I always try to support my friends who are singers or in bands that I love. So I was in a quandary Wednesday night when two of my favorite local bands and a pop singer/songwriter that I love were all playing in Hollywood on the same night. The singer/songwriter, BINX, LA’s queen of performance pop (and a hot web influencer and persona), was playing at The Academy on Hollywood Blvd at 8 pm. Her shows – which I have been attending for almost 2 years – are full of energy, flash, costume changes, dances, and just great “prock”- a combination of pop and rock that is unique and wonderful.
The two bands I wanted to see that night were Eva and the Vagabond Tales and Cuñao, both at Hotel Café, off of Sunset Blvd. about a half a mile from the Academy. Eva was scheduled at 9:30pm and Cuñao at 11, I have been following both bands for a couple of years and I love both dearly as artists and people. The Vagabond Tales – a multi-instrumental music project centered around Russian-born Eva Mikhailovna – combines western, old folk, and ragtime and was releasing its latest album, Uncharted Ocean. Cuñao is a Latin Folk/world music group with African rhythms, Eastern European melodies, and American rock aesthetics. They combine their energy with other artists and other genres to constantly evolve. Among the many places I have seen them play are in major urban Latin clubs, at a Westside Artists fair, and in a Korean cultural center jamming with classical Korean players
Since these are all friends playing not-to-be-missed shows, I had to make it work. I did. Parking and a surprise singer helped
BINX was on early at the Academy, 8-ish. The venue is a huge warehouse with an outdoor patio, a VIP lounge, and thankfully, a big parking lot on the premises. The producer, RAW of Hollywood, creates events that combine tactile arts with music, which was the scene that night. The location was perfect – inside was a huge stage and runway surrounded by bars and artists’ booths that spilled out into the patio. Since I was able to park next to the entry gate and was on the press list and had cameras, I avoided the line and got into position during the opening rap act. I was ready to go when the lights went down about 8: 20 and BINX’S room-size video introduction rolled across screens circling the hall.
And then there she was, brilliant is her bright yellow Bee- coat, the first of three costumes she wore during the set. She filled the cavernous room with light, humor and opulent musical energy as she strode, strutted and danced onstage and down the runway into a forest of cellphone cameras. BINX wrapped up just before 9 and headed outside for an acoustic gig accompanied by Christopher Watson on guitar and Austin Reeves on drums. I shot some photos and waved goodbye as I made for the exit, hoping the 10 minutes I had given myself was enough to load my gear, drive to the Hotel Café, find a place to park, unload and get past the gatekeepers before Eva went onstage.
It turned out to be more than enough time, thanks to a propitious parking lot and a surprise singer.
The parking lot one door away from the ally entrance to the Hotel Cafe was open – it is usually full by 9 pm on weekend nights but tonight there were spaces. I did not have to circle Hollywood Blvd. and end up 4 or 5 blocks away. My buddy was at the door and waved me in after a high-five. I made into the Main Stage at 9:30 exactly hoping I could get near the front when I discovered that, unknown to me, singer-songwriter Josh Cuadra was opening for the Vagabond Tales.
Whew. Plenty of time. And a great surprise.
I did not know Cuadra but quickly warmed to his intricate, sometimes funny and sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes both lyrics. The Hotel Café’s Main Stage was full with every table occupied so I resigned myself to standing when a lovely and very polished woman removed her coat from the other chair at her table and bid me welcome, an invitation neither I nor my feet could refuse. She also told me a little about Cuadra, whom she had encountered before and liked enough to come across town to see perform.
Eva joined Cuadra for a couple of beautifully harmonized songs at the end of his set and then the Vagabond Tales band took the stage and the fun really began.
Eva is disarmingly young and innocent looking – like the Red Riding hood she sings in one of her most popular songs. But you soon realize that she is she is a sophisticated songwriter, bandleader, and entertainer who has assembled a stellar group of musicians (Jake Pflum, percussion; Alan Arteaga, banjo, electric guitar, ukulele; Jasmine Capitulo, accordion; and Benjamin Purper, bass). The upbeat, complex and addictive music they produce, combined with Eva’s sparkling eyes, sweet smile, and an endless supply of funny and sometimes self-deprecating stories kept the audience singing, clapping, and laughing from first note to last. My only complaint is that she did not sing “Little Red Riding hood” in which she gets the audience to literally howl with her. But this was a release show and that song is not on the new album.
Cuñao takes a little time set up – there are six of them on stage and multiple instruments. When the launched into their English and Spanish music they practically hypnotized the audience. Supported by Craig Shields’ masterful Cajon tempos and the spellbinding dual violins of Gabriel Ramirez-Ortiz and Tom Moose, Julio Moreno’s vocals and Severin Behnen’s accordion glided and soared, ( I saw two accordion players on stage that night at the Hotel Café, one in each band – unusual because I often go for months without seeing even one). Eva joined Cuñao for two songs in their luscious 10-song set, and then they wrapped the night by bringing the house down with “El Llano”.
After Cuñao cleared the stage, it was party time, both in the main hall and then out in the lobby around the merch booth. Dozens of friends of Eva, the Vagabond Tales and the members of Cuñao mobbed the bands with hugs and kisses and selfies. I did my share of hugging, kissing and abrazos (but no selfies – I had enough photos) and headed home. After all, even for an inveterate music lover, two clubs, three bands, and a new artist is a pretty full night.
(As luck would have it, the night wasn’t over yet. As I exited the parking lot by the Hotel Café I ran right into a film or TV show doing a night shoot on Cahuenga Blvd. lining the street with production vans and the sidewalks with people)
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