Sunday, July 22, 2018

We Are The West at 701 Santa Monica Blvd, 7-21-18 Concert Review

We Are The West performing "A New Haven"
We all need a little magic now and then. More now than then. And a couple of months ago I found it in a parking garage on the corner of Santa Monica and 7th. A moment of bliss, of being lifted up, of being connected to others; not just that, but connected to the best in others. A rare thing, these days, and something I was eager to experience again. And so last night I made the trek down the 405 freeway to Santa Monica, to the parking garage where We Are The West hold monthly services. This time there wasn’t as much artwork on the walls, and no upright piano. There were, however, two new speakers set up toward the back of the stage – tall, golden speakers, the color of course appropriate for the band’s new album, The Golden Shore. The band was just coming off a couple of shows in northern California, and will soon be hitting the road again, with several dates planned in the Pacific Northwest, and with a gig in Hawaii before that. But for one night they’d be relaxing in Santa Monica.

While folks were coming in, a DJ was spinning some excellent records – Donovan, The Lovin’ Spoonful, and so on. Then, a little before 9 p.m., John and Brett introduced Assateague, the opener they chose for last night’s show. I had listened to a couple of tracks earlier in the day, and liked what I heard. The footage I had seen was of at least three guys, but last night the lead singer and guitarist performed solo. “Usually I play with a band, so I’m trying to think of songs to play without a band,” he told the audience after his first song. His voice reminded me a bit of early Neil Young at times near the beginning of his set, but those comparisons disappeared for me as he played, as I got more and more into what he was doing. He finished his set at 9:38 p.m. Perhaps he got the DJ thinking of Neil Young too, for during the break between artists we were treated to “The Loner.”

We Are The West began just after 10 p.m., John starting things on bass as Brett strapped on his guitar. Last time I saw them, they were accompanied by musicians on piano and drums. This time it was saxophone and drums (Sylvain Carton and Corey Fogel, respectively). They eased in with somewhat soothing tones, creating a strong atmosphere, and after a few minutes, Brett recited the poem printed on the inside of the album cover. The music gradually became more intense, with some harsher sounds on guitar, leading directly into “More Machine Than Man,” the lyrics of which at first are also delivered as spoken word, helping for a seamless transition from the poem. It’s interesting that they chose to open with a song that is wild and at times eerie (as when Brett sings “in the final days of men”), rather than building to it. We were immediately placed in another realm, completely in the band’s hands, descending into chaos, from which it was up to them to lift us. Without pausing, they went into “A New Haven,” which had a more easygoing vibe and ended gently. It was an intriguing opening to the show, and not what they had planned. As they mentioned afterward, “We made a list and then we decided to throw it out.”

They then played “Good Luck (And All That Stuff),” a song with a cheerful sound (for the most part). With it, the band successfully lifted us from the strange land it had brought us to at the beginning of the set. This song featured some nice stuff on saxophone.  They then went into “The Hammer,” which had some wonderfully pretty moments. After that, they returned to music from the new album, The Golden Shore, beginning with the album’s title track, which they eased into. Sylvain Carton switched to clarinet for this one. Throughout the show, he got some incredible and unusual sounds from both the clarinet and the saxophone. “The Golden Shore” featured some beautiful vocal work. They mentioned they’d done more than seventy shows in this garage, and also pointed out their new speakers. “If things sound a little different, it’s because we just got this garage even more customized, with some custom speakers.” Then they launched into “For Me, For You,” one of my personal favorites. This song is a total delight, and I love it more each time I hear it.

Before “Sea Of Light,” also from The Golden Shore, Brett played a bit of something new, an idea of a song that isn’t yet complete or named. He played it solo, then stopped abruptly and changed gears for “Sea Of Light.” Who knows, perhaps that other idea will become more fully formed in time for August’s garage show. I’m looking forward to hearing where it will go. By the way, the presence of saxophone on “Sea Of Light” really made that song one of the highlights of the show. Then, at Brett’s urging, John told the story behind the writing of “Any Day Of The Week.” “Once upon a time, I moved far away, and it seemed like a really big deal to me,” John began. He mentioned that people can suddenly move somewhere, and it can happen quickly, in a day, any day. “We could just move to Spain, tomorrow, if you wanted to,” he said. He then added, “You could move to Culver City,” which got a laugh from the crowd. Sylvain played clarinet on this one, and his brief lead toward the end was wonderful. I love the sweet, gentle, comforting feel of this song. And it was followed last night by “From The Bower,” which has become my favorite We Are The West song. It’s so beautiful. Sylvain Carton sat this one out, and Corey Fogel added just a bit of light stuff on cymbals. “It's all going to change/Everything's changing/You don't look the same/Why is it so confusing?

For “Crops,” a woman (I am not sure of her name) joined the band on mandolin, which was wonderful. This was a really good rendition, with some cool percussion in addition that delicious mandolin. Then Heath Cullen joined them on electric guitar for “The Watchers.” Brett played a bit of “Sorrow” as a lead-in to that song, singing “With your long blond hair and your eyes of blue/The only thing I ever got from you was sorrow” and a few more lines. That song was done by The McCoys and The Merseys in the 1960s, and later by David Bowie. “The Watchers” was beautiful at times, with some interesting work from everyone on stage. “Everything’s in motion,” indeed! Heath Cullen also played electric guitar on the night’s final song, “Tonight’s Tonight.” Before starting that song, Brett mentioned the upcoming Hawaii trip, and how they’re going to be in a movie there, playing their music in a couple of scenes. “You've got visions in your head/But you’ve got to deal with this now instead/Fortune rains from above/To lose is to love.”  The show ended at 11:22 p.m.

Set List
  1. More Machine Than Man >
  2. A New Haven
  3. Good Luck (And All That Stuff)
  4. The Hammer
  5. The Golden Shore
  6. For Me, For You
  7. Sea Of Light (Dirty Ditty)
  8. Any Day Of The Week
  9. From The Bower
  10. Crops
  11. Sorrow >
  12. The Watchers
  13. Tonight’s Tonight
 Here are a few photos from the show:

"The Golden Shore"
"For Me, For You"
"The Watchers"
"Tonight's Tonight"

The next show at the parking garage is scheduled for August 25, 2018.

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