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.
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.