song featuring violin, acoustic guitar and trumpet. “The Walls Are Coming Down” followed, beginning just with vocals and a marching drum beat; trumpet, violin (viola?), and glockenspiel slowly joining in. Anthemic and beautiful! Keyboards and kettle drum, mandolin and viola, trumpet and melodica, guitars and percussion wove together in gorgeous ways, swirling around and sweeping everyone away. I look forward to becoming better acquainted now with Reservoir and seeing them again soon as a more informed admirer.