Live Concert Photography: the bird and the bee with Samantha Sidley and Alex Lilly at Elsewhere 8/17/19
Over the past couple of months i’ve written about the Los Angeles-based indie pop act the bird and the bee, and the act which is comprised of singer/songwriter Inara George and seven time Grammy Award-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin, can trae their origins to when they met while working on George’s 2005 solo debut All Rise. Bonding over a mutual love of 80s pop and rock, the duo decided to continue collaborating together in a jazz-influenced electro pop-leaning project.
With the release of 2006’s Again and Again and Again and Again EP and 2007’s self-titled, full-length debut, George and Kurstin quickly developed a reputation for an idiosyncratic twist on time-bending pop that also manages to possess a breezy elegance. And while it officially serves as the long-awaited follow up to 2015’s Recreational Love, the duo’s recently released fifth album, Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Van Halen actually closely follows 2010’s critically applauded Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 1: A Tribute to Hall & Oates.
Van Halen‘s most anthemic and beloved work may initially seem like an unlikely vessel for the Los Angeles-based duo’s sound and approach, but as it turns out out George and Kurstin are both lifelong fans of David Lee Roth-era Van Halen. Back in 2007, George caught her first-ever Van Halen show, during the first tour to feature David Lee Roth as the band’s frontman since 1985. George was so charmed by Roth’s presence, that after that show, she approached Kurstin about writing a song for Roth. The end result was the swooning serenade “Diamond Dave,” which appeared on their 2008 sophomore album Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future. “We asked him to be in the video, but instead he signed a picture and gave me the yellow top hat he’d worn at the show I saw, which I thought was very sweet,” George says in press notes. “When we were trying to figure out who to cover for the second volume of Interpreting the Masters, we were both a little bit like, ‘Oh my god, can we really do it?’ But then we just went for it.”
The album features an impressive backing band of guest musicians including Justin Meldal Johnsen (bass), who has worked with Beck and Nine Inch Nails; Joey Waronker (drums), who has worked with R.E.M and Elliott Smith; and Omar Hakim(drums), who has worked with the David Bowie and Miles Davis assisting the duo in making familiar David Lee Roth-era Van Halen anthems completely their own, imbuing even the most over-the-top tracks with a slinky intimacy.
Interestingly, for Kurstin, an accomplished jazz pianist, who once studied with Jaki Byard, a pianist that once played in Charles Mingus’ band, one of the greatest challenges he had translating Eddie Van Halen’s virtuoso guitar work into piano arrangements that kept some of the spirit and vibe of the original. “I know there’s a jazz influence with the Van Halen brothers, so I tried to channel some of the things that I felt might’ve influenced Eddie,” Kurstin notes. “In a way ‘Eruption’ is almost like a piece of classical music, so I mostly treated it that way as I interpreted it for piano,” he adds, referring to the iconic instrumental guitar solo from Van Halen’s self-titled debut.
Creating arrangements around Eddie Van Halen’s guitar reveals the duo’s ingenuity and playfulness as interpreters and arrangers but that’s paired with a deeply nuanced reading of the material influenced by their deep and profound emotional connection to the band. “I remember being 10-years-old and seeing their videos and feeling both excited and totally terrified—I responded to them in this very visceral way,” George says in press notes. Kurstin, who also is a lifelong fan, actually got a chance to work with Eddie Van Halen in the early 80s when the Grammy Award-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist was a 12 year-old member of Dweezil Zappa’s band. “I got to hang out with him in the studio and go backstage when Van Halen played The Forum, which was a really big moment for my younger self,” Kurstin recalls.
Now as you may recall I’ve written about three of Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Van Halen‘s singles: their sultry, synth-based and club friendly take on “Panama,” their slinky and atmospheric take on “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love” and a bop jazz-like take on “Hot For Teacher” that features a spoken word section from Beck. Each of the album’s three singles find the duo and their collaborators crafting a unique take on beloved material that’s loving yet decidedly forward-thinking, post-modern and feminist as fuck — while retaining familiar elements to the material.
The bird and the bee are currently on tour to support their latest effort and the tour included a career-spanning stop at Elsewhere last week with Samantha Sidley and Alex Lilly opening. Check out the remaining tour dates and photos from the Elsewhere below.
08/24/19 – Dallas, TX @ Trees * – TICKETS
08/25/19 – Austin, TX @ Parish * – TICKETS
08/28/19 – Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom * – TICKETS
08/29/19 – San Diego, CA @ Casbah * – TICKETS
08/30/19 – San Francisco, CA @ Rickshaw Stop * ^ – TICKETS
* = support from Samantha Sidley and Alex Lilly
^ = additional support from DJ Aaron Exelson
Samantha Sidley is a Los Angeles-born-and-based jazz trained vocalist. Sidley’s solo, full-length debut Interior Person, which is slated for a September 13, 2019 release through Release Me Records features Sidley taking ownership of songs written for her by some of the most important women of her life — namely, fellow Los Angeles-based singer/songwriters and multi-instrumentalists the bird and the bee’s Inara George, Alex Lilly and Sidley’s wife, Barbara Gruska.
“Inara and Alex and Barbara wrote songs that are all very personal to my story – they literally are my story – and from my lesbian perspective, which I appreciate so much,” Sidley says. In addition to co-writing many of Interior Person’s songs, Gruska contributed drums and helmed production duties in a home studio constructed in Sidley’s childhood bedroom.
In many ways, it was fitting for Sidley to open for George and the bird and the bee, as her material managed to be self-assured yet playful and boldly feminist while of being a slick and carefully crafted mesh of the timeless and the modern.
Opening the night was Alex Lilly, a Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, who has established a career as a touring musician, who has played in the backing bands of Beck, Lorde, Ry Cooder and the aforementioned the bird and the bee. She’s also fronted her own musical projects including Obi Best, Touche, Zero DeZire and The Living Sisters — but recently, she’s been writing and recording as a solo artist under her own name, releasing her full-length debut 2% Milk earlier this year. 2% Milk is centered around a sound that she’s dubbed as “sexy psychological thriller,” a sound that’s synth-based. syrupy sweet and yet there’s something deceptive under the surface, so that the material moves from catchy to intriguing.