It might seem odd to say that a singer’s voice is his best asset, but in the case of David Gray, it’s worth noting. His voice perfectly punctuated the power of his beautiful music, yet the rougher, more masculine tone gives it a mesmerizing juxtaposition. I’m guessing he’s aware of this because he stepped right onto that Los Angeles stage at The Greek Theater for an Acapella rendition of “One Fine Morning”, which roused the audience the moment he arrived (see video below). He then effortlessly moved to the piano, where he delivered a stadium worthy performance with the feel of a small dive bar. And just when you thought it couldn’t get better, the multi-instrumentalist grabbed his guitar.
It feels as if you’ve just discovered David Gray. As if you’re about to run home, CD in hand, hijacking your friends stereo to introduce them to this great underground artist they just have to hear. Nowadays, that process comes in the form of a link, but it’s all the same love for music with an immediate desire to share that love with the world.
David Gray is a live artist. Artists come in many forms, and some of my personal favorite albums aren’t quite up to snuff with what happens on stage. There’s many reasons for that, but when a musician exceeds the album, it’s magic. My favorite song of the night was “The One I Love,” given that Gray slightly changed the arrangement to give the tune a more upbeat, live-band feel. He saved “Babylon” for the end, along with “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” and “Nightblindness.” Though one might think “Babylon” served as the evening’s highlight, I must reiterate that because each and every performance was better than the next, this was not a wait-for-the-hits concert. Every second was used wisely, and I’ll now be attending every Gray concert possible from now on.
Gray’s 10 album, 25-year career has positioned him as one of the UK’s leading artists. The Grammy-nominated musician’s latest studio album, Mutineers, set itself apart from previous albums, while simultaneously satiating his oh-so-loyal fan base. Gray also released a greatest hits collection entitled The Best of that included a re-recorded 25th Anniversary version of “Shine” and new tracks “Smoke Without Fire” and “Enter Lightly.” He is currently in the studio recording a new album which is set for release in 2018.
As for Alison Krauss, she certainly does not need my accolades. She’s a polished live performer with a stellar backup band and a very loyal audience who appeared to be hyper-focused on her every move. It takes a top-notch artist to command such respect, and Krauss proves she’s worthy, time and time again. In fact, as the Gray/Krauss show neared its end, my inner monologue was on overdrive as I thought, “Wow, here’s two people who proved what a show looks like when it’s just about the music. Here I am, under the stars at one of the best venues in Los Angeles, watching the purest of people share their gift with the world. The audience’s attention span reflected that. Just pure, unaffected joy.
It’s impossible to discuss one’s love of Counting Crows without enmeshing them into every life experience, because the band that has sold more than 20 million albums has also mastered the art of making you feel as if you’re part of some secret society of elevated taste mixed with emotional, lonesome musings. I was eleven years old for their August and Everything After debut, and around fourteen for their follow-up, Recovering the Satellites. That angst-driven period was met with the calming force that was Counting Crows, and I ached to learn more about the band. Much to my satisfaction, there was a fan club, which welcomed frequent visits from lead singer Adam Duritz, who, far ahead of his time, took down what’s now referred to as “twitter trolls” or “haters” with an ease and humor that suggested the man behind this sensitive, soul-searching music was also a shrewd, gruff guy who wouldn’t take any crap. He also gave the fans some personal insight into his life, along with tidbits of details about each song.
Adam Duritz has inserted names in almost Counting Crows every song, and he’s spent nearly all of his interviews answering questions as to their identity, as if each individual described is our personal friend, and we’d like to know who they are, whether they’re okay, and if they rode off into the distance with Duritz to live happily ever after. Who is the elusive “Maria,” for example? After all, Duritz himself says “There’s a piece of Maria in every song that I sing.” She has appeared in five Counting Crows songs, and his rabid fan base has always inquired as to her identity. Duritz once relented and explained that she is in fact Duritz himself, “through the eyes of a girl, but it’s someone very much like [him] struggling at the edge, not sure if she’s going to fall off on one side or the other.” And what about “Anna” from “Anna Begins?” According to Duritz, she actually exists. They met on vacation in Australia and sadly decided to go their separate ways at the end of the trip, but she’s “every girl you ever felt that way about, too.” The list goes on and on, but the questions represent something much bigger. We want to know the truth behind each song because we’re so connected to the lyrics.
After watching Counting Crows perform at The Greek, I scoured social media and noticed nearly every post was coupled with a sample of their song lyrics, because above all, that’s what speaks to us. They co-headlined with Rob Thomas, giving fans two for the price of one, with their style, talent, and energy easily complimenting one another. Of the coupling, Duritz said, “Twenty years ago Rob and I were like kids running around Italy in the middle of the night getting drunk and playing gigs. I still love nothing more than touring with my friends. This is going to be a great summer.” Their concert follows Counting Crows’ 2014 release, Something Under Wonderland, and Thomas’ third solo effort, 2015’s The Great Unknown. Counting Crows is largely known for changing the arrangements on their songs during their live performances, but this was the closest to their record that I’ve seen in some time. And while I was expecting the crowd to go crazy for their most-loved hits (i.e. Mr. Jones), I noticed something special. The crowd’s dedication was equally distributed, because true Counting Crows fans love every song with equal elation. They’re just happy to be there and support the band they’ve loved for decades. With a devoted fan base, unforgettable songs, and extremely talented musicians who clearly love to play together, this tour is not to be missed. There are a few dates left. Visit their website for tickets.
Wed Sep 14, San Diego, CA Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre at SDSU
Fri Sep 16, Indio, CA Fantasy Springs Resort Casino
Sat Sep 17, Las Vegas, NV Downtown Las Vegas Events Center
Mon Sep 19, Denver, CO Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Thu Sep 22, Albuquerque, NM Sands Casino Amphitheater
Sat Sep 24, Allen, TX Allen Event Center
Sun Sep 25, Houston, TX Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion presented by Huntsman
Tue Sep 27, Kansas City, MO Starlight Theatre
Wed Sep 28, St. Louis, MO, Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
Fri Sep 30, Nashville, TN Ascend Amphitheater
Los Angeles natives know there’s always a concert to see and a new venue to visit to scope out underground talent, but as an experienced Angelino, I can tell you that there’s no cooler concert with better live sound than the FIREPIT SESSIONS. Nestled in a secret enclave of Silverlake, and hosted by talented engineer and certified music influencer Adam Labov, the unique, two-day experience offers multiple back-to-back bands whose identity remains a secret until they hit the stage. Though perhaps I could have convinced Adam to reveal the names for “press” purposes, I trust his taste and love the surprise. It’s also impossible to guess because even rock bands take the stage, proving that Adam’s eclectic lineup is one-of-a-kind.
For more information, read my exclusive interview below with the man himself, Adam Labov.
I know you have extensive experience in the music industry. Tell me how you got started in this business.
Whether or not I realized it at the time, I think that it all began when I was 13 years old and saw my first real rock concert, Nirvana in 1993. Even though I couldn’t hear properly for a few days afterward, I knew right away that live music was something I needed to always have in my life. The energy I felt that night was unlike anything I had ever experienced before, and even after attending and mixing thousands of shows, it still continues for me.
In 1999, I took some audio engineer classes and created a home studio to hone my engineering skills. When I moved to LA in 2003, I knew that many studios were having trouble making money, so I figured it was financially risky to open up another studio here. I decided to try my luck with live sound and went to all the live music venues on the Sunset Strip and around town seeking work as a live engineer. I got a call a month later to work at the Key Club and so it began….
When did you first come up with the idea for these Firepit Sessions?
It happened after hosting a huge house party one day in 2008 where I had 5 popular local bands play really loud sets, and the cops (and some neighbors) showed up multiple times. I knew that if I wanted to continue having shows at my house, the format would have to be refined.
A month or so later, I asked my friend Travis Warren if he could bring his acoustic guitar over to perform an intimate, “unplugged” set for my birthday. I invited about 30 friends over and it was an incredibly special time. I’d like to think that night was the beginning of Firepit Sessions.
What is your ultimate goal for these sessions? I know it’s free, but do you anticipate having to charge for entry as it grows in popularity?
Making money from Firepit Sessions has never been a priority or even much of a thought and I’m never planning to charge an entrance fee. Money just complicates things and I’d rather it remain out of Firepit Sessions.
Firepit Sessions has become a passion project for me. I love the idea of being able to host a party like this, where I curate every aspect of the entire weekend and then document it on the website. It’s my way of trying to give back to the Los Angeles music community from which I’ve received so many incredible opportunities and positive experiences.
I want Firepit Sessions to be a safe haven for musicians to experiment with their craft, as well as provide a comfortable place for members of the audience to experience live music in a new light. Many local businesses have generously donated food, libations, and other services and I look forward to partnering with other like-minded people to help Firepit Sessions evolve. Given my erratic travel schedule, the event also serves as the perfect setting for me to see many of my friends at one time, and then introducing those friends to other like-minded people. I love watching those connections being made and then eventually blossoming into other creative endeavors.
How do you choose the band that performs?
I’ve made a long and ever-growing list of bands I want to eventually perform at Firepit Sessions. Many are bands I already work with, or friends of friends. I also have some bands that are likely too well known, but it keeps me motivated to try and make it happen.
Once I find an available weekend for Firepit Sessions, I go through the list and try my best to create a cohesive and diverse lineup based on who is available. I’m beyond grateful to all the musicians that have agreed to perform at Firepit Sessions, some multiple times; especially considering the fact they don’t get paid and I won’t let them publicly promote the shows before they happen.
This has gained a lot of popularity. Are you ever approached by an artist you have to turn down?
Given the infrequent nature of these concerts, only about 10 set times are available in any given year. I’ve had to turn down bands mainly because I already had enough acts booked for that particular session. I try to schedule them for future Firepit Sessions if I think the vibe is right for what is happening over here.
I’ve seen rock bands perform in this rather intimate setting. Do you think it’s a challenge for them to transform their style?
My musical friends are talented and can easily adapt to the space and the unique audio challenges it presents. The biggest issue is the 70+ steps to go up and down for load in/out.
When I first begin to pitch the idea of performing at Firepit Sessions to bands, I always reference “MTV unplugged”. In particular, the episodes with Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Nirvana still remain as some of my favorite concerts because it forced those loud rock bands to become vulnerable by making them step outside their comfort zone to scale things back. It also provided the audience with a less amplified environment, which I believe made the listener feel more connected to the band and vice versa. I find that’s when some of the best performances can happen, and certainly has become one of the ideas behind Firepit Sessions.
A great example of this is the band Fool’s Gold who was kind enough to perform on two separate occasions. Their typical set up was full electric, but for FIrepit Sessions, they incorporated acoustic guitars, scaled back the drums, encouraged audience singing and even rearranged the songs. They turned out to be completely unique performances and totally exemplify the mood I’m going for.
That being said, I’ve upgraded the audio production over the years to be able to accommodate full band set ups and recently received a sponsorship from one of my favorite audio equipment companies. At this point there really isn’t a situation that isn’t “doable”.
Esperanza Spalding fans get a special treat with an exclusive ticket giveaway for you and a guest, courtesy of The Dishmaster. The Grammy award winning Jazz artist will bring her multi-instrumental talents to El Rey theater on Thursday, May 7th, for an unforgettable event. Spalding spoke of her latest ‘Emily’s D+Evolution,’ tour project, explaining it is a “rekindling [of] her childhood interest in theater, poetry and movement,” and she will tell a story that will unfold as live musical vignettes.” For your chance to win, email Info@TheDishmaster.com with the code”SPALDINGDISH.”
It’s difficult to define Shaprece’s sound because she defies boundaries. The up-and-coming Seattle artist graced The Hotel Cafe with her smooth vocals and groovy vibe, against the bold backdrop of an electric cello and ambient electronics, courtesy of Phillip Peterson and IG88, respectively. Her style feels both plotted yet experimental, effortlessly moving between each song in such an enchanting fashion, you might feel as if you’re lost in space. In fact, she sings each lyric with such ease, it’s easy to forget the force of its meaning. Catch her on tour, you won’t regret it.