As a lover of vocal groups from the moment that my dad handed me my first Beach Boys album, I fell in love with the “California Sound” very early. I bought a lot of Beach Boys music in those years, fell in love with the Eagles (before Glenn Frey threatened to kick my ass, Schmit style) and always kept my ears open for new artists in the same vein. When the Born and Raised album came across my desk many years later in 1997, I had my first official meeting with the brothers Venice featuring cousins Michael and Kipp Lennon, Michael’s brother Mark, and Kipp’s brother Pat. I had finally come across a group making music now that captured that California sound and those four part harmonies that I loved so much, and they made it seem almost effortless. How can people not know about these guys already? As I began to poke around for information about this “new group,” I discovered that they’d actually been around for a while, having been through the major label experience with one solitary major label album released in 1990 on Modern/Atlantic. They were supposed to be the “next big thing” at that point, but it didn’t quite happen – a classic case of a group that was gobbled up and spit out by the major label machine. After the disappointment of the major label experience, the band would regroup privately for a few years, continuing to record songs while also playing shows locally in the California area where they had developed a sizable fanbase. And as it turns out, they already had picked up a few famous fans, including Jackson Browne:
“Venice, one of my favorite bands, is quintessentially Californian, with soaring harmonies. We’ve played together at numerous benefits and at each other’s concerts. What they do is sing amazingly. There are two lead singers, there are four harmony parts a lot of the time, and what it most resembles is CSN, or sometimes Sly and the Family Stone. Well, anything unique is pretty hard to describe, but that’s the general musical terrain. They sing and play their asses off, and I have seen them knock out many an unsuspecting crowd.”
With Venice, that’s what it’s all about – you’ve gotta see them live. And unless you’re in the Netherlands (where they’re huge to the point that they won an Edison Award, the Dutch equivalent of a Grammy, beating out Coldplay and U2) or California, that can be a difficult feat to accomplish – despite their best efforts, they never really have managed to achieve widespread success in the U.S. Which is a real shame, because over the years, they’ve produced some really fine songs, tailor made for anyone that likes vocal harmonies in the vein of CSN, Steely Dan, The Eagles, etc. Their music and lyrics capture a variety of emotions – the beauty of being alive, mixed with the pain of suddenly finding yourself alone, while tracing the rebuilding process towards eventually moving on. Although their recent material has been more mellow than earlier releases, Venice are still a rock band first and foremost.
Electric – Live and Amplified offers the hard proof that Venice can still turn the amps up and rock out with the best of them. Over the course of 15 songs and nearly 80 minutes of music (you can stream samples from the album), the brothers Venice crank out one helluva crowd pleasing set, and damn, it’s about time! Recorded live in the Netherlands earlier this year, Electric opens with four quality vintage rockers in a row, before pausing for a slight breather with the always welcome “Pushed Her Too Far,” the vocal showcase featuring vocalist Mark Lennon, from their 1990 major label debut. Of the opening four-pack, “My Woman” burns with an intensity that I haven’t heard in a long time. Similarly, guitarist Michael Lennon turns in a smokin’ guitar solo on “Baby’s Calling” that is one of several moments on Electric that will remind you what monster players these guys are.
Of the various live CDs and DVDs that have been released by Venice to date, Electric – Live and Amplified is the first release that truly captures the Venice live show that I’ve heard so much about. It’s a really nice mix of the early rock stuff (“Bleeding,” “The Water,” “All My Life,” etc.), stuff from the past few albums (“Think Again,” “Evolve”) and even a brand new track, “High So High” that suggests that Venice might continue to push future material in more of a rock direction. And we’d be down with that. Electric is both a nice gift for the longtime fans, and also a good intro piece for the Venice curious – lend them your ears, and you’ll be glad that you did.