Wednesday, November 21, 2012

LIVE Review: Cold Specks at The Getty - Los Angeles. November 17th, 2012

Cold Specks at the Harold M. Williams Auditorium at the Getty Museum, Los Angeles, November 17th 2012

Slowly plodding along with a river of cars through a sudden California down pour, I was doing my best to not be late to see Cold Specks at the Harold M. Williams Auditorium situated at the world famous Getty Museum in Los Angeles. As everyone knows, Southern Californians do not handle wet streets very well, freeways even less well but luck was on my side and I made it in time. I had seen Al Spx (Cold Specks) months earlier at the Troubadour. She performed solo and the crowd packed in close for a moving and intimate performance. This time around it was Cold Specks with a 6 piece back up band. The auditorium with it's super wide stage, stylish set design and amphitheater seating is not the way I like to see a band. First of all the intruments spanned almost the width of the stage. For the players it was like eating dinner at a really long table and trying to communicate. I love when band members can be so close that they can really interact not only musically but physically if they care to. Another unfortunate thing at the Getty was having to stay seated.

All these petty complaints of mine shed away when Al walked center stage to a silent packed house. Her performance started a capella. Then she moved slowly to her guitar and her fellow musicians would walk in from the translucent partitions when they suited the songs. Al's vocal performance with or without a band always makes you take a step back and your jaw drop open a bit. Not only is she a great singer, her voice has a richness to it. The specific way she annunciates and phrases her words brings a sense of command to her performance. It is hard to describe but the tone in her voice while earnest also has a theatricality to it that simply demands your attention and you are happy to give it.

 As fundamentally grounded and heartfelt as Cold Speck's songs are, her fellow musicians seemed to approach their specific contributions with a gracious reverence. Pete Robert's ability to slowly make his guitar swell with legato lead lines and attacking rhythms was amazing to hear and fun to see. Chris Cundy on woodwinds, had an arsenal of instruments but his contra bass with it's almost earth shattering low notes added a tremendous amount of drama. Sarah Jone's backing vocals along with the vocal pipes of Drummer Rob Ellis and Thomas Greene on piano stirred the musical pot on the amazing Holland. Ellis also shined on backing vox on Elephant Head, a song that Al carries almost single handedly on her narrow shoulders until Cundy's low tones swell giving way to a full inspired chorus by all involved.

Cold Specks songs, especially in the pristine setting at the Getty felt so heavenly as to be hypnotically soothing to the point that the audience would sit quietly in unison for a few beats before even thinking to applause. When Greene started the opening piano strain to Winter Solstice it felt like a dash of goosebumps on my skin. The band filled in the constant build of emotion and the song soared. The Mark felt appropriately dour and moving with Robert's singing the low vocal accompaniment. Amidst all these songs that can feel as heavy as a lead medallion around your neck, Al did have reveal her sense of humor as she did her own doom soul version of the theme to "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" and her revelation that a new song was about a sexual relationship with Satan got a smattering of applause and some whoops. It was exciting to hear Hector live. It is one of my favorite songs on "I Predict A Great Expulsion" and it's cadence and energy still reminds me of a sister to some song on Radiohead's "Rainbows" album. Steady rumbled like a church battle cry. The bluesy When the City Lights Dim, one of the songs that Al performs without her guitar shows that she can do more mainstream material. Lay Me Down, emotionally wrought and bare was mesmerizing.  Probably one of Cold Specks better known songs is the provocative Blank Maps and she and her band did not disappoint. It, like the entire Getty show was pretty damn stunning and yes, Cold Specks has made me into a Goddamn believer.

Robb Donker

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