Performing as a five-piece, Quadron began by starting the sutble groove of “LFT,” a highlight of their recently released Avalanche album. Singer Coco O emerged to give the song its ascendant melody. They moved into the funky “Favorite Star,” and Coco said it was a “dream come true” to be playing Amoeba. They kept things mellow, playing the sultry and emotional “Sea Salt,” one of the softer songs on Avalanche, which Coco said was one of her favorites on the album. They called out hero Michael Jackson for “Neverland,” possibly named after the King of Pop’s ranch home, while the music calls to mind smooth Jackson jams, such as “Man in the Mirror.” They finished the quick, soft set with “It’s Gonna Get You,” which nicely featured the band’s backup harmonies over the song’s mechanical groove. See more photos of the show here.
Laura Marling visited Amoeba Hollywood May 20, on the eve of releasing her latest album, Once I Was an Eagle. Appearing solo, she demonstrated the range and power of her deep, droning strum and her voice, which she wields magnificently, going from a high, quavering coo to deeply intoned phrases that land like a dull arrow to the heart. "Damn all those people who don't lose control" she sang in passionate monotone on her extended opening track, "You Know," immediately drawing in the sizable crowd gathered to see her. She pulled out bluesy riffs for "Master Hunter," which spurns a would-be lover by turning around a key Dylan phrase — "if you want a woman who can call your name, it ain’t me, babe."
Her next song belied its sweet melody and charming country arrangement with dark lyrics about depression and loneliness ("I couldn't get out of bed, I was all in my head" she sings before warning her paramour, "just don't go bleedin' me dry"). Marling expressed her excitement about playing Amoeba, saying it even surpassed playing L.A. for the first time, at acoustic music haven Hotel Cafe, and said she'd bought a psychobilly comp at the store. Her next song, a languid, prairie ballad saw her calling to mind Emmylou Harris-style heartbreak. On her closing track, Marling took listeners on a more serene journey, chanting "pray for me" over a steady jangle, channeling quiet pain into exquisitely lovely music.
La Santa Cecilia isn't a person — or she isn't a live person, rather. It’s a band fusing all sorts of worldly influences — cumbia, bossa nova and blues, to name a few — named after the patron saint of musicians. But you could’ve been fooled into thinking frontwoman Marisol Hernandez was a saint herself, given the way she commanded the stage at Amoeba Hollywood April 30.
Her booming voice soared over a bluesy opener, generating rapturous applause from the show’s sizable audience. The band then went into an upbeat song driven by Jose “Pepe” Carlos’ riveting accordion playing, with Carlos and bassist Alex Bendana backing up Hernandez with trade-off vocals. Hernandez seemed to get choked up as she thanked people for coming, later saying it was an honor to play in the store. As though driven to please those she had just thanked, she danced, jumped and sang her heart out through the band's next bilingual jam. The band paused for a break while medical personnel attended to a concert-goer in medical need (who was shortly doing fine, it was announced).
They came back and introduced legendary drummer Pete Thompson, who carried them through a spirited romp as the band worked to restore stability to the show, while Hernandez rapped and roared through another song complete with blazing guitar solo. She gushed about receiving an email from Elvis Costello saying he wanted not only to perform but write on the album as well, sending lyrics for the song “Losing Game,” from their just-released Treinta Dias. Though Costello wasn’t present, Hernandez made up for it by doubling her already formidable stage presence and voice through the song’s swinging New Orleans feel.
In contrast with some of their arty antics off-stage, L.A. band Fol Chen began their set at Amoeba Hollywood merely declaring, “Hi, we’re Fol Chen,” before launching into the digital sitars and Janet Jackson-style coos of “A Tourist Town,” from the recently released The False Alarms.
With a four-person set-up, their detailed pop songs came through remarkably clearly and intact. Frontwoman Sinosa Loa wore a purple dress and white gloves like Madonna, though her more demure stage presence is more befitting of the band’s digitized, skewed brand of pop.
It was hard to hear Loa on “The Fifth Season,” one of the pitfalls of their complex sound being that they occasionally don’t clear enough space for the singer, who looked a little lost. It got better halfway through when digital manipulation of Loa’s voice seemed to give her more confidence and the band’s creepy digital space becomes quite effective. The band fared better altogether on single “I.O.U.,” an irresistible pop tune with a bubblegum chorus — albeit an intelligent one. Loa made those gloves work for her as she clutched the mic close and gesticulated with one hand.
Their keyboardist came out front to play trumpet to nice effect on “Winter, That’s All,” from their album Part I: John Shade, Your Fortune’s Made. It helped humanize and demystify some of the band's methods, nicely displaying their guitarist’s noise-making capabilities on an effected acoustic guitar as Loa eerily sang “Lately I don’t feel so hot/Could it be the winter, that’s all.” While the newer songs are better-written, they seemed to be still getting the hang of them, while on older songs, like “The Holograms” and “In Ruins,” from their last album, Part II: The New December, they seemed more confident and louder.
Experimental pop group Fol Chen are as known for their innovative music as they are for their artistic activities outside of merely performing onstage. The Los Angeles-based band has given interviews with their faces obscured a la The Knife, invited guest singers onstage via Craigslist, had a metal band perform its songs, performed reconstructed, long-form versions of their albums in Russia, held a workshop in which attendees could get their own song made, and partnered with an electronics manufacturer to produce a sound device, writing and recording two songs with it.
All of that is a mouthful for a band who’s still on the up-and-up. It certainly makes for a great backstory, but it only works if the music does as well. Thankfully, Fol Chen’s music is as bright and intriguing as what they do with it, a hyperactive, dynamic electro-pop sound informed by world music, new wave, dance-punk and other sources both cerebral and celebratory. Their latest album, The False Alarms, is their most pop-oriented statement yet, with group vocals and some of their more avant-garde instincts eschewed in favor of giving singer Sinosa Loa a platform on which to perform as an alt-pop diva. I spoke with Fol Chen’s Samuel Bing before their two performances at Amoeba, first in San Francisco April 24 at 6 p.m. and then in Hollywood April 25 at 7 p.m.