A Mixed Bill, but a Common Cause
Some came for music
Some came for laughs
Some came because they heard
That Petra got smooshed.
That’s how the mock-rock duo Tenacious D altered some of its lyrics to capture the scene on Sunday at the Knitting Factory Hollywood, where some two dozen Los Angeles acts raised money to help violinist Petra Haden, who is recovering from severe injuries suffered when she was hit by a car in August.
It may not have been the most sensitive assessment, but it got to the point.
A more sentimental approach came a little later from jazz bassist Charlie Haden, who happens to be Petra’s dad:
“She means the world to me,” he said on stage through watering eyes. “And I love her very much.”
The contrasts between those two acts’ comments--not to mention their music--were nothing compared to the extremes represented in the nine-hour event--from the neo- retro punk of Exene Cervenka to an irony-free country-folk set from Beck to a vivacious Latin-tropical rhythm-fest from Radio Bemba to the semiclassical chamber pop of W.A.C.O. to the bubbly yet still solid nostalgia of the Go-Go’s.
And then there was what was billed as an appearance by Calvin Klein model-turned-singer Vincent Gallo, which actually turned out to be a performance art bit with a middle-aged African American beatifically lip-syncing to a Gallo recording.
But the reach from the D to papa Haden underscored and extended both the family and the cross-genre and cross-generational feeling that has marked the many benefits held by the L.A. music community over the years when one of its own was in need.
Petra Haden, who hobbled around the club on crutches but is well on her way to a full recovery, isn’t a big-name star, but she’s been a major presence around town both in the band That Dog (with her twin sister, Rachel) and as a collaborator with most of the people on the bill.
The family focus was also evident as another Haden, Petra’s brother Josh (leader of the band Spain) gave a too-brief set of his poetic, slow-flowing songs in the club’s small AlterKnit Lounge. And lifelong friend Anna Waronker, Petra’s former bandmate in That Dog, filled in for three songs fronting the Go-Go’s. With the latter’s singer Belinda Carlisle out of the country, Matthew Sweet also took the lead for one song, and then Tenacious D’s Jack Black stole the show on a manic “We Got the Beat.”
Another tangential family element came with Radio Bemba, a new group that had the house dancing with its sambas and cumbias--including “Los Desenterrados,” a lively song about the people displaced from Chavez Ravine when Dodger Stadium was built.
Anchored by singing sisters Juliette and Carla Commagere and drummer Joachim Cooder (whose father, guitarist Ry, helped run the soundboard for the band), the band showed the potential to evolve into as distinctive an act as L.A. Latin-rooted predecessors Los Lobos and Ozomatli.
Victoria Williams, founder of the Sweet Relief organization, which helps musicians in medical need, gave the show a personably spiritual center with a typically idiosyncratic performance. Abby Travis was no less idiosyncratic, but more formalized with her recent incarnation as a torchy lounge diva, spicing her set with a couple of attractively Beatle-esque pop-rock songs. And Cervenka, who while continuing with X has maintained a side career revisiting the force of early punk anarchy, blasted the room with her new band, the Original Sinners.
As family goes, it’s your basic bunch of eccentrics worthy of Faulkner or Dickens. But as a music community, it’s the kind in which a bunch of distinctive eccentrics can become concentric around someone such as Haden--not a star-power headliner or larger-than-life persona, but a friend and musical compatriot.
In that spirit, the fans, many of whom braved Sunday’s Hollywood Christmas Parade traffic, received each act with equal respect. The same people who laughed and cheered for the raucous hilarity of Tenacious D stood at hushed attention for the elegance of Charlie Haden’s gorgeous duets with pianist Alan Broadbent. Only the people yelling out for Beck’s pop hits during a solo set in which the singer effectively bared his heart spoiled the mood.
For all that, there was a reminder that there’s a way to make these events--as terrific as they are--not so necessary. Playing the role of emotional center to a T, Petra Haden, briefly thanking the gathering from the stage, gave the most grounded and sensible comment of the night: “Now I’m going to get insurance.”