The El Rey Theatre 2/5/2011
I’ve purposefully refrained from writing about any of the many The Silent Comedy shows that I’ve attended because of my genuine fondness for them as a band, as a family, and as individuals. My friends and I? Probably bordering on stalkerazzi. So I thought perhaps that connective tissue of affection would overly color how I present them and any sense of objectivity would be nonexistent. Despite what you’ve heard, I’m actually not perfect. No, seriously.
But this particular show warrants reporting because, as an observer, it bears the marks of a watershed moment.
As a gang of five dapper dudes with fashionable headgear channeling an era gone by, The Silent Comedy are one of San Diego’s most beloved musical sons: the energy and impact of their live shows is bordering on legendary as are their moustaches. Saturday night Los Angeles’ El Rey Theater played hostess to their tent-revival rock show as openers for Academy Award winner Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses and I have the tender left calf to prove it and how out of shape I am.
Surprise, surprise (yeah, not really) the sold out room was overrun with cowboy hats (reason #4 I made sure to be up front; if I can’t see I get cranky) and flannel shirts and belt buckles and boots that weren’t really made for walking but, hey, it’s the look that counts. Ryan Bingham brought his crowd for the two-step party and more power to him; I was there for the unleashing of a beast upon an unsuspecting LA crowd.
At 9pm prompt, the stage curtains opened on a large crowd that looked like it didn’t know what to expect from or make of the well-dressed gents onstage equipped with an eponymous pulpit, but when singer/bassist Joshua Zimmerman launched into a welcoming sign of the times/let’s get ready to rumble sermon, something seemed to click. What makes this band so much of a communal experience is multi-faceted, but it tends to all come down to the way that they rip your face off and punch you in the gut with their raucous gospel, gin joint noise of human faults and the darker side of our frailty. More than a few eyebrows were raised when Joshua repeatedly went airborne during the California Gold Rush tale “49″, where the sonic shards of Justin Buchanan’s mandolin and Jeremiah Zimmerman’s keyboard are key. Each song in The Silent Comedy’s set took the crowd on a journey, making them thumb their noses at the ridiculous notion called Prohibition during “Moonshine” or taking them to church while simultaneously telling them that they ain’t attending (hell no, we won’t go!) with “The Well”. Amid the call and response of Jeremiah’s “amens” and “hallelujahs”, throughout the crowd you could see smiles, heads moving, and bodies losing the battle with being “too cool to dance” in a town renowned for its check on its collective emotions. The Silent Comedy will have none of that nonsense.
Between the wonderfully physical and punchy display of rambunctious energy and harmonica-ship from Tim Graves to drummer Chad Lee’s maniacal expressions and wild-man hair (his hat never lasts more than two songs), what we have here is the flesh and bone urge to connect a story to the people and being none too shy or gentle about it. Their live show is all well-played theatrics, musicianship and song craft, jubilation and spirits, and making something buried deep within you stir. It’s called soul and The Silent Comedy is simply after yours. Case in point: Joshua introduced the fan-favorite and emotionally hefty “Gasoline”, dedicating it to Chad Lee’s grandfather who passed away just the day before. It’s a song that begins with gentle guitar picking and hushed vocals and ends in a purifying eruption of release…jubilation…love. By the end of the song, reverence was paid and the El Rey was officially pwned.
If the El Rey crowd didn’t know it after the first song, they more than succumbed to it by the frenetic finale “Road Song” which did nothing less than exorcise every demon sin in the room via snippets of “This Train Is Bound For Glory” and “When The Saints Go Marching In”. Rarely have I ever seen such large a crowd so overwhelmed and joyously awestruck by a ‘lowly’ opening band as I did on this night. And Tim Graves, (who, during “Road Song”, turned the El Rey stage into his very own jungle gym) fostered himself a fresh fan club from the newly indoctrinated due to his explosive, oxygen depriving suck/blow fest; people who, prior to their set, knew neither the band nor his name now suddenly regaled him as, “That guy on harmonica!”
Even though Jeremiah asserted that he had a “bad night on guitar”, one probably didn’t notice, probably wouldn’t care too much if they did because technical proficiency is only half the battle with The Silent Comedy. This El Rey stage was the largest and most acclaimed that the band had occupied in the Los Angeles area and there were only two ways that it could go; the furious applause from the audience spoke volumes. They’ve earned such a devoted local following because they tell their tales with an addictive passion to the performance which counters the abundance of manufactured and band aloof-cool currently on the market. The music? Proof that the warm sun called Americana will never lose its place in the musical landscape, no matter how fucked up that landscape may be (thank God). Some bands just do it better and shamelessly rowdier than others.
You can check out The Silent Comedy, their tunes, and their upcoming tour dates at their brand-spanking new official website . Put the band on your musical bucket list. You won’t regret it.