In times when we need it most, COMMON continues to spread worldwide love at Apogee Studio

COMMONPhotos by Brian Lowe // Written by Josh Herwitt //

COMMON //
Apogee Studio – Santa Monica, CA
July 25th, 2019 //

There’s something about the way Lonnie Corant Jaman Shuka Rashid Lynn looks at the world that can give even the biggest cynic a slight glimmer of hope. It’s not just the sense of wonder, but a tranquility in his eyes that makes you contemplate what he’s thinking about amid all of the chaos and daily distractions we have created for ourselves.

Most people know Lynn as COMMON, the Grammy-winning rapper who got his start back in the early 90’s and has since collaborated with everyone from Lauryn Hill to Kanye West, but he’s simply much more than that. An Oscar and Golden Globe winner, the Chicago native is also an actor, writer, filmmaker, model, activist, philanthropist and entrepreneur. First and foremost though, he’s a lover at heart.

For COMMON fans or those who have at least seen him perform live before, this is probably nothing new. Yet, it couldn’t have been more evident than during his private show in Santa Monica last Thursday for KCRW’s Apogee Sessions while currently on tour in support of his 12th studio album Let Love, which drops August 30th. So much so, that at one point during the performance, he rather spontaneously invited a female audience member onstage and serenaded her with a couple of songs. And while it made for a few awkward moments, you could tell that COMMON had the best intentions. Sure, Cynthia felt more than a little out of place up there with embarrassment written all over her face, but she’ll certainly remember those 15 minutes for the rest of her life now while others can see and hear it for themselves when the session premieres Friday, August 23rd on KCRW.

COMMON & Anthony Valadez


COMMON & KCRW DJ Anthony Valadez (right)

That’s what COMMON does — he spreads love to each and every person his music reaches. As KCRW DJ Anthony Valadez pointed out during his sit-down interview with the emcee midway through the evening, COMMON has lots of songs about love, and you could quickly find more than enough evidence to assert that fact by looking at the setlist alone. Of the seven tracks he showcased off Let Love, five had the word “love” in its title, starting with “Show Me That You Love” that opened his set. The album, which is inspired by COMMON’s new memoir “Let Love Have the Last Word”, remains a departure from the political deliberations that dominated his 2016 LP Black America Again and spawned out of our most recent U.S. presidential election. I don’t think we need to revisit that moment in history right now, so let me stick to the script.

When he returned to the stage with his full backing band, COMMON made sure to turn things up another notch with a cover of West’s “Get Em High” that had most in the small, yet vibrant crowd rapping and grooving along to the beat. After almost three decades in the game, the 47-year-old still knows how to command a room’s attention whether he’s debuting new material or falling back on some old favorites like “Go!” from 2005’s Be and “The Light” on 2000’s Like Water for Chocolate.

But on this night inside the 180-person Apogee Studio, COMMON’s overarching message to us stood clear: let love rule today and every day. And to that we say, “Amen, Lonnie … amen.”

Setlist:
Show Me That You Love
South Side
The Corner
The Food
Memories of Home
I Used to Love Her
Take It EZ
Her Love
Love of My Life
Come Close
The Day the Women Took Over
Fancy Free Future Love
Get Em High
Hercules
Go!
Good Morning Love
God Is Love
The Light

Grizzly Bear & TV on the Radio unite for one night in their new hometown to play the Hollywood Bowl

Grizzly Bear


Grizzly Bear

By Josh Herwitt //

Grizzly Bear & TV on the Radio with Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith //
Hollywood Bowl – Los Angeles
September 23rd, 2018 //

In the early 2000’s, Grizzly Bear and TV on the Radio emerged out of Brooklyn’s crowded indie-rock scene as two of its biggest darlings. Both bands, in fact, would go on to release their seminal albums a little less than a decade later, starting first in 2008 with TV on the Radio’s Dear Science and continuing the following year with Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest.

But Grizzly Bear and TV on the Radio have each issued two additional LPs since then and somewhat surprisingly, have both made the cross-country move out to LA within the past several years. So, when NPR member station KCRW revealed the lineup for its 2018 World Festival series at the iconic Hollywood Bowl, the final performance on the docket was one that easily stuck out with the two Brooklyn-bred outfits co-headlining and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith opening.

As the glow of a full moon shined bright against a dark sky, Grizzly Bear and TV on the Radio gave us one last taste of summer on the season’s final day. And though it felt rather fitting for them to share a stage in their new hometown, especially one that’s as big as the Bowl’s, each group exhibits its own unique sound and style through a wide range of influences. They may get slapped with the generic “indie rock” tag by some lazy music critics, but without a doubt, their music is much different from the other’s.

TV on the Radio


TV on the Radio

The last time we caught Grizzly Bear was almost a year ago, when they performed at Apogee Studio for KCRW’s Apogee Sessions series (read our review here) and reminded us how they were making “chamber pop” sound cool again. The intimate gig came just a few weeks prior to TV on the Radio’s last show in LA (at David Lynch’s Festival of Disruption), and with their most recent album Seeds from 2014, this was probably one of the final times that they would be specifically showcasing that material live. Nevertheless, they made sure to close out their 70-minute set with a bang, finishing with classics like “Repetition” from 2011’s Nine Types of Light, “Wolf Like Me” off 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain and lastly “Staring at the Sun” on their 2004 debut Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes.

Similarly, the gig also marked one of Grizzly Bear’s last performances in support of their fifth LP Painted Ruins, which they released last year on RCA Records, and having already played a two-night run at The Wiltern back in December, this was more of a victory lap than a coming-out party. Unfortunately for us, the five-piece had to cut things short due to the venue’s strict Sunday night curfew, ending on a rather sudden note. That’s just part of the deal at the Bowl, though. For those of us who have to work on Monday morning, it’s actually more of a blessing in disguise than a disservice to the overall concert experience as we’ve come to realize.

After all, any evening under the stars at the Hollywood Bowl feels like a magical one. There’s just something comforting about taking in some live music at one of the world’s most famous amphitheaters, no matter who’s listed on the marquee. And although there’s no telling when Grizzly Bear and TV on the Radio will tour again, let alone together, this was one pairing that we’re glad we didn’t miss before we officially said goodbye to summer.

GRIZZLY BEAR

Setlist:
Southern Point
Losing All Sense
Yet Again
Fine for Now
Ready, Able
Four Cypresses
Sleeping Ute
Two Weeks
Foreground
While You Wait for the Others
On a Neck, On a Spit
Three Rings
Sun in Your Eyes

TV ON THE RADIO

Setlist:
Young Liars
Lazerray
Golden Age
Province
Happy Idiot
Could You
Winter
Red Dress
Shout Me Out
Trouble
Repetition
Wolf Like Me
Staring at the Sun

Dancing the night away with Cut Copy in LA

Cut CopyBy Josh Herwitt //

Cut Copy with Kauf //
The Wiltern – Los Angeles
September 7th, 2018 //

Cut Copy are no strangers to LA. If you didn’t know any better, you might think the synthpop outfit that spawned out of Dan Whitford’s solo DJ project actually lived in the City of Angels.

But the Australian four-piece undoubtedly enjoys coming to California every time it drops a new album, and with the release of their fifth LP Haiku from Zero nearly a year ago now, the past 12 months have been action-packed for Whitford (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Tim Hoey (guitars), Ben Browning (bass, vocals) and Mitchell Scott (drums, vocals).

Cut Copy

For those in LA who missed Cut Copy 10 months ago when they visited the Shrine Expo Hall with De Lux, Palmbomen II and Cooper Saver also on the bill, their headlining performance last Friday at The Wiltern was another chance to dance the night away upon hearing several classics such as “Need You Now”, “Free Your Mind”, “Future”, “Hearts on Fire” and to close, “Lights & Music”. In fact, the last time that we caught them back in March, a mini downpour erupted at Shaun White’s Air + Style (read our festival review here), but it didn’t phase them. Who said playing — and dancing — in the rain isn’t fun anyway?

Nevertheless, Cut Copy always know how to throw one of the best dance parties in the biz, and though they just finished their latest tour with three West Coast shows in LA, Berkeley (supporting Phoenix) and Portland last weekend, it’s plausible that these Aussies could be back in the states next year for some more dates, particularly once festival season officially returns. Until then, this one should hold us over.

Setlist:
Need You Now
Black Rainbows
Visions
Nobody Lost, Nobody Found
Airborne
Living Upside Down
Free Your Mind
Counting Down
Future
Pharaohs & Pyramids
Hearts on Fire
Standing in the Middle of the Field
Take Me Over
Out There on the Ice

Encore:
Meet Me in a House of Love
Lights & Music

Moby might think he’s old, but his 15th and newest album doesn’t sound it at Apogee Studio

MobyPhotos by Brian Feinzimer // Written by Josh Herwitt //

Moby //
Apogee Studio – Santa Monica, CA
March 26th, 2018 //

When Richard Melville Hall released his fifth album Play in 1999, probably much to many’s surprise now, it wasn’t an immediate success. Hall, after all, had hit a bit of a rough patch a few years earlier with his fourth LP Animal Rights, which saw him venturing into punk rock and straying far away from the eclecticism that delivered critical acclaim for its predecessor Everything Is Wrong in 1995.

But Play eventually propelled Hall — or “Moby” as his parents called him due to an ancestral tie to Moby Dick author Herman Melville — to mainstream status like his previous records had never before. Boasting eight singles (yes, you read that right) and selling more than 12 million copies worldwide at a point when music fans were still purchasing CDs, it became the biggest-selling electronica album of all time. Rolling Stone, in fact, has included Play as one of its 500 greatest albums on two different occasions. I don’t know about you, but it’s a masterful piece of work that immediately transports me back to the late 90’s, to a time when groove-oriented electronic music was actually starting to be considered “cool.”

Employing everything from early blues, African-American folk music and gospel to hip-hop, disco and techno on Play, Moby created sounds that our ears had never heard before. Today, he stands as one of electronic music’s, if not simply music’s, most important figures, having worked with David Bowie, Daft Punk, Brian Eno, Pet Shop Boys, Britney Spears, New Order, Public Enemy, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica and Soundgarden over a career that has spanned 40 years to date.

That’s a long time for anyone to be making music, but at the age of 52, Moby hasn’t let it catch up to him. Part of that could be related to his diet (he has been vegan for about three decades now), leaving his longtime home of New York City for sunny Los Angeles back in 2010 and an unwillingness to tour extensively anymore, though his latest studio material doesn’t offer any evidence that he has lost the ability to craft a well-conceived/produced song either.

Moby

On Monday night in Santa Monica, Hall took the stage for KCRW’s Apogee Sessions series in support of his 15th full length Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt, which arrived via Mute earlier this month. The record’s title serves as just another reminder of Moby’s passion for the late Kurt Vonnegut’s work, referencing Billy Pilgrim’s epitaph in Slaughterhouse-Five, but he isn’t the only literary influence who shines through on the 12-track album. The second single “Mere Anarchy” from Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt, in fact, was inspired by a quote from Irish poet W. B. Yeats, someone Moby has been a fan of for quite a while and even more in these chaotic, uncertain times under the Trump administration (as you can see from his Instagram account here, he is also very politically outspoken).

Still, despite all of the negativity that’s out there in the world at the moment, Moby appears to be in a relatively happy place on a personal level. He has been sober for about four years after being a self-proclaimed alcoholic and has owned his vegan restaurant Little Pine in LA’s ultra trendy Silver Lake neighborhood since 2015. And for the past two years, he has also found the time to organize his own Circle V festival as a way to celebrate music, vegan food and animal rights, the latter of which being another cause that Hall has dedicated his life to from an early age. Oh, and did we mention that he had a collaborative LP with The Void Pacific Choir come out last year? When you stack them all up, it’s pretty incredible to see Moby juggling so many projects simultaneously and juggling them all well (props to his manager, that’s for sure).

His guitar playing, meanwhile, may be just as impressive, if not surprising to some. Less than two weeks before Moby stepped into Bob Clearmountain’s diminutive recording studio, I was fortunate enough to catch him the final of his three shows at The Echo, and it was there as he performed a variety of songs from Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt, Play and a few other albums, that I fully realized just how talented he is with a black Gibson SG in his hands. He may be an electronic musician, but unlike a lot of them today, Moby is a musician in every sense of the word. While his vocals at times sound more like spoken word than actual singing, he has found more than capable sidekicks in Julie Mintz (keyboards, vocals) and Mindy Jones (vocals) to assist him in that department. Jones’ ranging voice, in particular, is one that suits his music well, and when you hear her sing, her pipes elevate the song to a whole new level.

Moby is no doubt a quirky guy. He’s not too insecure to make fun of himself, call some of his music “bad” or say what’s on his mind. Having been his friend for more than 25 years, KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley most certainly knew this, but as he traded questions for answers midway through his performance at Apogee Studio, you could tell even Bentley was surprised by how candid Moby was. The small crowd, of course, couldn’t help but laugh, as Moby made a point of telling us that he’s “old” and later on how the music video for his single “We Are All Made of Stars” was a $1 million disaster that never saw the light of day after being played only once on MTV. But as he juxtaposed the trip-hop that permeates throughout his newest album against the more old-school, ambient vibes of his past work, it was Moby who proved that his star, almost 20 years after Play dropped, continues to burn bright in 2018.

Setlist:
The Ceremony of Innocence
Falling Rain and Light
Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?
Porcelain
Like a Motherless Child
This Wild Darkness
The Tired and the Hurt
Extreme Ways
The Sorrow Tree
We Are All Made of Stars

Lo Moon are officially LA’s newest buzz band after their sold-out show at the Troubadour

Lo MoonBy Josh Herwitt //

Lo Moon with Psychic Twin //
Troubadour – West Hollywood, CA
November 16th, 2017 //

If there’s one public radio station in Los Angeles that always seems to have its finger on the pulse of all things music, it’s KCRW.

The NPR member station broadcasting from Santa Monica College has long had a penchant for discovering some of today’s most buzzworthy bands, and since 1977, its signature music program “Morning Becomes Eclectic” has played an instrumental role in maintaining what has been a strong track record for years. In fact, quite a few up-and-coming acts have come out of KCRW’s own backyard, whether it has been indie-rock groups like Silverlake’s Local Natives or solo artists such as Inglewood-bred jazz virtuoso Kamasi Washington.

But the latest group from the City of Angels to catch the station’s eye has been Lo Moon, the atmospheric, yet soulful indie-electronic trio that has only officially released three songs to date. One of them is called “Thorns”, which opened their sold-out show last Thursday at the Troubadour. With KCRW sponsoring the event, Illinois native/now LA transplant Erin Fein’s dreamy, synth-pop project Psychic Twin paved the way for the evening’s headliner, as a half-empty room prior to 9 p.m. turned into a crowded one 30 minutes later.

Despite what they call home right now, Lo Moon don’t consider themselves an “LA band,” at least not yet. All three full-time members — Matt Lowell (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Crisanta Baker (bass, keyboards, vocals) and Sam Stewart (guitar, keyboards, vocals) — arrived in LA from different parts of the world and wrote most of their forthcoming debut LP that’s due out next year in Seattle, a city Lowell says helped shape the album’s overall sound.

Lo Moon

Lo Moon, sonically, can be somewhat difficult to pin down. With a range of influences, their music has drawn comparisons to many of the UK’s biggest bands: Talk Talk, Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Radiohead, Massive Attack and The xx, among others. That’s certainly some impressive company to be mentioned in when you get right down to it, especially for a band that took several months to unveil its second song. But Lo Moon have much more than just comparisons to hang their hat on at this point. The three-piece, for one, has inked a deal with Columbia Records and gotten the attention of former Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla, who has since signed on to produce its first full length.

Lately though, Lowell, Baker, Stewart and touring member Sterling Laws (drums) have been hitting the road with some pretty big names, including AIR (read our show review here) and Phoenix, with shows lined up next month as support for London Grammar, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy and The War on Drugs. With those kind of opportunities this early in the band’s career, don’t be surprised if you find Lo Moon listed on the 2018 Coachella lineup in January.

Back at the Troubadour, Lo Moon ran through a number of tracks that we can expect to hear on their upcoming release, performing “The Right Thing” for the first time before closing the set on a high note with “This Is It”, their sophomore single that you could mistake for a Peter Gabriel song if you didn’t know any better. There’s no question Lowell and company have an affinity for synthesizers, and the limited studio material they’ve revealed so far suggests that. But what also makes them stand out is Lowell himself, who offered a poignant solo rendition on the piano titled “All In” to kick off the band’s brief encore.

Of course, as Lo Moon fans know or will come to know, the show couldn’t have ended without the song that started it all: “Loveless”. The sprawling, seven-minute anthem, which hooked a major record label, an A-list producer and listeners all over the world, is what initially put the threesome on the map, and with Laws’ drum rolls delivering one powerful crescendo after the next down the stretch, the crowd came visibly alive like it hadn’t all night. Sure, this may only be the beginning for these guys, but LA’s newest buzz band knows how to shoot for the moon.

Setlist:
Thorns
The Right Thing (live debut)
Wonderful Life
TTMYMO
Real Love
My Money
Camouflage
This Is It

Encore:
All In (Matt Lowell solo on piano)
Loveless

Bonobo gives his new hometown a beautiful night to remember at LA’s Greek Theatre

BonoboBy Josh Herwitt //

Bonobo (Live) with Bob Moses //
Greek Theatre – Los Angeles
September 27th, 2017 //

More than 17 years have passed since Simon Green dropped his debut album. In fact, the British musician, producer and DJ wasn’t even known as Bonobo at the time.

But five LPs and a plethora of other releases later, and Green has established himself as a pioneer of the modern downtempo scene. And in many ways, he’s still leading the charge.

What makes Bonobo’s music so intriguing to listen to is its detachment from any one genre. Green, rather, draws from a variety of musical styles that can be heard all over the world in creating a sound that is uniquely his own.

However, for as popular as Bonobo has become in electronic music circles, it wasn’t until he started touring with a full band in support of 2010’s Black Sands that a whole new light was shone on the project. And as the push-play EDM scene began to take hold, it was a different and refreshing way to see downtempo electronic music being performed live.

Bob Moses


Bob Moses

The move to play with a cast of sidekicks has opened the door for Green to explore new sonic territory, and at the seemingly always-serene Greek Theatre in LA, that transformation, much like his performance up north just a few days prior (see our photos from the show here), was more evident than ever before. This wasn’t my first time seeing Bonobo perform with a band, but it did feel a little different for a few reasons. One was simply that it wasn’t at Coachella or a music festival, while the other was I hadn’t seen Bonobo perform live in his new hometown. Green, after all, moved to LA several years ago following the release of his fifth full length The North Borders in 2013, and this year’s follow-up, Migration, clearly draws inspiration from that significant change in his life as the album’s title suggests.

The real reason things felt different this time around, though, was the music. Extending and reimagining his tracks for easily one of the largest crowds he has ever performed in front of, Bonobo followed an uplifting opening set from Canadian electronic duo Bob Moses with an array of soothing sounds that paired beautifully with his lighting setup and entrancing stage production in the same way Scott Hansen (aka Tycho) creates an awe-inspiring audio-visual experience during his live-band performances. But one difference between the two electronic-leaning artists is Bonobo’s knack for working with vocalists, and British singer Szjerdene has been one of the latest as she continues to join him on the road in support of Migration, which features LA-based R&B duo Rhye and Aussie singer-songwriter Nick Murphy (fka Chet Faker). And while neither of those aforementioned collaborators made an appearance on this early fall night that in many ways still felt like summer in LA, Szjerdene and an orchestral section only added to the magic of the evening.

As Bonobo’s popularity continues to grow in the U.S. with every new album he puts out, it’s curious to think how far it could go. With his move to the states and more specifically to The Entertainment Capital of the World, you can expect him to flourish in a city that’s absolutely flooded with talent in all facets. LA has long been home to one of the biggest electronic music scenes in the world, and with the rise of satellite and independent radio — in particular, NPR member station KCRW — over the past decade, Bonobo’s music has reached many more ears across the Southland.

So, if the nearly sold-out crowd at the 5,870-seat Greek Theatre on a Wednesday night was any indication as to how far he has come, then Green picked just the right place to now call home.

Grizzly Bear are making ‘chamber pop’ sound cool again as we discovered at Apogee Studio

Grizzly BearPhotos by Dustin Downing // Written by Josh Herwitt //

Grizzly Bear //
Apogee Studio – Santa Monica, CA
September 26th, 2017 //

With the way the world moves now — one tweet, status update or Instagram photo at a time — five years between studio albums can feel like an eternity, even when your last one received as much critical acclaim as Grizzly Bear’s did.

But for the quartet that formed in Brooklyn more than 15 years ago, 2012’s Shields served as more than just a strong follow-up to the group’s seminal LP Veckatimest. The album, which saw the band purposely take a more collaborative approach during the writing process than ever before, became Grizzly Bear’s highest-charting effort, surpassing the No. 8 position that Veckatimest reached on the Billboard 200 by one spot. And even with the struggles that they faced along the way, with the band scraping most of the early material it recorded for Shields in Marfa, Texas, and subsequently starting over by returning to Cape Cod, Mass., where they conceived their sophomore LP Yellow House, Grizzly Bear managed to still come out on top.

If one thing is clear, it’s that patience has been a virtue for Ed Droste (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Daniel Rossen (guitar, vocals), Christopher Bear (drums, vocals) and Chris Taylor (bass, vocals). It’s why we shouldn’t be surprised that their fifth full length Painted Ruins, which dropped in mid-August on RCA (their first with the label since they left Warp), took almost twice as long to reach fans as any of their previous albums did and yet, at the same time, holds just as much water as any of them, Veckatimest included. Painted Ruins, in fact, could very well be Grizzly Bear’s most accessible album to date with four singles and one of them being “Four Cypresses”, which opened their private show in Santa Monica for KCRW’s Apogee Sessions last Tuesday.

Grizzly Bear

Apogee Studio has been a special place for artists and bands to showcase new music over the last five-plus years, but this performance was particularly significant, and not just because it was a celebration of Grizzly Bear’s latest feat, but also because it marked the 75th live session at Bob Clearmountain’s private recording studio since he first opened his doors to KCRW back in 2011. From Ryan Adams to The War on Drugs (read our review here) and everyone else who has graced the room’s diminutive stage, it’s arguably KCRW’s best series to date, bringing fans as close as humanly possible to some of their favorite musicians in a setting that’s as intimate as you’ll find anywhere.

While the champagne flowed on this celebratory night, that intimacy played exceptionally well for Grizzly Bear, as the band and touring member Aaron Arntz (piano, keyboards) dug into tracks almost exclusively from Painted Ruins for the first half of their set before Rossen and Taylor both sat down with KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley to share their own stories as a band (and a few laughs, too). But despite some awkward moments during the interview, Bentley did offer an interesting observation, at one point describing Grizzly Bear’s music as “chamber pop.” For those not familiar with the term, chamber pop refers to a style of rock ‘n’ roll that was born out of the 60’s by groups like The Beach Boys and predicated on the use of strings, horns, piano and vocal harmonies, the latter of which being a characteristic you can often hear in Grizzly Bear’s music. Because it’s not all that common that you find a band with members who all can sing (and do it well collectively), and with that in mind, Grizzly Bear are certainly among rare company these days.

For a long time, I couldn’t quite put my finger on Grizzly Bear’s sound. The only descriptor I could conjure up was the lame and trite “indie rock” label, even though I knew I was doing a total disservice to the music. But as the four-piece ran through some of its fan favorites, from “Sleeping Ute” to the wildy popular “Two Weeks” that hinges on a beautiful vocal harmony, I thought about what Bentley had said minutes earlier and just how much truth there was to it. Chamber pop might be a thing of the past, but if there’s one band making it sound cool again, Grizzly Bear, as we came to find out, are that band.

Setlist:
Four Cypresses
Losing All Sense
Yet Again
Cut-Out
Mourning Sound
Sleeping Ute
Two Weeks
Three Rings
Foreground
While You Wait for the Others

Encore:
Sun in Your Eyes

The War on Drugs’ new album sounds like another masterpiece after their preview at Apogee Studio

The War on DrugsPhotos by Larry Hirshowitz // Written by Josh Herwitt //

The War on Drugs //
Apogee Studio – Santa Monica, CA
August 5th, 2017 //

In today’s hypercompetitive, oversaturated music industry, following a great album with an even greater one can be a tall task for any band, no matter how much commercial success it has had.

Adam Granduciel, for one, should know that by now.

Because when the once-Philadelphian dropped The War on Drugs’ third LP Lost in a Dream more than three years ago on longtime indie label Secretly Canadian, there was no way for him to know what the response would be. As the band’s frontman and primary songwriter, Granduciel and a rotating cast of sidekicks had received a modest amount of fanfare up to that point, with 2011’s Slave Ambient garnering critical acclaim from the music media, but nothing quite like what he would amass by the end of 2014.

After debuting at No. 26 on the Billboard 200 chart, Lost in a Dream would go on to produce five singles and top numerous “Best Album of the Year” lists, earning universal praise from fans and critics alike. It’s an album, with plenty of depth both lyrically and sonically, that’s undeniably one of the best soundtracks for the open road — a modern-day hybridization of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Rod Stewart all rolled into one aural experience that fits perfectly as you roar down a long stretch of highway in the middle of nowhere with the top down on your 1967 Ford Mustang convertible.

The War on Drugs

Granduciel’s raspy voice, as well as his driving (no pun intended) guitar rhythms and reverb-laden riffs, are largely what separates The War on Drugs from the rest in a crowded indie-rock scene, but the sum of the band’s parts — Charlie Hall (drums), David Hartley (bass), Anthony LaMarca (guitar, keyboards), Robbie Bennett (keyboards) and finally Jon Natchez (saxophone, keyboards) — also creates a sound that while familiar, still feels uniquely different. And as we came to find out last Saturday night in Santa Monica, that formula only continues to shine on The War on Drugs’ forthcoming record A Deeper Understanding, which they previewed in part during their private show for KCRW’s Apogee Sessions.

The last time we were invited to Apogee Studio, we were lucky enough to catch psychedelic indie rockers Spoon (read our review here) performing songs off their new album titled Hot Thoughts before unleashing it earlier this year. But in the same way Britt Daniels’ departure from Los Angeles and return to Texas informed Spoon’s latest studio effort, Granduciel also told KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley during a brief interview midway through the group’s performance that his recent move to the City of Angels provided the same kind of inspiration during the writing and recording process for A Deeper Understanding.

With the LP’s release date set for August 25th, it won’t be long before the whole world gets to hear what Granduciel and company have been up to over the last two years — and after what we heard inside Apogee Studio, there’s a lot to be excited about. Opening with “Pain”, which they released just one day prior, The War on Drugs presented four other tracks from A Deeper Understanding, including their single “Holding On” that picks up right where Lost in a Dream left off, before closing the first set with “An Ocean Between the Waves”, a seven-minute-plus voyage through peaks and valleys that ranks right up there with their more celebrated songs like “Red Eyes” and “Under the Pressure”.

Though we only got to hear half of A Deeper Understanding, what we did get to hear from the 10-track LP felt like something that believe it or not, has all the makings to be just as special as 2014’s Lost in a Dream. That may be hard to fathom considering that the band’s luster has likely worn off by now, but if so, it will be a testament to Granduciel’s vision and an ability to forge a deeper connection with his bandmates than he has ever had to before. Unlike Lost in a Dream, which was written entirely by Granduciel, A Deeper Understanding has been coined a “band record,” and as we witnessed on this warm, summer night in Southern California, one that’s certainly worthy of our time and attention once again.

Setlist:
Pain
Holding On
Strangest Thing
Accidentally Like a Martyr (Warren Zevon cover)
An Ocean Between the Waves
In Reverse
Eyes to the Wind
Lost in a Dream
You Don’t Have to Go
Under the Pressure*

*Editor’s Note: “Brothers” was originally listed on the setlist

Get ready for the world to fall in love with 23-year-old rising star Amber Mark

Amber MarkBy Rochelle Shipman //

Amber Mark //
Hammer Museum – Los Angeles
July 27th, 2017 //

Amber Mark has been one of the most optimistic voices to come out of the dumpster fire that so far is 2017. Her colorful debut EP titled 3:33 (and unrelated to Jay-Z’s 4:44) sees her taking a tragedy and using it as motivation to live and believe again. She’s quickly setting her mark as a worldly pop star in an industry that is generally otherwise anything but.

During her show last Thursday at the Hammer Museum near UCLA, the 23-year-old manned the stage with grace and gratitude, if not a shred of shyness that will surely disappear in the near future as the world falls in love with her.

Miguel’s silky-smooth voice captivates at this year’s Sound in Focus series opener

Sound in Focus - MiguelBy Rochelle Shipman //

Sound in Focus: Miguel with Gabriel Garzón-Montano //
Annenberg Space for Photography – Los Angeles
July 23rd, 2016 //

KCRW kicked off their annual Sound in Focus concert series last Saturday, bringing plenty of R&B grooves to the Annenberg Space for Photography.

Stones Throw Records’ Gabriel Garzón-Montano, who dropped the trip-hop-tinted Jardín earlier this year, got things started. Even though no one else but a drummer accompanied him, he effortlessly commanded the stage even while being tucked behind his keyboard.

Sound in Focus - Gabriel Garzón-Montano


Gabriel Garzón-Montano

Once the sun set and Miguel stepped onstage, the audience was transported somewhere else entirely. Born and raised in LA, the 31-year-old’s silky-smooth voice floated through the cool evening breeze over the twinkle lights in the trees, giving the impression of an island retreat rather than a concert in the park.

With the exception of an impromptu barstool-crooner cut, he spent the majority of his set on the tip of the stage, captivating a crowd that could have only otherwise looked away to admire the sultry enthusiasm of the ASL translators.

With summer near, Skyline festival makes its debut at the new & improved LA State Historic Park

Skyline 2017Photos courtesy of aLIVE Coverage, Banfy & DA BLACK SWAN // Written by Josh Herwitt //

Skyline feat. Duke Dumont, Miike Snow, Lido, EDEN, Michl, ELOHIM, Jason Bentley //
LA State Historic Park – Los Angeles
May 20th, 2017 //

Memorial Day weekend is often considered the unofficial start to summer, but for those of us living in the City of Angels, last weekend might as well have been.

With temperatures in downtown LA reaching the low 90’s, Radio Hill Events and KCRW made history on a hot and sunny day as they hosted the inaugural Skyline festival at the brand-new LA State Historic Park, which closed for renovation more than three years ago.

Though not all of the 34-acre open space just north of Chinatown was used for the single-day event, it felt nice to be back at the much-improved park taking in live music as an electronic-leaning lineup that consisted of Duke Dumont, Miike Snow, Lido, EDEN, Michl, ELOHIM and Jason Bentley all shared the somewhat diminutive stage over a nine-hour span.

Skyline 2017 - Miike Snow


Miike Snow

In many ways, Skyline felt like a trial run for potentially larger music festivals to eventually make their way back to the park, which was used for FYF Fest and HARD’s LA-based events prior to its closure. And after a reported attendance of 5,500, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see FYF Fest return to its former home next year after occupying Exposition Park for what soon will be four straight summers following its latest edition this July.

What might be best about LA State Historic Park, though, is the view. Particularly on a clear day, it’s hard to beat the sight lines of downtown LA’s skyline when you look south from the park. And lucky for us, that was the case this time around.

As day turned to night and the crowd’s energy gradually started to build thanks to a hit-laden set from Scandinavian indie-pop trio Miike Snow, it felt like a perfect way to spend a Saturday night in LA in mid-May. So, when English DJ/producer Duke Dumont took the baton and gave the festival’s final performance, he made sure to send us home with some deep-house vibes — deep enough to put us right to bed after what proved to be, all in all, a successful day.

LA Show of the Week // GO4FREE to Skyline feat. Duke Dumont, Miike Snow, Lido & more 5/20 (SAT)

SkylineWritten by Josh Herwitt //

Skyline feat. Duke Dumont, Miike Snow, Lido, EDEN, Michl, ELOHIM, Jason Bentley //
LA State Historic Park – Los Angeles
May 20th, 2017 //

It’s been a while since LA State Historic Park has hosted a music festival — almost three years to be exact. The 34-acre open space just north of LA’s Chinatown neighborhood, after all, had been under construction during that time, with progress on the developement getting delayed at one point due to soil contamination at the site.

But in March, Radio Hill Events, a new group of concert producers, talent buyers and festival planners, teamed up with KCRW to announce Skyline, a single-day music, art and food event that will mark the first major music gathering at the recently remodeled park.

Featuring performances by Duke Dumont, Miike Snow, Lido, EDEN, Michl, ELOHIM and Jason Bentley, the fest’s inaugural music lineup leans heavily on electronic acts who play “live” (as opposed to performing a DJ set).

Kicking off the festivities this Saturday at 2 p.m. will be a surprise opener before Miike Snow and Duke Dumont close things out with back-to-back sets each lasting an hour (view the set times below).

If you’re looking for something to do this weekend and are itching to see some live music, you don’t want to miss this brand-new festival in downtown LA. Tickets are available for $50, but you could win a pair of tickets by submitting your full name and email below.

Contest ends this Friday at 3 p.m.

Skyline - set times


Follow Showbams on Twitter for more contest giveaways throughout the week. Be the first to respond to our contest tweets to GO4FREE to these shows:

Ho99o9: May 18th (THUR) @ The Independent
Pallbearer: March 19th (FRI) @ The New Parish
Dead Winter Carpenters: March 19th (FRI) @ Slim’s
Shiba San Poolside Party: March 21st (SUN) @ The Phoenix Hotel


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Spoon give us plenty of ‘Hot Thoughts’ during their private show at Apogee Studio

SpoonPhotos by Larry Hirshowitz // Written by Josh Herwitt //

Spoon //
Apogee Studio – Santa Monica, CA
March 7th, 2017 //

I don’t know why, but Spoon are one of those bands I’ve never given enough of a chance. I suppose I could chalk it up to the fact that there are too many options out there these days, that the market is simply too oversaturated, though it’s not as if I hadn’t heard of or known about them.

In fact, I even own some older Spoon albums like 2005’s Gimme Fiction and 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. But that still wasn’t enough for me to ever dive deep into their catalog and get hooked. In more recent times, they’ve been that band with the “Cherry Bomb” song in that ubiquitous Dr. Pepper Cherry commercial to me. It’s only been in the last couple of months that I’ve taken more of an interest after hearing what the group has shared so far from its upcoming ninth LP Hot Thoughts.

I’d like to think it didn’t take me nearly 25 years to come around to Spoon’s unique sound that borders somewhere between indie rock and psychedelic rock (call it psychedelic indie rock if you want), but that’s unfortunately not the case. I can’t call myself a fan yet, but as it’s often said, there’s no better time to start than now, right?

Spoon


Spoon & KCRW DJ Anne Litt (center)

My curiosity in the Austin outfit took me to Santa Monica on a Tuesday night, where it was playing a private show for KCRW’s Apogee Sessions less than 24 hours after performing in front of a capacity crowd at The Observatory in Santa Ana for its second U.S. show of 2017. Apogee Studio has been home to a number of special performances over the years, one of which was The Avett Brothers in September (read our review here), but this one felt extra special due to the fact that we were hearing songs that hadn’t been officially released yet.

Hot Thoughts won’t drop until next week — March 17th to be exact — but KCRW DJ Anne Litt assured us before they hit the stage that just like every Spoon album that had come before it, this one really was “the masterpiece.” Less than three years have passed since Spoon put out their last studio album They Want My Soul, long enough for frontman and founding member Britt Daniel to leave Los Angeles and return to his home state of Texas. Daniel, who serves as the band’s primary songwriter, has watched Spoon go through a bevy of lineup changes over the years, including the recent departure of multi-instrumentalist Eric Harvey, but through it all, drummer Jim Eno has remained his partner in crime. It’s essentially why Daniel decided to move back to Austin, where Eno’s studio Public Hi-Fi is located and some of the tracks for Hot Thoughts were laid down. And along the way, they’ve added several talented players like Rob Pope (bass, guitar, keyboards, backing vocals), Alex Fischel (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals) and Gerardo Larios (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals), with the latter signing on to replace Harvey as a touring member earlier this year.

At the center of it all, though, is and always has been Daniel, and as Spoon kicked things off with a new tune called “Do I Have to Talk You Into It” before seguing into the title track from their forthcoming effort, it was easy to see why he remains the band’s guiding force. After he won us over with another Hot Thoughts track entitled “I Ain’t the One”, Daniel sat down with Litt for a few minutes to discuss the writing and recording process for the album. For those of us lucky enough to be in the room, it was a chance to learn more about what makes him tick. In total, Spoon performed five songs from the new record, including “First Caress” to open a brief encore that left us eager for more. But as the five-piece rocked “Rainy Taxi” from 2014’s They Want My Soul to close, I couldn’t help but think to myself that this is one band I should have never slept on.

Setlist:
Do I Have to Talk You Into It
Hot Thoughts
Inside Out
The Beast and Dragon, Adored
I Saw the Light
I Ain’t the One
Rent I Pay
Can I Sit Next to You
Do You
Small Stakes
My Mathematical Mind

Encore:
First Caress (Live debut)
Rainy Taxi

Spoon

From club gigs to the Hollywood Bowl, Bloc Party close their U.S. tour with their largest show ever

Bloc PartyBy Josh Herwitt //

Bloc Party with Bob Mould, Ezra Furman //
Hollywood Bowl – Los Angeles
September 25th, 2016 //

For those of us who attended college in the early 2000’s, Bloc Party were one of those bands that epitomized our most formative years. Back then, there weren’t many making music quite like the English quartet was, pioneering a sound rooted in indie rock, yet partially influenced by the surrounding UK electronic scene.

Now more than a decade after the release of their seminal debut LP Silent Alarm, Bloc Party are still going strong with Kele Okereke and Russell Lissack at the helm. The two Londoners have known each other for close to 20 years, and while each have their own projects outside of Bloc Party, what they’ve built together over five studio albums isn’t something to sneer at.

At the same time, it’s fair to say that the band’s last three records — 2008’s Intimacy, 2012’s Four and this year’s Hymns, which came out in January — haven’t struck a chord quite like Silent Alarm and A Weekend in the City both did. And with the departure of original band members Matt Tong and Gordon Moakes, it’s been on Okereke and Lissack to carry things forward while writing the group’s next chapter.

Bloc Party

But even after all the commercial success they’ve had, what’s cool about Bloc Party is that they’re still playing big and small venues. This was no more evident than at the end of their latest U.S. tour, which saw them go from playing 1,000-person clubs like Mezzanine in San Francisco (see our photos from the show here) to headlining the one and only Hollywood Bowl with support from former Hüsker Dü leader Bob Mould and 30-year-old indie singer-songwriter Ezra Furman, who crossdressed to impress with a bright red one-piece, black stalkings and a pearl-like necklace.

It was the second time in two months that we were invited to cover a show at the legendary amphitheater (read about our first time here), and while Sufjan Stevens, Kurt Vile and The Violators, and Ibeyi provided a more compelling billing with quite a few more theatrics (at least on Stevens’ part), this one had its own unique storyline that made it special to witness. After all, it only seemed fitting that after playing small clubs and theaters amid a myriad of festival dates over the summer, Bloc Party were wrapping up a months-long tour with their largest crowd ever on hand. Don’t ask me what the attendance number was, but I think it’s fair to say the venue was no more than half full. Of course, thanks to LA’s new music festival Music Tastes Good taking place in downtown Long Beach over the same weekend, it wasn’t surprising to see the top two sections of the Bowl completely empty for the latest edition of KCRW’s second World Festival series. But that’s really just how big the Bowl is in size — and how big of an artist/band it takes to sell the place out on a Sunday night in late September.

Feeding off the raw energy of Mould’s punk-fueled set, Okereke (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboards, sampler), Lissack (lead guitar, keyboards), Justin Harris (bass guitar, keyboards, saxophones, backing vocals) and Louise Bartle (drums, percussion) dove immediately into their newest material, following a setlist that closely resembled, yet didn’t match past ones from the tour. For as high as Hymns has charted all across Europe and Australia though, the strength of Bloc Party’s live show remains firmly grounded in their first two LPs. If anything, their Hollywood Bowl debut, highlighted by A Weekend in the City fan favorites “Song for Clay (Disappear Here)” and “Hunting for Witches” in addition to Silent Alarm classics “Helicopter” and “This Modern Love” during a five-song encore, brought back memories of what it felt like to hear those songs for the first time. I know they say you shouldn’t live in the past, but for a little more than an hour in the Hollywood Hills, Bloc Party made it feel OK to do just that.

Setlist:
Only He Can Heal Me
So Real
She’s Hearing Voices
Mercury
Song for Clay (Disappear Here)
Banquet
Two More Years
Different Drugs
Octopus
Hunting for Witches
Virtue
Positive Tension
The Love Within

Encore:
Stunt Queen
Flux
Helicopter
Ratchet
This Modern Love

The Avett Brothers take us inside their new album for an intimate performance at Apogee Studio

The Avett BrothersPhotos by Davis Bell // Written by Josh Herwitt //

The Avett Brothers //
Apogee Studio – Santa Monica, CA
September 19th, 2016 //

Before The Avett Brothers were ever THE Avett Brothers, Seth and Scott Avett were Margo and Nemo. Margo was Seth’s high school rock band, and Nemo was Scott’s band that he formed in college. While Seth’s band would eventually merge with Scott’s to form an even bigger Nemo, it wasn’t until the two brothers self-released their debut EP, titled The Avett Bros., in 2000 that their partnership as an eclectic folk-rock outfit was realized.

More than 15 years later, The Avett Brothers are riding high after their ninth and latest studio album True Sadness debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart when it dropped back in June. The LP, which Seth describes as “a patchwork quilt, both thematically and stylistically,” drew its fair share of applause and jeers from the music media, but in the file-sharing world we live in now, selling 40,000-plus copies in an album’s first week ain’t half bad.

The Avett Brothers


The Avett Brothers & KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley (center)

Currently on tour in support of True Sadness, The Avett Brothers followed up their Sunday set at KAABOO Del Mar with a private show in Los Angeles for KCRW’s Apogee Sessions the next night. Tucked away on the eastern edge of Santa Monica along an industrial stretch, Apogee Studio is a hidden gem in LA’s ever-growing music scene, a state-of-the-art recording studio that at times doubles as a petite concert venue with a maximum capacity of 200.

What you might not know, though, is that The Avett Brothers are more than just musicians. As we found out during KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley’s interview with Seth and Scott prior to their performance, both are visual artists as much as they are musicians. The sheer number of hours spent creating the album cover for True Sadness more or less proves their attention to every last detail, from the melodies they write to the stories they tell with their lyrics. Of the 14 songs they performed at Apogee Studio, eight of them were from True Sadness, and rightfully so. The Avetts have come a long way since their days as Margo and Nemo, and with legendary producer Rick Rubin at their side throughout it all, there’s no need for them to look back now.

Setlist:
D Bag Rag
True Sadness
Laundry Room
Satan Pulls the Strings
Morning Song
Divorce Separation Blues
You Are Mine
Fisher Road to Hollywood
Smithsonian
Ain’t No Man
Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise
No Hard Feelings

Encore:
Stay All Night
Murder in the City

The Avett Brothers

Is the Santa Monica Pier’s Twilight Concert Series becoming too popular for its own good?

RÜFÜS DU SOLBy Josh Herwitt //

RÜFÜS DU SOL with Marc Baker //
Santa Monica Pier – Santa Monica, CA
August 11th, 2016 //

Nothing says summer in Los Angeles quite like the Twilight Concert Series. Whether you live near the beach or not, the free shows at the Santa Monica Pier have become one of LA’s best summertime traditions over the years.

But as we found out at BØRNS’ headlining performance (read our review of the show here) last month, the series may be getting too big for its britches. At least part of that sentiment can be attributed to NPR member station KCRW’s curation process, which seemingly gets better and better with each passing year. And of course, it’s worth noting that the recent tragedies across this country have only forced increased security measures and a larger presence from local law enforcement.

That said, the crowd that arrived last Thursday to take in RÜFÜS DU SOL’s show was unlike anything I or anyone else had seen before. Whatever the attendance number was, whether it was 40,000 or 80,000, simply didn’t matter. The fact was, the concert viewing area on the pier couldn’t handle the sheer number of bodies that showed up to watch the Australian alt-dance outfit perform before it headed off to Palm Springs for a special late-night set at Splash House the following day.

What transpired at the pier this time was everything we experienced at the BØRNS show four weeks prior and worse, if that’s even possible. At one point, I didn’t even know if I was going to photograph RÜFÜS DU SOL because the fire marshal shut down the backstage VIP area due to overcrowding (when I finally got escorted back in, the photo pit was completely packed to the gills with mostly VIP guests who were there to watch the show). Had I known it was going to be that much trouble to re-enter, I never would have left to say hello to a friend after opener Marc Baker played for no more than 30 minutes, leaving a longer changeover than expected. I guess I underestimated just how far the Aussie trio has come since first releasing its RÜFÜS EP in early 2011.

RÜFÜS DU SOL

“RÜFÜS … RÜFÜS DU WHO?” some of you might be saying. Though die-hard fans may laugh at those who haven’t heard of the band by now, I’ll be honest — I hadn’t heard of them either until April when I noticed they were listed on this year’s Coachella lineup. Clearly the joke is on me then, because after everything I witnessed from Tyrone Lindqvist (vocals, guitar), Jon George (keyboards) and James Hunt (drums), this shouldn’t have served as my introduction. Yet, there I was, sandwiched in between a bunch of bodies with my camera equipment in tow as RÜFÜS ran through material off their 2013 debut LP Atlas and this year’s follow-up Bloom, both of which have topped the charts in their home country.

There’s something about RÜFÜS DU SOL that makes them undeniably catchy. At times, their sun-drenched, beat-driven songs sound like a cross between Disclosure, Gorgon City and Bob Moses, with Lindqvist hooking listeners with his smooth vocal stylings. Knowing how popular those aforementioned groups have become, it made perfect sense that the pier was as packed as it was for RÜFÜS less than a week after they performed for the first time at Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival (read our review here) in San Francisco.

So, is there anything that can be done to keep the Thursday night crowds at the Santa Monica Pier to a more reasonable level going forward? If it means having to issue tickets — either on a first-come-first-serve basis or even for a small fee — for those who want to watch the show on the pier, then so be it. And while that change may not happen this year with only four shows left, don’t be surprised if it happens in 2017, assuming the Twilight Concert Series returns for its 33rd edition next summer.

After all, when in doubt, you can always still catch the show from the sand.

First Times: Covering a show at the Hollywood Bowl

Kurt Vile & The ViolatorsBy Josh Herwitt //

Sufjan Stevens with Kurt Vile and The Violators, Ibeyi //
Hollywood Bowl – Los Angeles
August 7th, 2016 //

No matter what you think of LA, whether you love it, hate it or hold no opinion of it at all, the Hollywood Bowl has remained universally loved as one of the city’s most prized possessions. It’s safe to say that the Bowl, as us Angelinos like to call it for short, has always stood as one of the world’s most legendary outdoor music venues. In fact, it’s still considered the “largest natural amphitheater” in the U.S. (whatever that means) at 17,500, but just do a quick Google search for “best outdoor music venues in the U.S.” and you’ll see how often it’s included in listicles ranking the best amphitheaters in the country. For that reason alone — although the glitz and glamour of LA have certainly never hurt — there has always been an understanding within the music industry that any artist who headlines a show inside the Bowl’s iconic band shell has officially “made it.”

Though I don’t know if the same can be said for my music journalism career, there have been at least a few bright spots, one as most recently as last Sunday, when I was invited to cover my first show at the Bowl. It might sound cliché (actually it definitely sounds cliché), but never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would get credentialed for a show at one of music’s most storied and historic venues, one that I grew up going to regularly as a kid. When you write for a small music blog like this one, getting the opportunity to cover a show at the Bowl doesn’t come around all that often, if ever. And what a show it turned out to be.

With a bill headlined by neo-psychedelic folk singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens and featuring sets from lo-fi indie rocker Kurt Vile with his backing band, The Violators, and French-Cuban soul/R&B duo Ibeyi, the lineup of performers on this night was eclectic to say the least. Yet, with two of the three acts already in California to play Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival (read our review here), NPR member station KCRW made sure to take advantage for its World Festival series.

Sufjan Stevens


Sufjan Stevens

It’s always tough for an opener to play the Bowl, and unfortunately Ibeyi had to find that out the hard way for its first appearance. With the show’s early start time due to the Bowl’s 10:30 p.m. curfew on Sundays (it slides back to 11 p.m. Monday-Saturday), most of the seats were empty when twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz took the stage at 7 p.m. sharp. It wasn’t until 7:40 p.m., when Vile and his three bandmates were subsequently up next, that the amphitheater started to fill up, especially in the upper-level sections. Vile, who has been touring heavily since the release of his sixth solo album b’lieve I’m goin down…, let out a few hoots and hollers as he opened his 50-minute set, doing his best to pump up the somewhat subdued crowd. But it was his music that ultimately got fans excited, leaning heavily on his newest material as he moved between electric guitar, acoustic guitar and banjo.

The spectacle of the night, however, was no doubt Sufjan Stevens’ set. The Michigan native, who professed his love for his home state on his 2003 LP, had it pretty rough growing up, as he details in “Should Have Known Better” from his latest studio effort Carrie & Lowell. The album, which recounts some of the more unsettling moments Stevens shared with his late mother (Carrie) and stepfather (Lowell) — including times when Carrie abandoned him as a child — and the emotional pain he felt following her death in 2012, has taken his career of almost 20 years to new heights, with many music critics pronouncing it his best yet.

On this evening though, Stevens did his best to spin things in a positive light, proclaiming at one point that he wanted to “sing about life” after spending “a year-and-a-half singing about death.” “Feel your heart and your lungs and the warmth of your skin, and know you’re alive,” he told us in between songs while preaching that we as a society need “less resistance” and “more acceptance.” Coming from a man who dons a pair of giant wings, a neon-colored track suit and at times, a bizarre balloon costume onstage, a spiritual pep talk as such could sound like a bunch of hocus pocus to glass-half-empty types. But the stories Stevens tells on Carrie & Lowell are real and heartfelt, ones that take guts to broadcast publicly like he does, and with a rainbow of fluorescent lights covering the Bowl’s band shell once night fell, the final stop on his 2016 summer tour felt more like a celebration of sorts than a memorial service. So, as the man in a foil-like suit ran through the crowd at the start of his encore, which concluded with a tribute to another one of his fallen heroes in Prince, I couldn’t help but smile and take it all in, knowing full well that the chance to cover a show at the Bowl may never come my way again.

SUFJAN STEVENS

Setlist:
Seven Swans
Too Much
All of Me Wants All of You
Come On! Feel the Illinoise!
I Walked
Vesuvius
Blue Bucket of Gold
Fourth of July
Should Have Known Better
Carrie & Lowell
I Want to Be Well
Impossible Soul
Chicago

Encore:
Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois
For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti
Kiss (Prince cover) (with Moses Sumney)

KURT VILE & THE VIOLATORS

Setlist:
Dust Bunnies
I’m an Outlaw
Jesus Fever
Goldtone
KV Krimes
Walkin’ on a Pretty Day
Pretty Pimpin’
Puppet for the Man
Freak Train

IBEYI

Setlist:
Elleggua
Lost in My Mind
Mama Says
I’m on My Way
Oya
Think of You
Oddudua
River

Nas preaches positivity while closing out this year’s Sound in Focus series in style

Sound in Focus - NasBy Josh Herwitt //

Sound in Focus: Nas with Wild Belle //
Annenberg Space for Photography – Los Angeles
July 23rd, 2016 //

It’s hard to beat summer in LA. With longer days and warmer nights, there’s always so much to do in the City of Angels during this time of the year. But part of what makes summers in LA so special are the countless opportunities to see live music and best of all, for free. From the Twilight Concert Series on Thursday nights at the Santa Monica Pier to Saturdays Off the 405 at the Getty Museum, you can catch a show — if not multiple shows — in LA every week from July to September for little to no money.

Right along those lines, KCRW’s Sound in Focus concert series is just another reason why summertime in LA has its advantages. For the past few years, the NPR member station has shown its appreciation for photography by welcoming a wide array of musicians, including indie-rock stalwarts like Portugal. The Man, Band of Skulls, TV on the Radio and Cold War Kids (read our review of their 2015 show here), to what was once unchartered territory as far as concert spaces in LA go. And in many ways, the Annenberg Space for Photography, as a result, has proven to be the perfect location for KCRW to combine its love for music and the arts by offering fans of all ages the chance to explore the museum’s newest exhibit and see well-established artists perform for free with a simple RSVP online.

After last year’s roster, which featured old-school hip-hop group De La Soul and country music legend Dwight Yoakam as headliners, it was somewhat surprising to see Grammy-nominated rapper Nas (born Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones) listed next to psych-folk collective Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and eventually Senegalese singer/guitarist Baaba Maal when the 2016 Sound in Focus lineup dropped last month (Maal’s performance was revealed at a later date). Not because KCRW had booked a hip-hop act for a second straight year, but more that it had booked a hip-hop act of Nas’ stature. You don’t have to look much further than his two million Twitter followers, in stark contrast to Edward Sharpe’s 105,000 and Maal’s 5,750, to understand that. It should go without saying then that Mr. Jones is easily the biggest artist KCRW has ever booked for Sound in Focus in its three years running.

Sound in Focus 2016 - Nas

On the other hand though, Nas hasn’t released an album in more than four years. Better yet, it’s been more than three since the Brooklyn native disclosed he had begun work on his 12th studio album, the follow-up to 2012’s Life Is Good. In this day and age of instant gratification, that’s often three years too long to keep fans waiting. With so many options to choose from, it’s becoming harder and harder to remain relevant, even for a hip-hop artist of Nas’ caliber.

But there’s also something to be said for releasing eight straight platinum records, even if Nas doesn’t have any Grammys to go along with them. So, if last Saturday’s show was supposed to be Nas’ reminder to the world that he’s still working and grinding like he always has since the early 90’s, then a whole lot of fans got to hear that message loud and clear after Wild Belle’s opening set.

With the anticipation building, Nas arrived onstage with energy and purpose, immediately diving into his I Am…. anthem “Hate Me Now” that’s almost two decades old at this point. A little bit later, he would end up waxing poetic on “One Mic”, the third single off his 2001 LP Stillmatic that was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award. Yet, more important than the songs Nas chose to perform or the albums he drew from was the postivity he preached to the crowd before calling it a night. At a time of racial and social unrest in the U.S., he imparted optimism and encouraged everyone who stood before him to chase their dreams, whatever they may be. For an emcee who once proclaimed that “hip-hop is dead,” that’s seemingly quite a change in rhetoric.