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Liam Gowing And the Family Jewels At the Satellite, Friday November 8th 2013

Liam Gowing and his Family Jewels


You know what the old insult says, that music critics are failed musicians! But people can’t say this about Liam Gowing anymore, as the music journalist who spent the last decade writing for diverse publications such as the LA Weekly, the Onion’s A.V. Club, SPIN, Filter, Paste, Flavorpill, the NME and the LA Times, just released this month an album with a strange title, ‘Drunk Sluts Forever’ – a DIY project recorded between 2011 and 2012 – that came to live on the Satellite stage on Friday night.

First of all, I have to say that I spent some time on the phone with Liam a few years ago, when we discussed his article about Elliott Smith’s sad and mysterious death published in Spin magazine in 2004. I remember him doing mostly the talking on the phone, and telling me a lot of things he had learned during the research for his long article. He is one of these journalists who is convinced Elliott committed suicide, but I know him to be a good friend of Jennifer Chiba, whom he considered at the time incapable of killing someone as she was ‘not used to manual labor’. I don’t think he has changed his mind but I didn’t talk to him on Friday night. Although I had this conversation in the back of my mind the whole time, I  decided I would not let all this influence my take on the show. It was a bit weird to see him in a totally different situation,… there was no question of the journalist anymore, it was only Liam Gowing the musician, and he was totally credible.

He appeared on stage wearing a large beard – and I think someone shouted ‘Jesus’, which was not too far away from reality – surrounded by his new backing band, the Family Jewels, consisting of Ali Sagheb on bass, Eric Allgood (the BellRays) on drums, and two back-up singers, Audrey Tess Casey and Michelle Anne Johnson. And these girls were a big part of the music which was constantly relying on vocal harmonies,… yes there were a lot of these harmonies! Being a multi-instrumentalist, Gowing was effortlessly switching between guitar and keyboard, demonstrating a real stage presence, with the crowd’s consistent approval. The music was loud and the songs catchy, with often some foot-tapping rhythm, but should I say that the music was a bit all over the place without it sounding pejorative? There’s surely nothing wrong with diversity, as the set was keeping everyone interested by its eclectic mix of power pop with Beatles-que harmonies, a touch of soul, indie rock guitars. ‘Drunk Sluts Forever, Parts 1, 2 and 3’ was a crooner’s cinematic pop ballad – I don’t know but this song  reminded me the soundtrack of some random European movie – whereas another song, astonishingly entitled ‘The Suicide Machine’, was a plain dark number alternating between lugubrious guitar solos and power-pop chorus,… err Elliott Smith has a song named ‘Suicide Machine’, I couldn’t not mention it! Coincidence? Probably not, as Gowing is too familiar with Smith’s catalog (even the unreleased ones) to have forgotten about this, but apparently the lyrics of his songs deal in general with serious and dramatic subjects such as life, death, addiction, suicide and betrayal. However the music was certainly too loud to really make sense of them!

‘Party Down’ and ‘Purdizzy (On Saturday)’ had even a vague country sunny feeling, like an escaped track from Beck’s ‘Mutations’, whereas ‘Release’ was running through more exotic and stoner rock wide-screen horizons. So can a guy best known for writing music reviews become credible as a songwriter and musician? I guess, since, on Friday night, Gowing was totally convincing, showing a great sense for melody and varied music arrangements.

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