There was no photography allowed in the venue when Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions, the band featuring the revered Mazzy Star vocalist and My Bloody Valentine's Colm Ó Cíosóig, played Hollywood Forever last night in a concert marking the release of its latest album Through the Devil Softly. Absolutely none. This rule was stated no fewer than six times on printouts that lined the entrance and parlor room. Perhaps that was for the best. The glare of camera flashes and cell phones pointed toward the stage might have ruined the carefully crafted ambience of the gathering.
With its stone facade, a courtyard lined with twinkling palm trees and mosaic floors, the venue looked like a cross between an Old Hollywood apartment building and a mausoleum. This was seemingly appropriate, as there are probably more than a few people who did time in art deco structures off of Vine or Gower or Franklin who now spend eternity interred in this famed cemetery.
We waited for the theater doors to open inside a parlor overlooking Santa Monica Boulevard, the speeding sound of post-rush hour street traffic almost obscured by haunting ambient music pumped through the speakers. The sold-out crowd was dressed almost entirely in black: vintage dresses, velvet blazers, the occasional band t-shirt boasting names like Dead Can Dance and Jesus and Mary Chain. Once the theater doors opened, we scattered throughout a room that with its peaked roof and altar-like stage looked as though it may have once been a chapel. Along the red painted walls were posters from films like The Exorcist, Star Wars and A Clockwork Orange. Although we were removed from the headstones, there was never a time where one could forget that we were in a place where actors and musicians are laid to rest.
When Dirt Blue Gene, the Irish shoegaze band that doubles as current members of the Warm Inventions, opened, the room grew strangely dim. A few chandeliers glowed faintly from the ceiling, candles flickered at the front of the stage and a tiny bit of moonlight streamed through a stained glass window. This wasn't your typical show. Despite the intimate space, if you weren't in the first few rows, it was difficult to see anything but monstrous shadows of the band members against a white wall. Watching the figures rise and fall alongside the ebb and flow of guitars that consumed the room was quite a sight, though.
Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions' set opened with a silent film ballerina moving en pointe along the wall. Throughout the set, images moved back and forth between decades and subject matter, always playing in grainy loops. The lighting, though, seemed to grow darker, with the shadows of the band members looming above Sandoval. The singer barely spoke throughout the set, only uttering a soft-spoken, occasional “thank you” to the crowd. Moving between three microphones, she didn't even seem to make much eye contact with the audience. When she faced forward, all that was visible was a large mic and long, loose hair. During her pauses, she frequently turned her head as though gazing at the film loops. In the moments when she played the xylophone, she stood with her back to the bulk of the crowd. Ultimately, this put the sound at the forefront of the experience, with Sandoval's voice echoing eerily throughout the hall as the instruments quietly stepped into the background. At times, the best response was to just close your eyes and let the music possess you.
Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions did everything that stands at odds with what usually makes a performance strong: little light, little crowd interaction, even little movement. But in doing this, the band created a spectacle all of its own, one that was haunting for more than just the fact that it was held in a cemetery.
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