Two quick points about last week’s Caro Emerald show at the El Rey here in Los Angeles. The first: it made me feel my age (37 years). The second: it was terrific.
While the name Caro Emerald, particularly when framed by the plush ruby red drapings of the El Rey, invokes an impression of a Bolivian or Argentinian firebrand, the performer is actually Dutch, originally named Caroline Esmeralda van der Leeuw. And she’s a jazz singer. Caro was first introduced to the music world in 2009, and the following year had the biggest selling album in the Netherlands. This show was originally scheduled for November, but the entire tour – her first in the United States – was postponed due to the effects of Hurricane Sandy.
Although I was appropriately fueled for the evening with a cocktail called “Up All Night” obtained at the nearby Luna Park restaurant, I was actually quite pleased that there wasn’t an opening band and that Caro’s performance began promptly at 9 – I’ve got a cat that wakes me up at 6 a.m. and I’m not really of the temperment anymore to engage in contests to see who can start (and end) their evening the latest.
The El Rey hasn’t changed all that much in the last couple of years, consisting of lots of red velvet and chandeliers, but it’s very well-suited for an act like Caro Emerald. Some of L.A.’s other similar-sized venues like the Troubadour or the Avalon are too dingy, and sit-down spots like the Largo or the Catalina jazz club are too subdued. The El Rey is sufficiently classy, without feeling like it’s necessary to sit down and shut up when the music starts; crowds here know better than to expect complete silence and reverence here, but it’s never going to be so chaotic that the lead singer of Giant Drag threatens to **** a **** in your *****. Even such, there were a few sections roped off with “reserved” tables set up, though I didn’t see any familiar faces among the snappily-dressed folks who eventually set up residence in these spots.
Caro brought the entire band with her to the U.S., which included a total of eight pieces, and the show opened nicely by letting each of them showcase their talents before the singer even took the stage. Caro’s performance consisted of lots of sparkle and bounce, with no discernable accent to suggest that she’d walked out of anywhere other than 1940′s film noir Los Angeles. With topics like infidelity, and disconnected phones, some of the songs – particularly “The Other Woman” – seemed like they would be very much at home in a film like Mulholland Falls or L.A. Confidential. If James Bond ever did a film set in the world of Raymond Chandler, I’d fully expect to see Caro Emerald performing the theme song.
Some of the highlights for the show, for me, were hearing the guitar player break into a rockabilly solo that could have been lifted from a Nancy Sinatra album, a rare baritone saxophone solo, absolutely no technical missteps whatsoever, and a nifty duel between the trumpet player and the guitarist. One of the band members was working a turntable and I thought he was a little too enthusiastic at times, but it didn’t take much away from the music, and some of the layer effects he added on top of Caro’s voice were quite novel and enjoyable. I was as appreciative as the rest of the crowd by the end of the night, and similarly pleased that the encore consisted of on a single song.
Would I see Caro Emerald again? Absolutely. Would I bring a date? You bet. Would I bring my mistress…eh, probably not the best idea.