My friend Solly came down last weekend on a miniature vacation from Seattle. She was unlucky enough to have the rain follow her down and catch up to her by Monday, but the weekend was still nice, if chilly. I had checked the local listings to see if anyone decent was playing; I noticed the Les Savy Fav listing but ignored it. Iâ€™d had a chance to see them play a couple years ago with The Hold Steady up at the Avalon (the first show I saw after I moved to LA) and ended up leaving early; watching Craig Finn close their set with a blue-lit version of â€œKiller Partiesâ€ was all I needed to complete my night. But Solly found the listing herself and proposed we go, and although I balked at paying an $8.00 service charge to Ticketmaster for advance tickets, the show hadnâ€™t sold out by Saturday afternoon so after dinner at El Coyote, we parked on 9th Street and walked the two blocks up to Wilshire to try our luck at the box office.
The El Rey is one of my favorite venues in Los Angeles. Part of this has to with the fact that itâ€™s one of the most convenient, for me. While itâ€™s quite a hike to actually walk there, itâ€™s a simple matter to drive halfway without feeling guilty about downing more than a few drinks before coasting a few downhill blocks to get back home. Another reason is that I saw my current favorite band, Explosions in the Sky, blow the roof off the place a year ago in November. Perhaps I entertain dreams of renting one of the two private balconies, as is feasible for anyone with a credit card and a bit of foresight to do. I think, at the end of the day, I just like the way the El Rey is set up.
Iâ€™m not a good judge of capacities, but I guess Iâ€™d say it fits somewhere around 500 people. Itâ€™s a bit long, rather than wide, but there are several layers to the flooring, plus a balcony, so itâ€™s easy to get an unobstructed view of the stage. There are even seats around the outside. I think if I were a vampire this would be one of my favorite spots; everything is drenched in red velvet, and the dim lighting from glass chandeliers gives off an ominous atmosphere of treachery.
The Dodos opened the show, and as I stood around contemplating whether Iâ€™d seen them before at the Echo last year (the singer, Meric Long, exhibits a certain dreaminess that undoubtedly gets him laid with criminal frequency) they managed to captivate me with some hypnotic finger-picked guitar (by Meric) and underhanded drumming (by his partner, Logan Kroeber). Thereâ€™s something very contagious about their music, the way the thumping drums mix together with a few ringing chords to provide a rich sound that seems much more complex than two instruments could possibly deliver. As with any two-person outfit, it often becomes necessary to use voices, or other tricks, to flesh out the music, and the Dodos were no exception, using vocal harmonies and even a looped trombone riff to lend complexity to their songs. Solly wasnâ€™t overly thrilled with them, claiming that Viva Voce was a better drums and guitar duo, but I was very impressed.
Les Savy Fav (pronounced lay-SAH-vee-FAHV) took the stage with the force of something like a hurricane. The lead singer, Tim Harrington, emerged with red fabric stretched across his face as though he had just finished robbing a convenience store. Within moments of putting his hands on the microphone stand, he had turned it upside down and held it up overhead. Seeing the pendulum weight of the base suspended in midair, my first thought was â€œsomething bad is about to happen.â€ The bass player, Syd Butler, watched this all with an expression of bemusement, accepting Timâ€™s antics as just another night in front of a crowd. Seth Jabour, the guitarist, seemed concerned with nothing beyond the upper frets of his guitar. And Harrison Haynes, on drums, held things together capably from the back.
Tim Harringtonâ€™s physique resembles what Dr. Zoidberg looks like after heâ€™s shed his carapace — jiggly and pink. And his bald pate and scruffy beard brings to mind what youâ€™d imagine the lead singer of GWAR would look like without the prosthetic mask. Heâ€™s not the least bit shy about venturing into the audience, helped by an extended microphone cord which miraculously didnâ€™t strangle anyone.
I wasnâ€™t a big fan of Les Savy Favâ€™s music, but I did enjoy the show. The final few numbers — during which they pulled audience members onstage and Tim, now dressed as Santa Claus sans pants, enthusiastically tore the stuffing out of a giant teddy bear through the throat — were a bit much for me, but the point of seeing live music is to be entertained, and nobody could accuse Les Savy Fav of failing to accomplish that.