Saturday, August 31, 2013

We Become Villainized

It was a hot, steamy night and wife and I were both dripping in sweat. No, forget dripping – we were drenched in sweat.
Despite the heat and humidity, we wouldn’t have been anywhere else in the world that night.  We were seeing Vaud and the Villains, a band hotter and steamier than the weather that night.

So who is Vaud and the Villains? They are a 19-piece 1930s New Orleans band and cabaret show. Think Americana noire meets Moulin Rouge. The band is the creation of actors Andy Comeau (aka Vaud), a saxophone player, and his wife Dawn Lewis (aka Peaches Mahoney), one of the group’s smoking hot dancers.
Inspired by the Bruce Springsteen Seeger Sessions album, the villains’ shows included songs that have long been in the public domain songs, such as “O Mary Don’t You Weep,” “John Henry,” and “St. James Infirmary.”
The band is loaded with great musicians – guitar players, banjo pickers, piano players, a dude playing spoons on a washboard, a violinist, and a horn section complete with a tuba player. I’ve haven’t been this thrilled about a band with a tuba player since seeing Freebo with Bonnie Riatt’s band back in the 80s. I don’t think I’ve ever been thrilled by a band with a washboard player before, but then again I don’t travel in those circles.
In addition to Peaches, a redhead, the dancers include Frankie Mineli, a brunette, and Shadie Sadie Sinclair, a blonde (real names unknown to me despite a Google search). At our show there was a fourth dancer, a shorthaired brunette whose name, but not her curves, escaped me. (update: I'm informed the dancer goes by the name Jinx)
Dawn Lewis as Peaches Mahoney.

Here’s a link to the band’s official video.
I hadn’t heard of these guys until just a couple of months ago. Then I couldn’t stop hearing about them – they kept turning up in my searches for date ideas. Their recent shows in Los Angeles included a free concert at MacArthur Park and being the headliners of a Great Gatsby-themed party at the Park Plaza hotel.
Who are these guys? I wanted to find out, but every time there was a chance to see them, some scheduling conflict came up or, if the date worked, my wallet would suffer a money drought.
Then came TwentyWonder, a fundraiser for the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles. Put this event on your radar screen for next summer. During the course of that evening – and this just a partial list — we saw a 3-D printer for the first time, made trippy laser art, held a rock that was created during the universe's adolescence, saw Ernie Kovac's Emmy and his art, saw some impressive art from people with Down's syndrome, and got a piece of Greenland — all before the roller derby, the lucha libre wrestling, and the acoustic set of power pop artist Matthew Sweet.
Then we saw the mind-meltingly great set from Vaud and the Villains, the night’s headliners.  We were hooked.
Soon after TwentyWonder, I looked their schedule up and saw they were doing a show at the Ford Amphitheater.
If Vaud and the Villains are my new musical find, the Ford is my new venue find. How a 90-plus-year-old venue and I, a Southern Californian for more than 40 years, never met is something of a mystery.
If you haven’t been to the Ford, think of it as a miniature Hollywood Bowl with about a fourth of the cost and hassle.
For openers, the Ford seats 1,200, a size that allows you to actually see and have a more intimate show with the performer than the 17,000-plus seat Hollywood Bowl.  Look, I love going to shows at the Hollywood Bowl, but there have been times when I have felt I was part of a herd going off to the stockyards.
The entrance to the Ford.

You won’t see major performers there like at the Bowl, but when a venue is savvy enough to bring Vaud and the Villains, you become curious as to what other great talent you’ve been missing.
I have seen discount tickets for most, if not all, shows at the Ford on Goldstar. Tickets were listed for $30 each, not including service charges, but we got two tickets from Goldstar for $41, including service charges.
When we go to the Bowl, we use their park-and-ride bus service, which costs $5 a person to get a seat on a large metro bus. For the Ford, they use smaller, dial-a-ride size buses. The cost? Nothing. Zip.
 Discounted tickets, free parking, and a free shuttle – you got to love it already. Our only other costs that night were for tacos - $16 for six. Total date cost: $57 for a show, parking, a shuttle, and dinner.
The Ford today.

Just like the Bowl, you can picnic at the Ford. Food and beverages, including alcohol, are allowed. There are some nice spots to set up a picnic, but we arrived too late to grab one. We had our tacos, along with the wine we brought, at our seats. We made a mental note to plan a picnic next time and arrive a bit earlier.
So what happens when you bring a smoking band into a great venue? You get about 1,000 people dancing in their seats and in the aisles. There were people at the show who clearly had no idea who Vaud and the Villains were. I overheard one conversation with a woman who brought a group of 60 people to see the show and none of them knew the band. I saw her and many in her party dancing the night away.
We were dancing too.
The Ford in the 1920s, shortly after being built.
A couple of quick notes: First, as of this writing, Vaud and the Villains were heading off for some East Coast shows. They frequently play clubs in Los Angeles and Long Beach. Check their site for show dates. 

Second, the Ford has shows scheduled through mid-October, including free shows under their  JAMS program. Some of these shows, okay, many of these shows, are a bit esoteric (accordion night, anyone?), but what's life without some new flavors from time to time?

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