A Little Lanois (and Friends) in the night.

 

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.

Cubed.

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By Steve Hochman

The young man in the mesh-screen cube was improvising some Beethoviana on an upright piano, drawing strongly on the Pathetique, when I walked toward it Sunday evening. The cube has been constructed around a tree, which goes up through the top and canopies overhead. The music coming from within was gorgeous, expertly guided by the gent through ebbing and flowing emotions, the contours seemingly shaped in the moment to incorporate the sounds of traffic along this stretch of Sunset Blvd., the cube sitting in a patch of grass in a West Hollywood city parking lot, just east of the old Tower Records.

He finished, got up, exited the cube be pushing aside one of the mesh “walls” at a corner, shrugged off the visitor’s compliments and explained that the piece was just a little warm-up for the real performance, coming shortly. We talked a little about his day (he’d just had dinner at a nearby restaurant), about his approach to his music (he mentioned a past devotion to the music of minimalist composer/performer Charlemagne Palestine, and amusedly cited a performance at which the cognac-loving Palestine insisted that the audience keep up with his consumption).

“Well, I need to get started,” he said, excusing himself. And with that, Manuel Lima, a slight-built man with Harpo hair and a lilt to his voice imported from his native Sao Paolo, re-entered the cube, sat back at the piano, put a red scarf around his head as a blindfold and started playing.

Beautifully. Building slowly at first, single notes and short phrases, spare harmonics, now playing not just off the traffic and other ambient noises, but specifically with a preprogrammed, composed loop of white noise and subwoofer surges coming from speakers next to the piano — and those in turn triggering bursts and surges of red light from a dozen or so bulbs strung in the cube from the tree branches, at times turning the whole cube a bright, saturated red. Over the course of an hour or so, the music continued through many phases, flowing readily from hypnotic to jarring to somber to giddy, all tonal and inviting, classical in roots, modern in spirit, always inviting a visitor’s attention, but allowing that attention to wander into its own musings, as the music did the same. A video I shot, which you can see below, is a bit more than 19 minutes of it (the phone’s storage maxed out) and gives a pretty good idea of the sonic and visual splendors — you don’t even need to watch the whole thing to get a reasonable sense of it, just dip in anywhere.

A few people wandered up from the sidewalk at the musical invitation — two French tourists out on a walk before heading back to Paris the next morning, a young couple who live nearby (he, it turned out, a fellow Brazilian musician, trained in composition but in recent years the drummer of the hard-rock band We Are Harlot, she the director of the childcare program at a nearby health club), another neighborhood couple walking their bulldog, Winnie. And just by being there, they became part of the performance/experience.

Call it “Sonata for Piano and Sunset Blvd.” Or really “Sonata for Piano, Cube, Sunset Blvd, Neighbors, Electronic Sounds and Red Lights.” All created and delivered for whoever cares to drop by, under the visage of Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, glaring down from a billboard overhead.

This is “The Cube,” Lima’s distinct music/art installation/experience in conjunction with the City of West Hollywood. It started last Friday and will end on Sunday (Aug. 21), Lima basically living (and sleeping) in the cube, following a daily schedule including a morning and afternoon performances of “Sunset Blvd.” involving going from left to right on the radio dial and improvising short piano pieces based on things he’s heard, and the evening variations officially titled “Red Light Piano,” which will increase in length each day, with plans for it to be a full five hours by the end. And from 5 to 7 p.m. he is hosting tea just outside the cube, during which he takes great joy in talking about this project — and anything else — with whoever might care to join him. (And yes, he gets breaks during the days to go shower, eat, etc.) It all will change, evolve in some ways through its course, as the experience changes the artist too.

Lima developed the project while finishing a doctorate in musical arts from CalArts (on full scholarship from the Brazilian government), doing a test run of the project on a hillside near the school’s Valencia campus earlier this year.  Laura had been telling me for a while how great a guy Lima is, how fascinating the concept is and in the first days of it how much of a treat it was to have this in West Hollywood. (She is working with the city to promote the project and to help get local residents and businesses aware and involved.) But it needs to be experienced to really grasp its delights. And those delights start with and bloom from the artist. Come by for music. Come by for tea. Come by to chat, with him and others who have come by too. A charmingly hand-written/drawn score, which you can see at this link, gives further sense of his take on what he’s doing

When Lima stopped playing, it was time for some wind-down visiting — he and the other Brazilian musician conversed about their thoughts and experiences in mellifluous Portuguese, while we all took turns petting Winnie (her owners, it turned out, having come by the Cube every night it’s been up). It’s public art with as much public as art. Which is the point.

As we got ready to leave, Lima and I talked more about some of the influences and musical relationships, some direct and others not so much. We talked about John Cage, about LeMonte Young’s “Well Tuned Piano” using alternate “just” tuning. I asked him if he knew the music of late guitarist John Fahey (he didn’t, but was interested), and if he knew John Schneider, the L.A. guitarist and Harry Partch and Lou Harrison devotee who also makes use of “just” tuning and other unconventional set-ups (he did). He told me about his Cal Arts composition teacher Michael Pisaro, who has developed a very personal style involving some long, indeterminate stretches of silence, or near-silence.

It’s all, we agreed, about playing with time, with perceptions of time. Spending time at the Cube and with Lima is time well spent.

… and Counting.

On Aug. 13, 1966, my dad took me to my first rock concert. He had no idea what he was starting.

Aug. 13, 1966

Santa Barbara, California

The capes. It’s the capes. The first thing that comes to mind about that day. We’d gotten there early, pulled into the sparsely occupied parking lot — which car would we have been in? The ’57 Mercury Monterrey with the push-button panel for the automatic transition on the dash to the left of the steering wheel? Probably. Or was it the still-new ’65 Chevy Impala wagon, white body with turquoise top and interior, the backward-facing seat in the way back folded down in wait for some special occasion?

We got out of the car, between the early-afternoon traffic buzzing lightly on Las Positas Rd. up at the top of the succulent strewn slope and the mild activity at the entry to the yellow-domed Orchid Show Hall here at the Earl Warren Showgrounds complex. I’d been here many times for said Orchid Show, for gem shows with Aunt Hester and Uncle Harold, I think for a car show once. We’d been to horse shows in the adjacent open-aired ring, though we’d come regularly in the next decade when Karen became a mainstay on the youth horse-show circuit here. We’d even come in a few years to see the L.A. T-Birds roller derby team making a road-trip appearance, Mom, Dad, Karen, Daniel and me the odd-fit upper-middle-class white family in the largely working class, largely Hispanic and wildly exuberant crowd.

But here, today,  as we got out of the car and started toward the dome, were the capes, being carried on hangers, shrouded in flimsy clear dry-cleaner plastic, from a car a few slots away. Red with black trim. The capes. Or were they black with red trim? Whichever, I was excited just to see them. I probably said something to my dad.

“It’s what they wear! The Count Five!”

Or maybe I just thought it to myself. In any case, I was buzzing, bursting. It was great already. And we were still in the parking lot.

I don’t remember how I talked Dad into this. It wasn’t the kind of thing my parents had shown inclination to allow before. They weren’t nasty about it or anything. It’s not like a lot of 9-year-olds were going to rock concerts in those days.

I’d hear concerts promoted breathlessly on Santa Barbara’s KIST-AM and KACY-AM from just down the coast in Pt. Hueneme, by “Barron” Ron Harron and the other disc jockeys — I can still sing the jingles: “K-I-S-T… thirteen forty!” “Fifteen-twenty, K-A-C-Y” And there were the “Get KIST” bumper stickers around town. I was devoted to the stations, listening any chance I had on my little, black Sears Silvertone transistor radio my parents got for me the year before. Karen and I made signs to put in the car window in hopes we’d be spotted by the KIST Patrol and given whatever fabulous prized they had. Once I even sat in the front yard with a sign, thinking that maybe the Patrol would just happen by and see me. I tried to call in for giveaways, but never won:

“We’ve got something special for the sixth caller who can tell us the name of the group playing this new song. Here’s a hint… it rhymes with ‘Kind Fenders.’”

Busy signal. Busy signal. Busy signal. RINGING!

“The Mind Benders! The Mind Benders!”

“That’s right, but we already have a winner. Better luck next time….”

Awww.

It was a world I wanted to be in, but could not. The shows advertised on the station, or on the marquee of the Earl Warren, seen from the school bus many morning as we passed along, were as distant as the moon. Once the Animals were going to be there. Eric Burdon! I wanted to go so badly. I asked my mom.

“You’re too young. They have an age limit.”

I called the station to find out. They would have to know, right? Who else could I call?

“It’s open to any age, we think,” I was told, and I told my mom that.

“They mean any age older. Not younger. You are not old enough. It’s too late. It wouldn’t be safe.”

But then came word of this Saturday matinee. I asked. They said yes. Here we were.

It must have been a 15 minute wait for the doors to open, though it likely felt much longer. When they let us in there couldn’t have been more than two dozen people there. Inside, straight ahead about three-quarters of the way across the plain concrete floor — no seats, just standing — was a stage, nothing fancy, just a platform with a curtain along the back and some instruments ready for the opening act, a group from Ventura (I think) called the Melody Men (I think). When they started playing there were maybe 60 people inside. They sounded, well, I don’t really have any memory of how they sounded.

When the second band came out, introduced by Harron, then of KACY but later to be on KIST, there were perhaps 150 people inside. And I remember how they sounded, as well I should. You may have heard of them. The Rascals. Though they were still the Young Rascals at that time.

But as soon as they started they had to stop. Felix Cavaliere’s B3 crapped out after just a few notes. It felt like it took half an hour to get it fixed. Given that this was all new to me, I’m sure I figured this kind of technical difficulty was business as usual for rock concerts. Fifty years and thousands of concerts later, I was right.

My dad and I walked around the inside of the hall a little in that time. All those people there looked so…. mature! Teenagers! Some of them must have been at least 16! Guys in slacks, ironed Oxford shirts, black-rimmed glasses, hair just slightly out of trim. Girls in skirts or summer dresses. So this is what a rock crowd looked like, though I already knew that from watching the afternoon dance shows we got on the L.A. stations: Lloyd Thaxton’s “Dance Party” on Channel 13, “Boss City” on KHJ, and of course the weekend national “American Bandstand,” which I’d probably watched that morning.

The organ finally fixed, the Young Rascals resumed, Cavaliere coaxing those cool soul sounds from the keys, Eddie Brigati in a sporty cap, shaking maracas as he sang, and making the biggest impression, Dino Danelli at the drums, twilling his sticks like a baton, bouncing them on the drums and letting go so they flung 20 feet into the air, catching them as they came back down without missing a beat. (Poor guitarist Gene Cornish. I can’t recall a single thing about him.)

They played “In the Midnight Hour” and “Mustang Sally.” They played “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” and, my favorite of theirs at the time, “Good Lovin’,” both songs having been and national hits, the latter hitting No. 1 earlier in the year. They played “You Better Run,” which had made it to No. 20 nationally that spring. And I think they played “Groovin’.” though that may be a faulty memory, as the song wasn’t even released until the next March.

And then…. what I was there for. San Jose’s Count Five. The capes. The hit. Destined to be their only hit, though we didn’t know that at the time. Harron even came back on stage to introduce their “new single,” a song called “Double Decker Bus.” I remember later hearing it on the radio…. never. Not once. Zippo. One hit and Count Five was down for the count.

But that day? Excitement! Elation! Funny thing, what I remember being most interested in from their performance was to see just how they made that chicka-chicka-chicka sound during the frantic instrumental rave-ups in the middle and at the end of “Psychotic Reaction.” I perked up every time the song came on the radio, lived everything about it, the bluesy twang of the electric guitar lick, the thumping drums, the what-the-hell-does-that-mean words …. and those rave-ups — blasting into high gear, verging on total chaos, and then stepping down back into the song proper. Whew! What a ride! Did I get at the time how much it was all a Yardbirds cop? Not sure. Maybe. Doesn’t really matter.

Oh, that sound. The rhythm guitarist damped the strings way up by the pickups with his left hand while strumming rapidly with his right. Genius! Well, no. Pretty simple and hardly original. But I was 9. It was an epiphany, first of its kind in a series of…. any counting. Count Five.

And it was over. No memory of exiting the hall. No memory of the drive home (about a mile). No memory of asking my dad what he thought, or of him volunteering same. We must have talked. He must have said something about it being loud. But I know with absolute certainty that he had a big smile, as big as mine, sharing my joy. He loved music. He didn’t love my music (though over the years our tastes intersected, with some delight). But he loved that I loved music, that I shared a passion he had for it, even if it manifest in different tastes.

I wonder if he ever thought back to that day, if when he watched my life as a professional concert-goer develop he connected it, saw his part in it. I hope he did. I think of it often, and more than anything else about it, I cherish the mental picture of being in that parking lot, seeing the capes, Dad at my side.

——-

Many, many years later I was visiting my friend Tony Berg at the Beverly Hills offices of the Virgin Records label, where he was then the head of A&R. He introduced me to his new assistant, Brandon, and quickly I noticed a poster at the assistant’s desk, a classic ‘60s style advertising a Doors concert at, of all places, Earl Warren Showgrounds.

“Where’d you get that?” I asked.

He said, “Oh, my dad was the promoter for that show.”

I said, “Your dad is Jim Salzer?”

Indeed he was. Jim Salzer Presents was the name attached to all those shows I wanted to see, the name on the radio ads of as mythic proportions as the names of the artists. I told Brandon about that ’66 afternoon of my first concert and he was thrilled. The next day he emailed me and asked if I had a fax number. Within an hour the fax spat out a treat from him, a copy of the Rascals’ contract from that date, though it was for the evening show at the same locale, in which they were headlining. At some point over the years I think I figured out that the show I saw was just a little KIST-sponsored event, but the “real” concert had been that night. And of course the Rascals, with multiple hits, had the top billing over the new kids.

I’m sure that was great too. There were probably kids there attending their first rock concert. I hope their memories are as good as mine of the afternoon show. I hope that started something big for them too. But for me, Aug. 13, 1966 is all about Count Five — now plus five decades, with thousands of concerts. And counting.count_five_psychotic_reaction_psychedelic_rocknroll_garage_punk_nuggets_san_josehouse_dracula