Fans of intelligent pop got a special treat recently in Los Angeles, as multi-instrumentalist/singer-songwriter Jason Falkner wowed the crowds at two club dates that debuted a crop of new songs as well as a band of familiar faces from the worlds of power pop and roots rock.
"My friend started booking a night at a small club called Three Clubs here in L.A.," Falkner told MTV News of how the idea came about. "He really wanted me to play sometime, and after seeing Elliott Smith play there solo, I decided I wanted to rock the place with a full band."
The band, which featured Dave Gibbs (Gigolo Aunts) on bass, Jason Sutter (Jack Drag, Ben Lee) on drums, and keyboardist Chris Joyner (Soul Asylum and The Wallflowers, to name just two) came together almost by accident.
"I had recently seen Dave Gibbs at a party, and he said he wanted to get together and play," Falkner said. "I called Sutter, who recently moved here, and he was into it. I've known Chris for years. The whole thing fell together pretty easily.
"The original idea was just to throw a lineup together for a small club gig," he added, "but when we started to play, it was sounding so good. I originally intended the band to be pretty loose, but my perfectionist tendencies started to kick, so I thought, 'Let's book another show, a real show, and use it as a showcase.'"
Falkner, whose history includes stints as a member of pop legends Jellyfish, The Grays, and The Three O'Clock (as well as a sideman for the likes of Chris Cornell, Rufus Wainwright, and Eric Matthews), recently parted ways with his record company, Elektra Records, which released his solo LPs "Jason Falkner Presents Author Unknown" in 1996 and "Can You Still Feel?" in 1999. Despite overwhelming positive press and a solid fan base for both records, artist and label ceased to see eye to eye.
"In many ways, it's the typical story," Falkner said of his former label. "Not long after my first record, the people who signed me left the label. It wasn't a matter of the label not liking my music; there just weren't the right people in the right places championing it. Times have really changed, and right now most labels are only interested in releasing stuff that is extremely obvious.
"I've spent my whole life trying to develop music that is challenging," Falkner explained. "My next label is going to have to be one that is interested in something challenging, because that's what I do."
Quite a few labels appear to be interested, judging by the number of reps in attendance at Vinyl, the site of Falkner's second, and much larger, L.A. show.
"There were at least ten labels that I saw people from," he noted. "But I was really happy to see so many fans." Among those fans were members of Counting Crows, Fountains Of Wayne, and Weezer, as well as "Mr. Show" comedian David Cross.
The crowd enjoyed a nice mix of rockers and ballads, songs from Falkner's previous albums, and a number of super-catchy new songs such as "Start All Over Again" and "Do The Runaround" which suggested an evolving sound for the singer-songwriter.
"I've been trying to make my songs a little more direct, for better or worse," Falkner said. "I always try to write very honestly, but in the past I have woven a fair bit of abstraction into my music, both musically and lyrically. For some reason, the new songs are sounding best more stripped down."
Judging by the enthusiastic crowd reaction at his recent shows, Falkner seems to be on the right track, both with his new material and his onstage recruits.
"I play everything on my records, so I never really need a permanent band. It's kind of too bad," he said with a laugh. "Playing with these guys is really fun. It sounds like a real band."