Like a moth to a microphone

Speaking in front of an audience is not a space I enjoy navigating. I’ve had to endure public speaking for years in my professional life, and I can deliver. I’ve even been told that’s it’s one of my “core strengths” (that’s corporate speak for a top talent or attribute). I assure you, it is not. I have to know my material inside and out. Rehearse that shit and sell it. Inject a silly joke halfway through my slide deck as a trigger to myself that it’s almost over. I hate it.

Strangely, I love to tell a good story. I enjoy regaling close friends of something hilarious that happened, whether traveling in India or en route to my local coffee shop. I get off on publishing stories that strike a chord in someone so deeply that they spare a few precious minutes ripping into me in the comments section. Huddled behind my laptop, squinting one eye, tentatively refreshing my browser. I love it.

Storytelling events are popping up all over Los Angeles: Don’t Tell My Mother, Risk! and of course The Moth, which originated in New York and now hosts events across the country. I was craving a little escapism a few weeks ago, so I went to a Moth event solo to sit at the back of the room and watch as other storytellers bravely took to the mic to tell their tales, in front of a panel of judges, no less. Horrifying.

The topic was Culture Shock. Much to my delight, audience members who aren’t quite bold enough to unleash their stories verbally can jot down a few sentences related to the topic and drop it into a sack. The host then chooses a selection to read in between speakers. Right up my alley.

Not surprisingly, most of the stories were about experiences abroad, mishaps that occurred while traveling or living in some far off place. My two sentences were about the culture shock I experienced when I first moved to LA. And the host read my cheeky words, as I nervously sipped on my seven-dollar chardonnay. And the audience laughed. And it reminded me of the relief I feel when a joke lands during a presentation in my day job.

After moving to Los Angeles from Canada, I inadvertently strolled through Skid Row on my way to the Arts District. I’ve never been more relieved to see hipsters in my life.

In the last year I’ve turned down invites to speak at day-job-related conferences in San Francisco, Chicago and here in LA, but I did agree to sit on a panel discussion for one. It reminded me of Gloria Steinem’s book My Life on the Road, where she writes in great length about talking circles, a traditional Native American practice used to bring communities together and give people the space to speak freely. The formation of the circle ensures that no one is in a place of prominence, like some poor sod sweating bullets in a packed boardroom. I like that.

I’m going to another Moth event next week, this time the topic is Deadlines. Maybe I’ll sign up and step to the mic. Probably I won’t. But I’m glad there’s a space for storytellers to come together and inspire one another. It feels kind of necessary these days.

UPDATE: I signed up and dropped my name in the sack with minutes to spare, after the group of folks around me — all there solo too, strangely — convinced me. It’s a supportive crowd! But alas, my name was never drawn.

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Pappy & Harriet’s

Los Angeles is known for attracting, inspiring and launching the careers of rock stars from all over the world, this we know. It’s also known for an unmatched live music scene with more venues than any other city in the US. From massive stadiums all the way down to dark little dive bars, the vibe is legit.

While there’s no shortage of live shows every night of the week in LA county, there’s a place – a strange and kitschy little place – about 2.5 hours east that stands out among the rest. A “palace” perched atop a long and winding desert road to nowhere in the Yucca Valley, where artists like Robert Plant and Vampire Weekend have graced it’s storied stage.

Pappy & Harriet’s, a cabaret style roadhouse situated on the edge of the Mojave Desert in Pioneertown, is almost too good to be true. I had read about bands I love dropping in for surprise appearances, and given the bars remote location, I had to see for myself what was drawing people there.

The road from Yucca is kind of a trip, especially at night. You immediately begin to climb in elevation, in complete darkness, save a few random folks who call the valley home. We did spot a massive pine tree decked out in twinkling Christmas lights on the edge of a cliff with no visible house nearby. How they got there is a mystery.

The moment you pull up, you’re hit with the intoxicating smell of mesquite barbecue smoking out back. The bar is part of a small village founded in 1946 by Hollywood filmmakers who intended to create a living movie set for western pictures. With facades based on an 1870s frontier town, it feels a little like Wyatt Earp will rise from the dead and challenge you to a duel at any moment.

A mix of bikers, old folks, families and cool kids clasping their bourbon-filled mason jars filled the place. While the food is worth the trip alone, we were there for the music. Anthony D’Amato opened with an acoustic set; he and his guitar and harmonica had a big enough sound to match an entire band. Then the headliners, Israel Nash, hit the stage and as D’Amato put it, launched into a set that would melt our faces off. Think Harvest Moon era Neil Young meets The Who meets rockabilly. Fuck, is that even possible? Maybe it was the electro-magnetic air, maybe it was the whiskey but it was the perfect soundtrack for a wild night in the desert.

We couldn’t help but alter our plans to return the next day before heading back to the city. It was worth it. A trip to the California desert isn’t complete without wetting your whistle at Pappy’s alongside the gnarly locals and bright-eyed hipsters. Even for a first-timer, I felt right at home.

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Live Music in LA

When we decided to set up shop in Los Angeles, we narrowed it down to two of our favorite neighbourhoods: Venice and West Hollywood. Venice for the artsy, hippie, bohemian, and inspired beach bum lifestyle. WeHo for the energy, excitement, grit and garish atmosphere.

When I tell people in Venice that we nearly landed in Hollywood, they cringe and question how we could ever consider living somewhere as loud and busy as WeHo. Truth is, I’ve got it bad for the gigs. Live music is what made me fall in love with LA, and most of our favorite venues happen to sit in the shadows of the Hollywood Hills.

My groupie tendencies and love of music are what inspired the name of this blog, actually. Sure, LA is famous for the film industry and I’m equally as passionate about that art form. But the bands that were formed here and the music that is inspired by this crazy town seduce me to no end.

Los Angeles is a relentless temptress. Being the nine-to-fiver that I am, it’s hard to hit the town on school nights, but I can’t help myself. Once I’m there breathing in the stench of LA’s late night underbelly, it’s hard to get me home. I realize that doesn’t sound too enticing, but I’m telling you, this city has pheromones.

Over the past several months, my husband (fellow groupie) and I started keeping track of our favorite venues and began listing all the places we want to go next. So far, I’d have to say the Troubadour is my favorite and my husband is partial to the Greek but here’s our ever-expanding list and what we’ve scratched off so far:

Hollywood Bowl
Greek Theatre
The Fonda Theater
Hollywood Palladium
El Rey Theatre
The Echo
Teragram Ballroom
Whisky a-Go-Go
Hotel Café
Roxy Theatre
Trip
The Del Monte Speakeasy
The Orpheum
Basement Tavern
Grammy Museum
Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever
The Observatory
The Forum
Troubadour
Echoplex
The Getty
The Mint
The Viper Room
The Shrine
House of Blues – Sunset Strip (now closed)
Club Nokia
Santa Monica Pier
The Regent Theater
The Theatre at Ace Hotel
Pappy & Harriet’s
Bootleg Theater
The Wiltern
Belasco Theater

Before catching a show at the Whisky last week, we had dinner at the Rainbow Bar & Grill. Although I’m about 50 years too late to the party, the place still had an eerie vibe to it and apparently hasn’t changed much over the past several decades. While we were there, hiding in a corner table surrounded by gold records and other precious memorabilia, an older gentleman began telling patrons stories about the old days. How Sinatra would sit and chain smoke and drink for hours with his friends and how Zeppelin would receive blowjobs under the tables from forthcoming groupies. He also shared the “true story” of how Marilyn Monroe, another star who frequented the place, was murdered by the US government and how the hit man who carried out the deed was brutally murdered somewhere in Florida to abolish all evidence. Thank god some of these people are still around to tell these torrid tales.

I love this list of the 50 best music venues in LA from LA Weekly, which has become our cultural bible since moving here.

What am I missing? Is there another music venue I need to add to my list?

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Northeast Party House

The smell as you enter the dark and dingy confines of the Echoplex can only be described as a mix of latex, lager and the blood, sweat and tears that have be shed on its well trodden stage. A venue with a reputation for launching the careers of LA-based bands like Foster the People and The Airborne Toxic Event, the place feels a little haunted by rock star souls of the past. Which is why it’s kind of appropriate that we walked in right as Aussie band Northeast Party House was ripping into a song of the same name, as part of the Culture Collide music festival.

I bought tickets specifically to see Kiwi electro-pop rocker Ladyhawke – who I’ve been following and grooving to for years – but when Northeast Party House hit the stage before her set, I was glad I got there early.

Six handsome lads hailing from Melbourne, on their first tour oversees, it was obvious they were excited to be playing for an international audience. New to the game, however, they were not, blowing up the space with testosterone-driven stage antics, they knew they had earned the right to be there. Their set was tight! And loud. And fucking brilliant.

They reminded me a bit of Blur circa the Blur album, but more up beat. At times you could have sworn Trent Reznor was onstage with them, churning out weird and wonderful sounds as lead singer Zach Hamilton-Reeves went borderline ballistic. Mitch Ansell was insanely good on lead guitar, launching into “Enter Sandman” for a few riffs. I’m pretty certain my husband and I were some of the only spectators to catch on, given the sea of millennial-aged hipsters surrounding us.

Funk rock with pop hooks and a beat you can dance to, but a sound that will blow your hair back. These guys are ones to watch.

Their album Any Given Weekend is available on iTunes. The band plays The Echo in LA this afternoon and then heads to New York for the next leg of their tour. Follow their updates here.

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