Joyce Manor, Crazy Band, Bleubird, David Liebe Hart & Adam Papagan
December 2, 2010
Acrobatics Everyday (In the Cross Cultural Center at UC Irvine)
"Hey James," I asked my brother last night. "Do you want to come with me to see David Liebe Hart, the puppet man at the Hollywood Bowl? He's playing at Acrobatics Everyday at UCI tonight." He stared at me. "What?" "You know, the guy with the dog puppet. The one who sets up outside of all these L.A. events, or like, outside of the museums, and sings for donations. He was on Tim and Eric, too." "Why would we see this?" "I dunno. Because it'll be funny."
Even as I said that, I hesitated. Would it really be funny to see a man who I've seen countless times in destitute conditions? Even in his appearances on "Tim and Eric, Awesome Show: Great Job!" I wasn't sure how "in on the joke" he was. Nevertheless, I was interested in how he would do a live show -- and sandwiched in between an experimental hip-hop trio and a punk/noise band full of screaming girls.
In other words: a typical Acrobatics Everyday show.
Torrance's Joyce Manor started the show right, with a bubbling pop-punk energy reined in by tight musicianship. Although it was cold and bodies were stiff, the crowd bobbed their heads vigorously, even mustering up a little dancing by the end of their set. These kids were on-point, and I could see them selling out bigger venues in the future.
The show then shifted gears abruptly for a new band with members of Mika Miko and Mikki and the Mauses; a band so new that they have no Web presence, and are only known as "crazy band." In contrast to Joyce Manor, they played sloppily and indifferently. It wasn't a let-down, though, because they were still entertaining. They encouraged us to drop out of college and demanded chips (the obvious response to that: the audience threw chips at them, both individually and in a bag). And they had a saxophone player in clown makeup, so you know, what the hell. At least they're having fun.
Another strange shift, as "crazy band" led the way for David Liebe Hart. Despite the fact that just a moment ago, he had been drawing portraits of people for $3 to make his rent (the same rate that it's always been, despite his 15 seconds of fame on Tim and Eric), he walked up to the stage area with a commanding presence. This is a man who carries himself with dignity, expecting professionalism from both his backing band, led by Adam Papagan, and the audience.
I don't know what we were expecting. Was his show going to be like the one that's introduced him to nerdy kids across the country, frenetic and non sequitur? Or would it be embarrassing, a poor man singing while people stifled laughter or looked on in pity or shame?
On his own, he might have been a tragic figure. But he seemed bolstered his newfound fame, and was especially aided by Adam Papagan, who arranged all his music, and talked to him in gentle tones. For the past two years, 22-year-old Adam has helped David record several albums, which David then sells in addition to his self-portraits and singing for donations.
It was like "Freak the Mighty"--two weaker entities combined to make an invincible being. David's singing, normally loud and operatic, was made smooth by the interlocking guitar parts. Instead of wandering a capella, he was anchored by a steady drumbeat. He channeled pure passion, singing about topics dear to him, like trains, alien conspiracies and women who have left him.
Truthfully, it was more inspiring than funny, except when he wanted it to be, like when he sang about how everyone needs an obedient Asian girlfriend. Even though Adam controlled the band, David never let him forget that he controlled the show, demanding a gospel number to close the set instead of the punk song that Adam wanted to play. (No matter--he got such a positive response from the crowd, they got to play Adam's choice, "Poisoned Mushrooms," for the encore.)
Although many people shuffled out of the Cross Cultural Center after David Liebe Hart's performance, the remaining few were in for a treat. Independent hip-hop artist Bleubird, aided by his friends Babel Fish and Filkoe, delivered an amazing set. They went in rounds: first, Bleubird would rap beautifully about mortality and following your dreams; then Filkoe would sing an intense song about heartbreak on his ukulele; then the beats would start slamming as Babel Fish freestyled with a manic, writhing flow. The trio worked best as a team, cueing up beats and shouting each other's refrains.
"How long do you want us to go?" Bleubird asked, after they had delivered a few rounds. "Forever," a guy replied, and they seemed willing to go with it. Bleubird told us about his project "Freeebird," which is a more interactive version of a cross-country tour. He's found his passion, and all he wants to do is travel the country, make genuine connections with people, and live each day knowing that we could die at any moment. Instead of debilitating us, this should allow us freedom -- freedom to yell, sing, thrash, dance, rap, write, or speak, as many of the artists did last night.
All in all, it was a show with a lot of heart. And Hart. But mostly heart.
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Critic's Bias: Ever since I was a young girl, I've been fascinated by the man known for years as "the puppet man at the Hollywood Bowl." My dad, as a professional musician, liked to taunt street musicians, and the puppet man was his favorite. Much to my chagrin, he derided his poor ventriloquism skills and strange appearance. How could he know that beneath the tattered dog puppet and chapped hands lay a complicated man, and a future cult sensation?
The Crowd: The usual gathering of young people, with a few UC Irvine students wandering in after late classes, mouths agape.
Overheard in the Crowd: "This next song is about space, because I'm from Seattle, and people there are all about space and I'm sick of space," Filkoe said. "Tell that to David Liebe Hart," said a wag up front.
Random notebook dump: "I've got to sit up front, near the mixer," Acrobatics Everyday frontman Sam Farzin told me. "I've got to turn the volume up and down, because when he speaks, it's soft, but when he sings, it's loud."