LOS ANGELES — One of Southern California’s most esteemed radio shows took to the stage Friday for an inaugural concert celebrating diverse artists ranging from singer/songwriter Elliott Smith to country-fried rocker Shelby Lynne.
A Sounds Eclectic Evening, named after flagship National Public Radio station KCRW-FM’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic” show, began as an emotional showcase of the world’s top songsmiths and ended as a hip-hop salsa party that had the packed Wiltern Theatre audience dancing down the aisles. (Click for photos from the show.)
Los Angeles’ own Ozomatli headlined the benefit for KCRW with a rousing set of tunes mostly culled from their new album, Embrace the Chaos. The 10-member outfit looked like a hip-hop ska version of Slipknot, though not nearly as chaotic.
Bassist Wil-Dog Abers and guitarist Raúl Pacheco provided the majority of their Cypress Hill-like vocal tag teams, though trumpeter Asdrubal Sierra piped in for a few of the Latin-flavored numbers.
Ozomatli’s latest single, “1234,” proved to be the audience favorite, as the mostly white crowd waved its hands to the tune’s Afro-Cuban beat.
The rest of the performances Friday were of a different breed, with the possible exception of a few Lynne numbers. Promoting her new record, Love, Shelby, she mixed the intimacy of a singer/songwriter with the attitude of an arena star by belting out the heartfelt lyrics she is known for with the vigor of a Las Vegas veteran like Bette Midler or Cher.
Pete Yorn, Smith, Badly Drawn Boy and Sparklehorse, on the other hand, let their lyrics be the sole stars.
Smith and Badly Drawn Boy both played short, acoustic sets from a small stage in front of the main curtain. Smith played all new material from his upcoming album, while Badly Drawn Boy opened by singing some new songs over prerecorded tracks — “karaoke-style” as he put it — and closed with some familiar numbers.
Badly Drawn Boy, stuffed between the subdued Smith and the even quieter Sparklehorse, provided a needed pick-me-up with his between-song banter. After introducing a few tracks from the new “About a Boy” soundtrack, he improvised a gag about his band being too ugly to bring onstage.
Covered in a stocking cap pulled down to his brow and illegally taking drags off a cigarette, Badly Drawn Boy garnered heavy applause (from fans such as Meg Ryan and Tracey Ullman) for The Hour of Bewilderbeast tracks “Once Around the Block” and “The Shining.” He dedicated the latter to Osama bin Laden, asking the terrorist to make his next target “the twin cheeks of my ass.”
Smith, who wore a skin-tight thrift store T-shirt and sported Willie Nelson-like pigtails, debuted new material that varied little from his past catalog of fairy tale folk with twists of pop.
“These [versions of the new songs] are very different than how they will sound on the record, but this is how they started out,” Smith said in his dressing room after the show.
Yorn’s set perhaps best summed up the title of the concert, as he powered through an eclectic set list that had equal moments of raucous rock ’n’ roll splendor (“For Nancy (Cos’ It Already Is)”) and pour-your-heart-out grandeur (“Just Another”).
“KCRW is a hell of a station, and I would go out of my way to help them,” Yorn said shortly before taking the stage. “It’s a really cool bill, and I am honored to be a part of it.”
Opening duties for the evening fell to Sparklehorse, whose dreamy noise pop was a good introduction to both the concert and KCRW in general. Singer Mark Linkous kicked the vocal effects into high gear for most of the set, which focused on the tender love songs from their recent album, It’s a Wonderful Life.
KCRW’s music director and founder of “Morning Becomes Eclectic,” Nic Harcourt, said the A Sounds Eclectic Evening will certainly be an annual tradition, if not more.
“It would be nice to expand it to some kind of tour, if we could find the time to do it,” said Harcourt, who is credited with helping break R.E.M., PJ Harvey, Beck and many others. “I first thought about this a couple of years ago. We waited for the timing to be right, and my boss told me at the beginning of the year to go for it.”
Harcourt has already spearheaded the release of a pair of CDs based on the show, including last spring’s Sounds Eclectic compilation (see “Beck, David Gray, Travis On Live Radio Album” ).