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Holy Folk, Avi Buffalo, Moses Sumney and Kan Wakan At The Echoplex, Monday February 24th 2014

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Kan Wakan’s Kristianne Bautista

I feel so lucky to live in Los Angeles and to be able to see so many talented bands for free all the time! I attended two nights of Kan Wakan’s residency at the Echoplex and it was fantastic, with an eclectic series of guests each time. Last Monday night, the last one, they had announced two surprise guests, which is always an excellent tease for me so I had to go back!

 

The announced band Holy Folk opened the night, and honestly they are not your average folk band, it’s humor people, they are not even folk at all! I had seen them before and had totally enjoyed their surprising songs, their harmonious melting pot of Americana, playful rock and heartfelt melodies. They don’t have a genre, they seem to embrace many genres, and they don’t have a frontman – the band is actually a collaboration between four songwriters, Keith Waggoner, Josh Caldwell, Ryan George, and Jonathan Hylander, from other bands. And the result is excellent, they switched place all the time, they had warm harmonies but almost each member was on lead vocals at one point. They have all the powerful forces of a supergroup determined to make music to inspire you, from the country-inspired, steel-guitar-fueled ‘The longest Highway’, to some more Beatles-que/Lennon-esque tunes such as ‘How Many Ways’ or ‘All’s forgotten’ to Coldplay-like piano-driven songs to the sudden grungy rock’ n ‘roll outbursts of ‘Jump the Rails’, which had a few eeee-eeees that Kurt Cobain wouldn’t have denied. It was a very diverse set with the most interesting developments you could hope for, and seven songs were definitively not enough.

 

Avi Buffalo was one of the surprise guests, and Avi Zahner-Isenberg came alone with his acoustic guitar giving the most intimate set of the night, at least it was what I thought at the time. I have seen Avi Buffalo before (they opened for Portugal. The Man last summer) and they are a dynamic very young band with Shins-like harmonies and curious pop songs – remember their first single ‘What’s In it For?’ and the girls’ lips which looked like little pieces of bacon? Avi didn’t play this one, but his songs and his superb falsetto sound much more like Neil Young than James Mercer these days! I don’t know how this happened, but I couldn’t chase Neil from my mind during the whole time. Avi is an amazing guitarist who can captivate his audience with his melancholic tunes, smooth pop hooks and intricate chord changes. Alone under the bright white light, he looked like a kid, and was relaying on his iPhone to determine which song was next, frenetically moving his feet while playing. He looked confident and played a few new songs while announcing a new Avi Buffalo album on Sub Pop soon. He also played old ones like ‘Jessica’, an instant classic, an unrequited teen love-story kind of song , with lyrics as deep as ‘No one can make you loss your faith, except for someone who you love’ that he must have written when he was like 19,… you know, the age at which Justin Bieber is getting DUI while skimming night clubs.

 

The second surprise guest was the amazing Moses Sumney. I had seen him opening for Prince’s protégés, the King trio, at the Bootleg theater a few months ago and I had been blown away by his performance. Moses is a character, a funny one, always joking between songs and playing some of the most soulful and chilling songs with his silky voice and his only guitar. There is something so pure and ethereal in a song like ‘Dwell in the Dark’, all spiced up by subtle jazzy arrangements and his voice harmonizing with itself. He is a very talented man who managed to marry many things in his songs in the most natural way, he gave a very stripped down performance, with the only use of his elastic voice and a quiet electric guitar, but it was nevertheless extremely rich, part indie pop, part jazz, wrapped into tons of soul and a slight, almost imperceptible, touch of African roots (he grew up between Southern California and Ghana). The guy could harmonize with a car engine, or anything making noise, as he demonstrated during the set, asking the crowd to ‘sing’ some oooo-ooos and harmonizing with what people could give him, in the most beautiful way. Last time I had seen him he was constructing songs from scratch using a looping pedal and recordings of his voice, overlapping each time new harmonies and the result was totally amazing. He didn’t do anything like this last night, but I certainly hope he will during his upcoming residency at the Bootleg in March.

 

Kan Wakan had brought a whole string section for their last residency night and with eleven people on stage, and so many instruments, there wasn’t a free spot on stage. Sometimes I think music can’t astonish me anymore, so much has been done already, but this band is simply amazing, inventive, seductive, and I am just afraid Hollywood is gonna discover their wide-screen songs too soon and decide that ‘Moving On’ should be the new James Bond soundtrack. Honestly, all of their songs have this epic adventurous dimension, with so much going on, and even though I had already reviewed their show when I saw them two weeks ago at the same place, their music is so richly stratified and densely orchestrated that I could hear something new. They carry the grandiose with conviction and without an ounce of cheesiness, they have a vast and immense vision and they follow it, they build epic layers over layers with ease and Kristianne Bautista’s deep vocals as dark as a rich chocolate. She was moving away from the stage during band instrumental interludes of dissonant saxophone, layered guitars and vibrant strings, and if they probably changed a bit their set, I recognized ‘Forever Found’, probably the most Ennio Morricone-sque of their tunes, and ‘Moving On’. Then I got a serendipity moment. When one of their guitarists/keyboardists played a guitar solo between songs, an article (that I had read on some music blogs) about Jonny Greenwood criticizing modern bands playing their grandparents’ instruments crossed my mind…. This guy wasn’t certainly playing guitar like his grandpa. After the 11-minute song, ‘Midnight Moon Pt I & II’, which has to be the apotheosis of each of their shows, they called back Moses Summey on stage to cover Radiohead’s ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggio’! It was too perfect and a fantastic moment with Sumney’s agile voice going into a Thom Yorke falsetto. ‘It’s my favorite song of all times’, he had said before and it showed. I wouldn’t insist enough on how much love was coming from the public after the show, Kan Wakan is up for the big ride.

 

Here are some pictures of the show and go here for more videos: Holy Folk, Avi Buffalo, Moses Sumney, Kan Wakan

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