Tears for Fears' Curt Smith checks into residency in the Standard's lobby
Earlier this month, I experienced a surreal evening at the Standard Hotel in West Hollywood. Sure, you say, pretty much any night inside what used to be one of the hippest hotels on the Sunset Strip might be described as surreal, but bear with me.
The less-hair-having half of former chart-topping English duo Tears for Fears, Curt Smith, played two sets of music inside the lobby of the Standard -- free. Oblivious guests walked by on their way to the pool, unaware of the pedigree of the English guy singing nearby. Fewer than 40 fans were in attendance (the room itself, the hotel’s wicker-furniture-laden Cactus Lounge, holds just about the same number). Smith has been in residency at the Standard for a few weeks now, performing every Wednesday, and hotel reps recently announced that they are extending the run all through March.
"I'm doing the residency because I enjoy performing," said Smith via e-mail earlier this week. "It's intentionally an intimate show, in keeping with the nature of my solo record. Not having a cover charge means that people who only know me from Tears for Fears and aren't familiar with my solo work might take a chance and check it out."
Fans drove in from as far as Azusa to see Smith the night I was there, hoping no doubt to hear a little "Head Over Heels" or perhaps even "Mad World." And Smith, though oddly shy for a man who has performed in front of countless fans during the course of his career, was happy to oblige. He sang "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" in a semi-acoustic setting (with Doug Petty on keyboards and Charlton Pettus handling guitar/backing vocals duty), and performed songs such as “Aeroplane” from his solo record of the same name.
"My daughters prefer Tears for Fears songs as they're more upbeat and generic," Smith said. "Dad's songs are 'a little too sad' for them, which just means that they're harder to understand."
What's not hard to understand is Smith's enduring appeal for his small but devoted fan base. Tears for Fears remain a criminally underrated band that you seldom hear about these days from the current crop of British bands, acts that were clearly influenced by them (we're looking in your general direction, Coldplay).
But Smith, who usually plays bass for Tears for Fears, is maybe the sweetest, most humble musician one is likely to meet in Los Angeles, and he's hardly jealous of other acts mining the back-in-vogue sound of records such as Tears for Fears' debut, "The Hurting." In fact, he pays homage to bands such as Coldplay by covering their songs in his set. His version of "Yellow" is a crowd-pleaser, and his take on Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees" was mesmerizing. Smith has even added a Keane tune to his repertoire ("Somewhere Only We Know").
"I'll cover anything that feels right," Smith said, but it's clear he'd rather build up a new group of fans who might be into listening to his solo offerings. Yet the singer is willing to concede to a bit of Vegas-style camp in order to get bodies through the door. And who can blame him? He lives near the hotel and might as well call it his living room (with a few guests dropping by to hear new tunes).
"We're putting together a live Tears for Fears album right now," he said of Tears for Fears, adding that the band (yes, they are still together, even if the group’s other founding member, Roland Orzabal, spends more of his time in England than Los Angeles) will be touring the West Coast this summer for a string of dates.
It's been a few years since Tears for Fears last released new material (in 2004, as far as I can tell), but the group still gigs in Europe and America. Just don't expect to see the band on one of those awful 1980s package festivals anytime soon.
"I don't believe that what Tears for Fears has done, and continues to do, can be pigeonholed into a genre or decade. We refuse to encourage it and would be depressed if we did it."
-- Charlie Amter
Curt Smith plays the Cactus Room at the Standard Hotel on Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood (two sets per night) every Wednesday through the end of March. From 7 to 10 p.m. No cover, but drinks or dinner must be ordered to sit down/hold a table. Reservations are recommended via calling (323) 650-9090 x2921.
Photo by Goblynz Groove Media/Justine Ungaro