By Steve Hochman
Anyone walking around the Silver Lake Reservoir on Sunday night might have been struck by the sounds wafting from the hills on the eastern side. Not the coyote cackles that often punctuate the evenings there, but the somber weeps of gentle steel guitar.
That was Daniel Lanois, long-time resident of the area, sitting in the portico of his historic, castle-like estate, sitting face to face with partner-in-sliding-steel Rocco DeLuca. The two were performing in part to celebrate the release of their new somewhat-ambient instrumental steel duo album “Goodbye to Language,” and in part to celebrate Lanois’ 64th birthday, which it would become at the stroke of midnight. (The whole thing also was tied to the Art of Elysium, a non-profit working with hospitalized youth, homeless shelters, special needs centers and elderly and hospice patients in arts education and expression as a vehicle for social change. Contributions in exchange for vinyl copies of the album, donated by the artists, went to the organization.)
It calmed the coyotes. And it calmed, entranced, but also excited the guests here for this special occasion. While on the surface the music was calm, if contained many more layers of emotions — sadness, seeking, as well as utter joy, clear from the expressions of the musicians, face-to-face as they improvised around themes and motifs, at times joined by drummer Kyle Crane and bassist Jim Wilson, set up next to them looking out over the landscape.
And Lanois being Lanois, much of the music played for the friends/fans who crowded in around them is newer, unrecorded — not just a few things clearly created right on the spot (Lanois calling out changes to the others), but some new songs by DeLuca, the Long Beach guitarist and singer who has been a Lanois protege for a few years now and has made consistently gripping music on record and on stage in his own right.
During a break between sets, Lanois, chatting alongside his menagerie of motorcycles (he’s fully recovered from his nasty wreck a few years back) was clearly excited about the new music, both on the record and that in process. It’s all about moving forward, he said. All about trying to touch something as an artist, something that touches something in an audience.
“Goodbye to Language” does that in ways that have been part of many of Lanois’ more prominent work, both as an artist and producer of definitive works by U2, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, the Neville Brothers and so many others. Most profoundly it connects with the ambient works he made in partnership with Brian Eno in the ‘80s, recordings that first brought Lanois to public attention. As wonderful as those records remain, there’s more depth, more emotion in what he’s doing now in that realm. But then, one would hope that would be the case with any artist having grown and accumulated, well, life over the course of several decades. Of course, that’s not always so. And not that the new sounds were all gentle — some of it got downright raw and aggressive, other emotional avenues. In the latter regard, “Language” serves as a complement to 2014’s “Flesh and Machine,” a powerful collaboration with drummer Brian Blade incorporating various electronic manipulations and textures.
Two songs featuring DeLuca’s singing were remarkably moving. “Nightingale” was the poetry of distance, of yearning for love and affection that had faded with time. As he sang he gestured with his hands as he hunched over his steel guitar, sometimes poking his chest, sometimes sweeping his hand out as if gathering something in, the words and feelings seemingly forcing him to portray them physically. A little later, “Congregate” had a quiet gospel feel, Lanois and Wilson provided harmonies, the song a celebration of the salvation of community, of coming together. Which is what was happening here at the house.
Until the cops came.
Seems those sounds wafted a bit too much for a Sunday evening. Lanois being Lanois, he worked that into the performance, not so much taking on the police for doing their jobs, but riffing stream-of-consciousness-wise and not-a-little sarcastically on the contrasts of the challenges of community, of art, of beauty — The many trees he’s planted on his estate: “Evil!” The sidewalk tables at local hangout Cafe Tropical removed: “Evil!” The Art of Elysium: “Evil!” Making music that babies could fall asleep to rather than the sound of jackhammers that’s been in the neighborhood with the reservoir renovation project: “Evil!” It was pure Beat poetry, interwoven with music in which he led his cohorts, at times calling out changes. And with each Evil! came a mischievous smile from Lanois.
Somehow it made for a perfect capper to the night, at least the musical part, as many guests stayed for mingling.
The coyotes remained calm.