Thursday, September 30, 2010

How To Survive The LA County Fair

The L.A. County Fair is a real Southern California treat. Packing Pomona’s Fairplex each fall with carnival rides and games, fried food and cold drinks, animals and people. It’s something to make sure that you experience at least once, if not more so. We ventured out there during its opening weekend and here are tips based on our experiences.

Arrive early. Not only does this give more time at the Fair, but it also let you enjoy some time before it gets too hot. Plus you can usually find a pretty decent parking spot in the general parking lot so you don’t have too long of a walk at the end of a day spent walking.

A nice way to start your day is by going on their sky lift, which offers a fantastic aerial view of the Fair and lets you pick out some spots you want to go to. It is also good to do in the morning before temperatures heat up.

Another nice thing to do if it looks like it will be a hot day is to get over to the Hot Dog On A Stick stand and buy a big souvenir glass of lemonade, which you can refill throughout the day at a discounted price.

Among the best rides were the giant ferris wheel (well worth the ticket price) and the faux canoe water ride (which is very refreshing, particularly after a long wait in line). On the other hand, the Ghost Pirate – a blink-and-you-are-done ride – definitely wasn’t worth its tickets.

The “best” carnival game (if “best” equals “easiest to get a prize”) would be the Pop The Balloon game since it’s a pretty simple to win a prize there (although it isn’t much of one). Conversely, there are a lot of shoot-a-basketball game booths but I didn’t see one person win one of the fine jerseys that they have hanging up so you shouldn’t get your hopes up too high at these games. Maybe it’s because the fine print on their signs state that something to the effect that the basketball hoops aren’t regulations size.

Another big attraction at the Fair is the food, and there is plenty of it. We didn’t go whole hog during our day there, but we did order up some BBQ and roasted corn on the cob for lunch, where were pretty good Fair grub. The main disappointment was a soggy piece of spanakopita, while the big highlight was the deep-fried Klondike Bar that we got at Chicken Charlie’s. It was warm and crispy on the outside and soft and cool on the inside.

While you can try to cover the entire Fair in one day, it’s nice just to be more relaxed about it, and stroll around and see what you can discover. One of the most memorable things we did was to stop at the Hollywood Aerial Arts setup. Our 8-year-old daughter got to go up and swing from a trapeze, which was a thrill for all of us. Although we didn’t see everything (the Pig Races will have to be for another visit), it was a full and fun day.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Go See Hear in L.A.: Sept.27-Oct. 3

With this early autumn heatwave in L.A. it’s hard to think about doing much beyond sitting in front of your fan. But there is a wave of hot shows this week (sorry for the easy pun) that go beyond the big Pavement/Sonic Youth Hollywood Bowl concert (Sept, 30) and Tom Petty local appearances at the Bowl and the Verizon Amphitheatre (Oct. 1 and 2, respectively).
There’s something exciting every night

Monday: the sensational soul songtress Bettye LaVette starts her two-night stand at Largo. Pete Yorn showcases his new album at Roxy.

Tuesday: Outlaw country star Jamey Johnson will play his “Guitar Songs” at the House of Blues. Sara Barellies has a show downtown at the Orpheum Theatre. But the 5-star event is the Jerry Lee Lewis appearance at the Grammy Museum.

Wednesday: The Drums will make some New Wave-y noise at the Music Box. The Felice Brothers delivers their rugged Americana rock at the Echo. Folk-popster Sarah Harmer has new disc Oh Little Fire that will be the probable focus for her Spaceland gig.

Thurday: The legendary John Cale commences this year’s UCLA Live concert series. Unfortunately, the Autry show headlining Justin Townes Earle has been cancelled since he has postponed his tour plans.

Friday: Ludo will rock up the Key Club with “Whipped Cream.” The School of Seven Bells will chill out the Echoplex. The Fountains of Wayne team up Jill Sobule for a night of catchy pop at the Troubadour while the Avett Brothers, Brandi Carlile and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals make for a rootsy triple bill at Nokia LA Live. Aimee Mann, who is reportedly penning a musical based on her The Forgotten Arm album, returns to Largo. As part of the OohLaLA Fest of French rockers at Spaceland, Bewitched Hands (who like a more dream-poppy Arcade Fire) will play. Check out the band’s fine tune “Work”. The Miniature Tigers swings through L.A. again with a show at the Henry Fonda Theatre with Neon Indian and Perfuse 73.

Saturday: Matt And Kim have a weekend stand at the Henry Fonda Theatre. The Truth & Salvage Co. set up shop at the Troubadour. My top choice, however, is Hayes Carll at McCabes. He is one of the best young songwriters around, IMHO.

Sunday: The week winds down with one big show. The Hollywood Palladium, welcomes the reunited Belle & Sebastian, with the talented duo Jenny And Johnny opening. J & J also have a show at the Troubadour on 10/6.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Go See Hear in L.A.: Sept.20-26

Just a quick run through this week this time around.

Monday finds the Ranchero Brothers (the Old 97’s Rhett Miller and Murry Hammond) ride into Largo while Miller has a solo gig on Tuesday.

Henry Wagons, an Australian with a real feel for American country rock, has a solo outing at the Hotel Café on Monday. His disc The Rise And Fall Of Goodtown, with his band Wagons is worth seeking out.

Power pop icon Tommy Keene has a special gig on the 22nd. He’ll be playing this landmark Songs From The Film album in its entirety as well as other old tunes from his new retrospective.

James McMurtry brings this highly charged tales to the Mint on Wednesday. Come early to catch Jonny Burke, a terrific young musician whose debut full length Distance & Fortune is one to keep an eye out early next year.

Thursday night finds the wonderful Robyn Hitchcock and legendary producer Joe Boyd teaming up for an evening of music and stories at Largo.

Sean Lennon’s current project The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger will be showcases its tunes (which has been described as recalling Syd Barrett and Simon & Garfunkel) at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on the 24th.

Another dynamic duo – Ryan Bingham opening for Willie Nelson - will be the Greek Theatre that night, while Friday also finds the New Orleans outfit BeauSoleil at McCabe’s.

I have liked, and reviewed, Jeffrey Halford’s music in the past. He’ll be coming down from the Bay Area for a gig at the Coffee Gallery Backstage on Friday and San Pedro’s Warner Annex on Saturday.

“He’s a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction.” Kris Kristofferson wrote this great line, and many more. He’s at the Cerritos Center on Saturday and Thousand Oaks on Sunday.

The wonderful Jon Langford (Waco Brothers, Mekons, etc.) will entertain folks with a free show at Amoeba on Saturday and then west to McCabe’s to play there on Sunday.

Singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves should be better known than he is. You can get to know him and his songs better at Claremont’s Folk Music Center on Saturday and McCabe’s on Sunday.

Darryl Holter’s new CD West Bank Gone takes an interesting look back to his roots in the Minneapolis roots/folk scene, before he headed out to L.A. He’ll be at the Hotel Café on 9/26

Monday, September 13, 2010

David Gray, Ray LaMontagne & Tift Merritt at Greek Theatre, Los Angeles

David Gray, Ray LaMontagne & Tift Merritt at Greek Theatre, Los Angeles
September 7, 2010
By Michael Berick

Fall was in air for this evening and it seemed appropriate for this autumnal sounds delivered by this triumvirate of talented singer-songwriters.
Opening the show was Tift Merritt, who hit the stage sharply at 7 p.m. while most of the audience was still lounging at the Greek’s plaza, looking for parking or still in traffic. Her set was short (only around 20 minutes) and pleasant, but didn’t really showcase her talents fully. She, more or less, played solo (a bassist sometimes played with her), accompanying herself on the guitar or piano. The stripped down set-up didn’t do her justice, and her voice also got lost some in the largely empty amphitheatre.
As a longtime Merritt fan, I was a little disappointed; however, it was more due to the circumstances than the performance. It was nothing like her powerful show I saw her give at L.A.’s Troubadour a few years back in support of Tambourine. But this show did get her introduced to a wider audience who might seek out her fine, sophisticated new album, See You On The Moon.
Ray LaMontagne came out next, and he had an interesting set-up with his band basically on one side and him on the other. The ever-modest LaMontagne seemed to enjoy hanging in the stage shadows, coming out just to sing. He was a man of few words, although the one time he did talk was a funny reaction to the proverbial “Free Bird” request.
What he concentrated on was his singing. The raspy-voiced romantic easily won over the receptive crowd with his soulful, folk-rocky tunes, which mixed old numbers with new ones from his recently released, God Willin & The Creek Don’t Rise. Old favorites like “Trouble,” on which his inspiration felt drawn from Otis Redding and Richie Havens, provoked a big reaction from the audience.
His newer material, however, worked very well live. This is due in no small part for the talented folks in his band, The Pariah Dogs, which features such session stalwarts as guitarist/pedal steel player Eric Haywood, drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist Jennifer Condos. They worked up a fine funkiness to “Repo Man,” which recalled the Americana jamminess of LaMontagne’s idol Stephen Stills. They really got things cooking near the end of his 65 minute set with a rousing rendition of “Like Rock & Roll And Radio” that he followed with his encore, “You Are The Best Thing.”
David Gray served as this evening’s headliner, although it seems like it could have been a coin flip between LaMontagne and him over the honors. Gray is definitely more animated performer than LaMontagne. Backed by a rock combo (guitar, bass, drums, keyboards), he started his set off quite energetically; however, the songs seemed to fall just short of being truly memorable. The hooks and melodies just weren’t quite strong enough to win you over. Granted I am not such a Gray fan that I knew his new songs well but if they were really strong tunes that would have succeeded more with me.
In fact, it was his older tunes, “Flame Turns Blue,” “Sail Away” and his breakthrough hit “Babylon” seemed to shine the brightest for him. This set overall felt tasteful but tame folk-rock. It was a nice touch when he did an enthusiastic version of the second-tier Beatles tune “Dig A Pony” during his encore, but it’s telling that the tune was the most fun song of the night.
At the show’s end, I felt each performer could have benefited from a slightly grander sound. Maybe it was the outdoor setting and its proximity to the even larger Hollywood Bowl, but I thought it might have nice for Gray to have a string section to fill out his elegant tunes, if LaMontagne had horns to punctuate his songs’ soulfulness and if Merritt simply had a band behind her to bolster his sound.
That said, you have to take what the musicians give you – not what you wish they had done – and LaMontagne, Gray and Merritt all showed themselves to be accomplished singer-songwriters even if the latter two in particularly weren’t as compelling as they could have been.

Go See Hear in L.A.: Sept.13-19

The top story for this week is the trio of talented female performers making appearances in town.

On Monday, Clare Burson ( arrives at the Hotel Café in support of Silver & Ash, which will be released by Rounder on Tuesday. The Memphis-bred, Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter has a sophisticated, assured sound. The history-mind Burson has crafted a song cycle about her grandmother’s life in Europe before the start of WW11. While tackling dark issues, she also creates some splendid chimey-ness on “I Will/With You.” She also was recently chronicled in the New Yorker for having an ancient piece of cheese (a story too intricate to synopsize.

On Friday, Nicole Simone ( has a show at the Hotel Café. I praised the L.A.-based singer-songwriter here last month, so just to briefly restate: she has a cool chanteuse vibe that recalls early Eleni Mandell.

The wonderful Elizabeth Cook ( comes to town from Nashville for a show at McCabe’s on Saturday. One of my favorite Americana female singers, Cook is a fun and feisty performer who can pen memorable tunes like “El Camino” and “Heroin Addict Sister” that are country without being country clichés.

There are several other interesting shows during this week too.
Tracy Bonham teams up with the duo KaiserCartel ( for a show at the Hotel Café on Tuesday. While I haven’t kept up much Bonham over the years, her new disc Masts of Manhatta has gotten some good notices. The KaiserCartel also have a new disc, Secret Transit, which I have heard and is a fine slice of indie pop.

Dan Mangan (, who is at the Henry Fonda on the 15th, hails from Vancouver (New Pornographers) and is on the Arts & Craft (Broken Social Scene, Feist) – and if that isn’t enough to make you curious. His album Nice, Nice, Very Nice lives up to its name with its nicely crafted literate folk-pop like the laidback but majestic “Fair Verona” and the cracked humor fanboy lament “Tina’s Glorious Comeback.”

JBM’s ( return to town, with a Spaceland show on 9/15. I had recommended his Hotel Café show earlier this month and I will recommend him again.

Blues icon Buddy Guy has a sit-down at the Grammy Museum on Thursday night the 16th; it's a rare chance to have an up-close opportunity to hear a living legend talk a little talking and play a little. Thursday too is when The Chapin Sisters ( bring their delightful harmonies and a full band to the Echo Lounge on the 16th to showcase their new one, Two. On that night, Roy Jay ( opens up for Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers at the Troubadour. He has named his new album with a more locally significant title, Fairfax Avenue.

The esteemed (yet still somewhat underappreciated) Eliza Gilkyson ( plays McCabe’s on Friday the 17th. The same night, Hanson will be at the House of Blues. Their latest Shout It Out comes stocked with savvy, soul-infused pop-rock.

This weekend’s Los Angeles Lobster Festival boosts a particularly strong music line with Leslie & the Badgers, We Barbarians, Fitz & The Tantrums and Dengue Fever among Saturday’s performers and John Doe & Exene headlining Sunday.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Newbie Quickie: those darling Darlings

I came across the NYC band Darlings (not to be confused with the Tennessee punky twangsters Those Darlins) today and so glad I did. These Darlings have a wonderful trashy garage rock vibe, something that combines early CBGB’s clever punk with Weezer-y power pop. I’ve only listened to their myspace trio of tracks ( but they were compelling enough to make me listen a couple times. The buzzy-riffed “Big Girl” is the most Weezer-like of the three, not that’s there’s anything wrong with hooky, slightly snarky power pop. I like “Eviction Party” better with its Fountains-of-Wayne-doing-the-Strokes-in-a-Village-bar feel and “If This Is Love” is noisy fun too with its “Don’t bother me ‘cuz I’m surfing” outro. Familiar while still fabulously fresh, the Darlings are a new garage pop crush.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Go See Hear in L.A.: Sept.6-12

After a relaxing Labor Day Monday, the week gets off to a tremendous start. This week there isn't a "show of the week" but a "night of the week" and the night is Tuesday.
The Philly retro rockers Free Energy ( will be lighting things up Tuesday night at the Viper Room. Their Stuck On Nothing is a wonderful blast of ‘70s-style big riff rock ‘n’ roll.

The Mynabirds (, meanwhile, will be arriving at Spaceland. Laura Burhenn and her new band put out one of my favorite albums of the year, What We Lose In The Fire We Gain in The Flood, a gorgeous dose of Memphis country soul with a dash of indie rock.

Hotel Café plays host to Luke Doucet (, who comes to showcase his highly anticipated new album, Steel City Traweler. If you are not familiar with the talented Canadian, then check out Broken (And Other Rogue States), his fantastic 2005 disc.

As if those aren’t enough choices, then you can head to the Greek Theatre for the first night of the David Gray/Ray Lamontagne/Tift Merritt 2-night stand there. This wonderful feast of classy singer-songwriters offers a selection of soulfulness: Merritt’s Southern style, Lamontagne’s rustic New England variety and Gray’s English folk version. It's hard to pick just one but any one of them are worth getting out to see.

On Thursday, Loch & Key ( starts their Redwood residency. The LA-based group, which will also be there 9/23 and 9/30, blend an European artiness with a laidback Southern Cal pop vibe. I saw them a couple weeks ago at Room 5, and, despite some rough live edges, they are definitely worth checking out.

Also, on the 9th, the Gibson Amphitheatre welcomes two popular country artists who aren’t the typical hat acts. Jack Ingram spend many years in the Texas music scene mining a Steve Earle-like sound. A few years back he signed with Toby Keith’s Big Machine label and garnered more popularity. Headliner Gary Allan is a Calfiornia-bred honky tonker whose brings an outlaw sense of real-ness to the Nashville mainstream.

The English art-pop ensemble The Clientele returns to L.A. for a show at the Echoplex. They have put out a series of dark and interesting discs on Merge, including this year’s Minotaur.

Those lovely singing sisters, The Watson Twins ( have another local show; this time it’s Friday at the Bootleg. Earlier this year, they released their second effort for Vanguard, Talking To You, Talking To Me.

The legendary songwriter Jesse Winchester comes to McCabe’s on Saturday. His songs became hits for folks like Jimmy Buffett and Emmylou Harris and he spent many years in Canada resisting the draft. Last year, he released Love Filling Station (his first release in over a decade) and appeared on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle show.

Welcome Home Walker ( is a side project of Colin Jarrell from the NW glam rock-y group The Nice Boys. WHW’s retro sound is based more in the garage. Seek out their tune, “Suds,” a glorious slice of dumb fun rock. They come to the Redwood on 9/11.

Neil Finn, who recently came through town fronting his long-time band, Crowded House, comes back for a pair of lower-key shows at Largo on Sat.-Sun.