Thursday, December 02, 2004

HEAR: I See Hawks In L.A.


I'm absolutely enamored.

I See Hawks in L.A. is an alt-country, cosmic cowboy band whose music is an amalgamation of hillbilly, honky-tonk, old school country, bluegrass, country-rock, and psychedelic country. They play the kind of country music I like: REAL country. None of that country-pop garbage that's on constant rotation on mainstream country radio stations.

I saw three members of the Hawks perform last night at Cole's bar. Paul Lacques, guitar; Rob Waller, lead vocal, guitar; and Paul Marshall, bass. They rocked the house. Well, more like the living room since that was the size of the dark hole in the back where they played. I don't think I've ever gone to a show that had such a good, intimate vibe like last night. The audience was very engaged since the musicians had a knack for engendering a good, friendly rapport with the fans that came to see them. It was as if we were huddled around a campfire somewhere out in the wilderness, enjoying the best music ever - laughing, clapping, foot-stomping, howling at the moon (yes, a couple people actually did howl). It was truly the most fun I had at a show.

The highlight was hearing the guys sing "Grapevine," which is the song that introduced me to this super-awesome band. When I first heard it on the radio a few weeks ago, it immediately grabbed my attention because it sounded sublimely old school. This tune is the title song of their recently released album, which is excellent, by the way. I dig every song on it. And that's a rare occurrence. In every album, there's almost always at least one song, if not more, where I'm thinking, "Why are you insulting my ears?"

Supposedly, a Slash impersonator was going around Los Angeles a few years ago, and the guys penned the most hilarious song about it - a very tongue-in-cheek, dramatic narrative song about the shenanigans of this audacious impostor. The chorus goes like this: "Slash, Slash, The guy from Guns 'N' Roses." You just have to hear it. It's silly, but awesome.

The Hawks' songwriting is truly top-notch. Often, landscape imagery poetically permeate the songs and animal critters inhabit these lyrical terrains. Plus, the SoCal references make the tunes more personal to me.

The lead singer has a voice that is not pretentious but honest, simple, and straightforward. It's also not too twangy but quite mellow, so it's rather easy on the ears. The vocals in this band are very much like those of the erstwhile folk and country singers of the 60's and 70's. The three players are capable of some brilliant harmonizing, which adds to the atmospheric and idyllic quality of their music. Listening to the Hawks often brings up images of being in a truck stop in some dusty little town in the Southwest and you hear a country song crackling softly from a radio in the back of the counter as you eat your food or shop around for snacks to hold you up for the next 200 miles or so.

Cole's is a pretty cool joint in and of itself. Didn't know such a place existed in Downtown L.A. because who would want do venture in there once the sun sets and the worker ants have recoiled to their surburban holes? I think this is probably the most favorite bar I've gone to here in L.A. (and it's not like I've gone to a lot), even though it was teeming with what looked like 'SC students (*shudder*). My friend and I were the only Asians there at first. Surprisingly, a small group of other Asians showed up to listen to the Hawks, but they didn't stick around the whole show. Anyway, we totally looked out of place there, but I'm sure the Hawks enjoyed seeing their music being enjoyed by non-whites.

Cole's is a very saloon-ish dive. It's also very chill and laid-back, and not pretentious like the places in the westside. A lot of trendy, hipsters I did see last night, but they weren't trying to play up the glam factor like so many do in those establishments west of Highland Ave. The place very much felt like a neighborhood pub that is frequented by the locals. And that's probably exactly what it is. Downtown L.A. is undergoing a revitalization, and many artist-types have moved into the lofts that are cropping up everywhere in this once neglected, feared, and shunned part of Los Angeles. I'm sure Cole's will only get more crowded in the years to come.

Cole's has a few German beers on tap. I especially enjoyed my lager - whatever German name it was called. I am definitely going to come back to this bar to enjoy the libations and bask in the otherwordly music of the Hawks, who do regular gigs there. It's places like Cole's and local bands like the Hawks that will make it even more difficult to leave L.A. when my time expires in this beloved city of mine.

I See Hawks in L.A. is one band for which I would gladly become a groupie.

The Hawks usually perform Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. Go to their website to confirm. Get there a little early because the place fills up quick. Guaranteed you'll have a ball. No cover. They pass around a bucket instead, adding a charming church-y feeling to the whole night.

Coles Bar
118 E. 6th Street (at Main, take 6th St. exit off 110 freeway, east 1 mile, just past Main)

::5 stars::