2020, YOU GAVE ME THE BLUES
There wasn’t a particular Day The Music Died, but, like coronavirus victims, it was taking painful last gasps by mid-March.
The music didn’t die, but it is on life support, in a deep coma. The COVID relief bill (still including, I trust, $15B specifically for live music and theater venues) has finally passed, through the grasping, small, tight, clumsy, incompetent, vengeful pale hands of the Monster of Mar-a-Largo —
Hey, let up, will ya Charles? He’s almost gone. But I say, he did not let up on us for four years and he continues to fiddle on the golf course right up until the end, while Rome burns, people die, the economy collapses, families lose their jobs and homes and iconic music clubs ponder their very existence. The hundreds of thousands of lives lost because of his making the pandemic a political calculation instead of a life-saving one, cannot be forgiven.
DO I DIGRESS?
In a music column? Maybe. But this pending death sentence for live music venues and the musicians who perform there is directly on the doorstep of Congress and the White House. As soon as the scope of the pandemic became known — nearly a year ago — salaries and rents could have been covered by federal grants and loans, until recovery. Across the board it would have been the best way for the economy to bounce back. It’s what a federal government is for. It’s what most other countries did.
We still would have had live music in a coma for most of this year and well into the next, but with support and hope, and absent the very real possibility that a lot of it will never come back. For musicians and lovers of live music, an LA without the Troubadour, Harvelle’s, the Whisky, McCabe’s, the Jazz Bakery, the Roxy, the Cinema Bar, bluewhale, the Teragram Ballroom, the Echo, Sam First, Pacific Opera Project, Catalina’s, the Jacaranda Series, Vibrato and so many more, is a joyless dystopian world. It’s half the reason I moved here 40 years ago, and I can’t imagine my life without those rich experiences and memories.
Maybe soon I will recount what a banner year 2019 was. A cornucopia of amazing performances, large and small. But for now I will follow Nicole’s lead below, and recount my best live music adventures in the shortened year of 2020. Not so many, but some unforgettable ones.
MEHTA DOES MAHLER
If I had to pick only one, it just might be this. (Only because I have experienced the truly amazing Mavis Staples, below, several times). Like most of the world I throw roses at the feet of Mahler, his 2nd Symphony (“Resurrection”) seems not of this world, and the LA Phil description said it all: “(Conductor Zubin) Mehta reveals his deep affinity for Mahler in one of the composer’s most overwhelmingly transcendent works. The climax of the ecstatic finale is deeply stirring and unforgettable.” Actually, that’s downplaying it. Jan. 5, Walt Disney Concert Hall.
JASON ISBELL AND AMANDA SHIRES
Performed a delightful acoustic show. When it’s just you and your wife, a guitar and a fiddle, you can tour pretty easily and cheaply, and sound great. Jan. 10, Walt Disney Concert Hall.
BENNY GREEN TRIO
“Green has been hailed as perhaps the most exciting hard-swinging, hard-bop pianist to ever emerge from Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.” That’s modest praise. He is one of the best ever. I’ve seen him 8-10 times over several decades and he always astounds me. Helluva nice and modest guy too. Jan. 16, the Jazz Bakery.
Staples, of course, a dynamo at 80, blues-gospel-soul-rock vocalist nonpareil and living history from her Civil Rights days to now. An added treat was seeing our own Steve Mugalian behind the drums. Feb. 13, the Soraya.
World premier, “heartbreaking, funny, surreal, magical.” I have seen a few operas in my time and LA Opera has never disappointed me. Feb. 14, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Of all the years to begin contributing to NOTEWORTHY, this was a most unusual one. I have enjoyed getting creative with my recommendations since live music came to a screeching halt, but I do miss researching and attending concerts like I did before the pandemic hit.
I saw maybe 10 or 12 shows in the first couple months of 2020, and each one holds special significance.
Mavis Staples, who tore the roof off The Soraya auditorium. Phast Phreddie and Thee Precisions reunion concert at Joe’s Great American Bar & Grill. Ariel Pink at the Garibaldina Society bocce court and banquet hall. Berlin-based house and techno DJ Fred P at a private performance. Another event featuring Detroit acid house DJ Mike Servito. Captivating sets by C.W.
Stoneking and opener Gaby Moreno at the Troubadour. A house show performance by harpist and singer-songwriter Naomi Greene. LA country group Murder Row at the Thirsty Crow Bar (they did a great cover of “Ooh Las Vegas”). Leaving Records’ last in-person show before the lockdown, with a surprise set by Flying Lotus, at Tierra de La Culebra park. And finally, Late Breakfast’s experimental concert series night at Gold Diggers, featuring Takako Minekawa with Dustin Wong and Booker Stardrum, and others. The last six of those were in the span of three days, and I will be forever grateful to the music gods for that weekend.
Months later I would stumble upon a jazz trio practicing socially distanced in a school parking lot, which will also hold significance as the first live music I had seen in five months. And they were good!
I am grateful to have made it through the year, but I have missed going to live shows. Thanks for sticking it out with us, and here’s hoping there’s more of them again in 2021.
Nicole Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including almost as many as the more than 3,000 live shows her father claims, in his lifetime. But she’s only mid-20s, and will no doubt be bursting out of the gate when the all-clear signal is given for live shows again.
Since this is the year-end NOTEWORTHY, it’s an appropriate time to note that I am just as proud as I can be for her erudite and insightful musings on music that have given an added breadth and depth to this column. And grateful for the considerable time and effort she puts into it. I guess her mom and I raised her right, but she grabbed the ball and ran with it.
And deep appreciation for my wife Diane, who does such a great job of editing my columns that my readers think I’m a better writer than I am. Thank you both. I’m a lucky duck.
Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 3,000 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at email@example.com