Review: KCRW’s “Are Friends Eclectic?” Holiday Benefit Bash, Orpheum Theatre, December 3, 2011

White Denim’s James Petralli by Jeremiah Garcia

I was fortunate to be able to attend KCRW’s winter holiday benefit concert “Are Friends Eclectic?” this weekend past at the venerable Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. For those that couldn’t make it to the soiree, here is a ten-second recap, Losanjealous-style:

Mia Doi Todd started the proceedings. She was allowed one song. That, or she only played one song. She sounded great. Following the five-minute set by Mia I discovered that the evening, comprising ten acts, would unfold in a Front of Curtain, Behind Curtain sort of pattern – and that witty banter (or something resembling it) would be provided from the KCRW on-air DJ personalities, themselves an eclectic crew, situated in the foremost house-right balcony, Statler and Waldorf style.

Other Lives followed, behind the curtain. This was my first time catching the Stillwater band and I am pleased to report they sounded as great as Spotify would lead you to believe. They represented my home state of Oklahoma more than adequately and were one of my favorite acts of the night.

Following Other Lives, Belle Brigade appeared in front of the curtain. I’d been force-fed a few of their songs for some months and I am pleased to say their harmonies did not disappoint.

Austin act White Denim followed. Full confession, this was the band I was most looking forward to seeing, and they did not disappoint. I had not seen the band perform for a few years and their latest material (do give the album D a spin) sounded stellar live. Further confession that somewhere in here I began nitpicking the sound mix in the theatre, got up after the final song, grabbed a cocktail and made a silent resolution to enjoy the acts, sound mix be damned.

Secret Sisters were next, front of curtain. One of them liked to talk. A lot! Props for their closing cover of the “Steve Martin Date Song” from the Jerk (“Tonight You Belong to Me” – ed). However, I noticed a peculiar thing, and if they read this, the Secret Sisters will probably crucify me, but it appeared that although they personally stayed in perfect harmony throughout the a cappella cover, they began the song in one key and ended the song in quite a different key. Hey, that’s what I heard. Don’t shoot the messenger. I welcome a re-singing on my voicemail if I heard incorrectly. I will pull out my tuning fork. Props for a cappella just the same.

Anna Calvi
followed. Prior to her act we were told, by a silver-clad DJ Valida in the Statler-Waldorf balcony, that she was a sight to behold. Or something along those lines. Anna sounded good. If you want the Hollywood pitch, think the tamer stylings of PJ Harvey meet the tamer fretwork of Stevie Ray Vaughan – that will get you somewhere in the vicinity. I enjoyed the set but I expected something more, given the introductory hype. Feels like Anna, moreso than most of the acts on the bill, would benefit from a longer set time. I don’t think she got the chance to open up. I was also on my third cocktail, so read into that what you will.

Zee Avi was next. And yes, Zee Avi fans, she did play the Morrissey cover “First of the Gang to Die.” She also threw in a couple of lines from “Pumped Up Kicks” which seemed a bit of a superfluous play for legitimacy (hey, that’s me). She has a great voice; she should not squander it covering everybody else’s stuff. Zee played a few songs and then we were left with a few heavy hitters.

Jimmy Cliff probably needs little introduction. Then again, it’s been a while since I scoured the demo data for this website. Maybe he needs all kinds of introduction. He is a reggae heavy-hitter. His set brought the theatre to its feet for the first time all night. By this time the show was tracking about an hour later than promised, but I knew this was going to happen when I started pacing frantically after Mia came on the stage a few minutes late. Jimmy got big applause for all of his hits, many of which can all be found on the The Harder They Come movie soundtrack. [Reggae Homework Assignment: Watch Harder They Come, Rockers, and Countryman in one long weekend. If you remember any parts of them, you now know a lot about reggae.] He delivered said hits with a huge band while wearing a shimmering outfit that he may or may not have stitched together after stealing Valida’s dress. He also got big applause for “I Can See Clearly Now”, at which point I annoyed concertgoers in my perimeter by reminding them that song is in fact a Johnny Nash song from the 1970s which Jimmy re-recorded for the Disney Jamaican Bobsled movie Cool Runnings in the early 1990s. Christ, I’m old.

Brett Dennen followed Jim, front of curtain. Brett sounded great. As a general observation, and I think this holds water for all front-of-curtain acts that were allowed more than one song, front-of-curtain acts heaped praises on KCRW, the station. Behind-the-curtain bands were too busy to pay respect. That is not a hard-and-fast rule, but a general pattern which I did observe.

The final act was Iron & Wine. If you haven’t been keeping up with Sam, his set was much louder than you might expect. Full band; decent set but nothing topping Jimmy Cliff according to the legs of the fickle, questionably eclectic crowd. Fortunately for those legs Jimmy came back out during this set.

So at this point no doubt you want to know: Are Friends Eclectic?
Oh hell. I must be honest guys, I still don’t get the title. Who came up with that trite piece of doggerel? First time I heard it on radio I thought it was Our Friend Eclectic. Benefit concert titles aside you know I love you always KCRW; job well done. R

White Denim by Jeremiah Garcia

Belle Brigade by Jeremiah Garcia