AM @ Hotel Cafe, 5/15/08
It just wasn't my night for taking pictures, so, here's photo of AM at ASCAP's Music Cafe- Sundance '08 via MySpace
The heat was somehow trapped inside the darkened depths of the Hotel Cafe this Thursday night. Those fortunate enough to nab some of the few seats fell into two camps: The cautiously unmoving and the intent on revelry. Those left to stand shifted back and forth with an undeniable restlessness. The heat is what prompted AM to bring a stack of napkins to the stage that he attested came from Greco's, the pizza joint up the street. He wiped his brow and eased into his short solo set, a study in energy and focus as contrast to the obvious lethargy and distractions in the room.
AM's set was a mix of songs from Soul Variations (his sophomore album released last August) and his 2006 debut album, Troubled Times, which boasts songs you may have heard on a few television shows and movies; his YouTube Channel profile says the album has netted "an unprecedented 51 song placements to date including HBO's Big Love, ABC's Men In Trees, and MTV's The Hills"--in fact every song from it has been placed.
Opening for Tina Dico, with whom he's been touring Europe as recently as just a couple of days before they hit the Hotel Cafe, his performance was absolutely charming. AM peppered the spaces between songs with stories and observations, and even stopped mid-way through his well known song "Gone Away" to note that if the bartender could just slow down her martini shaking she'd make the perfect percussionist. One song, "Playing the Game" he explained was a sort of retroactive tribute to life in Los Angeles, which he testified was often really hard, to which the crowd seemed to silently acknowledge. But were we really "a great crowd" who needed to be thanked? Hmmm...
But how the Hotel Cafe circulates cool air on hot pre-summer night isn't AM's domain--his music is.
Soul Variations is more spring than summer; although it tells of heartbreak it is not for the heartbroken, but rather is the music you play when you've hit the acceptance stage, that moment when you feel you have no choice but to go on. It's an open-up-the-window and let that tentative sunshine in--there's something brewing and its ripe with possibility. A track like "Old Song" is emblematic of this breath of fresh air sentiment. Other songs on the album show AM's New Orleans roots (born in Tulsa, raised in the Big Easy, he now calls Echo Park home) with their bluesy-rock riffs reminiscent of leisurely days inside dark clubs, nodding your head with that "mmmmm-hmmm, I know it" kind of simpatico as the music man sings of love and life.
There is that undeniable folk-rock sensibility to AM's music, which is often well-suited to a venue like the Hotel Cafe. Those who were there to appreciate his brief set were in luck, although were probably happy to hear him say he'd be back soon--in a few months perhaps, and this reviewer counts herself among those. Wishing I had a stack of napkins with which I might wipe away a layer of humid discomfort from my brow, I was glad I had AM's albums to play at home later so that I could give them the attention they deserved.
It was a relief to be back outside in the noticeably cooler night air--cooler than the day and much cooler than inside, for certain. After all, it is still just our spring time. There's so much more to look forward to.
AM plays Zoey's in Ventura on May 30th. He recently released an album of duets called Side by Side-Duets Vol. 1 with artists like Tina Dico, Meiko, Susie Suh, and Julianna Raye. His music is available on iTunes or via his online store.
AM performs "Mainstay" live with band last fall at the Hotel Cafe.