It can be a bit tough to track down a real sense of community in Los Angeles, particularly in the music scene, where industry folk are often more visible than the fans themselves. Regardless of how not underground it may be at this point and how palatable it tries to keep its broadcasts, KCRW is a radio station that L.A. needs, if only because it can play parent to a family of listeners. More mainstream stations in the city aren’t nearly exclusive or specialized enough to tie their listeners with a common bond.
The station has quite a massive family at this point. The Gibson Amphitheatre, capacity of more than six thousand, was completely packed for the evening, which was raising money to help KCRW digitizing its library. Opener Bitter:sweet had to play as half the crowd was walking in, but frontwoman Shana Halligan was humbled at the chance to play such a large venue: “I need to take your picture ’cause we’ve never played in front of so many people before!” she said. After taking a few crowd shots, she and the ten other people performing carried on with their dark and dishy down-tempo, showing off a harpist and a string quartet where one might expect a sampled record to be. Naturally, Kiran Shahani’s bass was louder than anything, contributing to that dark heaviness that saturated the band’s performance. Shame that the giant screens simulcasting the event for those in the back focused a little too closely on Halligan (such happens when you’re wearing an evening gown, I guess), and shame that there were just three people in the audience dancing along with Bitter:sweet.
But no bother. The room padded up, and Mixmaster Wolf of funk band Breakestra kicked off the next set by leading an obligatory “Fuck Bush” chant. The entire room followed suit, sweat began to seep through Wolf’s gray shirt, and the next thing we knew, an extended jam session was following up a flute appearance. But it wasn’t until Cold War Kids finished off the third set with the now-overplayed “Hang Me Up to Dry” that the night’s audience completely stood and supported a performance, nor was it apparent until seeing the band live that I realized Cold War Kids are more likely to claim hip-hop or soul influences than their indie-as-genre peers.
On the note of influences, Gabriela Quintero of Rodrigo y Gabriela introduced her band with “We play crazy music, as you can see, influenced by METAL!” Not only could Quintero throw up devil horns on cue, but even those on the balcony would have been able to see the fingers on her right hand. As with fellow guitarist Rodrigo Sanchez, she could fill her share of guitar, drum and bass parts by knocking fingers against the wood of her acoustic guitar while her cohort played simultaneous treble and bass strings; whether during a “Stairway to Heaven” serenade or a band original, Quintero led with a rough touch while Sanchez took care of soft, intricate picking and played lover to her fighter.
Though solid all around, the show’s remainder was less thrilling than the acoustic metal that preceded it. As expected, Lily Allen was the ironically cutesy lush in a pink babydoll, giggling through a confession of Jagermeister proportions and revealing that this would be the last of her American stops for a “long, long time.” Surprise guest Travis showed themselves to be all-around nice guys, what with Fran Healy introducing “My Eyes” as the song he wrote after he found out he “was gonna be a papa,” then noting that he was excited he wasn’t yet shooting blanks. Travis had headlined at that very theater seven years prior, when Healy had just become engaged. But this crowd didn’t care about watching these Scottish boys becoming men — they were too busy busting out joints during “Love will Come Through” or getting up for restroom breaks. The Shins, the night’s headliner, didn’t fare much better — they garnered little response through newer songs but massive enthusiasm for “New Slang,” proving that KCRW fans are indeed the people who take pleasure in Zach Braff and backlash. James Mercer appeared to have the saddest eyes of all the world’s frontmen.