Better than: Staying in and watching The Harder They Come.
Sonos Studio had an auspicious debut in Los Angeles last night, hosting a evening of music and conversation with reggae legend Jimmy Cliff. Sonos, which opens to the public on Sunday, is a 4,000 square foot hybrid art gallery/venue that is going to be hosting a series of art openings, lectures, and performances. Inside, the ceiling is covered in foam; the walls are tilted at an angle to improve sound quality. The place only holds maybe a couple hundred or so people comfortably, so the events promise to be intimate in both size and aesthetic. The venue's Cultural Marketing Director Fiede Schillmoeller explained that they have six-week rotations of installations, each introducing a different theme -- last night's theme was listening.
It's is an interesting space and concept, and kicking things off with Jimmy Cliff didn't hurt their cause. The night opened with a Q&A session between Cliff and music writer Eric Ducker. They sat on a small stage surrounded by acoustic guitars; the audience watched raptly from a series of mismatched couches and chairs arranged in a sort of semi-circle.
Ducker played cuts off Cliff's upcoming release, Rebirth, which was produced by punk icon Tim Armstrong, of Rancid and Operation Ivy. Listening to the tracks -- one of which was a cover of Rancid's "Ruby Soho" -- you could hear Armstrong's distinctive musical chops, the combination of energy and reverence injected a potency into Cliff's work. The conversation closed with an anecdote about Jimi Hendrix: Cliff spoke about how a young kid had come up to him in the '60s in London and asked to open a set. "He said 'I can't sing, I can't sing like you,'" said Cliff, "I can only play my guitar. And the rest is history."
Then they opened up the floor to the audience; I actually got to ask Cliff a question. He having mentioned the similarity in themes between punk and reggae, I asked what he thought the most important socio-political issues of today were for musicians. He replied that there is a lyric off his upcoming album that talks about taking the bread from the children and giving it to the dogs, mentioning that the use of dogs wasn't a literal reference to the animal.
Cliff then played a short acoustic set -- the guy still has pipes. He belted out songs with a voice no less powerful than the one on his seminal reggae album The Harder They Come, but with an added grit of over forty years as a working musician.
After playing his classic "Sitting in Limbo" and new single "One More," he did an a cappella version of an unreleased song, the repeated lyric "cry no more" having the opposite effect on a few members of the crowd. People sat still, many with closed eyes; it seemed the night's theme of listening had been achieved. Cliff finished with "Many Rivers to Cross" and "World Upside Down," then hopped calmly offstage and shook hands with the audience.
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Personal Bias: As of this writing, The Harder They Come has 43 plays on my iTunes.
The Crowd: Private Show = Industry types and publicists galore.
Random Notebook Dump: It was so quiet during Cliff's set you could hear the bartender shaking cocktails in the back.