KCRW – A Sounds Eclectic Evening

Music Reviews
KCRW – A Sounds Eclectic Evening

This year’s edition of A Sounds Eclectic Evening—an annual concert inspired by radio station KCRW’s daily music program, Morning Becomes Eclectic—mainly featured comforting folk-rock. It was a show where acoustic guitars easily outnumbered the electric ones, as thoughtfully introspective songs ruled the night. And while it might not have lived up to the kind of anything-goes variety suggested by its open-arms title, the show was nevertheless a quietly high-quality affair.

An exception to the evening’s general rule, however, was a show-closing set by the beautifully indescribable Polyphonic Spree (photo at right by Chris Saunders). It’s simply impossible to pigeonhole an outfit that amazingly sports a nine-member choir, a horn section and a harpist. Draped in white robes, and struck an with overwhelming case of happy feet, this Texas ensemble is like a well-rehearsed high school jazz band backing an overly enthusiastic, yet supremely talented, Sunday school choir. Leader Terry DeLaughter guides his band of mortal angels with gusto, as if a childlike Jesus fronting some community-theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar. This unique musical village’s enthusiasm is joyfully contagious, which made for great people watching as the public-radio crowd bounced along to the single, “Light And Day” and a cover of Blues Image’s “Ride Captain Ride.”

Now sporting a full mustache and long, shaggy hair, Beck no longer looks like a boy in a man’s world. Similarly, his music has matured from its initial “two turntables and a microphone” looseness, to the more sobering, mature sounds represented by his latest, Sea Change. Surrounded by various acoustic guitars and an electric keyboard, Beck performed some of his newer songs, as well as covers of Hank Williams, and Alex Chilton’s “Kangaroo.” He also played Elliot Smith’s “Clementine,” in tribute to the singer-songwriter, whose tragic passing recently shook the music world. Beck did make one musical reference to his former funkier self—when he played Odelay’s “Where It’s At.” For this version he sat down at the piano, assisted by a drum machine. A few lines from Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” were thrown in alongside Beck’s normal lyrics for good measure.

During Damien Rice’s set, the singer-songwriter highlighted the unique artistic niche he’s created for himself. Though at first, watching him on stage—strumming a guitar and singing with his strong Irish accent—it was tempting to color Rice a dull grey. But not long after, when he broke into “Cold Water,” his truer, deeper colors began to shine through. Before playing the song, Rice asked that the house and stage lights be brought down. Then suddenly, this song about emotional darkness transformed the room into a frightening visual and aural walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The rest of his set was solid, but nothing else came close to this pivotal moment.

In stark contrast to the rest of the artists on the bill, Jurassic 5 (pictured right) provided some much needed color with its high-energy set of insightful hip hop. This quartet of rappers, along with its two DJs, Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark, brought the funk with popular crowd-pleasers like “Quality Control” and “What’s Golden.” But unless you were already familiar with the group’s lyrics, it was difficult to keep up with all of the good things the MCs were saying. Nevertheless, it was refreshing to experience hip hop minus the bling bling, and lowest-common-denominator offensive language and ethnic characterizations. Clearly, Jurassic 5 refuses to be limited by hip hop’s more thuggish mainstream tendencies. Instead they opt for a more, positive, uplifting approach.

As with almost any multi-artist concert lineup, the participants at the Sounds Eclectic Evening usually exited the stage before they were even warmed up. Nevertheless, show-opener Gary Jules’ version of Tears For Fears’ “Mad World” made showing up early worthwhile, and Welch sensation Jem’s mixture of techno-dance and singer/songwriter material was a noteworthy sidebar. But Liz Phair sure looked uncomfortable sitting on a stool, playing her electric guitar. During her surprise acoustic set, Shelby Lynne—who, like an old-school New Waver, was dressed head-to-toe in black with the exception of a skinny red tie—wrapped her personalized songs in the blanket of her warm Southern accent.

Sure, this concert could have been more eclectic—which is something that can be said about almost any radio station-sponsored bill, even when it’s a station like KCRW. But at the same time, it could hardly have been any more satisfying.

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