Authenticity can’t be bought; you have to earn it. As KCRW’s Jason Bentley smiled down from an opera box at Downtown LA’s Orpheum Theater, the music lovers beneath him all knew that Saturday night’s Are Friends Eclectic? benefit show, was absolutely steeped in untainted authenticity.
Standout performances from Anna Calvi, Other Lives, White Denim, and Iron & Wine trailblazed a remarkable line-up that also included reggae legend Jimmy Cliff.
For followers of Internet culture, keeping up with the newest and edgiest Indie music remains relatively easy; however, for Los Angeles radio listeners it is cultural steward KCRW who brings those Indie gems to a wider audience. Are Friends Eclectic? provided a solid opportunity to sample these gems, as each band played three or four songs, before clearing the stage for the next act.
I caught up with Other Lives lead singer Jesse Tabish, who couldn’t stop praising KCRW for their support. “We’ve never been a band who’s gotten a lot of airplay,” confessed the Oklahoma native. “KCRW was literally the first national radio station to play our music.” If you’ve ever heard Other Lives’ Tamer Animals, you know full well the blatant criminality of this statement.
Austin-natives White Denim also made a bold impression. My guest for the evening, Something Creative’s Jacqueline Saladino quipped, like only a fashion PR person could, that White Denim were “like a clothing line that wants to do everything in one season.” I, and the majority of those attending, however, found them highly rockable: a nasally jam band, reminiscent of Born Ruffians or Pearl Jam.
Sorry, JQ, you’re in the minority among this crowd.
KCRW’s commitment to less than mainstream artists is one of those tiny islands of brilliance within the largely commercial palate of LA airwave offerings.
Taking the proverbial cake, for this writer, was the minor-key sensuality of Anna Calvi; all soaring vocals, virtuosic guitar skills, and stunning beauty. Her band-mate’s expert harmonium accompaniment was pure mood music, provided your mood is somewhat dark and slightly twisted. “This has been a lovely evening,” Calvi closed with, in her near-whisper English lilt.
Also worthy of note were Mia Doi Todd’s angelic vocals and SXSW alum Belle Brigade’s funky, countryish sonic blend. Secret Sisters, Zee Avi, and Brett Dennen rounded out the remaining artists in the night’s line-up.
Complimentary beer, wine, and whiskey poured freely by steady hands from Father’s Office, to support KCRW’s efforts. My date and I made friends while waiting in line (its easy to make friends when the booze is free). Chris, a labor union attorney (working as he put it “for the man”) representing major airlines -who shall go unnamed–with their disputes with pilots. Chris flew in, not without irony, from Washington DC for the show. His personal pick for the evening’s festivities? Jimmy Cliff.
“I don’t know how old you,” he grumbled at his new friends, “but for my money, Jimmy Cliff is still a pretty cool dude.”
For those of us who don’t “work for the man,” and/or appreciate the niche-y, off-the-beaten-path selections that KCRW consistently discovers and showcases, the bygone-era Orpheum Theatre’s age-worn columns, elaborate ceiling decor, and towering mezzanine provided a near-perfect backdrop. Stay eclectic, dear friends.