Tuesday, July 31, 2012

STREET SIGNS - Tumble Vision Street Light

This electric box mural at Micheltorena Street and Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake is by an artist called TumbleVision. He painted another electric box at Sunset Junction that looks exactly like an electrical socket, which kind of gives me flashbacks to when I stuck a key in a socket pretending it was a car ignition when I was 3 and got electrocuted. I prefer this particular streetlight-themed box, especially the side with the illuminated yellow light inhabited by a bird family.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Margaret Cho

Margaret Cho



At Pho 22

2230 Honolulu Ave., Montrose

Margaret Cho is an addict. But it really isn't her fault. Los Angeles is littered with outlets catering to her dependency; some are even open 24 hours. I have friends who are addicted to the substance, and I am even guilty of sitting by while she fed her habit from a steaming hot bowl. That's right, comedian, actress, author, singer-songwriter and social rights activist Margaret Cho is totally hooked on pho.

"I've been kind of obsessed with pho for a while," she admits as she places her order at one of her neighborhood pho establishments, Pho 22.

The restaurant serves standard Vietnamese fare (noodle bowls, summer rolls, fried rice), but is definitely better decorated than most pho cafés. When Margaret's bowl arrives less than 10 minutes after ordering, she remarks on the quickness: "That's what I like about pho. And that you can personalize it. I use almost a whole bottle of Sriracha!"

Who knew that a bowl of noodles would serve as an apt metaphor for Margaret's life? Since winning a comedy contest to open for Jerry Seinfeld and moving to Los Angeles around twenty years ago, Margaret has blazed her own unique career trail that's been full of bumps in the road – yet, she has maintained the same fiery passion every step of the way. Whether it's performing stand-up, acting, singing or writing, she throws herself into each project with gusto. She has starred in numerous one-woman shows that have spawned concert films, best-selling books and Grammy-nominated albums. She is about to embark on an international tour for her new stand-up show, "Mother."

"My mother has been a popular thing in my act for so long. I wanted to do something that was all about her and about being an immigrant," she says. "Also, I want to be a mother at some point. I'm 43, and it's harder as you get older. Motherhood is an idea of what you're supposed to do when you're a woman, what you're supposed to be. The show is a chance for me to put a lot of material about my mother together in one place, and it's about what are you if you don't have any children – are you a mother of the world?"

This concept is something that Margaret has really taken to heart. She is constantly at the forefront of social discourse pertaining to the rights of women, Asians and the LGBT community. Her humanitarian efforts have been honored by organizations like GLAAD, the AALDEF and American Women in Radio and Television. She uses her comedy to encourage debate, inspire change and, of course, to just make people feel good.

"The best thing is to go to a comedy show and just really laugh. It's so rewarding to make people laugh. I want to feel like I've done something good for the world or affected people in a positive way," she says.

Pho 22 in Montrose
As Margaret digs into her bowl of pho, we talk about her childhood memories of her mother cooking at their home in San Francisco.

"It made our house stink because she was always fermenting things in clay pots. I was really ashamed of it growing up because every time white kids would come over they'd be like, 'What's that smell? It smells!' It was so embarrassing. But as an adult, I don't have any of those skills and I wish I learned more about it when she cooked stuff like that. That's sad, to not be able to cook like she did," she confesses.

Although she can't prepare dried squid like her mom, Margaret likes good food. She is the host of a new Food Network show, "Blind Dinner Party," launching this fall.

"I'm not a great chef, but I like to eat. But I did make some stuff for this show. I made pigs in a blanket, which is really simple but fun to make," she shares. "I like the show a lot. It's a great idea to bring strangers together to eat dinner and have to talk about themselves. Often, even if they have really different cultural views, they come together because they're eating. People are nicer to each other despite their ideology. It's really interesting."

If she was to plan her own "Blind Dinner Party," whom would she invite?

"I would love to invite M.F.K. Fisher. She was a great food author from the 1940s. James Beard, he would be a good one too. Julia Child was tight with them, so she would be a great addition," she says. "Anybody who is really interested in food is fun."

Aside from preparing for the premiere of "Blind Dinner Party" and the start of the "Mother" tour, Margaret just received news that she is nominated for an Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series Emmy for her portrayal of Kim Jong Il on "30 Rock" (Click here for a video clip.) She also continues her role as Teri Lee in the fourth season of the hit Lifetime show "Drop Dead Diva," which films in Georgia. All the touring and months of filming away from Los Angeles conjure up one craving for her.

"Pho! My favorite place to get pho is in Chinatown. It used to be called Pho 79, and now it's Pho 97.  I also like Ocean Seafood for dim sum in Chinatown. I think Chinatown is great, they have really good food there," she says. "If I get a chance to go out at night I go to Largo, a really great music and comedy venue. If I go to dinner around here, I like Carousel. The food is amazing, and they have belly dancing shows on the weekend. I was a belly dancer for years. I studied in Cairo and danced in restaurants here. I love it, but it's not something that I have time to do anymore."

The world got to see some of Margaret's dancing prowess when she competed on Season 11 of "Dancing with the Stars." Another of her passions is music.

"My father and mother were both musicians and were really active in the church, so they were in the choir. My mother has a really great singing voice, so I got that from her. I did a lot of piano for years. I play guitar now," she says.

In 2010, she released a musical comedy album, Cho Dependent, featuring collaborations with Fiona Apple, Andrew Bird, Tegan & Sara and more. Some of her favorite L.A. performances have been music-related ones.

"I liked doing the Greek Theatre for the True Colors Tour with Cyndi Lauper and Debbie Harry. That was really phenomenal," she says. "I also loved playing the Wiltern and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, where I did a music show with Bob Mould, Dave Grohl, Ryan Adams and all these other folks last November. It was tremendous."

Margaret is also an avid lover of tattoo art. People might be surprised at how many tattoos cover her body, and a lot of the pieces were done by L.A. artists.

"One of my favorites is Craig Jackman. He has a shop called American Electric on Sunset Boulevard that's really good. Memoir Tattoo is amazing. I've been tattooed by every person in the shop. When I have a lot of money, the best is Mister Cartoon who has this whole compound in Downtown. He's really phenomenal. High Voltage Tattoo, which is Kat Von D's studio, is great. I also love Eddy Deutsche who has a private studio here in Los Angeles. He's an actual legend of tattooing. I'm real lucky with the people that I'm able to get work from because they're the best in the world."

Margaret loves Los Angeles for many other reasons besides the tattoo shops.

"It's where everybody comes eventually. If I need Korean food or pho, there are many different immigrant communities, and their food is so good. When I'm out of town I miss my understanding of L.A. – like the weather, the history of cinema and television. I love the way the cities are laid out, the culture," she says. "L.A. has become so special to me because I spend so little time here. Comedians never have a real home, they're always traveling. You almost don't know what to do with yourself when you're home … It's always going to be special for me to be here."

"Drop Dead Diva" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Lifetime. Margaret Cho brings the Mother Tour to the Wiltern on Dec. 6. For more information, visit margaretcho.com.

Friday, July 27, 2012


This week's guest contributor is one of my favorite music writers because she not only has great taste that spans all genres and time periods, she really knows her stuff and is hilariously witty to boot. Here's China Bialos' REMEMBER WHEN.

The Pogues

The Pogues

Oct. 31, 2007 @ The Wiltern

By China Bialos

Narrowing my hundreds of concert experiences down to a single favorite is rather difficult, largely because the majority of my highlights and rare opportunities occurred outside of Los Angeles. The Good, The Bad and The Queen in San Francisco? Nancy Sinatra or Billy Childish in Seattle? Good luck replicating those, self. When I dig a bit deeper and look to my earliest concert experiences, I'm stuck with embarrassing memories born out of high school tastes, stemming from an oblivion to anything that wasn't played on KROQ between 1995 and 2002. The bitterness of having to watch Bad Religion open for Blink 182 at the Long Beach Arena. Skipping the Homecoming dance to join my mom for Stone Temple Pilots at the Universal Amphitheatre (which, naturally, boasted openers Godsmack and Disturbed).

But plenty of worthwhile bands have popped up around Los Angeles. It wasn't until returning to the city after college, though, that I got over my fear of our freeway system and learned to navigate well enough to explore the many venues of L.A. proper. Unfortunately, I was also post-college poor until getting a respectable job at 23, so I had to be picky about my entertainment choices for a bit.

It was a big splurge, then, to shell out the $55 for a ticket to see the Pogues at the Wiltern in 2007. Yes, a major portion of these funds went straight to Ticketmaster. Before then, I had never paid more than, I don't know, twenty bucks for a concert ticket. So this Halloween show marked the first time I had been a proper adult about spending money on a proper concert ticket for a seated show.

The Pogues played a marvelous set, mostly from their brilliant, two-decades old folk-punk albums If I Should Fall From Grace with God and Rum, Sodomy & the Lash. The lineup, filling the entire Wiltern stage, celebrated Halloween approximately once, by putting on costume hats about halfway through, giggling about it all the while, and matching the mild holiday enthusiasm of the audience, in which only a handful of scattered people had shown up in costume.

They packed two hours of music into a set that followed the casual, conversational William Elliott Whitmore and the overly chatty Ted Leo, and were missing guitarist Phil Chevron, who was being treated for throat cancer (He has since recovered.).

Frontman Shane MacGowan, 49 going on 80, had grown lumpy and tired, hiding
behind a long, black coat, limping offstage every few songs, lisping through a gummy smack as a man only could after losing the majority of his teeth – no doubt the result of forty drinking years. MacGowan also suffered from a good deal of Ozzy-itis, slurring some unintelligible speech between songs but singing with near-perfect clarity. What's that, Shane?


I had been too cheap or too broke to splurge on standing tickets on the main floor, so I had sat up in the top mezzanine, which was about a third full, maybe two-thirds empty. Somewhere near the end of the show, I turned to the people behind me.

"Has he got any teeth left?" I asked them, referring to the pirate-like MacGowan.

"One tooth," a guy said. "He's got one tooth."

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Events for July 26-Aug. 1


The Big Gundown (American Cinematheque)



Spaghetti Westerns Unchained @ Egyptian Theatre (Hollywood)
American Cinematheque's series of Spaghetti Westerns in anticipation of Quentin Tarantino's upcoming Django Unchained kicks off with a double feature of The Big Gundown and The Hills Run Red. Other films in the series include The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, A Fistful of Dollars and the film that inspired Tarantino's title and setting, 1966's Django.


The Fairchilds @ Whisky A Go Go (West Hollywood)
Frontman Cyril Niccolai is a modern-day Renaissance man. The accomplished singer-songwriter studied medicine and law, dabbles in photography, plans to run the New York City marathon, scuba dives, plays tennis and golf, loves food, literature and art and is a total tech geek. His main focus, though, is the Fairchilds. Make sure to check out their new single, "High," featuring guitarist Orianthi.

Sunset Concerts @ Skirball Cultural Center (West Los Angeles)

The Skirball's 16th annual free concert series begins tonight, celebrating the best in world music with the East African, Congolese and Caribbean flavors of Samba Mapangala & Orchestra Virunga. Sunset Concerts runs through Aug. 30 and includes other artists like La Santa Cecilia, De Temps Antan and Eric Bibb's String Band.


Ryan Guzman and Kathryn McCormick (Sam Emerson, SMPSP)


In Theaters This Week
I loved Kathryn McCormick when she was a Season 6 finalist on "So You Think You Can Dance." She takes on her first movie role in Step Up Revolution alongside other "SYTYCD" alums Twitch and Phillip Chbeeb and my favorite choreographer/judge Mia Michaels. Choreography was done by "SYTYCD" alum Travis Wall; Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill star in The Watch. Also in theaters: Klown; Sacrifice; Searching for Sugar Man


"The Producers" @ Hollywood Bowl (Hollywood)
The Mel Brooks musical comedy comes to the Bowl with an all-star cast that includes Richard Kind, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Dane Cook and Rebecca Romijn. Directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Susan Stroman, additional performances are on Saturday and Sunday.



The Big Lebowski @ Cinespia (Hollywood)
The Dude abides. Pre-sale reservations are sold out, so hopefully you'll be able to go early and get in line for the Coen brothers' cult classic. DJs Turquoise Wisdom and Elijah Wood spin before and after the screening.


Dirty Projectors @ The Wiltern (Koreatown)
The New Yorkers just released their latest full-length, Swing Lo Magellan, a unique non-theme album for Dirty Projectors which delves into a more personal realm for frontman Dave Longstreth.


U.S. Open of Surfing (Huntington Beach)
The annual extravaganza of skateboarding, music and, of course, surfing events takes place through Aug. 5 in Surf City. Expect to see athletes like Kelly Slater, Malia Manuel, Taj Burrow and Stephanie Gilmore at the most anticipated ASP Prime event, along with the skating world's Paul Rodriguez, Eli Reed and Ryan Reyes.



Fiona Apple, Blake Mills @ The Palladium (Hollywood)
The enigmatic songstress released her first album in seven years, The Idler Wheel…,  earlier this summer and heads to Los Angeles with the city's own Blake Mills in tow. The guitar virtuoso opens for and accompanies Apple on guitar during her set.

The Memorials @ Troubadour (West Hollywood)
Spearheaded by former the Mars Volta drummer, Thomas Pridgen, along with vocalist Viveca Hawkins and guitarist Nick Brewer, the Memorials bring forth a sound that's as unique and diverse as each of the member's past experience with acts such as Juliette Lewis, Soulive, Cee Lo and Foxy Shazam.




JJAMZ @ The Wiltern (Koreatown)

The supergroup comprised of Jason Boesel (Rilo Kiley), James Valentine (Maroon 5), Alex Greenwald (Phantom Planet) Michael Runion and Z Berg (The Like) just released their debut album, Suicide Pact, July 10. The five members of JJAMZ (pronounced juh-Jamz) are good friends and wrap up their tour with Neon Trees back home in Los Angeles.

Kelly Clarkson @ Hollywood Bowl (Hollywood)
The pop star headlines MYFM's My Big Night Out along with the Fray and support act Carolina Liar.



thenewno2 @ Amoeba Music (Hollywood)
Band members Dhani Harrison and Paul Hicks produced sophomore effort, thefearofmissingout, which is being released today. Join the entire band to celebrate the release with a performance and album signing.


"Memphis" @ Pantages Theatre (Hollywood)

AP calls "Memphis" "The very essence of what a Broadway musical should be." The acclaimed production begins its Pantages run tonight and is sure to transport you to1950s Memphis with music, dancing and soaring emotions. Through Aug. 12.



"Red" @ Mark Taper Forum (Downtown)

Alfred Molina and Jonathan Groff star in the explosive play centered around celebrated bad boy of the art world, Mark Rothko. Paint and emotions collide on canvas as the Russian-American artist works on pieces commissioned by the Four Seasons restaurant in New York.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

L.A. HAVENS - KokeKokko

Yakitori master Tomohiro Sakata at the KokeKokko grill



203 S. Central Ave., Los Angeles (Little Tokyo)

The phrase 'kokekokko' is the Japanese equivalent of 'cock-a-doodle-doo,' the sound of a rooster crowing. Yakitori master Tomohiro Sakata couldn't have chosen a more fitting name for his restaurant, which opened in Little Tokyo over 20 years ago. I love this place so much, I get giddy when I know we're going there for our meat-meal night.

Japanese yakitori are chicken pieces that are skewered and grilled, and they're something that Tomo-san has certainly perfected. He is the heart and soul of the place, where he's always surrounded by clouds of smoke at the helm of the grill in the center of the restaurant. He is gruff and abrupt with his staff, but occasionally smiles as he downs a glass of beer given to him by a customer. He really treasures his regular customers, giving the most loyal of them special black plates with their names printed on top to eat on every time they visit.

When you walk in, besides Chef Tomo in the center of a u-shaped bar area, you'll notice the bamboo decor and various pieces of original artwork depicting him standing at the grill. As soon as you're seated, you're given a hot towel and an amuse-bouche of whatever they have on hand for the day: macaroni salad, marinated daikon with ground chicken, etc.

Breast meat skewer
Tomo-san only uses Jidori chickens, then grills the parts over bincho-tan (white charcoal) that is imported from Japan. You can pretty much try any part of a chicken at KokeKokko – from the traditionally American breast, thigh and wing to liver, gizzard and heart.

Each diner must order at least five skewers (ranging from $2.50 to $3), or you can order their half-course (5 skewers/$16.50) and full-course (10 skewers/$27.50) meals that come with salad and soup (simple but delicious chicken broth). My favorite skewers are the chicken meatballs (so juicy!), breast (served with a dollop of wasabi on top) and hearts dipped in the house-made karashi (spiced mustard). There are bowls of shichimi togarashi (chili flakes and other spices) and sansho (ground sichuan pepper) on each table to sprinkle onto the chicken as well. Diners can also order off-menu parts like neck meat, cartilage and tail (ahem, butt) meat.

Chicken gyoza and soboro
There are several side dishes that I make sure to order too. I am addicted to the soboro (a bowl of rice covered with nori, quail egg and ground chicken stir fried with soy, mirin, sake and ginger). Their chicken gyoza and smoked chicken are amazing, but nothing compares to the off-menu ramen, which is served in the absolutely perfect chicken broth that I mentioned earlier. I actually prefer this simple bowl of ramen to the heavy pork broth served at Daikokuya.

Be warned that the KokeKokko experience takes time. Each skewer is prepared to order, and the waitstaff is usually very busy since the restaurant fills up as soon as it opens. They're always courteous, though – just slow to bring your check at the end of the evening. But this never deters us from returning to the restaurant again and again – at least once a month!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

STREET SIGNS - Bling Bling That Hot Street Thing

Completed in April 2011, Bling Bling That Hot Street Thing was a collaborative effort from Melbourne transplants Dabs & Myla, RIME (aka Jersey Joe) and twin brothers HOW and NOSM (Raoul and David Perre) from New York. It's located in Hollywood, on Wilton Place at Hollywood Boulevard.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Naama Kates

Naama Kates at Squaresville



At Squaresville 

1800 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles (Los Feliz)

Within the first few minutes of meeting singer-songwriter Naama Kates, I learned that she's an avid shoe lover. So it was only appropriate that we sit down for our conversation in the shoe section at Squaresville.

"I have a pair of shoes that I got here that I really love. They're these little red pumps, classic '50s pumps," shares Naama. "I put them on with like a gray and black dress. I like off-matches a lot, so if a dress has a little pink on it I'll wear the red shoes for a pop of color."

The second floor of the vintage store is full of all kinds of shoes and boots, and it's obvious we could spend at least an hour just trying on every pair. Men's clothes are also housed on this floor, and Naama says she likes to peruse these racks for button-down shirts like the one she's wearing today. Downstairs is where the most fun can be had at Squaresville, amidst the rows and rows of dresses, graphic tees and accessories.
Naama trying on shoes and an outfit

"I've been here a bunch of times," says Naama. "This is my neighborhood. I live within walking distance, so I walked here today. I'm really glad I live here in Los Feliz because I like walking. I don't like driving all the time, it's nerve racking."

Besides Squaresville, there are a lot of shops and cafés up Vermont Avenue that Naama enjoys.

"Figaro, right next door, is my favorite café," she says. "I love the two bookstores, Skylight and Skylight Art Books. When I first got here, I went to Skylight, and it was awesome. I bought a book, and they happened to host the author's reading a little bit later."

Having grown up in a small rural town in Connecticut, Naama appreciates the diversity and anonymity of living in Los Angeles.

"When you live in that small of a town, you know everyone. People get all in your business," she says with a laugh. "Here, you meet all types of people who are open-minded and artistic. If you're in arts and entertainment, you need to live in the city to start."

For most of her childhood, Naama was focused on studying ballet, which immersed her in piano music.

"At ballet, there was always a pianist accompaniment," she explains. "My parents listened to a lot of classical music and jazz too. I didn't really develop my own musical taste until later than everyone else. I wasn't one of those kids who was cool and hip to music because I was doing my ballet thing. I moved to New York when I was almost 18, that's when the world of all different types of music really opened up."

New York is where Naama also began her acting career, which eventually led to a trip to Los Angeles for an audition and her eventual migration here in 2009.

"I got here, did acting and got really jaded and wanted to stop," she says. "There was this guy I was dating who was doing his dissertation in music composition. He had some dismissive ideas about me doing music, and after we broke up, I bought a keyboard. I don't know if it was a liberation from the relationship, if that really had that much to do with it. But I thought it would be fun to have the keyboard at my place and have something to do. I did the perfunctory two years of piano as a 7-year-old, so I wanted to print out sheet music and see if I could still read and play it."

The keyboard soon became Naama's best friend. She started writing songs and worked up the nerve to perform her first open mic night.

"It was at Unurban Café in Santa Monica. I could barely play my songs, I would stop and start. I look back and think, 'Oh god, how could I allow myself to do that.' But the guy who ran the night actually liked my music and ended up giving me shows there. I just had an impulse to share my art. Previously, I had a few blogs that were anonymous. But I wanted something more personal, I needed audience feedback."

Naama in a vintage hat
When Naama met musician/producer Cyrus Melchor, a career in music began to become a natural next step.

"I started working with [Cyrus], and then we formed a trio [Naama on vocals/piano, Cyrus on bass/guitar and Andrew Pompey on drums]. The three of us rehearsed every day for two months before recording in the studio, then after that we played our first shows."

Those recordings became Naama's debut album, The Unexamined Life, which was released in May. The title is Naama's tongue-in-cheek response to Socrates' famous quote, "An unexamined life is not worth living." Although it's called The Unexamined Life, Naama drew from her experiences from the past year – grueling auditions, heartbreak, loneliness of moving to a new city – and personal conversations when writing her songs.

"A lot of lyrics on The Unexamined Life are from things people have said to me," she says. "Like on 'Bleeding Heart,' 'rows of hearts I had impaled on the lawn' – that was something someone had said to me once, not phrased that way, but the idea."

Naama is also inspired by everyday life in Los Feliz.

"I take a lot of walks with my headphones. Even though I know this area pretty well already, I do find myself getting lost," she says. "I'll walk onto some little side street or the back lot of a church and there will be a playground there. Little things like that will putt some ideas in my head. So I'll walk back and write at home."

Not only has Naama found fulfillment of expression through music, she has also ventured back to the acting world. Earlier this year, she starred in (co-wrote and composed all the music for) The 10 Commandments of Chloe, which garnered her a Best Actress award from the Los Angeles Movie Awards and Award of Merit at IndieFest.

For more information, visit naamakates.com.

Friday, July 20, 2012

REMEMBER WHEN - Monsters of Folk Tour

Mike Mogis, M. Ward, Jim James and Conor Oberst of Monsters of Folk (Jennifer Tzar)

Monsters of Folk Tour (Bright Eyes, Jim James, M. Ward)

Oct. 14, 2004 @ The Orpheum

As a music journalist, you are often given just one ticket to review a show, which is not that fun. I mean, who really wants to go see a concert by themselves? But I had just started working for the publication that assigned me the review and I had been a Conor Oberst fan for years, so I decided to brave the one-way streets of Downtown and go alone. This ended up being one of the best shows I've been to in my entire life, and the tour ended up being the birth of a supergroup.

I spent a lot of time before the show exploring the Orpheum because the theater is absolutely gorgeous. When I found my seat, it was in one of the first few rows on the orchestra level, so I had a great view. The stage was made up to resemble a living room or studio rehearsal space: There were several high-backed chairs about and an oriental rug covering the cables on the floor. It turned out that the stage was set this way because the various musicians would amble onto the stage and switch places, interchanging instruments to do a solo or provide backing for one anther.

I didn't really know much about Jim James, other than he sometimes sounds like Kermit the Frog and was the frontman of one of my best friend's favorite bands, My Morning Jacket. I also wasn't very familiar with M. Ward, but I soon fell for both of them. 

M. took the stage first with songs from his latest release at the time, Transfiguration of Vincent. His soft voice matched his unassuming manner, but the amazing sounds he produced with his guitar spoke volumes. I was completely mesmerized by his guitar playing. Jim joined him for a few songs, and then they performed MMJ’s "One in the Same."

This set the tone for the rest of Jim's set, which included guest appearances from MMJ's Bo Koster on keys for "It Beats 4 U" and Carl Broemel on pedal steel for "Oxen." There were stunning moments during songs like "Hopefully" when the entire stage went black and a heavenly white spotlight illuminated Jim as he strummed his acoustic guitar and his powerful voice vibrated through the entire venue. When he goes into falsetto, his voice really soars. Jim performed a rousing cover of "Always on My Mind" and "Golden" with Mike Mogis and Conor of Bright Eyes and M., before Bright Eyes' 90-minute set began.

I was first drawn to Bright Eyes because of Conor's lyrical prowess, the addicting "Love I Don't Have to Love" single and the fact that he had successfully launched a record label (Saddle Creek) at age 13. I had been warned in advance that his fans are quite overzealous, but was still surprised when full-grown adults walked up the aisles and randomly yelled things like "I want to have your baby!" or threw gifts onto the stage. But just google some of his lyrics, and you'll see why. Maybe it's better that I went alone to this show because I could really concentrate on the songs, the simplicity yet artfulness of the arrangements and the interplay between Conor and Mike.

I was utterly blown away. I was experiencing one of those moments when you get the good chills: You feel tingles on your scalp and get goose bumps on your arms from something totally thrilling.

This show was also significant because all three acts would be vaulted to national fame shortly after. Bright Eyes would go on to simultaneously release the electric pop album Digital Ash in a Digital Urn and the folk album I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, which Time listed as one of the top 10 albums of 2005. My Morning Jacket gained critical acclaim with 2005's Z and mainstream success with its follow-ups, Evil Urges and Circuital. All eyes were on M. after he released Post-War, Hold Time and two albums with Zooey Deschanel as She & Him. But most importantly, the quartet of Conor, Mike, Jim and M. released a Monsters of Folk album in 2009 and toured the country together again, stopping in Los Angeles on Oct. 18, 2009, almost five years to the day of the Orpheum show. I was able to experience another magical evening, and I didn't have to go by myself that time.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Events for July 19-25



People Under the Stairs


People Under the Stairs @ LACMA (Mid-City West)
Los Angeles indie hip-hop duo Double K (Michael Turner) and Thes One (Christopher Portugal) headline the third installment of LACMA and MURS' Through the Mic concert series. With Chris Burden's Urban Light sculpture as a backdrop and Skeme and VerBS also on the bill, this is sure to be a night to remember.

Red Line Chemistry @ The Roxy (West Hollywood)
Hailing from Kansas City, Mo., Red Line Chemistry hit the strip in support of last year's Dying for a Living. The quintet is sure to have the Roxy shaking with their in-your-face brand of hard rock.



In Theaters This Week
The third and final film in Christopher Nolan's artful and intelligent trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises; Director Takashi Miike's Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai; Also in theaters: 30 Beats and The Queen of Versailles


Nick 13 @ The El Rey (Mid-City West)
The Tiger Army frontman unleashed his country crooner side with a self-titled debut album last year and rides into the El Rey for two nights, each with a different setlist and opening band (Friday with Triple Chicken Foot, Saturday with the Far West).



Drinking in the Greek Manner: A Brief History of the Symposion @ The Getty Villa (Malibu)
Oxford University historian Oswyn Murray lectures about the Greek social institution of Symposion: meeting to converse and drink wine. Followed by a tasting of wines from Greece, Italy and Napa Valley. Cheers!

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (cinespia.org)


Invasion of the Body Snatchers @ Cinespia (Hollywood)
I'm totally scared just looking at the photo from the Philip Kaufman film on Cinespia's website. Watching Donald Sutherland in the 1978 classic in Hollywood Forever Cemetery … Yikes! DJ David Holmes spins before and after the screening.


Extravaganza for the Senses @ Sunset Gower Studios (Hollywood)
The benefit for the Saban Free Clinic stimulates each of your five senses: taste (food samples from 40 restaurants, including Jar, Chaya and my favorite neighborhood restaurant, Canelé); smell (hundreds of wines procured by the Wine House); sound (live DJs); sight (bidding on silent auction prizes); touch (your support touches the lives of all the medical center's patients).

L.A. Street Food Fest @ Rose Bowl (Pasadena)
I went to Shawna Dawson and Sonja Rasula's first event in Downtown several summers ago, and it was so packed I decided to go have lunch somewhere else. But the festival has since graduated to a bigger venue with over 100 food vendors, like the Border Grill truck, the Grilled Cheese Truck and Seoul Sausage Company. It's $45 for food, drink and six-hour parking.cinespia

Fountains of Wayne (Violeta Alvarez)


Fountains of Wayne @ The Roxy (West Hollywood)
In support of their long-awaited release from last year, Sky Full of Holes, Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger are in the midst of a whirlwind tour. Their fifth full-length brings even more of the band's trademark high-energy power pop to the masses.



St. Lucia, Pony Boy @ Bardot (Hollywood)
Join St. Lucia (Jean-Philip Grobler) and Pony Boy (Marchelle Bradanini) for one incredible evening at KCRW's School Night. St. Lucia also performs July 24 at the Echo; Pony Boy also plays the Satellite July 31 and Villains Tavern Aug. 19.



Everest @ The Troubadour (West Hollywood)
I've seen Everest perform in venues that are totally opposite from each other. From intimate clubs here in their homebase of Los Angeles to the idyllic Henry Miller Library in Big Sur. Regardless of the setting, the quartet is always stellar, and I'm looking forward to seeing songs from their latest album, Ownerless, performed live.



Voxhaul Broadcast @ The Troubadour (West Hollywood)
Silver Lake's own celebrate the release of their new EP, Frozen Beach. The EP boasts the incredibly infectious single, "Turn the Knife," which serves as a perfect mid-summer track.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

L.A. HAVENS – Vista Theatre



4473 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles (Los Feliz)

Vista Theatre is hands down my favorite place to see a movie in Los Angeles. Originally opened as the Lou Bard Playhouse in 1923, the Vista truly represents Old Hollywood style and charm. I am a sucker for anything from the 1920s, so with Egyptian Art Deco design elements and plush, red velvet curtains adorning the walls, the theater won me over the first time I walked down its carpeted aisles.

From the marquee out front, you know at first glance that the Vista has just one screen. This is a huge factor in coming here, in that, only one movie playing at a time means no absurdly long lines to stand in to 1) buy a ticket,  2) buy popcorn and 3) actually get into the theater. I've seen lines wrap around the corner for screenings of blockbuster releases, but they're nothing compared to the havoc at the ArcLight, the Grove or Americana at Brand.
Prints from Ed Wood's Sarah Jessica Parker and Martin Landau

You don't have to pay for parking, and ticket prices at the Vista are always a lot cheaper than all of the multiplexes in the area. Its 50-foot screen and state-of-the-art Dolby Digital sound are on par with most of those theaters as well. The only time I go anywhere else is if a film is in 3D. Those with long legs also benefit from the amount of space in between the rows of seats – best legroom ever.

House manager, Victor Martinez, makes the theater-going experience even more fun when he takes your ticket with a smile – and in costume as a character from whatever movie is playing. I've seen him dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow, Spider-Man and Harry Potter.

The sidewalk in front of the Vista boasts celebrity handprints that any cult/indie cinephile would enjoy. The casts and crew of Swingers, Paper Moon, Showgirls and Ed Wood are just some of those immortalized. The theater also hosts concerts from artists like Tenacious D, Ricki Lee Jones and Jenny Lewis. I saw She & Him perform there in 2008, and the sound was great.

Instead of going to the multiplex nearest you, see The Dark Knight Rises at the Vista this weekend. Victor is sure to be wearing his Batman costume.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Minnie Mouse meets Chairman Mao in Minnie Mao. The sidewalk stencil, designed by L.A. street artist Dog Byte, is located on Central Avenue between 2nd Street and 3rd Street in Little Tokyo.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Midnight Red

Midnight Red's Joey Diggs Jr., Colton Rudloff, Anthony Ladao, Thomas Augusto and Eric Secharia at the Grove



At The Grove

189 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles (Mid-City West)

It seems like every few years a new crop of boy bands takes root and infiltrates every corner of pop culture. Los Angeles' contribution to the current wave of boy bands is Midnight Red.

Brought together by A&R executive/Kings of L.A. label founder Pete Farmer and producer RedOne (Lady Gaga, Pitbull, Nicki Minaj) in 2009, Midnight Red is comprised of two L.A. natives – Joey Diggs Jr. and Eric Secharia – and three transplants – Thomas Augusto from Arlington, Texas; Anthony Ladao from Seattle, Wash. and Colton Rudloff from Buffalo, N.Y. – who are enjoying the diversity of the city.

"Everyone out here is different, and it's cool. When I go back to Seattle, sometimes people look at me like an alien because of the way I dress," shares Anthony.

"Los Angeles is so culturally rich that you learn a lot, you start making new friends," adds Thomas. "Your eyes are open to something larger when you come from a small town."

"I've met a lot of different kinds of people," says Colton. "One of the benefits of being in a big town is that there is a lot to do wherever you are. I've definitely gotten to experience things that I would never have gotten to living in Buffalo."

The guys and I meet at the Grove for one such event, Sean Kingston and Chris Rene performing a free show as part of the entertainment center's Summer Concert Series.

"I haven't been here to the Grove in a bit, but I used to come a lot," says Thomas. "We've always wanted to perform here."

Midnight Red in front of the stage at the Grove
"It's cool seeing artists shut down the Grove. It gets so packed," says Anthony. "I remember when the Jonas Brothers were here. I was just shopping, and there was so many people that they closed the stores."

Being surrounded by huge crowds of fans is something the quintet got used to when they were chosen as the opening act for the New Kids on the Block/Backstreet Boys tour last summer. After two years together, Midnight Red were releasing a digital EP, One Club at a Time, and embarking on their first mega tour.

"At the end of every day we got to perform at sold-out arenas, and we were well received. It was a dream come true," says Thomas.

"[On a tour like that] you learn who everyone else is. It brings you closer," says Eric.

"We had never traveled together all that much, and then we traveled thousands of miles together. We came back from that tour as something to be reckoned with," says Colton.

"It started becoming more real," adds Thomas. "After that point, we were Midnight Red. I realized that these guys are the ones I'm going to be around for the rest of my life!"

As with all bands, Midnight Red is a tight-knit unit with their own set of family dynamics.

"I remember it was my second day of rehearsing with these guys, and Eric and Thomas got into it. I was like, 'Oh my god, what am I getting myself into?' because it was this crazy childish rant between the two of them," shares Colton. "They still have them, but it's way toned down now."

"That happened today actually," says Thomas.

"When you're together with people a lot, tensions are created no matter what. But we'll talk it out," says Eric. "I don't have friends [everyone laughs]. It is kind of true though. These guys are my best friends."

Joey has introduced the guys from out of state to one of his favorite parts of being an Angeleno: In-N-Out.

"I like going to In-N-Out Burger. In-N-Out's in a few states now, but it originated in Cali and I worked there for five years," he says. "It's one of the best burgers I've had in my life."

Growing up in Los Angeles with a professional singer for a father, Joey has his share of significant concert memories.

"Whether it's new school like Kanye West and Chris Brown or it's old school like Jeffrey Osborne and Rod Stewart because of my dad, I like seeing both sides: how the old school handled their business, and how it's done nowadays. Blending the two together, trying to take what's best from each corner and make it one, is pretty fun."

Joey's not the only member who had an interest in becoming a performer at a young age. Eric started singing when he was 6 and dancing at 12. Thomas' family dubbed him the "little entertainer" when he was a child. Colton's passion for singing expressed in YouTube videos led to his invitation to join the band. Anthony distinctly remembers being bitten by the performance bug.

"It was watching an Usher performance, just the way he moved on stage. It made me realize that this is what I want to do with my life. From that moment on, it was all about dancing and music," he remembers.

Anthony's first dance teacher, Bryan Tanaka, was also a big influence, and he's one choreographer/producer that Midnight Red would love to work with in the future.

"I look up to him," says Anthony. "To have him back in my career with the group – that would be pretty cool."

Thomas adds, "Bryan Tanaka's playing with the big dogs – Beyoncé, Rihanna, Usher, J-Lo – so it would be a dream come true. "

"Rihanna would be awesome to collaborate with too," interjects Anthony.

"Yeah, Rihanna would be incredible," Thomas agrees. "She's a pop star, but she's edgy in a sense. It would be a cool match for us because I don't think we're necessarily the typical boy band. We have a little bit of the rough edges, we're a bit different."

That difference can be seen in the video for Midnight Red's new single, "Hell Yeah."

"We're not stopping until that song's on the radio," says Colton. "We're just trying to get as many eyes on that video as possible to see what we're all about. You can hear the track and say it's a brilliant song, but to get the video aspect, you see what we're about, the energy we're going to bring to a show. If you're going to a Midnight Red show, you're going to get that kind of energy. We can't possibly work hard enough on that stage. Just get ready to see a lot more of us."

As we wrap up our conversation and snap some photos, a few girls notice the group and ask them to pose for pictures. After a few seconds, the couple of gals turns into twenty, and we're surrounded by a crowd. Clearly, people are already ready for more Midnight Red.

For more information, visit midnightred.com.

Friday, July 13, 2012


I used to go to a lot of 311 shows. I've been to about 40 of them across the nation. But that's nothing compared to JIGSAW's first guest columnist, Julie Gonzalez. She is one of the band's biggest fans, so I couldn't have asked a better person to share a 311 REMEMBER WHEN.

Fans prepare for 311 to perform on the lido deck at the first cruise in 2011. (Julie Gonzalez)

311 Caribbean Cruise

March 3-7, 2011

By Julie Gonzalez

When I was first asked to write about one memorable 311 concert, I was really excited and flattered. Then I started thinking, 'what show would I write about?' I've seen 311 over 200 times in many different places, so it was quite hard for me to decide.

I've been following 311 for over 16 years and have traveled all over the world using up almost all of my vacation time every year. I've seen them in Japan, Canada, Half Moon Cay and in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean (en route to Turks and Caicos) during their two cruises. I was even lucky enough to witness them play their first show in Alaska, which was the last state that they had left to play.

After thinking back to all of the shows I've been to, it became really difficult to share just one show that was special to me. So, I'll talk about my most recent memorable show.
"311 played as Miami faded from view." (Julie Gonzalez)

In 2011, the band decided to embark on their first 311 Cruise. What's a 311 Cruise, you ask? Well, there's a company out of Georgia, Sixthman, that puts together Carnival cruises for bands. The music group is on the boat with 3,000 fans for four days/nights.

They perform a few sets, do a Q&A and take pictures with everyone on the boat. It's the most amazing experience. They also do other things to interact with fans, like play basketball or judge a karaoke show.

As we were leaving the Port of Miami, 311 played on the lido deck, and it was one of the greatest shows I've been to. This was the first cruise, and the thought of everyone chanting, "311-3-3-11" while anxiously waiting for them to come out and play still gives me goosebumps.

My friends and I watched from the top deck, as 311 played and Miami faded from view. Everyone was so excited to be there, and the band went off.

311 Cruise 2011 (Julie Gonzalez)
 It makes me smile just thinking about that set. They played my two favorite songs, "Do You RIght" and "8:16 a.m.," which made the evening even more special, along with other great tracks, such as "Jupiter," "Guns (Are For Pussies)" and "Summer of Love,"  which they hadn't played in a long time.

Although the shows are always an exceptional experience, one of the things I really enjoy is all the people you meet at their concerts and all of the great friends I've made over the years because of 311 and their music. After traveling and meeting a lot of their fans around the globe, I can truly say that they have the best fans. A lot of the friends I've made because of 311 are like family.

You probably think I'm crazy because I go to so many shows, but if you are passionate about anything, you will understand. I encourage anyone to go to a 311 show. You will not be disappointed!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Events for July 12-18




Art Walk in Downtown
Every second Thursday of the month, this free, self-guided art walk takes place on Spring and Main (between 2nd and 9th). Grab a quick bite, walk through the many galleries then settle in at Bar 107 to visit with friends and down some drinks.

Alex Brown Church of Sea Wolf


Sea Wolf @ Constellation Room (Santa Ana)
Led by Alex Brown Church, Sea Wolf gives a sneak peek of new songs from their highly anticipated third album, Old World Romance (available Sept. 11), tonight in Orange County and tomorrow at Skirball Cultural Center. Church tells OC Weekly that these SoCal shows a transition from "classic Sea Wolf" to "new Sea Wolf," so longtime fans are sure to hear some of their favorites as well.

That Noise @ The Troubadour (West Hollywood)
You might have heard these electro rockers' unique cover of Kings of Leon's "Sex on Fire" on KROQ, and the tracks on their latest EP, Love Remains, are just as infectious. The Troubadour is guaranteed to be full of gyrating bodies as soon as That Noise hits the stage. They also perform July 20 at Amplify.



OC Fair @ OC Fair & Event Center (Costa Mesa)
This annual event was a highlight of every summer of my childhood, and the past few years it's only gotten bigger with the addition of the concert series at Pacific Amphitheatre. The shows are kicked off by the one-and-only Willie Nelson (His cover of Coldplay's "The Scientist" in Chipotle's sustainable farming ad totally makes me cry.), and also include evenings with All-American Rejects, Duran Duran and "Weird Al" Yankovic. Through Aug. 12.


In Theaters This Week
Joining the original voice cast from the previous three films are "Game of Thrones"' Peter Dinklage, Jennifer Lopez and Aziz Ansari in Ice Age: Continental Drift; Red Lights with Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy; Michael Winterbottom directs Freida Pinto in Trishna, based on Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles; Tammy Blanchard and Mira Sorvino are sisters in Union Square; Also in theaters: Easy Money


Bon Appétit Grub Crawl in Downtown
From 6 p.m.-10 p.m., get a taste of four Downtown culinary treasures. First stop is Cole's for some bath tub gin and a French Dip. Then, sample snacks, sandwiches, donut holes and cocktails from the purveyors at Umamicatessen. Next are margaritas and tamales at Las Perlas. And finally, watch a mixologist demo the creation of an Old Fashioned, grab a glass for yourself and enjoy live music at Seven Grand. West Hollywood's festivities on Saturday are sold-out, but you can still buy tickets for tonight in Downtown ($80) and Sunday afternoon in Culver City ($90: Father's Office, Sotto, Picca, Lukshon).

My Best Fiend


My Best Fiend @ The Satellite (Silver Lake)
Straight off their first European tour, Brooklyn's My Best Fiend kick off their first trek up and down the West Coast at the Satellite. Their dreamy songs from debut album, In Ghostlike Fading, are the perfect soundtrack for dreamy mid-summer nights.

X @ Hollywood Park (Inglewood)
Thoroughbred horse racing at night, followed by a set from X? I'm in! Racing starts at 7:05 p.m. with $10 admission prior to 8:30 p.m ($20 after). X takes the stage on the North Park lawn at 10:30 p.m.



WeHo Citywide Yard Sale
Part of WeHoGrnWknd 2012, West Hollywood is turning into a citywide estate sale to help reduce waste and keep valuable resources out of landfills. Click here for a list of yard sale locations.


The Lost Boys @ Street Food Cinema (Exposition Park)
"Death by stereo." Celebrating its 25th anniversary, The Lost Boys is one of the more memorable films from my pre-teen years. Starring Jason Patric, the two Coreys (Feldman and Haim), Jami Gertz and Kiefer Sutherland, the movie had everything: hot punk boys, teen angst and vampires. Enjoy a set from a local band, food from trucks like the LudoTruck and the film on the lawn next to the Coliseum.


All You Can Eat Fried Chicken @ A-Frame (Culver City)
I love fried chicken, and so does Chef Roy Choi. Starting today, his mess hall-style eatery offers AYCE fried chicken every Saturday and Sunday from noon-3 p.m. For just $18, you can eat as many crispy thighs and legs as you want, along with sweet potato salad and zucchini-cabbage coleslaw. Bottomless glasses of Hite can also be had for $10.


Grease Sing-A-Long @ Hollywood Bowl
Unleash your inner T-Bird or Pink Lady at the Hollywood Bowl's new tradition celebrating the beloved musical. Hosted by Didi Conn ("Frenchy"), there's a '50s dance party and costume competition before the film is projected on the Bowl's giant screen, complete with subtitles so you can sing along with all the songs. Pfft, as if you didn't already know all the words.



Miguel and Jhene Aiko @ Key Club (West Hollywood)
MySpace hosts a free secret show from Grammy-nominated R&B singer-songwriter Miguel, who's been blowing up the charts with songs from his All I Want Is You album, and former B2K background vocalist Jhene Aiko.



dineLA Restaurant Week
dineLA introduces its first-ever summer line-up. Enjoy 12 full days of two-course lunches from $15-$25 and three-course or small plate dinners for $25, $25 or $45 at some of Los Angeles' best restaurants. Some participants this year are Mo-Chica and FarmShop, but you can click here for the complete list.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Right the Stars

Right the Stars' Rich Jacques at Solar de Cahuenga



At  Solar de Cahuenga

1847 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles (Hollywood)

At first glance, Solar de Cahuenga seems like your average café. Many of the tables are filled with people sipping on coffee, typing on laptops, reading a book or engaging in conversation. But there's a palpable energy to the place, an electric current that Right the Stars frontman Rich Jacques feels is distinct to this neighborhood in Hollywood.

"It's just this area, there's something creative in the air where you're always in that mindset of 'I'm making stuff.' It's pretty cool," he says. "It's very different when you're in a community that doesn't really understand artists or support them. Here, you really get the sense that you have complete permission to just do whatever comes to mind. You feel creatively open. I think that's why it attracts so many artists. I don't know if there are too many other places where I could actually live and work that really feel like that."

Rich usually stops at Solar de Cahuenga for a cup of coffee since it's conveniently near his home studio, and other studios he uses are just down the street. Besides coffee and tea, Solar de Cahuenga has an incredibly refreshing mint lemonade and a full menu that includes their specialty, crêpes. Rich loves Europe, so a lot of the L.A. restaurants he frequents have a European vibe.

"One of my fallback places is Figaro over in Los Feliz. I love going there and sitting outside or meeting friends, and the food's good. Little Dom's is great too," he shares. "I love great restaurants, and I was thinking that maybe next year I'll try to never repeat going to the same place twice just because there's so many amazing places, to force myself to explore and go someplace different. I just discovered the Eveleigh on the Sunset Strip towards Beverly Hills. I love the decor, the vibe of it."

Whenever he has a day off, he'll go hang out at the Getty Center.

"It is one of my favorite places. I love architecture, and that building, it's a miracle that it exists right? The lawn there is so peaceful."

Rich also enjoys taking in concerts at the Hollywood Bowl.

"Anything at the Bowl is fantastic. I've seen Sting and Sarah McLachlan with the symphony. I saw Coldplay there when they were first breaking in 2003. That was really special. I saw Radiohead there, and I just saw Glen Campbell. He was pretty impressive," he says. "When I go to a show, I like feeling joy. One of my favorite shows was seeing Phoenix at the Bowl. Everybody was just excited to be there and having a great time. You could feel it, the vibrations in the air. It made you feel good. When everybody in the crowd is on board and lifting each other up, I love that. After seeing that, I was like, 'OK, that's what I would like to create,' that kind of environment where it just feels good to be there."

Dining on the Sunset Strip, lounging at one of the city's architectural marvels and seeing shows at the world-famous Bowl are a far cry from Rich's rural upbringing in Wisconsin and even from the bigger midwestern city of his adolescence. Steubenville, Ohio is where Rich spent hours practicing guitar and began cultivating his musical taste.

"I would mow people's lawns in the summer, and I would have my Walkman on playing stuff like the Police. Anytime they came on, I thought, 'That's the greatest thing ever.' I listened to all the New Wave bands, like the Fixx. I also loved Prince, Duran Duran – all that stuff was like magic to me," he says. "A friend of mine who was a drummer, we would go to shows together when we were 15. We saw 38 Special, Kool & the Gang and Night Ranger – whatever was out there. I was always intrigued by the whole scene and setting."

While in college, Rich was a founding member and guitarist of the popular, Pittsburgh-based Brownie Mary. But by 2000, he moved to Los Angeles and began to work with other musicians.

"When I first moved here, I did a tour playing guitar for Chantal Kreviazuk. We did all of the House of Blues in the United States opening for Jason Mraz," he says. "I love those venues, they're so well run, and the sound and lights are set exactly in the way you want to be presented. It was really fun."

Rich produced tracks for several artists (Kina Grannis, Rob Giles) and also taught music around town.

"I did a lot of private lessons. I taught Ben Affleck and Don Was' kids," he shares. "It's a great way to meet some amazing people. Moving out of Pittsburgh it opens your eyes to, 'Oh wow, the possibilities are endless.' I really enjoyed it for a while."

Then in 2009, he formed Right the Stars (The name was inspired by Wilco's "Jesus, Etc."). With Rich on vocals/guitar, BC Taylor on drums, Alex Balderston on bass and Asaf Rodeh on guitars/keys, Right the Stars released their self-titled debut in 2010 and have just put forth a sophomore effort, Hello Yes OK. Their songs were quickly picked up for films (The Break-Up, Couples Retreat), TV shows ("Pretty Little Liars," "Grey's Anatomy") and video game ads ("Kinect Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure").

"If I could write songs as a score, like Alexi Murdoch wrote songs specifically for the movie Away We Go, that would be a dream," says Rich. "If I see something visual and feel something from it – it's a great way to write. It gives you a focus: What does this feel like? I want to make the sound so it feels like this."

Ultimately, Rich just wants to create music that makes people feel good.

He says, "I wanted this current record to feel good for no other reason than just for the sake of feeling good."

Hello Yes OK is currently available. For more information, visit rightthestars.com.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

STREET SIGNS – Black Widow

There's a small lock and key/car alarm and stereo installation/auto accessories kiosk in front of the Hi-Ho Drive-in Market (1401 Glendale Blvd.) at the corner of Glendale Boulevard and Montana Street in Echo Park that is covered in graffiti murals. During business hours, the owner pulls up the metal shades that are adorned with art on the shack's front and sides. But in the early mornings and late afternoons, one can admire the colorful pieces. My favorite mural, titled Black Widow, is on the rear side of the shop, so it's on view all day.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Saint Motel

Greg Erwin, Dak Lerdamornpong, Aaron Sharp and A/J Jackson of Saint Motel at Kouraku Restaurant


At Kouraku Restaurant

314 E. 2nd St., Los Angeles (Little Tokyo)

When I found out that Saint Motel wanted to meet at Kouraku Restaurant in Little Tokyo, I felt a bit nostalgic. I remember visiting Little Tokyo with my grandparents when I was little to pick up some mochi for New Year's Day, then going to Kouraku for lunch. I stood in front of their display case, mesmerized by plates and bowls filled with plastic food. I yearned to take them home and add them to my play kitchen. I couldn't help smiling as I walked up to that same display case on a balmy summer evening to meet Saint Motel. It's not surprising that the band members – vocalist A/J Jackson, guitarist Aaron Sharp, bassist Dak Lerdamornpong and drummer Greg Erwin – are fans of Kouraku since it's just a few minutes from their rehearsal space and it stays open until 3 a.m. (midnight on Sundays). Although there are several noodle shops in the area, Kouraku was actually the first ramen establishment to open in the United States in 1976.

Plastic food in front of Kouraku
When I ask Saint Motel what they usually order here, the quartet reply in unison: "Ramen!" A/J sings the praises of the No. 22 Chashu Ramen with its tender pieces of pork, even comparing it in deliciousness to the rich broth at the famed Daikokuya.

Saint Motel not only share my love for ramen, they met in my hometown. Aaron and A/J were both film majors at Chapman University when they got to know Dak, who was working as a sushi chef at their favorite restaurant (Sushi Sho in Costa Mesa), and Greg, who was going to a different school in the area. After playing together in different groups, they formed Saint Motel in 2007, released their first EP (ForPlay) in 2009 and relocated to Los Angeles.

"I love the city's history and architecture, especially Downtown. I love how something new is built from something old so organically, like we do with our music. I think Downtown is a very appropriate place for what we sound like," says A/J. "So much is different about Los Angeles, depending where you are, what neighborhood you're in. It's a blessing, because you can just go from one mindset to the other – if you're feeling like going to the mountains or to the beach or the valley. It's a really fun city. There's always something going on. There's always someone new to meet."

The group definitely likes to make a unique first impression on those who come to see them play. Over the past few years, Saint Motel have built a reputation for cinematic shows – from rock 'n' roll circuses and zombie proms to a Future Fathers Day and Spaceland residency with each week based on a different film genre (sci-fi, erotica, experimental and slasher). This creativity extends to their music videos, which are often mini theatrical adventures. As they prepare for their debut full-length, Voyeur, to hit stores tomorrow and its release show at the El Rey this Saturday, they're working on a video for lead single, "1997."

"We actually just came from shooting today. That's why we still have a little make-up on. We don't always wear make-up," laughs Greg.

"We shot at the Dresden, and it's kind of a Marty and Elayne thing. The band's at a piano bar. So, that's a good starting off point. From there, I can say: out-of-body experience and hypnosis," adds A/J.

There's always a hint of humor in all of Saint Motel's videos, like "Puzzle Pieces" which was filmed at the Roxy, as well as their music. But along with their tongue-in-cheek fun, there is a sincere honesty to whatever narrative they have concocted.

"Hopefully with this album people will understand that all we're trying to do is write songs that we think are awesome. We're not trying to be like the coolest band or the poppiest band. We're not trying to be anything. We're just making music that makes us happy," says A/J. "Our music is escapist, because for us, music is where we want to be. It's not usually where we are – it's happier. We have to play it every night when we're on the road. It's therapy. I hope people who  listen to this album will understand the hard work we put into it. We feel like the album fits together pretty well, I feel like we assembled it from experience. From song to song, there's a fluid journey. I hope they understand by listening to it what Saint Motel sounds like and what Saint Motel is."

There is a distinct progression apparent in Voyeur from ForPlay, specifically with experimentation with Latin, tropical, retro and big band sounds. But the musical growth is not something that Saint Motel worked hard at achieving in one specific way.

"We don't really try. It's organic," says Dak.

"We're just different people and probably because we've been doing it so much, writing and collaborating with each other, the process seems like it's ripe right now for all sorts of interesting, creative directions that we haven't really gone before. I feel like the bulk of Voyeur is the direction that we're heading. It's a bridge to where our next recordings are going to be," says A/J. "We want to do stuff that is ambitious but lo-fi and record it ourselves. It's all about making the most compelling song we can, something that will stand out 20 years from now and is not just part of an über hot movement today."

With an album named Voyeur, I can't resist asking whether each member prefers to be the one being spied on or the one doing the watching.

"Everyone's a little bit of both. We are both all the time. We're being watched, and we're watching," replies A/J.

Aaron chimes in, "Voyeurs like to be watched as well, actually."

"Because of all the film stuff, I prefer to be the voyeur. But I love performing. When I'm performing I feel different. Everyone has both sides in them," concludes A/J.

Greg jokingly adds, "The telescope out of my window points at Dak's house, but his points back at my house."

After the El Rey show, the band heads out on a cross-country tour in support of Voyeur, and each member is looking forward to visiting a new town together.

Dak: Nashville
Greg: Yeah, we haven't really done the south proper together. We're also doing Atlanta.
AJ: [Lansing,] Michigan.
Greg: We'll be back in Austin too, at Stubb's BBQ.

At the mention of the famous Texas barbecue joint, I wonder where the guys return to first when they come home from tour.

Greg answers, "Tacos Delta [in Silver Lake]. I go get a burrito. You can never get good Mexican food out there on the road."

While A/J sticks to Downtown, "Bottega Louie is one of my favorites, and Cole's. There are so many good restaurants and good food here."

Voyeur is currently available. For more information, visit saintmotel.com.