Crook Headlines An Intimate Night Of Stripped-Down Performances
LOS ANGELES, CA- When recordings are unbelievably visceral, you always keep your fingers crossed that the recording artist’s live performance lives up to the studio output. I’ve gone to tons of shows, and I’m always filled with musical gratitude when that’s the case.
Expectations change, however, when the artist takes the original source material and changes it up, either by going acoustic or totally reinventing the arrangement/style. It’s one thing for an artist to take one studio-produced recording and stripping it down for a unique moment in a concert setting, but to perform a whole concert in that fashion? I’m often leery about these types of performances, especially when the band’s sound is huge. Did you know that Korn did an MTV Unplugged? Did you watch it? Did you like it? I didn’t. I didn’t think Nu Metal was meant to do that.
But what about Nu Metal’s cousin Doomgaze? Doomgaze’s sonic base, with its heavy, wall-of-sound riffs, is meant to be loud and brooding; which contrasts with the ethereal melodies of the shoegaze vocals creating a balance. Does Doomgaze lend itself to a “stripping down”. With the right vocalist, absolutely.
During the initial pandemic lockdown, I was lucky enough to sit in on an acoustic performance by Iress, an LA-based doomgaze band, hosted by Bands In A Barbershop and streamed on The Satellite’s Instagram account. I was blown away by how intense the performance was. Michelle Malley, their lead singer, brought that same intensity that I got to experience every time I saw the whole band perform “plugged-in” , and I was hooked.
When I saw on social media that Michelle would be performing another stripped-down set at the Silverlake Lounge … even more stripped-down without a bass player … I quickly saved the date in my calendar. I then did a double-take when I saw that Crook was headlining the bill with a solo set.
Now, I had only seen Crook live twice, but this “solo” performance immediately intrigued me. The two times that I had seen Daniel Crook and his bandmates perform, I experienced a soundscape that was so large and immersive, the blood in my veins pulsed to their music’s tempo. While there are some deeply quiet moments in Crook’s music, it was the dichotomy with that cinematic sound that really made those concert experiences inexorably memorable. Yup. My anticipation was high.
Kicking off the evening of music was an artist that was new to me Nico Turner. In doing a little research via Google, I learned that Nico has been performing since at least 2008, which is the year her band VoicesVoices dropped their EP Sounds Outside. Five years ago, she dropped a solo EP Legends (which you can check out by clicking on the photo above). I learned that this multi-instrumentalist has played with such notable musicians as Brightblack Morning Light, Prefuse 73, Vincent Gallo, and most Cat Power, and was known in the underground scene as a real contributor to the experimental music scene.
Nico was visibly nervous to start her set and apologized to the crowd explaining that it had been a while since she had performed live in front of people. No apologies were needed, however, as she quickly gathered herself and powered through her seven-song set. She played four songs from Legends (“Augur”, “Whatever You Want”, “Meaning of Life”, “Something In The Way”) and several songs that I’m assuming were newly written (“Lighter” and “Watcher”).
Nico’s performance was a really nice primer for what was to come for the rest of the evening. She brought a certain heaviness and melancholy to the night that was accentuated by the magenta than shined from the stage lights. I could only imagine how much more impactful her music would be with a full band and atmospheric elements accompanying her.
When Michelle Malley took the stage, I braced myself. I kinda knew what to expect; a gloriously brutal outpouring of doubt, regret, and sorrow. I was ready to be moved.
From the first song, I was transfixed. Her performance of “Shallow” had all of the intensity and angst as the recording, and when she belted out the chorus, I could feel the bumps start to tingle on my arms. She immediately went on to break my heart with the next song, “Nest”. The emotions and melody start so unassumingly, but then when she gets to the chorus and she sings the glissando in the chorus, you really feel her reaching for that emotion when she sings, “Come away with me.” The longing for comfort is there in the way Michelle sings, and it’s beautiful.
While the music was heavy, Michelle’s mood was not. She was all smiles between songs, showing her gratitude for her friends and fans making out to the show. There was even more humor when Michelle was joined on stage by Graham Walker who accompanied her on guitar for most of the set and had her friend Lauren Coleman, a documentary filmmaker who dusted off the guitar and vocal harmonies to sing a cover of Gillian Welch’s “Everything Is Free” with Michelle. They both laughed after the songs about the mistake that both of them simultaneously made.
She closed her set with a new song that lacked an official title. She suggested I call it “Ready”, and I thought it was fitting because I’m ready for more music from Michelle and Iress. Singers who pull you into a real palpable emotional state are few and far between, and Michelle has done it to me every time I’ve seen her sing; whether solo, with a band, with a broken arm…
Other songs performed were “Hand Tremor” and “Dark Love”.
Closing the evening was Daniel Crook p/k/a “Crook”. As I mentioned earlier, I had seen Crook perform in grand fashion. Dramatic stage production. Dramatic stage action. Cinematic sound. This would be different. This time it was Daniel seated at his keyboard under the venue’s aforementioned magenta lighting. I wondered how he’d pull it off, and how different this performance would be compared to the others I’ve witnessed.
I think it took a moment for Daniel to get into his groove. He opened his set with an “improvised moment” and when he went into his songs, I think he was still trying to make sure that his keyboard and its modules were correctly set up. I also think that the bar crowd who were there to drink and not for the entertainment didn’t quite grasp the mood and atmosphere that Crook’s music casts. In my opinion, I thought that they were rather loud.
But Daniel rose above the distractions, and really laid it all on the line, giving each crescendo an extra emphasis and a little extra forte for each note that called for fortissimo. As I listened to each song that was performed, I realized that the cinematic motifs/tones that I was familiar with weren’t really in arrangement/production, but it was in the actual composition. There’s a sense of the dramatic when Daniel plays cascading melodies with his right hand, or when he slams a bass note with his left hand for stirring effect.
Despite the boozy drinkers in the back, Crook’s fans were all mesmerized by the musical spell that Daniel cast. There’s a story in those songs, and you can hear it in each note. You just have to listen.
Crook performed “This House”, “Too Little, Too Late”, “The Argument”, “Lavender”, “Playing for Keeps”, “Paris Blue” and “Pitiful”