A Love Story Supreme
LA's greatest rock band receive the doc they deserve. Also: To sir, with Hecuba
ARTHUR LEE'S LOVE IS (ALMOST) ALL YOU NEED
If their fans' passion for them could be monetized, then Love's members—especially late group leader Arthur Lee—would be billionaires. Unfortunately, Love went relatively unheralded during their brief blaze of peak creativity (1966-67) while their City of Angels peers the Byrds, the Doors, the Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield garnered more hits, sales and media shine.
Love's first three albums—Love, Da Capo and Forever Changes—made them cult faves among refined and psychedelically inclined music aficionados, especially in Great Britain, where Parliament members and several bands worshiped Lee. Closer to home, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix were fans. So, what happened? Why aren't Love and Lee household names in houses other than those occupied by music geeks and a rarefied breed of musicians?
The feature-length documentary Love Story (Start Productions; out July 29) tries to explain why—and then some. "There are at least 10 different ways to tell this story," Lee proclaims at the beginning. Directors Chris Hall and Mike Kerry's 109-minute version is a solid exploration of this phenomenal rock group.
Love Story is an inspirational-yet-ultimately frustrating tale of a supremely talented rock group that should've been as big as the Beatles or the Rolling Stones (or at least as popular as the Doors, whom they helped get a deal with their label, Elektra). But Lee was as difficult to manage as he was gifted—which is to say, very.
The DVD briefly touches on Lee's childhood, then gets to the meat of the matter: the formation of Love and the process of recording those aforementioned first three LPs amid the socio-cultural upheaval of 1965-67. Love were the first interracial rock band, and the group's black guitarist, Johnny Echols (by far the most articulate Love member interviewed here), speculates that this fact may have retarded their popularity. Another factor holding back Love was Lee's refusal to tour. The great mastermind's combination of overwhelming ego (he refused to see Love anywhere but at the top of a marquee) and fear of any city outside LA limited Love's appeal during their lifespan. And then there were the drugs, which took their toll on inter-band relations and, when time came to record Forever Changes, almost ruined Love's ability to play their instruments.
The documentary threads many of Lee's pre-Love tunes with Love's jangly garage rock and beautifully baroque psychedelia while drawing out bittersweet reminiscences from surviving members Echols, John Fleckenstein, Alban Pfisterer (the mediocre drummer for whom one feels deep pathos here) and Michael Stuart (his superior replacement behind the kit, sounding shell-shocked), along with the deceased Bryan Maclean and Kenny Forssi. Interviews with Elektra boss Jac Holzman, producer Bruce Botnick, Forever Changes arranger David Angel and Doors drummer John Densmore ("We hoped to be as big as Love," he says—ha!) delineate the nature of Lee's unique genius and add crucial insights about Love's creative and personal interactions and their impact on the LA music scene (electrifying).
Love Story is essential viewing for diehard Love fans and a compelling argument for the group's importance in musical history. If it peters out a bit after the exhaustive discussion of Forever Changes (deemed by many learned folks as the best rock album ever), then the film accurately mirrors the trajectory of Love's career itself.
For more information, visit www.myspace.com/lovestorydocumentary.
WHAT THE HECUBA?
Devendra Banhart called Hecuba (Isabelle Albuquerque and Jon Beasley) the best band in LA. A writer at our sister paper LA Weekly claimed to be "shocked" by Hecuba, in an age when such occurrences are rarer than good news about the economy. A friend who works for LA Record returned from the Manimal Fest in Pioneertown raving about Hecuba's set there. And at a recent show at the Echo in Los Angeles, Hecuba impressed the hell out of this columnist by sounding like six different bands during a 45-minute set, toying with genres with inspired glee. They even pulled off a rad cover of Randy Newman's "Baltimore" (made famous by Nina Simone). If this momentum continues, expect Hecuba to sign to Young God Records and nab a spot at next year's Coachella.
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The aforementioned excitement's justified. Hecuba's new EP, Sir (Manimal Vinyl), is a bizarre little gem. "Sir" is sparse, slug-slow dub that sporadically breaks into show-tune bombast without warning. "Hey Sir" consists of rapidly percolating percussion à la Raymond Scott, train whistles and chanting of the title. "Tom & Jerry" is alternate-reality, miniaturized dance music with grunts from Beasley and assured soulfulness and possibly a Laurie Anderson parody from Albuquerque. "YES" is some more strangely introverted dance-floor bizniss, at once cute and alien. While "Ch-Changes" is a forgettable piano-and-drums doo-wop/Broadway number, the disc-closing "Sir (Lucky Dragon's Mix)" rebounds with an off-kilter electro reworking of the title track enhanced by the intricate layering of Albuquerque's sweet, feathery vocals.
Sir is mighty fine, but more and better work will surely arise from Hecuba. Pay attention; go see them live.