Photo by Timothy NorrisWe moved to Los Angeles because we found horizontal insanity to be better than vertical insanity, explained Mark Mothersbaugh during his greeting at the Walt Disney Concert Hall last night, where a dozen songwriters from points across the globe gathered to share two songs apiece for the rapt crowd. Part of the remarkable Concrete Frequency series, the event, called Songs of the City, was less a song circle than a song crescent. Each performer faced the crowd while the others sat in a faux-living room behind them. One by one, the artists delivered songs on guitar, piano or some combination thereof. There was no campfire because were in a city, where comfy couches and concert halls offer warmth.
Review and captons by Randall Roberts
Photo by Timothy NorrisL.A.'s Biirdie began the evening with beautiful California harmonies and odes to apartment living, and later accompanied Belle and Sebastian's Stevie Jackson for one of the evening's highlights.
Photo by Timothy NorrisFranklin Bruno delivered a heartbreaking rendition of his lovelorn Tired of the West, and set a high standard for so early in the evening.
Photo by Timothy NorrisAnnie Stela at the piano
Photo by Timothy NorrisZach Rogue of Rogue Wave delivered a softer, gentler vibe, with songs that bent in the wind.
Photo by Timothy NorrisIs there a better song about a city than X's Los Angeles? John Doe conjured a grim, forbidding version of the classic.
Photo by Timothy NorrisJohn Doe at "Concrete Frequency"
Photo by Timothy NorrisMoney Mark
Photo by Timothy NorrisThe evening offered a lesson in the elasticity of both time and the human mind. Great songwriters managed to make ten minutes feel like a camera flash, created a fully formed world; conversely, mediocre songwriters somehow transformed the span of a mere two songs into an interminable, Kafkaesque exercise in watch-tapping. Money Mark missed the mark with his ode to a Black Butterfly.
Photo by Timothy NorrisStevie Jackson of Belle and Sebastian may sing fewer songs than bandmate Stuart Murdoch, but Jackson's got a prettier voice. He didn't do our favorite song of his, Seymour Stein, about the Sire Records founder, but with the help of Biirdie he did a perfect version of Electric Box, about restless youth in Glasgow and the police who pester them.
Photo by Timothy NorrisZooey Deschanel performed two cover songs with M. Ward accompanying her. The biggest crime of the night was that Ward didn't play even one of his own songs. Rather, one of the best songwriters of the '00s was relegated to supporting Deschanel, who delivered two striking, though a bit over-sung, covers: Lonesome Town and I Put a Spell on You.
Photo by Timothy NorrisIs it just me, or is Sondre Lerche kind of a hot dog? He seemed it at the Disney; he talked too much and was a bit too clever, kind of like his songs.
Photo by Timothy NorrisInara George of The Bird and the Bee performed with Van Dyke Parks. Their rendition of the Randy Newman-penned Vine Street was spine-tingling. The two are working together on George's next album.
Photo by Timothy NorrisInara George and Van Dyke Parks
Photo by Timothy NorrisGrizzly Bear's Daniel Rossen seemed a bit overwhelmed by George and Parks' performance. I didn't know I was going to have to follow 'Vine Street,' he said, exasperated. He stepped up, however, and offered two perfect songs.
Photo by Timothy NorrisBob Mould
Photo by Timothy NorrisThe final songs of the night arrived via TV on the Radio's Kyp Malone. The crowd by then had witnessed a handful of breathtaking performances, but Malone managed within moments of opening his mouth to capture the essence of song and transfix the audience's heart.