72 Hours: Sean Rowe's stark storytelling, Beaches bring the noise and more
A look at some of the weekend's top concerts, with one Thursday night gig added as well (96 hours?).
Don't be fooled by the quiet nature of Sean Rowe's music. These are songs that are unexpectedly disarming. First, Rowe's baritone commands attention -- a deep, lived-in, worn-out and seen-it-all voice, one belonging to a barroom storyteller with a slyly understated grasp of melodic twists and turns. Then, his lyrics don't leave much room for a listener to turn away.
The bluesy highway haunt of "Jonathan" makes for a gripping landscape, and the memoir -- seemingly from the point of view of the victim of a tragic car wreck -- is full of tension. Details come quick, a curdling snapshot of the visions that make a lasting impression. "Remember Megan with her makeup off," Rowe sings, a moment of nostalgia amid the wreckage.
"That story was a lot longer than the final product," Rowe said. "It’s a real challenge to edit without losing the original intent in the songs, and that was really tough to record. I still don’t feel like it’s totally right. I don’t like to go into details on it, but that song was based on a true story. It was a car accident, and the people involved were people I was close to, and the song is taken from different perspectives."
Rowe's debut, released earlier this year on local indie Anti-, was recorded back in 2009. But Rowe wasn't necessarily an easy artist for a label to track down, living in upstate New York and scraping a living by playing to disinterested crowds and foraging for food in the wilderness. When Rowe appears at the Bootleg Theater on Friday night, opening for the folksy Olin & the Moon, it will be a long way removed from his marathon sets loaded with soul and R&B covers.
"I was kept alive by playing in bars," Rowe said. "It’s not my favorite thing to do. At times, it’s pretty soul-sucking. It’s exhausting. If you’re a solo guy, you’re playing four hours per night, and it’s just you. But I was able to pay my bills by doing that and that’s what I’ve been doing since 2004 ... Half the audience wants to hear it, and the other half the audience is spilling beer into your amp."
So perhaps that's why there's a hardscrabble toughness to Rowe's characters. Yet there's also a sense of humor amid the desperation. It pops up in the fed-up-with-it-all tone of "Wrong Side of the Bed," in which the narrator orders cable just to confirm that there's nothing worth watching, and even the Leonard Cohen-like ballad of "American," in which characters are drawn flaws and all.
Rowe gets through it with a mix of acoustic and electric guitars that look for space in the melodies rather than a defined direction. It gives even the barest of tunes a sense of mystery.
"For me, the most powerful music can sometimes be in the simplest form," Rowe said. "The real challenge is knowing when to stop, when to say, ‘That’s enough.’ It’s about what you can get away with -- what you can leave out -- and still have the song be powerful."
Yet no good rock 'n' roll story comes without at least a little bit of a myth, and Rowe has that as well, living out a Henry David Thoreau-like existence in the woods. "Some of that is a bit romantic," Rowe said, adding that "he's in the game."
"I was kinda bummed I didn’t get any deer this year," Rowe said of his diet. "I’ve been known to take a few deer -- roadkill and squirrels and all that. I won’t just take anything. It’s got to be pretty fresh. You don’t want to get something that’s been sitting there for days." -- Todd Martens
Sean Rowe, Olin and the Moon. Friday at the Bootleg Theater, 220 Beverly Blvd. Tickets are $10.
Other gigs of note this weekend:
Beaches @ Origami Vinyl. Don't let Australia's Beaches fly under the radar. In town for a gig Wednesday night, the band leaves L.A. after this Origami in-store tonight (Thursday), and there's no assurance the Melbourne act will be back anytime soon, having only a four-track EP ("Eternal Spheres") for U.S. release. At times a bit of a throwback to mid-'80s underground rock -- with slow-building crests of guitars and hypnotic vocal harmonies buried deep within the mix -- the five-piece leaves plenty of room for nuance.
Take the six-minute "New Knowledge," in which reverb-drenched guitars provide a fog-like foundation for interlocking solos, spacey effects and a cymbal-heavy rhythmic rush. Then get lost in the three-minute acceleration of "Halve," in which the all-female band lets its synchronized vocals ride the backs of the noise. Origami Vinyl, 1816 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. Thursday (show at 7 p.m.) Free. -- TM
Explosions in the Sky @ Hollywood Forever Cemetary. Picking up the torch of evocative, instrumental post-rock where Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor left off, this Austin, Texas, quartet may be the last group standing after the early '00s seemed glutted with voiceless bands that mastered the quiet-loud-quiet guitar formula.
The reason is the group's unwavering grasp of utilizing the crescendo as catharsis, something used to stirring effect in the echoing "Friday Night Lights" soundtrack and shown as still in fine form on the new album "Take Care, Take Care, Take Care." Showcasing these songs in a cemetery should only add another level of life-or-death drama to Explosions' imaginary film scores. Hollywood Forever Cemetary, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Saturday, 6:30 p.m. (show at 9 p.m.) Sold out, but plenty of tickets are available on the secondary market. -- Chris Barton
Stagecoach Country Music Festival @ Empire Polo Club. The annual Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio, which turns 5 this year, is always buoyed by the richly eclectic swath of music its organizers assemble. It’s a glowing example of the possibility for peaceful coexistence between the hyper-polished acts that monopolize the country radio airwaves and the grittier acts that keep the soul of country music alive.
The former camp is well represented at the top of this year’s two-day bill in the Jimmy Buffett-soaked hits of Kenny Chesney, the relentlessly sunshiny pop-country of Rascal Flatts and don’t-mess-with-me assertiveness of Carrie Underwood. Meanwhile, Stagecoach also typically offers up bona fide left-field delights, and this year that includes the West Coast debut of the Cleverlys.
This whimsical Nashville outfit applies no-joke instrumental chops and multi-part vocals to material including Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” and British prog-rock band Yes’ “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” Gentlemen, start your yodels. Empire Polo Club, 81-800 Ave. 51, Indio. Weekend pass is $149, not including surcharges. Saturday and Sunday (gates open at noon). -- Randy Lewis
Image: Sean Rowe. Credit: Christina Venditti / Anti- Records