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Hope Sandoval @ Hollywood Forever 9/29/09
Hollywood Forever Cemetery is a dark place at night. Inky black, like you need a flashlight to find your way out of the parking maze and avoid tripping over a headstone, which has got to be bad luck. Inside, it wasn’t much better. At this show, once the lights go down, they never do come back up again. There were a few candles to the left and right of the stage, some stage lights with the dimmer switch all the way to the left, and that was it. In the middle, barely visible at all, was Hope Sandoval, taking “mellow” to a whole new depth.
It was kind of astonishing to witness the extent to which Sandoval and her band The Warm Inventions can control their audience’s experience. Like Pink Floyd, she realizes that people at a concert have to look at something, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the musicians. Instead, she plays in near-total darkness and projects film loops above the stage, mostly derived from old black and white films, that are loosely synched to the grooves of the songs.
It’s all haunting and lovely, just like the records, but considerably more compelling in person, even if you can’t even SEE the person whose name is on the ticket. You can tell she’s there. When marimba parts kick in, you can see the faint outline of her arms moving in time, if you’re watching the shadows very closely. The extent of audience interaction consists of a mumbled “Thank you” once in a while. But that dense, liquid voice is unmistakable, and it’s great to report that it’s still intact and served well by her new material.
The music is trippy without being speedy: call it somno-delic rock. The Warm Inventions - Sandoval’s musical partner, drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig and the members of Irish band Dirt Blue Gene, who opened with a set of their own snoozy creations - have a truly rare sense of restraint, in addition to their keen night vision. The band plays at a whisper, just a notch or two above complete silence, for most of the show. Yet the effect of this prolonged low-level burn, combined with the hazy, soft-focus visuals and the surreal, somber ambience of the funeral hall, is terrifically intense. It’s no easy trick to fly this close to the ground, but they pull it off, keeping the audience in silent thrall even when hardly anything is happening.
What the retreat into quiet and darkness actually does, particularly in a room as reverent and as this one, is make the audience lean in and listen more attentively to what is happening. The longer we sat in that flickering room, the deeper we went into Sandoval’s dream land. The quieter she got, the more we opened up to listen. We’ve become so accustomed to sensory overload at rock shows, maybe sensory deprivation is really what artists should be shooting for instead. Maybe her next tour will require us all to float in a tank of saline solution while she beams quiet, pretty music music directly into our brains. It seems like the next logical step.
Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions with special guest Dirt Blue Gene play the Mayan Theater, 1038 S. Hill St., on Thursday, October 22.