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Live Review: Are Friends Eclectic?, December 3, 2011, Orpheum Theater – Los Angeles, CA

Jimmy Cliff by Jeremiah Garcia

While Are Friends Eclectic? was billed as a holiday show, there was little about the event that felt like a typical Christmas party or concert. In fact, if the bands, who were essentially volunteering their time, seemed to celebrating anything, it was a love and appreciation for radio station KCRW, who put together the show and for whom the proceeds went to benefit. Each performer would make it a point in their set to thank the public radio station of their continued support, often when few other radio outlets would play them. And while, yes, this was a reoccurring focus, this also never got in the way of the real reason for putting on the show: as a night of music celebration to entertain the ticket-buying public, who were treated to a top-notch evening of musical performance.

At the top of the bill were two seemingly unrelated bands who epitomized eclecticism. Iron & Wine, presented as a thirteen person ensemble, closed out the night with hefty arrangements for songs that emphasized the last couple releases from Sam Beam’s project, featuring such favorites as “Tree By The River,” “Walking Far From Home,” and “Boy With The Coin.” While I will be the first to admit that I much prefer the more intimate sounds that Sam Beam can create with less instrumentation, the setup made sense, considering that they were following the most party-starting set of the night from Jimmy Cliff. Whether it was through a cover of “I Can See Clearly Now” or original “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” the building felt ripe to erupt in enthusiasm, held back by their assigned seating and respectful demeanor. But, a couple songs before the end, “The Harder They Come” gave the audience what they were looking for: an excuse to stand up and dance. It was a moment that was a whole night in the making.

Iron & Wine by Jeremiah Garcia

But, some of the most satisfying music of the night didn’t come from the headliners, but, rather, from the undercard that was stacked with numerous breakout acts from the last year. Originally planned for two nights, compressing all the bands into one evening worked exceptionally well, with a rotating schedule of full-band sets taking place behind the Orpheum’s dramatic curtain and acoustic acts performing bare-boned sets in front of the curtain while the next full band set up. The folky sounds of The Belle Brigade worked perfectly in the limited environment of “in front of the curtain,” fitting five people into the limited space and substituting energy for maneuverability.

Playing behind the curtain were two excellent young bands, Other Lives and White Denim. Other Lives, kicking off the night, filled up the large stage with their wall of sonic textures and creative instrumentation. The band will be opening of Radiohead in the new year and on this evening, gave a glimpse as to what Radiohead has thinking by taking them on the road with them. White Denim also seemed appropriate for size of the show, a band that will be playing with Wilco in 2012, and also should be getting use to the increased attention. White Denim showed off their chops first and foremost, taking elements of jam rock and psych and turning it on its head, anchored with some decent melodies and an overarching sense of conviction. In both White Denim and Other Lives, no one left wondering why they had been included on the bill with a few legends. If anything, we all wondered just where the ceiling is for these two acts.

Other Lives by Jeremiah Garcia

From a riveting performance Anna Calvi (which BPM’s Rob Hakimian considered his highlight of the night) to a single, captivating number from Mia Doi Todd, it was a night to celebrate our music differences, and to appreciate acts that can bring people of carrying taste together. KCRW, through their radio programming, continually shows that genre should always take a backseat to quality, and at Are Friends Eclectic?, they stretched this philosophy to live performance, curating a night for a night that broadened our horizons as much as it satisfied our basic love of music that just sounds good.

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