West Coast Sound: A Stroke Chokes (And Nearly Goes Broke)

Julian Casablancas recently gave an interview to New York magazine in which he bawwwwwed extensively about the lack of massive success of his recent album, Phrazes for the Young. The interview was part of an absurd profile of Casablancas as "the definitive New York rock star" (New York magazine and its Vulture blog often seem to function as the former Stroke's P.R. unit).

Buried among all the self-serving crybabying ("The world doesn't understand me"/"People are not being properly told to buy my album"/"I fought the music industry and the music industry won"), there's a very interesting comment about his recent residency at the Downtown Palace here in L.A.:

He did the album on the cheap, but then poured his own money into a four-show L.A. trial run of a staggeringly ambitious stage show complete with costume changes and elaborate sets. The video backdrop for one song, "Ludlow St.," began in the desert and ended in skyscrapers, tracing the evolution of New York City along the way. The shows were a fiasco, and he promises the tour's final dates, January 14 and 15 at Terminal 5, will have "none of that. In the end, it wasn't a positive experience for me at all," he says. "It was a constant struggle with the venue, managers, lighting guys, video people. I went broke doing it." Yet, he's already taking meetings to fix what went wrong. "I want to do that in New York, eventually. Badly."

We sincerely doubt Julian "went broke" with his Cirque du Soleil–meets-Dreamgirls extravaganza at the Palace, but his palpable frustration is yet another reminder of why there is such a thing as a "music industry."

Here's another nugget from the New York piece:

While recording out West, he briefly flirted with the idea of moving to L.A., wooed by blue skies and his love of driving the '92 Cutlass he bought for $1,000. "L.A. is a vortex. The weather there tricks you into thinking you're on vacation, even when you're working 14 hours a day," he says. "But when I came back, I was, like, 'Whoa! What the hell was I ... I'm glad I got out of there.'"

So are we, Julian.

—Gustavo Turner


"I'm handsome," Beth Orton announced onstage at the Largo last Wednesday night, reaching into her mouth to pull out a cough drop, which she shamelessly deposited on the stool beside her. "Walking pneumonia with the boogie-woogie flu" is how the British-born singer-songwriter explained the persistent cough that tormented her during her solo show, forcing her to stop and restart songs multiple times. Still, she managed to play a gorgeous hourlong set for an adoring, and forgiving, audience.

At first glance, Orton is beautifully plain. Tall and thin, dressed in skinny blue jeans and platforms with an oversize plaid shirt and short redwood-brown hair, she could be everyone's girl next door — privately talented and naturally attractive — the kind of girl you might spy on from a bedroom window, longing to hear her sing but not wanting to embarrass her with your presence.

She is self-conscious and apologetic, smiling bashfully, her haunting alto voice emerging surprisingly. Hearing Orton sing is like being whispered a great secret; her intimate voice delivers words in a strange process of crescendos and decrescendos, swelling to a wail and sinking down to a whisper in the space of a single word.

It was a rare occasion to see Orton alone onstage, and she said so herself. Until 2006, she played consistently with Ted Barnes, Sean Read, Will Blanchard and Ali Friend, and is known for her collaborations with the Chemical Brothers, William Orbit, Red Snapper and Bert Jansch. Toward the end of the set she invited bluegrass star Gillian Welch onstage to join her in a lullaby that she wrote for her 3-year-old daughter, and the two women serenaded the audience with their raw voices and folky guitar chords. "I'm usually onstage with men," she said, relishing the company of another woman.

Orton apologized for the bad timing of her illness, occasionally restarting songs to get a grasp of her wavering voice and visibly concentrating on suppressing a cough. Despite the interruptions, she managed her full, dreamy sound, nailing a gorgeous rendition of the Five Stairsteps' song "Ooh Child." She invited requests halfway through the set and played many of the audience's favorites from her five solo albums, including "Conceived" and "Feel to Believe."

—Erica Zora Wrightson


We here at West Coast Sound, existing as we do at the geographic crossroads of the music biz and the film industry, like to make a point of keeping readers abreast of inspired audio/visual intersections. For instance, exactly one month ago we alerted you to yet another outgrowth of Maynard James Keenan's exceptional hubris (and also his sense of humor), the forthcoming documentary about Keenan's wine business. We've also made a point of following the budding on-screen bromance of Snoop Dogg, Mayer Hawthorne and Diplo.

Well, another of L.A.'s most prolific music-makers is venturing into the feature-film world. The Mars Volta's Omar Rodriguez Lopez (who has retired the dash and accents previously adorning his surnames) has just released the trailer for The Sentimental Engine Slayer, which he wrote and directed, to debut at the International Film Festival Rotterdam in the Netherlands on February 4.

Evidently this is actually ORL's third film, but as neither 2001's A Manual Dexterity (also the title of a solo album) nor 2003's Letters From Dystopia was ever released to the public, they don't really count. Engine Slayer was shot on location in At the Drive-In's old stomping grounds, El Paso, and former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante is listed on the poster as executive producer.

For more news, music, video clips, MP3s and everything else L.A.-music–related, check L.A. Weekly's West Coast Sound blog at

—Chris Martins


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