The usual Fourth of July weekend fanfare requires a celebration filled with booze, fireworks, parades, barbeques and a fun day at the beach, but on Friday night the crowd at Lestat’s West was there for some great music to cool them off from the blustering hot weekend ahead.
The crowd was small but intimate. It was be a clear breather from the circus that would ensue in days ahead.
Without much of a prelude, guitar man Joel Eckels took front-and-center stage in place of Kori Withers who was supposed to perform that night. Due to an unprecedented cold, Withers had to leave the spotlight to her guitarist, also frontman for L.A.-based Papersun. Eckels’ bluesy, addictive, jazzy tunes were no disappointment at all.
Donning a fedora hat, gray T-shirt and jeans, his casual attire spelled chillax. And the crowd proceeded to do so, nodding and bobbing their heads to the rhythm wafting through the room like a cool, summer breeze. Eckels’ two-faced voice, at once soft and rough, surged through the atmospheric terrain inhabited by audience members. Listeners grooved, swaying and nodding in place, noting the pain evident in every song that detailed the songwriter’s experiences.
The masterful storytelling that night didn’t stop with the end to each song. In between songs and tuning his guitar, Eckel spoke to the rapt crowd below. For example, we learned his guitar, a 1957 Harmony, wasn’t supposed to be a good guitar when they first made it. Now the price he has to pay for it is tuning it up every time he plays. Before another of his songs, he explains that the “ex” is actually his wife.
One of the closers to the one man act,“45,” was a sexy, groovy force that cleared away all inhibitions between performer and audience member. The crowd was definitely in-sync with what Eckel was talking about that night. “Let’s get pop back to the people / you’re the groove I’m the needle / Wanna play you like a 45 record /why don’t cha get up.”
Following Joel Eckel’s impenetrable performance was Annaliese on guitar, backed up by pianist Danny Mitchell, who also accompanied her with vocals. In between sips of coffee from next door, Annalise proved to be a worthy act to follow. Her soothing voice quieted the room, and the crowd took in the comfort of her beautiful singing, much like inhaling the voluminous cool air you could only find in front of an ocean. She started off with her dreamy track “Too Hard,” and the Sarah McLachlan influences in her songwriting and voice were immediate. As she softly cooed through the mic, “Only to get her through the night,” one could definitely envision her on stage with the Lilith Fair ensemble of yesteryears.
“The Water’s Not Too Deep,” another beautiful track Annaliese performed that night, gives a deep insight into a way out when holding on gets too painful. Although the storytellers that evening were clearly downers, you could not deny the relentless beauty in their music and lyrics. Annalise closed with “Beautiful Lie,” another track audience members would be slow in forgetting.
Jake Allen, the headliner of the event, surprised audience members with his scrawny appearance and booming voice. He opened up with the first track his latest CD (it was the CD launch party), a rollicking ensemble that requires Allen to use both hands on the fret board following a cool twist where he slaps and knocks on his guitar.
Next, Jake Allen performed “Healing Opus,” a track off his last album, which is deathly dark. It brings up emotionally breaking the other person in the relationship and losing ones self in the process. On that cheery note, he moved to the piano. A tribute to the late Michael Jackson ensued, where flute and loud drumming on the guitar made up for what lacked in vocals. “Slapping Thang,” using the infamous technique he showed off in his opener, was the highlight of the performance.
-Words by My Nguyen; photos by Betty Trinh