There was a lot of love on stage when Vicki Peterson joined the Dream Syndicate at the Roxy recently for an encore of “Hero Takes a Fall,” a song her band, the Bangles, had done on its 1984 debut album “All Over the Place.” There was a lot of fun, too, clearly, as you can see in the video from that performance. Now, keep in mind that the song, about someone getting a bit of a swollen head, may just have been about … well… don’t ask them. They ain’t talkin’!
A healthy dose of humor and some tongue in cheek is fitting, as this performance previews the Nov. 23 Record Store Day Black Friday release of “3×4: The Bangles, The Three O’Clock, The Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade,” an album on which those bands, four key members of the early ’80s Los Angeles community dubbed the Paisley Underground, pay loving tribute to the era by covering each others’ songs. (The album will have full release in January.)
The name Paisley Underground started kind of as a joke, noting the common ‘60s pop and rock influences of these bands. But as is often the case, the term doesn’t fully fit, as the scene, such as it was, covered a lot of ground, from sunny power-pop to dark, distorted ruminations. All that is here, with each act giving their own takes on the others’ songs, with great respect and artistry. Among the other highlights: The Rain Parade doing the Bangles’ poppy “Real World” and the Three O’Clock turning up the psychedelia with the Rain Parade’s “What She’d Done To Your Mind.”
And then there’s the Bangles charging through the Three O’Clock’s “Jet Fighter,” as if it had been written for them. A lot of love.
If the term Paisley Underground didn’t quite capture the scene, no term could sum up the work of Julia Holter, who in the course of the last decade or so, has emerged as one of the most ambitious and accomplished artists in L.A., and beyond. And with her new album, “Aviary,” she reaches even further than ever.
While not really sounding like any of them, does put me in mind of some things from Bjork, Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Laurie Anderson and such ostensibly contemporary classical composers as Missy Mazzoli, Julia Wolfe and David Lang, the latter two having won Pulitzer Prizes. Honestly, if Holter lived in New York like Lang, I think this album could be a real candidate for that kind of honor. Sorry, a little L.A. underdog chip on my shoulder here.
But how would you really describe the music of “Words I Heard?”
Over the course of the album there are mixes of impressionism and expressionism, her band serving as a versatile chamber ensemble with strings mixed with electric instruments, some digital experiments with voice and sounds alternately soothing and jarring. One element she draws on heavily is words and some melodies from the European troubadours of the 13th and 14th centuries — music that happens to be an obsession of this critic going back, oh, 35 years. So that really clinches this album for me. One song that uses that, as well as a quote from Dante, is “I Shall Love,” a lush, sensual proclamation of pure elation and beauty. But these two songs only give a hint at the range and accomplishment presented in the 90 minutes of the album, raising great anticipation of seeing Holter present this live, which she will be doing worldwide starting in Europe in November and then ending in L.A. at the Lodge Room on March 9.
And continuing the theme, another declaration of love, in new song, “Fight for Love,” by Divine Weeks, an L.A. band with a history spanning three decades, starting out under the wing of Steve Wynn and the Dream Syndicate, for that matter. The band had some buzz in the ‘80s, with two really sharp albums and dynamic live performances before splitting. Singer Bill See and guitarist Raj Makwana reformed the band a few years ago for some shows and a new album and now has made another, “We’re All We Have,” which they are saying will be the group’s last.
For that matter, four of the 11 songs here have “Love” in the title, another is “Too Much Beauty” — an ode to OCD sufferers — and another “Darkness Brings Out the Light in Me.” The thread through it all is about fighting through the madness of the world with love, holding on to love in rough times. It was what powered the band in the ‘80s and seems even more so now.
Idealism via the power of love and the power of music have always been at the core of the band, starting in the Reagan-Bush era. Today it seems harder than ever to maintain, but more needed than ever. So it’s encouraging and inspiring that optimism, hope and love can survive, even thrive in the current climate. Maybe some lessons for us here. Bill See clearly wants us to connect with the message, whatever our differences.