There’s aren’t many bands that’d I’d see four times in one year. Hopeless Jack & the Handsome Devil is the only one that I’ll have on my list this year.
Not only are they really cool dudes, but their music also rocks. This year, I saw them twice at Ink-N-Iron and personally arranged for them to play a gig at the Garage. When they told me they had a weekday gig in downtown L.A., I didn’t hesitate to put it in my calendar.
I get pumped to see these guys live, because they have an absurd amount of stage presence. From Jack growling into the microphone, wildly dancing while jamming killer riffs, to Pete’s eye’s menacing, almost possessed, look while he smashes the drums, these guys, at least to me, embody rock and roll. As a wanna-be photographer, getting chances to shoot bands like this is a thrill. If I can capture a moment of the pure, unrelenting joy that these guys perform with … that’s something that would make my day.
I got to the venue a little early, and the fellas were our front hanging in their tour van. Jack was greeting friends and Pete was munching on a slice of pie from California Pizza Kitchen. I told Pete that I liked some of their pizzas, and he told me that he never realized that California Pizza Kitchen was an actual restaurant. He always assumed that it was just a frozen pizza. I got a chuckle out of that.
Set times were running a little late, and friends, fans and the band were getting antsy. Jack, while puffing on a cigarette, was already making plans for after the set.
“Tacos, man,” Jack said while flicking out his smoke, “I need tacos.” Taking recommendations from friends, he already had location in mind. In a Pavlovian kind-a-way, I started craving tacos too.
Got to meet some of Jack and Pete’s friends, including a photographer named Jason who was touring with the band as a friends and roadie. This was one of the dope pics he took at the gig.
The light was dim and I had put pump the ISO on my camera (even though I know that the pics always come out noisy at a high ISO with my old-ass camera), but I still think I got a couple decent shots.
Again, they rocked (check out the video clips below).
After they had packed, the band, and some of the fans, made a short trip to the late-night taco stand. While waiting to order L.A. deliciousness, we noted a multi-storied, retro-fitted building across the street that was for lease. We started talking about what we would do if we could afford to buy the classic looking building. As we sipped on horchata, and devoured out grub, we fantasized about which floor would be rooms and which floor would be the studio … but I think we were all in agreement about having the ground floor be a performance venue/club.
Dreams and tacos. A perfect end to a terrific night of rock-and roll.
THOUGHTS:For a new band, booking venues to play a gig is a hell of a task. I learned that recently when I tried helping a friend’s band out.
A few months ago, the drummer of a band I’m really into (Hopeless Jack and the Handsome Devil) let me know that he played in another band that was setting up a regional tour. The name of the band was Machine, a power duo consisting of Pete Thomas on Drums and Madeline Mahrie on vocals and keys. Though they are just a duo (like Hopeless Jack and the Handsome Devil), their sound is lush and mysterious. If you could make a music-baby from the genes of Fiona Apple and Tori Amos, you may get something like Machine.
Being the naive optimist that I am, I told him that I thought I could help them find a place to play in Los Angeles. After weeks of looking, though I had the notion before, I fully realized that money talks, and when you don’t have the cash (or can’t guarantee patrons – even on a Wednesday), you don’t get the stage. Thankfully, I was able to find them a place to play (Thanks, Rob, I owe you a Jack … or two).
Pete and Madeline played for a small crowd, but played like they were playing for their lives. Even in front of a modest crowd, Madeline poured her soul out as she pounded away at her keys (a REAL portable piano, the first I’d ever seen). Because of the venue’s architecture (glass windows all around, which amplifies and the natural sound of the room), Pete had to reign in the amount of force with which he could bash his drums, but that controlled aggression came through, at least to me, in the performance, adding an even more intense depth to the music.
Madeline’s performance was a revelation. While watching her perform, I could only think to myself, “There should really be more people here to watch this music come to life.” There’s an audience for her music and I wanted so badly for more people to witness it. I wasn’t the only one impressed wight he performance. In fact, a woman who books events ended up exchanging contact information with the band with the hopes of booking them for a “Superbowl” event next year. See … I’m not the only one who loved their sound.
Take a peek at some of the video clips that I snipped together below. The lighting makes it difficult to see the performance, but it doesn’t matter. Just listen.
PHOTOS: I used my 50mm prime lens, set my aperture to 1.4 and adjusted my ISO to the highest it would go on my camera. I’m realizing that I need a better camera for these situations. The photos didn’t come out nearly as well as I would have liked, and, heaven forbid, I converted a couple photos to black and white (something that I am not that fond of doing). Oh well … just more impetus for me to catch them again the next time they are in Los Angeles. Hopefully, by then they’ll have a venue with better lighting …. or I’ll have purchased a new camera. We’ll see.
Their performance from the night before must have been a warm up, cause they took it up a notch for their late afternoon set, and tore the stage up. Their music was loud and rocking; their energy relentless and unstoppable. As they played their set, more and more people kept trickling into the room. Clearly, it was the music that was drawing them in.
Now, I love taking pictures, but I’m far from a “professional”. I still tinker with settings during sets, and I end up taking tons of pictures – thank god there’s digital, or I’d be spending a years salary on film. I’ll kick myself in the ass every once in a while when I miss a shot. The featured shot of this blog post was a shot that I almost didn’t get. Granted, I had to mess with the photo’s setting to enhance certain aspects, but of all of the “imperfect” shots I’ve ever taken, this is one my favorites.
At that moment, the crowd was going nuts. It was the last song, and the crowd was whooping and hollering all throughout, watching the Handsome Devil standing over, and smashing, his drum kit. The finale reached its climax when he mounted his drum kit- all while playing – and on the last beat, jumped into the sky. I could feel the room hold its breath. Everyone’s eyes were fixated on the tatted up drummer leap through the air, and there was a collective exhale when he landed, followed by instant cheers from fans old and new.
To me, that moment was surreal. This two man band commanded a stage that 10 piece bands had occupied the other day, and they filled the room with an insane energy that people couldn’t keep talking about after it was all said and done.
I overhead people in the audience proclaim,”That was the best thing I’ve seen in a while,” and “That’s got one of the best sets of the weekend”. I wasn’t going to disagree.
The first set they played was a late night, after hours gig in one of the bars of the Queen Mary. In fact, it was so late night, that it was literally the last act to perform that day. Drunk festival goers who were lucky enough to book a room on the ship had all congregated to the bar to top off their buzz. They were in for a treat.
Hopeless Jack and the Handsome Devil ripped into their set and bar patrons took notice. Heads at the bar turned as soon as the loud blues/roots rock blasted through the speakers. The music must have attracted others from the down the halls of the legendary ship as more and more people kept filing into the room to join the party.
I spent most of their performance enjoying the show, so I didn’t take that much video or snap too many shots. I figured I’d make up for it, as they were going to be the first band that I checked out the next day.
There’s so much music out in the world today, it gets a bit hard, even with Spotify, or other similar streaming services, to find music that really speaks to you. I’ve always believed in the notion that the music finds you, and sometimes when it finds you, it leaves a lasting impression that can stick with you for the rest of your life.
In September of 2013, a buddy from college posted this status update to his Facebook wall:
I’d never heard of the band, so I stared Googling a bit to see what got my buddy all excited to post something other than pictures of his beautiful family on Facebook. I found some videos on Youtube, and started streaming tracks, all while reading some articles and interviews that I found about the band.
The music was quite impressive. I loved the lush orchestral sound and the musicality of the players on the tracks, the complex arrangements, and dour lyrical content of each composition that I heard. Even when belting out the melody, I could hear a subtle vulnerability in the lead vocalist’s voice that gave the music way more personality than the pop dribble that you hear on terrestrial radio today.
I pulled up an article from Paste Magazine’s website, and I learned that Kyle Morton, the founder and lead singer of the band, suffered through multiple organ failures as a child caused by a serious case of Lyme. Apparently, he used those near-fatal, life experiences as a basis for the music written for Typhoon’s latest release, “White Lighter”. That’s not to say, however, that the music is dreary in any way. In fact, the music off of “White Lighter”, even with its heavy lyrics, is lively, boisterous and anthem-ic. An excellent, in-depth, review of “White Lighter” can be found on MuzikDizcovery’s website which, in my opinion, accurately states that the album has “two big dynamics at play […]: the first a reflection on death, typical for Typhoon; the second, a bit newer for the band, what 20th century philosopher Victor Frankl would have called a “tragic optimism” in the face of mortality,” and concludes that “White Lighter is that rarest of albums, an entire lifetime captured in music”.
Doing a little more research on what the MuzikDizcovery article mentioned, I looked up Viktor Frankl and his thoughts on “Tragic Optimism”. I found a quote from Mr. Frankl that seemed to succintly sum up his general thoughts on the topic:
“In brief it means that one is, and remains, optimistic in spite of the “tragic triad” […] which consists of those aspects of human existence which may be circumscribed by: (1) pain; (2) guilt; and (3) death. This chapter, in fact, raises the question, How is it possible to say yes to life in spite of all that? […] After all, “saying yes to life in spite of everything,” […] presupposes that life is potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable. And this in turn presupposes the human capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive. [W]hat matters is to make the best of any given situation. [T]ragic optimism […] is an optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for: (1) turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and (3) deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action,”
I was drawn to Kyle’s music because the more I knew about what the music was about, the more it felt like I was being told a personal story through music. With kids today seemingly leaning more towards the EDM and dance scenes, we have to remind ourselves that lyrics matters. Understanding lyrics matter. Understanding why those lyrics were written matter. Once you have an idea of why, or what inspired, an artist to write a song, there’s so much more enjoyment that you can get out of it. After all, did you know that “Hey Jude” by the Beatles evolved from “Hey Jules”, a song McCartney wrote to comfort John Lennon’s son, Julian, during his parents’ divorce? Gives the song a bit more depth, doesn’t it?
I kept looking up video clips of the band, and discovered why their sound was so full: there can be anywhere between 10 – 14 band members onstage to performing at any time. From violins and guitars, to trumpets and horns … the size of the band was enough to get me excited to look up their tour schedule to see if they would be playing in the area. As fate would have it, they had scheduled a gig at the El Rey, and I immediately purchased a ticket.
Comfortably fitting 11 players on the El Rey stage, the band’s performance was everything that I anticipated. Like the band before them, you could feel the camaraderie between the players in the band, and like a well-oiled machine, they played the music from the recordings to a tee, if not better. The sound was lush and grand, the lyrics personal and longing; it was a musical contrast that exhibited the superb live musicianship that proved that the ticket was worth the price of admission.
Going back to knowing the meaning and lyrics of music, before the set, I got into a little conversation with a couple standing next to me. I brought up the meaning behind the band’s latest album. Half way through, they thanked me as I’m guessing that my little music tidbit may have actually enhanced the concert experience for them.
Personally speaking, I was particularly moved when Kyle sang the lyrics, “Cry, pining for the things that I could have been […] I could have been a gold digger, I could have been a fun slinger, I could have been a little bigger, I could have been an old ringer” from “Hunger and Thirst” and “Now I’m as old as you were when you had me, should I be afraid? Should I start a family” from “Young Fathers.” Something in the lyrics of those two moments made it difficult for me to breath.
A few lighthearted moments came towards the end of the set when the band covered “With a Little Help From My Friends” and right after the band came back on stage for the encore when Kyle told the audience that, “I had a little Spinal Tap moment back there. There are a lot of curtains here,” alluding to the scene in Spinal Tap where the band gets lost backstage.
After the band had finished their set, and the crowd had dispersed to head home, I hung out for a little bit to see if I could catch Kyle for a moment to ask him about music, and also to have him autograph the LPs I had tucked in my backpack. He was gracious enough to do so, and was very appreciative that I had purchased his vinyl records. I told him that I had been following a lot of good bands from Portland. He acknowledged knowing of a couple of the bands I listed, and he went on to suggest that I check out a couple others named Genders and Wild Ones (I think his girlfriend plays in this band).
As soon as I let Kyle go, and as I am walking away from the theatre to my car, I receive a call from my mother. Calls from your parents, past midnight? Never a good thing. As it turned out, my father had a minor heart attack and was en route to the hospital. My heart skipped a beat. I ran to my car, and drove at reckless speeds to be at my dad’s bedside in the ICU.
The whole drive down to the hospital, my mind was racing with thoughts of mortality. The lyrics that had moved me during the set, came back into my head during the silent drive south. New lyrics also started to penetrate, as I started to think about the line “When am I gonna feel better” from “Common Sentiments”.
As it turns out, the minor heart attack that my dad had was the sign we needed to reveal that my dad needed to have quadruple bypass surgery. The surgery was successful, and I’m currently aiding my father in the long road back to regaining his health. Since the operation, I’ve been playing the tragic optimist, doing what I can to make life better for both my father, and myself.
Upon retrospect, I feel like that my discovery of Typhoon’s music, and the act of going to see them live, was destined to be. It all happened when I needed something tell me that if you seek it out, you can find optimism in tragedy. Sometimes, the music finds you. Sometimes, the music becomes so intertwined with your life, it takes on new meanings and significance. These days, every other night, I’m drawn to pull the “White Lighter” disc out of its pristine sleeve, and I’ll let it play me to sleep, finding it again each time.
Unfortunately, the Flickr slideshow below is not available on mobile devices. If you are on a mobile device, please click THIS LINK to get redirected to the set of photos. If the slide show below isn’t working, the Flickr has disabled their embed option for WordPress and hasn’t yet updated their HTML code, which totally BLOWS! If you can see the slide show below, hooray!
The first time I saw Hopeless Jack & The Handsome Devil perform, it was at the Ink-N-Iron Festival in 2013, and I only caught the last few songs of their set. A two man band that plays hard hitting blues/roots rock; heavier hitting than the Black Keys, and more aggressive than Jack White. They are a band based out of Portland, so ever since I saw them for those 15 minutes live, I’ve been keeping tabs on their tour schedule to see when they would be playing in Los Angeles again.
I noticed on their Facebook fan page that they were playing gigs down the Pacific coast, but to my dismay, there was no scheduled gig for Los Angeles. Having had their album “Hopeless Love, Shallow Hearts” on repeat since I saw them that first time, I messaged them to as why they weren’t playing in L.A. They got back to me quick, letting me know that a show they had scheduled had been cancelled at the last minute, and that they were bummed they weren’t playing in Los Angeles. In passing, they also added that if I could find a place for them to play on the following Tuesday (which was in less than five days), that they would make the stop in Los Angeles to play. Maybe they were just throwing it out there for the hell of it, but bands should never underestimate the lengths their fans will go to make sh*t happen.
I logged off Facebook, and picked up my cell phone. The rolodex in my brain started going through the people I knew, and I started punching digits. After a few calls, I had a spot lined up. It was a make-shift venue … in fact it it would be the first time a band would ever be playing there … but a gig is a gig, and the wheels to make it happen went in motion.
When the band got to Los Angeles, they met up with my buddy Rob (hopefully, I’ll get a chance to tell some of his stories on this blog, because his life is total rock and roll) who offered to help out and work sound for the band. Even though the event was set up last minute, a decent sized crowd showed up to watch this hard-rocking duo from Portland do their thing. It was loud. It was raw. It was awesome.
That night, I not only got to appreciate some kick-ass music, but I also felt a sense of accomplishment. It was the first time I ever really “hooked up” a band with a gig, and – if we’re speaking frankly here- it felt good. It reinforced to me the notion that what indie band’s need most are fans that are willing to get the music out there. It’s gotta be something more than just posting a song on Facebook or sending out a Tweet (unless you have an obscene amount of friends and followers on Facebook or Twitter). If you’re a fan of an indie band’s music, and you are always wondering why they haven’t caught on with others, maybe you can help them out by being more proactive.
Setting up the gig was only part of the work. I also called and texted a bunch of people, and a handful of them made it out; letting me know afterwards that they were really impressed, bought merch, and even told me that they would let their friends know about the band. A fan here, a fan there … at the end of the day, even though it was a small gig, a fan is a fan. For me, that was perhaps the most gratifying part of the evening for me.
Hopeless Jack and the Handsome Devil are back in Los Angeles area for this years Ink-N-Iron Festival at the Queen Mary performing on the 6th and the 7th. The photos below aren’t very good, and I hope to have better pics (using a new camera) when I see them later this year. I’ve included their latest video in this post because it was loud at the gig and the sound in my video is a bit muffled. If you watch my concert snippets, a word of warning …. It’s LOUD. Lower your volume accordingly.
Unfortunately, the Flickr slideshow below is not available on mobile devises. If you are on a mobile device, please click THIS LINK, to get redirected to the set of photos. If the slide show below isn’t working, the Flickr has disabled their embed option for WordPress, which totally BLOWS! If you can see the slide show below, hooray!