Walking past the gatherings of expectant and often petulant wannabe troublemakers on Hollywood Blvd we make a right on Cahuenga and travel about another two blocks. The sign that says Hotel Cafe is – perhaps – puposely misleading. The entrance isn’t on the main stretch; instead we travel around the side of the building and walk toward a loading dock in the distance where we discover another, smaller alcove opens up to the right and reveals a sort of hidden club entrance where a few gentlemen gravitate around a podium, checking in will-calls and confirming IDs. Once past this check point a beautifully-kept wooden floor leads us to an elegant and sparsely decorated bar/foyer – a few small tables border the room and we stop at the small bar proper to grab two bottles of Stella Artois. Thirst momentarily sated by an adequate, all-purpose lager we walk through another set of double doors and into a room David Lynch would be comfortable performing in. Deep, soft lighting shades the room via small Chinese Lantern-esque orbs suspended from the ceiling, a hum of interest crackles around the edges of the room and within minutes Jason Kramer from local NPR affiliate KCRW leads the man we’ve come here to see to the small, quaint stage lined with red curtains not unlike those often found in one of Lynch’s films. After a brief introduction the crowd applauds and shuffles closer, settling in for a rare treat – British musician, composer, filmmaker and all around auteur Barry Adamson, alone on stage except for an acoustic guitar and a small digital device adhered to the mic stand, waves hello and cues prerecorded accompaniment for his first song.
Adamson has come to Los Angeles to perform a very stripped-down and intimate show of mostly material from his upcoming album I Will Set You Free (out Febuary 14th on his Central Control label) and I jumped at the chance to have a part in this.
Like many other Adamson fans I have Mr. Trent Reznor to thank for originally exposing me to his music – the former Magazine/Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds bass player was a big influence on Trent and when Mr. Reznor began parlaying his early 90’s success with NIN into soundtrack work he returned the favor by utilizing various Adamson tracks on both the Natural Born Killers and Lost Highway soundtracks. After these I sought out a copy of Adamson’s 1996 Oedipus Schmoedipus album and have pretty much been in love ever since. Adamson’s 1998 As Above So Below stands as one of my ten all time favorite albums and when I went back and bought up all of his old records on Mute – a series of industrial-jazz noir soundtracks to films that existed only in the artist’s mind (and a couple of actual soundtracks as well) I was overcome with elation. Here was a man fusing the sounds of the past with the sounds of the future and doing it in the most visually synesthetic way I’d encountered; splicing samplers and murky synths with jazz bass, swooning strings and haunting, strangled trumpets. If you’re a film fan and you’ve not heard the older Barry Adamson stuff, you owe it to yourself to check them out, most especially Soul Murder (1992 Mute).
As Mr. Adamson’s career progressed he began focusing less on cohesive soundtrack work and more on a very unique blend of noir, spy and jazz themes with the structure of popular music. The aforementioned As Above So Below is a beautifully rendered accomplishment of this, ranging from the boiling, dangerous jazz slammer ‘What it Means’ and the Sinatra-esque ‘Come Hell or High Water’ to the psychologically unhinged ‘The Monkey Speaks His Mind’ out through the complete sonic breakdown of climactic track ‘Jesus Wept’.
As Above is also a bit of a turning point in Adamson’s career; ever since the album his music has increasingly focused on integrating the man’s escalating songwriting skills with his already honed, cinematic sonic expertise. On stage Wednesday at the Hotel Cafe we saw an even deeper example of Barry Adamson’s evolution, as for two numbers he performed with only the accompaniment of his acoustic guitar.
It was joyous.
Most of the tracks Mr. Adamson performed were unfamiliar to me being that they were from the upcoming album, but I can say that even seeing them in stripped down versions I was extremely impressed with just how far this man has come. Along with the guitar numbers, he performed several others with all or most of the elements on his digital drive/sequencer. Again we feel that old, sinister bass; the bubbling synths and glorious strings. Again Adamson delivers word weave that’s partly scat, partly Mickey Spillane and party melodic and enlightening. As he wrapped up the evening with ‘Jazz Devil‘ (from the afore-praised As Above) he suggested that this little one-off show was merely a dry run, and that if the stars aligned he’d be back with a band. Band or not, you can bet your next three paychecks I’ll be in there in the crowd.
enjoy a classic and the first ‘single’ from the new album.