You never know what will happen when you walk out the front door. But isn’t that the fun of it? Sure, there is danger out there. There is always danger. But why dwell on that? Because there is magic out there too, and, well, wouldn’t you rather dwell on that?
As we get older, my wife and I seem to be more adventurous. I think in part it has to do with not having two rugrats at our feet. Not that they prevented us from living our lives, but because they were our lives. They still are, but now with their wings spread and the gust of independence filling their feathers and lifting them further away from the nest, Sandra and I have more time with just the two of us. And it has made us more adventurous.
Of course, I’m writing all of this because she treated me to a live show last night, and honestly that is nothing new. But the memory of a date night discovering new music at a new venue has still consumed my senses and the vibrant energy of walking out the front door to explore new things is just bursting.
Too dramatic? Ha ha…Probably. This is what you get from me when I’m sitting in bed writing after being up late last night rocking out. But you’re used to it, I’m sure. You’ve been here before.
For our anniversary my wife bought us tickets to the Troubadour in Los Angeles to see Tyrone Wells, an artist we’ve seen before. We’ve even been in one of his music videos. Obviously, we love his music, and as he continues to release new albums and tour, seeing him again gives us a chance to be a part of his growth and development as an artist.
For me, though, last night’s show was as much about the venue and the opening acts as it was anything else. Living in the Los Angeles area my whole life, I’ve heard about the legendary music venues, some that date back to the Fifties. Venues like the Roxy, the Whiskey-a-Go-Go, and of course, the Troubadour.
The Troubadour. Hallowed walls that have seen the greats. Names like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Billy Joel, Richard Pryor, Bruce Springsteen, and later, bands like Metallica, Guns N Roses and Pearl Jam. Rock and roll was born in LA, borne from the sweat and angst of those who wouldn’t do anything else. Couldn’t do anything else. Roll and roll was born within the walls of a dark and smokey room that could barely contain three hundred people. A room so close you could nearly touch the stage from the back wall. Standing room only. Where the balcony above you is filled with people entranced in the reverberations that pour from the speakers, their sweat soaked limbs swaying over the railing, glistening from the lights that beam from the stage not twenty feet in front of them.
Rock and roll was born in the Troubadour.
Needless to say, I could barely contain my own excitement when Sandra told me we where going to this legendary mecca to see a show. And it was everything I’d expect it to be. Shitty parking and waiting in line with girls dressed like groupies, tweakers, regular folk, the occasional older couple that totally look out of place and us. Ahhh…Los Angeles. The melting pot. Go inside and it’s a room with black painted walls, a stage, and space to cram enough people in so the place feels like a sauna within five minutes, but still have room to get your groove on. Oh, and a bar that lines the whole back wall. Because it isn’t a club without a bar, right?
The standard issue protocol for a night like this is get there early, grab a spot by the stage, wait for an hour before the first act goes on. If you’ve never seen live music in a shoebox sized club before, wear comfortable shoes. Trust me.
During our wait Sandra and I chatted up the young ladies that were standing just in front of us, right at the stage. Regular folk, nice as could be, from the same area we live in. Nothing like driving an hour deep into a city sprawl that is home to twenty million people and standing next to someone you could bump into at home. It’s a small world, people.
Before we knew it, Ty Mayfield hopped on stage, dressed in black leather shoes, jeans, white shirt, skinny tie and leather jacket. With his chin hair, coifed ‘do and otherwise baby face, he stepped to the keyboard at center stage, dropped his iPhone and water bottle on the floor and began banging away at the keys. The room had once been filled with the restless chatter of those in attendance before music broke through.
Mayfield’s music is, to use his words, “pop filled love songs”. If I’m doing comparisons (and apparently I am), think Jason Mraz-ish. And honestly, there was nothing wrong with that. His keyboard playing had a little funk to it, the kind that gets your head and neck going, your toe tapping. I’m sure after becoming more familiar with this music, it would be the type of groove you could really sink your step to. It was dancing music.
Maybe I’ve been watching too much American Idol, but I kept thinking how this cat’s voice was pure. His tone was pleasing. The lyrics were fun and witty. The choruses were catchy. I felt like Harry Connick Jr, thinking this kid is really going to do well. He interacted with the audience well, told some amusing stories. Displayed personality. Mayfield got the crowd involved in a really infectious tune, teaching us all how to yell out “Hey Ya” during one chorus. He knew his place as the opening act was to get the crowd pumped, and he did it well. It didn’t hurt that after singing a few of those “pop filled love songs” that his final number was an “anti-love song” as he said. Taylor Swifts “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”.
He didn’t announce it as a Taylor Swift song, but when I looked over and saw my beautiful bride singing along with the song, I knew something was up. It was a crowd pleaser, and though I’ve heard the song before on the radio, it struck me as better when I heard it live.
Mayfield’s set was quick, and the chatter returned as he quickly tore down his equipment for the next artist. In a small venue, there isn’t the “lights go dark” drama that comes with larger venues. That’s the great thing about the clubs, their intimacy. It’s the opportunity to see these musicians up close, and often before they’ve become bigger stars. To see them set up and break down their own equipment. To exchange a few words with them while they’re on stage before or after a set. We enjoyed the first act, and the venue was not disappointing in the least.
Before long, a lanky kid in scuffed brown boots, faded and slightly torn 501s with a polka dotted button down and bow tie walked on stage to set up his equipment. Joe Brooks. He is young, good looking, with the messy mop hair and smiling look in his eye that I’m fairly certain was responsible for the number of young girls in attendance. As his set began, he stood there confidently behind his acoustic guitar, a small foot tambourine wrapped around his right boot. As he strummed his guitar, the spotlight backlit him from behind, creating this silhouette on stage. It was dramatic. His sound is about as current as could be. My first impression was a one man Mumford and Sons, which I think is a fair comparison because Joe Brooks, like Mumford and Sons, is English.
For me, I’m a little at a disadvantage sometimes seeing the opening acts because I’ve never seen them before. But it’s also why I love seeing the opening acts, because it’s a chance to experience something new. Joe’s music has a soulful quality that drew the crowd in. More than a few in the audience sang along with this music.
Brooks’ in-between stories were amusing and playful. He got the crowd pumped up with a song called “The Island”, before bringing it back down with a heart-aching tune about expectation called “Carousel”, before ending his set with a rousing tune called “Six String Soldier”. This kid is a star. And in hindsight, after checking out his website and social media sites, I see it’s only a matter of time before he explodes on a national level. He’s pretty big now (200k+ likes on Facebook? Sheesh…) but if lightening strikes, he’s gonna be huge.
But here’s the thing…
As much as I really enjoyed both artists (I’ll probably download an album or two), there is a difference between making entertaing music and commanding a stage. Enter Tyrone Wells.
I think this is the sixth time we’ve seen his show. The first time was an acoustic set that blew us away. My favorite album continues to be his acoustic, live album “Close: Live at Mcclains”. He was backed up by a full band for the other shows. At the show we saw at the Roxy he was even backed up by a horn section. Yeah, that pretty much kicked some rock and roll ass. But for this latest tour, the “Closer Than Ever” tour, Tyrone is back to basics. Sort of. It’s a mostly acoustic set, with Wells being supported by multi-instrumentalist Brandon Zedaker.
(Side Note: When I say multi-instrumentalist, I mean at the same time. Zedaker is a multi-tasking freak. During a few songs he played electric guitar, floor tambourine and a floor bass machine called a porch board. He switched it up later by playing the keyboards. Just the keyboards. I was a little disappointed. I’m kidding. Then he played the drums, while playing a bass line with a key bass, while shaking a tambourine. Then he played an acoustic guitar all by itself…Again, disappointed. Then he played a melodica while playing the floor tambourine. A melodica is a like a cross between a harmonica and a keyboard. I half expected him to break out some wine glasses and provide us with a raucous version of Stairway to Heaven. It didn’t happen.)
Where was I? Oh, right…Commanding the stage.
It helps that Tyrone Wells is this striking figure. Six feet something, bald. Good looking guy. Striking. But you kind of forget all that when he opens his mouth and lets loose the voice. It fills the room. Literally. And when it does, everything else and everyone else stops to let it happen. When the opening acts performed, you could still hear a bit of the chatter. You could still hear patrons at the bar. They performed well, and their music is certainly something special. But it’s in how you command the stage, in how you command an entire room, that sets you apart. I’ve detailed Tyrone’s shows before, so I’ll spare you from making this post much long than it already is, but I’ll leave you with this.
Tyrone Wells ends his shows with a song titled “When All is Said and Done.” It’s a reminder of what is truly important in life, that when all is said and done what matters is the love and faith you have. Now, I could type another two thousand words on Tyrone’s signature work or tell you about my favorites. I could ramble on about the beat-boxing, the yodeling or his insane version of Bill Wither’s classic “Ain’t No Sunshine” that rivals the original. I could, but I won’t.
What I will tell you is that to hear Tyrone Wells sing “When All is Said and Done” live is to witness greatness. It is a blueprint on how to take a room full of people and focus their attention on one singular thing. The artist on stage. With the exception of Tyrone’s soulful wailing of such a beautiful anthem, you could have heard a pin drop. I glanced briefly around the room and saw all eyes fixed on him.
He began the song alone on stage. A guitar over his shoulder and a harmonica around his neck. He began melodically, pulling us into that story of love and faith. His voice filtered through the sound system, aided by the rhythm of the guitar, accented by the bridge of the harmonica. But as we got pulled deeper and deeper into the song, the harmonica became jewelry, the guitar slowly faded away. We were left with a man alone on a stage, pouring his heart out to strangers a cappella. But even more, that man stepped away from the microphone and one step closer to those that watched in awe. And in the final moments of the night, he bared his soul the only way he knows how, his voice filling the room naturally.
And when all is said and done, we are left with the inspiration of love and faith.