There are many venues to enjoy live music in LA and new ones are popping up all the time, I hadn’t had the chance to check out this relatively new place on Fletcher avenue, a new café with this French-sounding name, Zebulon, which has already been opened for a while. Zebulon was actually a onetime Brooklyn café that gave an early platform for bands such as TV on the Radio and Sharon Van Etten before it closed in 2012. Last April, it has reopened in the part of LA called Frogtown because of its proximity with the river, and the owners had promised to dedicate the pace to adventurous music and other out-of-the-ordinary events, and last night certainly gave me a taste of Zebulon.
Since the cafe also has free residencies on Monday, I went there for Labor Day not knowing too much what to expect just based on the names of the performers announced for the night – The Entire Universe, Reggie Watts, Fascinator, Cola Boyy. LA may have many venues but each one has its own crowd and peculiar atmosphere, and despite a few familiar faces, I am not sure how to qualify the Zebulon crowd yet, but the place certainly looks very good, clean and spacious.
As for the show, it was a bit out of the ordinary, with a music-comedy act in the middle, but exactly as I expected it to be. First, Oxnard native singer Cola Boyy put on quite a show with very limited equipment, as his karaoke-style show was a great success. By this, I mean that he was just singing over his recordings of funky-space-y dance floors and soon everyone was dancing. His dreamy glittering collection of bedroom recordings sang with his nasal high voice, spread a retro catchy wave of disco and Motown dance moves all over the place.
Fascinator changed the ambiance to a much more psychedelic one, as the experimental electronic New York-based Lord Fascinator played super long druggy jams as if they were auditioning for Desert Daze. They were all wearing white from head to toes, had visual projections in the back, and barely stopped during their 30-minute set. There was a heavy Indian and Arabic influences, with two women sitting in yogi position on each side of the stage all set long, while the two musicians were producing these throbbing infectious dance jams mixing electronic and authentic instruments: they had an Arabic guitar, a violin, small hand drums and an electric sitar, and they raised the temperature of a few degrees while producing more sitar-like effects than a 70s Beatles album. It was heavy-druggy, dance-y and reverb-y, like white men re-inventing Indian psychedelia. Vocalist/guitarist Johnny Mackay was actually the frontman of the very successful Australian Indie rock band Children Collide, and when he moved to New York a few years ago, Fascinator was born. Their second jam was quite different, escaping from the desert with more violin and less sitar, but aiming to the epic and cinematic. I suddenly remembered I had seen them before, a few years ago during an Australian festival at Santa Monica pier, but it seemed that, this time, the psychedelia had gained in density.
I can’t believe Reggie Watts followed of the stage of this little cafe, he was obviously the main attraction of the night as a large crowd had suddenly gathered around the stage. The guy has a serious brush with fame, he has opened for Conan O’Brien and LCD Soundsystem, he has cut a live album at Jack White’s Third Man Records in Nashville and worked with the biggest Hollywood directors like Steven Soderbergh and J.J. Abrams. The famous comedian has been featured in many TV shows and films, and is currently leading the house band for The Late Late Show with James Corden, but I remember having seen him on TV a few times, without being entirely aware of what he really does. Watts is first a comedian, he brings a lot of humor in everything he does, but he is also a terrific beat builder. His first remarkable thing was his insane ability to build his songs in front of the audience’s eyes, recording each layer of beats on his looping pedals, very probably improvising most of it, then singing over the layers put together, with his falsetto-to-tenor voice. His vocals had a versatility that evoked everything from soul to hip hop, channeling multi voices at the same time from feminine howl to full operatic tenor. As he said in an interview, ‘It was a way to entertain people with very little’, since he was doing all this with only a few loop pedals installed on stools. He was taking different accents, was mumbling stuff I couldn’t figure out between his built-up songs, started to record another beat, or began a profound-sounding discourse (only on the surface because this was going nowhere) before starting to sing ‘It’s Folder in your cup’ with a full vibrant vocals… and this non-stop for about 40 minutes. He told us we were the best 80 people he had ever seen, and as expected, revealed himself to be the warmest guy ever, shaking hands and talking to everyone after his set.
The Entire Universe is the new project from Jeff Ramuno of Jeffertitti Moon), Evan Snyder of Seattle’s Night Beats and Eric Lodwick of New York’s Shining Mirrors. Ramuno was also Father John Misty’s touring bassist and I mostly recognized him from his Corners days. Corners had a very successful residency two years ago, but it seems that Tracy Bryant and his bandmates have now departed and are trying their own special thing. The Entire Universe (what a moniker! and may be a nod to that Monty Python thing?) is not trying to sound like any of these bands.
While their look could have suggested they were playing with the Clash or some 80’s warrior commando band, the result was rather upbeat, with a big glam sound, copious guitar riffs, cascading drums, a bouncing bass and bright vocals over hooky pop melodies… trippy and playful enough to make you believe that their psych-fuzz sound was playing in a lively 70s backyard. Plus, this was the first show ever of the Entire Universe, but don’t worry if you have missed it, they have a Monday residency at Zebulon the entire month of September.
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