CAMP: The Tour with Sammy Rae & The Friends – A Whimsical Musical Journey Review+Photos: Sammy Rae and The Friends at The Novo 10/18/23
LOS ANGELES, CA- When it comes to experiencing the sheer exhilaration of live music, there’s nothing quite like the power and energy of a full band. And on the night of October 18, 2023, at The Novo in Los Angeles, I had the privilege of witnessing Sammy Rae & The Friends take the stage with their six-piece band, delivering a performance that transcended musical boundaries and left the audience in a state of euphoria. The beauty of a large band lies not just in its size but in the depth and complexity of the sound it can create. Sammy Rae & The Friends proved this point emphatically throughout their performance.
The band’s lineup for this tour was a powerhouse of talent: C-Bass Chiriboga on drums, Kellon Anderson on alto saxophone, Max Zooi on tenor saxophone and synths, Will Leet on guitar and keys, and Debbie Tjong on keys and background vocals. Together, they formed a musical ensemble that was nothing short of extraordinary. As Sammy Rae took the stage with her charismatic presence and powerful vocals, it was clear that this was not just a singer and her backing musicians. This was a collective force, a tight-knit unit, a musical family.
In 2022, Sammy Rae & The Friends completed their “If It All Goes South” tour, and in 2023, they released an album composed of live recordings from this tour, aptly titled “The If It All Goes South Tour (Live).” It was evident from the start that this band had honed their craft through countless performances, as they effortlessly navigated the intricacies of their songs.
But what made this particular tour special was its theme – “CAMP: The Tour!” Sammy Rae had expressed her desire for each performance to feel like “camp,” a chance to have fun and explore with friends. The anticipation in the air was palpable as the audience awaited what promised to be a unique and whimsical experience. As Sammy herself put it in an Instagram post, “Bring your carabiner boondoggles and dust off that old Scout vest. We’re bringing you a whole new tour where the outdoors are indoors!” The stage was set with a captivating design, new songs, and reimagined renditions of old favorites. It was a celebration of camp as a fashion and art sensibility – exaggerated, whimsical, playful, and joyful.
Victoria Canal was the opening act for Sammy Rae and was… once again… nothing short of a mesmerizing musical journey, a testament to the enduring power of lyrics and melody to transcend the boundaries of a live audience. As the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen once eloquently stated, “Where words fail, music speaks,” and in the case of Victoria Canal, it is the fusion of poetic lyricism and soul-stirring melodies that truly speaks to the depths of the human experience.
This particular evening marked a significant departure from the intimate settings in which I had previously witnessed Victoria’s performances. While I had been accustomed to seeing her grace smaller, more intimate venues, The Novo’s spacious stage presented an entirely different canvas for her artistry. The question loomed large: could her profoundly personal and intimate songs resonate with a larger audience? The answer was a resounding “yes.”
Victoria Canal took to the stage solo, armed only with her guitar and a heart full of emotion. From the very first note, it was evident that her music possessed a magnetic quality capable of captivating a crowd of any size. Her lyrics, woven with intricate emotions and experiences, drew the audience in with an irresistible force. The Novo, with its grandeur and capacity, served as the perfect backdrop for her songs to unfurl their wings and soar.
One of the most poignant moments of the evening was when Victoria introduced a new song, one dedicated to her dear friend Lucy Clearwater, who was seated in the photo pit to savor the performance. This gesture of love and friendship added an extra layer of intimacy to the night, reminding us that music is not just about sound; it’s about shared experiences and connections.
As she performed, Victoria shared personal anecdotes, such as the inspiration behind “Swan Song,” a song rooted in Ira Byock’s poignant mantra about the four things we say before we die or to someone we love who is about to pass: Thank you. I love you. Forgive me. I forgive you. These narratives invited us to be present in the moment and created a profound sense of intimacy between artist and audience.
Sammy Rae’s setlist for the night was a journey through their discography and included some new, unreleased songs. They kicked things off with “Talk It Up,” setting the tone for the evening with its infectious rhythm and Sammy’s dynamic vocals. “Follow Me Like the Moon” and “Whatever We Feel” showcased the band’s ability to seamlessly blend elements of jazz, funk, soul, and pop into a cohesive sonic tapestry. From the get-go, The Friends’ “big band sound” really stood out, adding and an enthusiastic kick to the evening. Cap it off with Sammy Rae’s captivating voice- a blend of sultry sophistication and raw emotion, heavily influenced by the rich tradition of jazz and you have a perfect pairing.
With a voice that can glide through velvety, smoky tones and soar to passionate crescendos, Sammy Rae’s vocal prowess adds a distinct layer of depth and complexity to the music. Her phrasing, timing, and subtle improvisational touches evoke the spirit of jazz legends, infusing her songs with a timeless quality that resonates with audiences across generations. It’s a voice that transports listeners to the intimate, dimly lit jazz clubs of yesteryears while maintaining a contemporary edge that makes her music both timeless and relevant.
The crowd was treated to two new unreleased tracks, “Luck of the Draw” and “David,” both of which were met with enthusiastic applause. It was evident that Sammy Rae & The Friends were not content to rest on their laurels but were continually pushing the boundaries of their sound.
“Are You Gonna Be My Girl,” a cover of Jet’s hit, injected a dose of rock ‘n’ roll into the set, and the audience couldn’t help but dance along. The band’s versatility was on full display as they effortlessly transitioned from one genre to another, keeping the energy levels sky-high.
“Denim Jacket” and “Good Life” were met with sing-alongs from the crowd, a testament to the band’s ability to craft memorable and relatable songs. The new unreleased track “Coming Home Song” struck a chord with the audience, evoking a sense of nostalgia and longing. The band’s sound got even grander when Sammy invited a string quartet- whose name escapes me- to the stage for a performance of her seminal hit “Jackie Onassis”. For the encore, Sammy Rae & The Friends delivered a memorable rendition of Faces’ classic “Ooh La La” and closed the night with “Let’s Throw a Party!” The audience was left buzzing with excitement.
Sammy Rae & The Friends delivered a performance that was nothing short of spectacular. The unbridled joy they infused into the audience was a testament to the magic of live music and the power of a full band. The big band sound, brought to life by a group of exceptionally talented musicians, enveloped the audience in a sonic embrace that was both exhilarating and heartwarming and as I left The Novo that night, I couldn’t help but reflect on the sheer joy of experiencing music in the company of a full band. Sammy Rae & The Friends had not only entertained but had also touched the hearts and souls of everyone in attendance. It was a night to remember, a celebration of music, friendship, and the indomitable spirit of a band that knows how to make you feel alive.