Concerts, Music

Concert Diaries: Early Winters and The Pierces At the Hotel Cafe

When it comes to concerts in LA, I tend to repeat my mistakes. Instead of booking tickets the minute they come out on sale – and believe me, it’s easy to be privy to “secret” pre-sales and special offers – I postpone my buying until the last minute. Nine times out of ten, or maybe three times out of ten, please feel free to insert any statistical value here that drives my point home, the tickets are sold out. And then I have to trawl Craigslist, eBay, Stubhub, even users who say they’re going, in order to come up with tickets at the last minute.

But it is possible to get tickets second-hand, of course. Fun things have happened when I went to get them. Like the bus journey that lasted half a day, involved a long walk through a golf course and by a duck pond, and culminated in me fidgeting near a pool party. A guy wearing a wife-beater and flanked by three gorgeous women took a wad of tickets out of his cargos and picked four for me. After accepting  payment, he asked me if I would like to join the party. I had a birthday party to attend, and I declined. I regret that. But the Feist concert proved to be wonderful, and I managed to sell two of my tickets and broke even, hah!

The Pierces were a band I had stumbled across thanks to a recommendation from a Gossip Girl addict, and much of early 2010 was spent tripping on Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge. It’s a brilliant album, the two sisters spinning their addictive melodies over lyrics that spoke of secrets, boredom and making love with the lights on. I heard of their appearance at the Hotel Cafe when attending the Ariana Hall appearance at the same venue, a few weeks ago. Did not buy tickets, did not pass go, landed up at the venue early today hoping to get some. They were preceded by a band called Early Winters, and the sign said that the venue would be cleared after their set ended. Undeterred, I got in for the first set. A fine performance by the band more than made up for a somewhat-long work-day. The lead singers were a Canadian dude and a British lady, and their other band members were in New Zealand and Japan when they collaborated on their album over Skype video chats.

Soon after the venue was cleared, we went outside and stood on the aisle of shame. “Back up against the wall, please”, the lady at the gate kept repeating to us, and the two Middle-eastern women in front of me giggled all throughout. After some nerve-wracking minutes, they finally agreed to let us in. I fist-bumped the bouncer, swooped in to say hello to the lead singer of Early Winters, who was selling merchandise near the front door – got a signed CD from her, my third CD in 2 weeks, looks like a bad habit’s in the making – and sauntered in. The sisters rocked the set, debuting songs from their new album and totally bringing the house down with old favorites. The Hotel Cafe, ladies and gentlemen. I have a feeling I’ll become a regular here.

Concerts, Music

Concert Diaries: Ariana Hall, Live At The Hotel Cafe

The Hotel Cafe, located on Cahuenga and Hollywood Boulevard, is an odd little place. You’re supposed to enter around the back, and they don’t card you when going in – or maybe I just looked over 21. You walk inside, pass through a corridor – a door to the side says “Performers only” –  and enter the main hall. There is a stage inside, and six tables close to it, a bunch of chairs clustered around them. That’s it, six tables.  And a bar. And you ponder why this place is considered one of the best music venues in the US, popular enough to warrant its own nationwide tour. A look at previous lineups reveals names like KT Tunstall, Imogen Heap, John Mayer, Weezer and Badly Drawn Boy have played there before.

Oh, and they have a really funny FAQ page.

I was there last evening because pals Amy and Andrew told me about Ariana Hall performing there. Both of them knew Ariana personally, and I had met her before through them. We had a nice dinner together, all four of us, at her place last November, one night before she was due to leave for a tour. While I had heard her CD before, I had never seen her perform. Andrew wasn’t able to make it last evening, but Amy and I decided to go. We bus-ed it to Hollywood. Reached early, strolled along Hollywood Boulevard to the venue.

It’s nearly a year since I’ve been in LA, but going down the the Walk of Fame, seeing the bronze stars engraved in the sidewalk below my feet – known and unknown names on them – still feels surreal. I subconsciously try to avoid walking on the stars themselves, it feels kind of disrespectful. I think the day I begin walking on them is the day I stop making a big deal of being in LA. Don’t want that to happen.

We decided to pop into Umami Burgers, where I ordered an Earth burger. Yes, vegetarian, don’t ask. On the patio outside, they were screening ‘Back to the Future II’ for a bunch of fans – the lovely LA weather made it a beautiful night. The food, though meat-deprived, was delicious.

Done with dinner, we arrived at Hotel Cafe to find all the tables taken, just as the reviewer on Yelp had said (“get there early. Or be prepared to stand around holding your beer”). I tried scouting for a strategic location to do just that, but Amy miraculously managed two chairs around a table where a single lady was sitting. A pretty waitress came by – I liked the way she asked “you guys ok?”, instead of “what can I get you?” We were, but I ordered a Corona anyway.

There was someone already on stage – a pretty lady with a guitar, singing sad love songs, with the right amount of humor in between (“That was supposed to be a downer”, she quipped, when the audience whooped in appreciation after a song). Her name, I found out later when looking up the calendar, was Brooke Northrop. She’s pretty darn good – listen to ‘Room to Breathe’ on her page. “Just wait till Ariana starts”, Amy whispered, noticing my reactions.  Hmm, talk about expectation-buildup. Brooke finished her set with a Ben Folds cover, and the crowd suddenly began to swell. In about 4 minutes, there were four taps on my shoulder, people asking if I was staying for the next show. Oh yes, I was, thank you.

Amy was right. Ariana live knocked my socks off. She started with ‘Mmm(I Like You)’. I had heard the song before on her website, and it did not do much for me. But live, stripped of the violin and the bells and with just a voice and a guitar, the song bubbled with delicious passion. For the next bunch of songs, a bunch of musicians joined her – a guitarist and occasional banjo/ukulele player, a drummer and a bassist switching between a double bass and an electric bass guitar. Ariana herself switched between the guitar and the piano. Most of the songs she sang were original compositions, some of them were co-written, and nearly all of them were like gut-punches that made me grin like an idiot.

The positive response from the audience was tremendous. At one point, it felt like Ariana knew everyone in there; knowing her, it wouldn’t be that far-fetched. One of the songs that stood out for me was  a musical interpretation of a Tony Barnstone poem called ‘The War is Over’, because of the playful way it began, and the words. Umm, not that I knew who Tony Barnstone was before Ariana mentioned the source, his book Tongue of War, a collection of poems on World War IIAnother song had the musicians step away from the microphones to go totally unplugged, made possible only because of the intimacy the venue offered. Every note, every strum rang clearly through the hall, and the applause at the end of it was impressive. Amy’s whoops, for the record, put everyone else’s to shame. I tried matching up, but a recent cold had soaked away my vocal chords. Ariana went on to play one of her songs from the movie Au Pair Kansas, and ended her set with a two-song medley, one of which was from an upcoming Judd Apatow movie. (Where she sings. And plays herself. This woman is unstoppable.)

At the end of it all, Ariana sang out her thank-you’s, but we did not let her go that easy. She wrapped it up with a single-song encore – which I found a bit of a downer, but hey, you can’t have it all. I’ve decided I like Hotel Cafe a lot, and apparently the Pierces are playing there on January 17th. For the $15 admission fee and the kind of vibe about the place, it’s totally worth the price of admission. I am so there.

Then I got back home and ironed clothes until 2 AM, with ‘Mmm (I Like You) playing in my head.


(Not from yesterday, but a good live performance of the song by her. Ignore the noise of the crowd.)