Saturday, March 18, 2006

Elysian Fields at Tonic

I just came back from a fantastic show, a performance by Elysian Fields. I got into Elysian Fields after hearing Jennifer Charles' work on Lovage, an album she did in collaboration with Dan the Automator and Mike Patton.

Anyway, I got to the show a bit early, and when I went to get my ticket, who should come out to the box office but Jennifer Charles, who wanted to get the piano tuned. I wanted to ask her about reports of a second Lovage album, but didn't want to butt into the middle of her conversation, and soon she was gone back in.

So, onto the show itself. Elysian Fields are a really strong band, but they suffer a bit from the fact that there's not that much variation between their songs. They're fantastic for setting a mood, but with some notable exceptions, the individual songs don't stand out that much. I play EF's music a lot when I'm writing, because the songs create a fantastic atmosphere that enhances what I'm putting down. However, I wasn't sure how that would play live.

As it turned out, it works wonderfully, their live show was one of the most intimate and engaging I've ever seen. The venue was small, with rows of chairs set up in front of the stage and standing room in the back. There was no jumping around or yelling during the songs, everyone's attention was focused on Jennifer.

I recognized about half of the songs they played, but it didn't matter because her live presence was captivating. First off, she's incredibly sexy, whether singing, or talking in ethereal whispers. She was talking about masking tape and it sounded hot. Her singing was phenomenal. Because it was such a small room, it wasn't like she was putting on a show for you, it was like you caught her in a private moment, and she was letting you watch. I love a big, up tempo show, but this was a completely different experience, each song spinning you deeper into their world. No one talked, there was just applause after it was clear that the song was done. That was quite different from any other show I've experienced.

The songs themselves were mostly new stuff, with a few early songs thrown in as well. "Tides of the Moon," and "Lions in the Storm" were great, but the highlight of the night was "Lame Lady of the Highways," which saw all kinds of guitar and vocal distortion, creasing a haze of sound. The sound in the venue was fantastic, largely because it didn't have to be amped up to really loud levels, you could hear Oren's acoustic guitar just as clearly without amplification as you could with.

They played against a backdrop of red curtains, with blue lights shining down, like they were in a David Lynch film, and this felt like the Club Silencio performance. My entire identity wasn't broken down or anything, but it was that similar feeling of getting captured in a moment of song. Great stuff, I'll definitely see them again, they seem to be regulars at Tonic. And a side note, I saw that Julee Cruise performed there a few weeks ago, seeing her on that red curtained stage would have been ridiculous, I'll have to be on the lookout for another show with her.

Anyway, I was frustrated that I didn't get a chance to ask about the Lovage album, so as I was leaving, I decided to head back in and see if Jennifer was around to take questions. The advantage of the venue is that there is no "back," so the performers have to leave through the floor like everyone else.

So, I'm looking around and see her over by the hallway that leads to the bathroom. She's talking to some guy, I figure it's a fan, and I'll wait and ask her when he's finished. They're talking for a while, and I figure it's someone she knows. So, I'm standing in this hallway, ostensibly waiting on line for the bathroom, but really just waiting for her to finish talking.

Her and this guy are going on for a long time, and I'm hearing snippets of their conversation. They're talking about "Mike," who I figure must be Mike Patton, and as they're going on, I notice that this guy is Asian, and I was thinking is she talking to Dan the Automator? So, they're going on and eventually he says something along the lines of "And he was like Dan!" And then I knew, she was talking to Dan the Automator, two thirds of the team behind Lovage was standing right in front of me, and what's more, Dan was at work trying to recruit her for the new Lovage album.

Because I was essentially listening in on a private conversation, I don't want to go into too many details, but the essence seems to be that Jennifer and Mike Patton had some issues with each other while doing the first album, and she was a bit reluctant about returning for the new one. Dan said he wanted her to return, but would work with her on other projects if she didn't want to do another Lovage. It's crazy for me to think that I was there as the album's fate was possibly being decided. I was going to ask her if it was happening, and what should I find, but the actual process of deciding in the works. Crazy stuff.

I didn't want to disrupt Automator's pitch and be responsible for preventing the creation of a second Lovage album, so I waited in that hallway for a while, and when they were breaking up, I went up and asked if he was indeed Dan the Automator. I asked him and Jennifer if the second Lovage album was happening, and he said that they had "explosive chemistry," but were working on it. I asked him a bunch of stuff, and found out that he's got a bunch of stuff coming out later this year, mostly rap things. He also said that he didn't do the second Head Automatica album because he had a dispute with the label, and Daryl Palumbo sided with the label over him. It sounded like he has a lot of issues with the labels he works with, and some suits are in the works. He was there with video director Philip Andelman, whose work I wasn't familiar with, but turns out to be quite a prolific director.

It was really interesting to hear Dan and Jennifer talking, and I'm hoping that they can pull things together for the album. And it's great that I got to meet one of my favorite musicians and actually talk with him for a bit.

So, on the whole it was a fantastic show and a cool bonus afterwards. And I'm hoping that whatever the differences are between Mike and Jennifer, they'll work it out and get the second album going.

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