April 2012

We Hawks have perpetual wanderlust. If we don’t hit the road or the airways several times a year, we get antsy. Los Angeles, like New York, will turn you into a local, a denizen, an Angeleno or New Yorker. As we all know, New Yorkers are a bit warped, and in a distinct way. Or maybe shaped, or bruised. Angelenos, who were once tabulae rasae that never had much written on them, are now becoming regionally distinct. Los Angeles did indeed used to be laid back, like the Eagles would have you believe, but that (actually rather meanspirited) Iowa By The Sea atmosphere has vanished along with the smog alerts. Now the air is cleaner, but the pickins are leaner. The freeways are always clogged, even in the darkness of 5 a.m. The West Side is usually gridlocked. (Say, Westsiders–you’re hip, you’re fit, you’re eco conscious, you’re considering a whole house filter and you set your own hours. Why don’t you get out of your Lexus Hybrids and get on a bicycle for that trip to Huckleberry or Peets? Haven’t you about had it with the traffic?) The clash of cultures has made L.A. all of a sudden not dull, suddenly rich in culinary, streeet, and musical experiences. But the intensity is ratcheted way up. One must escape often or go mad.

Or go local. The L.A. basin is so huge, its development from the 1880s to now so explosive and ungoverned by anything resembling planning or vision, that it would take a lifetime to explore the weird and surprising nodes of culture embedded in a concrete plain of chains, tracts, and malls. While mini-oases do exist in the vast flats of L.A., it’s a good bet to seek elevation for the old, the strange, the unique, the slice of parallel universe that makes you forget where you are. The hills, with their crooked streets, harbor this strangeness. And the closer to downtown, the better the odds for the odd.

HM157, for example. There’s a good chance you’ll drive right by this bulky Victorian mansion on North Broadway in Lincoln Heights, for its fellow mansions are long gone. The Laundromat Familiar crowds its tree shaded flank, and a MacDonalds glows across the street. HM157 appears to be an urban commune, with an indeterminate hierarchy of hipsteressence, but they get the job done. This is a gem of a concert going experience. We arrive as an acoustic trio, Rob, Paul L, and Marc Doten on the big upright bass. Or an intended trio, for Paul’s last minute soldering of a pickup wire on his refurbished Takamine acoustic guitar has failed. So the telecaster prevails. Paul hates acoustic guitar pickups and everything about them–the tinny, clunky sound, the lack of control from working a microphone, the extra gear that must be lugged, the way the sensitive electronics expose his hamfisted picking technique. The aesthetic battle will be resumed on another night.

At eight p.m., scheduled time for the opening band, there’s nary a soul in sight. We explore the odd shaped little rooms the mansion has been carved into over generations, check out the big back yard with old plants and new art pieces, chat on the comfy old front porch with Weba and Mark, our longtime friends from EP, and Marc’s girlfriend Michelle, who has just finished a kid’s music album, and has her piano students play both hands in treble clef just to expand their fledgling musical minds. The soundman shows up. The two other bands, RT and the 44s and Run Down Hill, load their gear in. Both bands are dressed sharp in unified and calculatedly retro style. By contrast, we have our usual disheveled look with a token effort at ruralism. Stage clothes and presentation are definitely our weak suit. Hopefully our music and sparkling stage banter carry the evening, because we are and always have been indifferent to all other aspects of show.

Nine o’clock rolls around with no apparent move toward the stage by any musical entity. We volunteer to go on, since the flyer and its electronic facebook equivalent promise Hawks at 9 p.m. The other bands and Charon, who may in fact run HM157, are cool with it. Cool. This is the cool kind of cool, a casual cool that isn’t masking ambition or adherence to rules. It’s cool. Tonight we explore songs from our new CD, a training run for Marc, who is our main bass sub and will be our fellow adventurer in Ireland and England in July. The music feels ramshackle and poetic, like the contours of the Victorian parlor with shifting lights and new bohemian audience that is quite enthusiastic. This is good. We will be happy to return.

RT And The 44s have carefully put together a rough edged, Beefheart meets Johnny Cash sound, the lead singer testifying through a distorted old microphone, a strange indistinct low end thump emanating through a home made bass, washboard player and drummer alternately locked into and producing parallel versions of a groove. Strong stuff, like an Angola chain gang that’s been handed instruments. Gwendolyn and her posse show up, having missed our set because we went on on time. We all hang out. HM157 is as good a hang as you will find in this town.

Run Down Hill , hitting the stage in the wee hours, are the surprise and the delight of the evening. These guys are tall, all but one at least 6’5”, but they mostly sit down, the lead singer sitting on a cajon and playing it as he sings. This is truly mysterious music, unhurried, lush, impassioned in a subdued manner that can’t be plotted. Steel guitar, electric guitar, a kinda Doc Watson acoustic guitar, weave textures unique to the band. Beautiful songs. This is a band to keep an eye on.

The boho crowd and their good vibes hang to the end, no filtering out to race home catch TIVOed trivia on the wide screen at home. All are present in the misty night in Lincoln Heights, next to Laundromat Familiar.

GUILT

April 18, 2012 · 3 comments

It’s two a.m. The epic Auburn show is a fading memory. The mountain tribes are returned to their lairs. A light rain falls. The aging Hawks Yukon is packed up in the wet cold lonely parking lot of the Auburn Liquor Outlet Community Center. Old Californio’s shiny new Yukon Eco Forest is in a similar state. A strange and weighty silence.

Inside, Rob Waller and Levi Nunez are sobbing in an embrace on the green room couch. They’ve taken the verbal jousting a big too far, a bit too personal, and things spiraled. At one point Paul Marshall drew his .38 special and aimed it at the ceiling. “You two can start acting like men, or you’ll see what real men face.” Evangeline screamed, threw herself on the weapon, which discharged into a box of wine. Everyone is drenched in a frisky but complex pinot.

But it’s cathartic. The War Of the Hosers is over. Both bands pile on in a tannin soaked tantric love hug. Even Rich Dembowski, the half Polish, half Mexican, half Polish wordsmith wunderkind, wipes away a tear. We chalk it up to a sibling spat. There’s peace in the Valley-adjacent.

The Hawks drive west and down, Sacto adjacent bound. Bryan Thomas gave us a copy of Christina Ortega’s high school punk band, Kay Lastima and the Muertones, and we’re digging it. She could belt it out even back then.

Next day we trek back up the hill for Wesley Robertson’s very groovy afternoon radio show in lovely Nevada City. We’d like to interrupt this program to send a huge shoutout to KVMR. They have given us far more than our share of support over the years, and this year is no exception. We’ve always fantasized moving up here, growing medicinal marijuana in a sprawling unkempt steep sloped back yard with wood shingled cottage with wood burning stove, except that we might get on people’s nerves after a while. But absence makes our Hawks hearts very fond of these hills and airwaves.

The radio show goes great. Old Californio with Pete Grant sitting in on exotic 8 string dobro get a sweet sound going huddled around mics in the little room. We fuel up on local barista juice and take over the show, doing an all Wesley request set with Pete and Richie adding their licks. We steam up the room and saturate the mics.

Back down the hill in ramshackle fashion for Winters, CA, orchard railroad spur turned post 60s cultural refuge and game reserve. A mellow town with a hint of neomercantilism. Dave of the Palms, Dave who is the Palms, greets us. We unload gear and trudge up the long and familiar steps into the hall. Onstage the mics are set and ready to rock. We sound check, acoustic through real mics. Sounds great. Soundman Jeremy has got this room dialed in. Old Californio sound check and we check out Fortify restaurant, a hop skip and no jump at all up the street. We feel Fortify is worth a:

HAWKS RESTAURANT REVIEW: FORTIFY, IN WINTERS, CA 3 1/2 Stars

Fortify, in a gentrified old shop building, promises an intelligence that will be informing the cuisine. We Hawks take seriously the visual cues that a dining establishment will display. This room has a soothing color scheme, an open feel with tables made from old bowling alley lanes. The chef/owner admits she’s brand new to the mechanics of restauranting but says with great confidence that the food will be great.

She’s spot on in her description of the mechanics–orders are mixed up, portions gotten backwards, with much shuffling back and forth. But in context, charming, because: the food is delicious and indeed enlightened. We had chicken tortilla soup that was complex and an energy boost; chicken tacos and white bean soup prepared with a deep regard for properties of the legume. A subtly flavored green salad. Two tone tapioca and austere carrot cake. We are feeling good. A bearded mountain man plays old mountain tunes on mandola, fiddle, and mandolin. We hope this place flourishes. Check it out. Fortify. Worth the detour north from I-80.

Old Californio sound and look great in the hallowed hall of The Palms. Woody and Pete Grant, sitting in again on exotic 8 string dobro, engage in fierce musical battles, Jason’s got his Phil Lesh thing going tonight, and Rich and the boys’ crystalline vocals crystallize.

Our set feels like a warm glow from start to finish. Flanked by Pete’s dobro and Richie’s accordion, this is the acoustic version of the Hawks orchestra launched the night before. Lush. Kevin lays down a subtle brushes on snare groove that gently rocks the room. The crowd is our family and tribe, just like the night before, we get the big standing O and play some more. Big thanks to Dave and Kate, long may they divine.

We hit the late night road for Davis and our buddy Z’s roomy house. Next morning Kevin and Paul L, who share the inability to sleep in, leave their slumbering bandmates and prowl the streets of Davis, find the perfect balance of walking and caffeinating: a one mile walk to Davis’s hipicenter at the edge of the UC campus. Kevin observes that life’s great moments are such as this–a walk in the sun on a leisurely morning, no cares or plans, basking in the glow of last night’s show. And caffeine. Caffeine. Just knowing it’s on the way.

If one must be an addict, is not coffee the noblest of addictions? Other than the anxiety that a poorly timed collision of circumstances and triple macchiato can induce, there’s little downside to this proof of Intelligent Design. In Kevin Jarvis, Paul L has met his caffeiphilian match. This man loves coffee. He does indeed order a triple macchiato on a regular basis, and a few hours later, he’ll do it again. If it’s seven p.m. before a show, Kevin will suggest a coffee, if a hip cafe has caught his eye. Paul is very grateful for this unabashed enthusiasm. Any ambivalence about these benevolent chains of mental slavery are banished at the barista’s door. Accordionist Richie and his wife Katie are at that same rarefied level of coffee love, and often guide the Hawks on prowls of Sacramento’s ever expanding espresso empire.

Today Mishka’s cafe wins the Yelp competition. Walk, imbibe, walk back, Paul M and Rob are up and ready to rock, breakfast at the alarmingly fecund Black Bear Diner, pack up and roll westward to Marin. Rob finds a gorgeous back road through lush green fat oak dotted hills and deep into redwoods filtering golden afternoon light, out into the open again and there it is, at the end of a dogleg on rural road, hill framed as if by an overly sentimental painter, Rancho Nicasio. This roadhouse has been here for a long time, the stuff of Californio legends, and is a hangout for 60s and 70s rockers to this day. Elvin Bishop was in the night before to jam, Nicasio tech guy Mike Duke tells us (Mike is a songwriter himself, wrote hits for Huey Lewis and the News).

We set up on an afternoon where we should really be out climbing the hills, are well fed and watered by the kind Nicasio folks, and at 5 p.m. sharp or a bit later we launch into our first set. It’s mellow, as the sun blazes behind us and the audience dines on rural road fare. At the break Angela Strehli and Bob Brown, the Nicasio owners and brain trust, greet us, and we hang with friends, friend fans, family, and fan friends. The second set builds from dinner to full on extended jam version of Wonder Valley. It did get loud. We hang, we pack, we hit the road. We’ve decided to pull an all nighter.

Sugar can be your friend when you hit the road at 11 p.m. I-5 gas emporia offer a variety of tempting treats, and we sampled them all, took turns driving and yakking, humped over a now bone dry Grapevine, big trucks and speeding lunatics our only road companions, hit L.A. at 5 a.m., decamped at casa Waller, and scattered to the four winds, well, three. An action packed weekend that passed as in a dream.

It’s 5:03 p.m. The Hawks Traffic Guardian Angel has been kind, and we fly through Friday Sacramento traffic with nary a slowdown. The clouds lift as we race towards the foothills. We’re on time in Auburn. We weave through Auburn streets, aim for the water wheel marking the Liquor Outlet Event Center and see our lovely and benevolent host Evangeline waving us towards the load-in. But right in front, awkwardly blocking the entrance and two parking spots, sits the deathly black Yukon XL. Clearly the El Californios need to be put in their place.

It’s raining under a bright sun and blue sky as we load in. The interior of the Liquor Outlet Event Center is quite surprising. A bland 80s exterior doesn’t hint at the warm, inviting barnlike room with long bar and long stage, country rock posters and arcana lining the walls. The verbal jousting with the El Californio boys begins immediately and never stops. We deal a serious blow by hogging all the soundcheck time. Hawks 1, Old Californio zero. They make a strong comeback by dialing in a great sound in five minutes. Score tied. We take a sharpie to the green room sign and presto: it’s an exclusive Hawks dressing room. A second bit of penmanship and the men’s room is now the Californio green room. They see through our ruse and both bands pack into the green room, pouncing on pizza and beers with the intensity of rival hunter gatherers.

Love fills the room as the Gold Country and Sacto adjacent music aficionados filter in and showtime approaches. Old friends, old bandmates, cousins greet the bands. KVMR is in the house. It’s 1972 tonight. Old Californio starts off low key, as a humble opening band should, but then builds steadily to a slamming 90 minute set. The dance floor fills with hippies and townies young and old. Old Californio’s fiendish plan is working. They’re going to be a tough act to follow.

We open with a majestic “Mary Austin Sky.” It’s big, sweeping, cosmic Americana. And we’ve got a secret weapon: Pete Grant, legendary steel player, he who was invited by Jerry Garcia to join the soon to become Warlocks soon to become Grateful Dead jug band, he who played steel on Aoxomoxoa, joined the New Riders Of The Purple Sage, and inherited Jerry’s steel rig. Pete sends the sound into the landscape of our minds, the Platonic Hawks ideal. We ride a big soft cloud and the audience climbs on board for the ride. Lovely lasses fill the floor, cowboys and bohemians shuffle and spin. Take that, Old Californio.

But wait! They’ve infiltrated the dance floor, in matching denim shirts and levis. No–but yes. They’re doing their mock Urban Cowboy side step, one part metrosexual and one part macho. They sweep Evangeline off her feet, charm the lassies, and, yes, appear to mock us. Are Old Californio mocking us? As we launch into Hope Against Hope, our fears are confirmed. At the climactic chorus, Levi steps onto the floor right in front of Rob and launches into a calculatedly spasmodic Jennifer Beals Fashdance number. Where did he get the chain and water bucket? The three singers start laughing. The chorus collapses. Score one for Old Californio.

But we rally, recover, and rock. Richie Lawrence has brought his big growling accordion into the mix. We entice Woody from Old Californio onto the stage, and he betrays his mates by raising the rock ante, and raising the roof. The Hawks Orchestra burns through Humboldt, Motorcycle Mama, I Fell In Love With The Grateful Dead, and Good and Foolish Times. It’s a long set, and over too soon. Thank you, Auburn. We hang with the audience, sign CDs. The audience filters out into the cold wet night. The verbal jousting with Old Californio resumes immediately. We battle to a standstill. It’s a dead heat. Pete Grant regales us with tales of Garcia and the Bay Area at the moment of creation. We go our separate ways. Thank you Evangeline, Scott, and people of the north.

WHAT? IN THIS ECONOMY?

April 14, 2012 · 1 comment

Is the blog going the way of 35 mm film, CDs, and the eco-marketing scare of the mid-oughts? Facebook has drained the bards of Hawkdom of some creative energy, it would appear, dear Reader. Tweets and posts peck at the muse often, and leave her just as she’s waking.

And the Hawks blog is a travel blog, after all, and we haven’t hit the road as much in the last couple of years. But some good road trips are in our near future, and so we beg the Muse for longer conversations.

On this Friday the 13th of April we’ve packed the Yukon, with its new tires and wiper blades just in time for a rainy morning, and we’re heading up the 5. Will we beat the shutdown of the Grapevine due to snow? Our companions on this tourette, Old Californio, had an efficient departure and are already over the pass. Just to show us up, they’ve rented a 2011 Yukon XL Flex/Fuel, jet black with leather seats and big wheels. Our ’99 Yukon (regular length) looks a little road weary next to this fresh, young model. Is Yukon Extenze available? Yukonal Rejuvenation? The youth and spirit, nay brash immaturity, of the OC lads raises out ire and stokes our competitive pride. It’s seven hours to Auburn, up in Gold Country, and we’re going to be cutting it close for sound check. As is our way.

The central valley is looking very good. A series of odd late rains has greened our fair state, just as we were heading for a dried out summer. Lupines have dusted the Grapevine, where there was indeed snow, but just on the high ridges. We’re in an unbroken San Diego to Sacramento/San Francisco 60 mph caravan under gray and black clouds, with a startling blue over the hills to the west. Lovely.

Kevin Jarvis is driving; Rob Waller sits in the front passenger seat; the two Pauls sit on the rear bench. This configuration will probably be our constant, as the two shorter members of the band are packed like sardines among soft bags. We didn’t attach our Thule pod to the roof. Rob lobbied for it. The Pauls lobbied against it. A certain injustice prevails.

This version of the Hawks has a wide conversational topic spectrum. Soil maintenance and the philosophy of the untilled field; current relations in the L.A. country rock scene; what is country rock?; golf; golfing with Randy Weeks; golfing with a cruel golf cart duo that mowed down an egret; the shocking and dismal experience of seeing Tiger Woods up close; old Augusta; child psychology; acoustic guitar pickups; state supreme court approves half hour lunch break per ten hour shift; Obamacare (fuckin’ Obama); Justice Roberts’ internal conflict; the inevitable bad taste of public art; the giant LACMA rock; drummers and drumming; hawk flies over big rig stack, survives, good omen.

Green and gray, green and gray, lush blue black ponds and canals, egrets, infinite white black clouds rays of rain and sun, doh! eco inappropriate suburb in the middle of fields; whew, back to green and gray, green and gray. So lush. Life lives in the San Joaquin.

Old Californio has beaten us to Auburn by at least 45 minutes, those upstart bastards. It’s going to be tough to overcome this psychological advantage, but we will figure something out. We’re passing through Sacramento and hoping for merciful traffic.