For the past 13 years, at the charmingly bohemian Petit Ermitage Hotel in West Hollywood on Friday nights, an L.A. legend has provided an intimate, sexy and artfully rhythmic experience that’s unlike anything else in town — and we don’t say that with nonchalance or hyperbole. The show is that unique.
Inside a candle-lit room on the roof of the hotel, filled with people sitting on vintage chairs, velvet pillows and ornate rugs, the self-proclaimed “film noir soul” musician Toledo Diamond walks in and begins using an old table as a drum. Backed by a small full band, including a key-crushing, head-swaying young female pianist behind him, he begins a throaty oration that’s part singing, part spoken word/not quite rap, weaving cinematic sounding tales about life, love and mystery. Driven by his Tom-Waits-meets-Cab-Calloway–ish vocals, the music builds, as one number blends into the next, and suddenly a beautiful girl (or two) in lingerie emerges to dance beside him — sometimes with him — enacting his poetic musical expression.
He tells us afterward that everything in his hotel show is thought up and delivered “on the spot with no rehearsal, no notes and no prep,” at all. The show is 100 percent improvised and spontaneous, and it all comes together to create pure magic on a weekly basis, providing a speakeasy-style escape for hotel guests and those lucky enough to get on his guest list.
If you’re a L.A. nightlife lover, you’ve heard of Toledo. The audacious L.A. native, who’s proudly lived “everywhere from South Central to the Valley to Hollywood” (he says the latter were his stomping grounds), has been bringing his stage shows — the long-running Toledo Show and Toledo’s Circus of Sin — to L.A. club stages consistently for the past couple decades now, everywhere from The Central (now The Viper Room) to Union in Hollywood. His current residency, open to the public, is at Harvelle’s in Santa Monica on Sundays.
When we ask him how he describes what he does, he says it’s essentially “film noir fairy tales,” but adds that the dancers are an important element that inspire him. “I’ve always considered them as femme fatales ever since the beginning,” he says. “I love women that own everything they do, good, bad or indifferent… so the show is really a femme-fatale cabaret.”
Though The Toledo Show was lumped into the burlesque scene early on, that label was always too limiting for what he did and does, which is driven by live music and storytelling talent. Toledo commands attention at all times. The Harvelle’s shows, he says, are more structured than what he does at Petit, but even after all these years, the musical poet possesses pizazz. His performances have aged like fine wine, or even more accurately, like the classic old movies that inspire his vibe.
“It has these elements of like, you’re in an old gangster movie,” he says of his sound and feel, anchored in soul, but ever-changing, which keeps it fresh. “It’s just cool. You can’t really describe it, because it’s its own thing. No two people will feel it the same way. But it’s about the past and the present and the people you meet along the way.”