Shouldn't every weekend be great? After a week of non-stop rain and plenty of chores at work and home, the skies cleared and I was able to attend two great shows.
On Friday, I caught Mindy Smith, Landon Pigg and Alice Wallace at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, while I caught a special Radiohead benefit concert at the Music Box at the Fonda in Hollywood.
Both shows were fantastic, with the Haiti benefit show featuring Radiohead performing before a capacity crowd (my wife Kim and I were squeezed in on the floor about 50-60 feet from stage) obviously spilling over with the "wow" factor. Indeed, neither of us had ever had the chance to see Radiohead live, so we jumped at the chance to have our first encounter with the legendary band be a good one.
Although there will be those who know the band's music and history much better than me opine on the performance, my general impression is that Radiohead continues to be unique in the modern rock landscape. Thom Yorke is the kind of artist who demands you keep your eyes glued on him. The band hit the stage at 8:30 p.m. and performed about two hours, and the show truly flew by.
What struck me about the intimate show is how Radiohead didn't need any special video or fancy lighting effects. Indeed, it was the power of the music, the songs and performers - and the intensity of the crowd - that made the night so special. Is Radiohead the greatest band in the world today? I wouldn't doubt it.
Rewinding back to Friday night, Mindy Smith's performance was equally simple. The Nashville critics' favorite just played a clutch of her potent material in a sparse, scaled-back setting that showcased both her songs and a voice that never fails to bring added power to them.
Performing an 80-minute set that spanned from her impressive 2004 debut One Moment More to her astonishing 2009 effort Stupid Love, Smith and lead guitarist Lex Price (who sat in for most of the show) conjured up enchantment in every song. Things began with a heartfelt cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" (included on Smith's first disc) and only got better as the New York native delved into her own catalog of probing and introspective songs.
While her debut often looked at issues of faith in pieces such as "Come to Jesus" (one of her most popular tunes) and "Angel Doves," last year's effort is a serious and thoughtful study of the different phases of romance. Naturally, songs from Stupid Love formed a large part of her 14-song set on Friday night, each selection proving every bit as affecting as they are on the album.
Rarely has the study of relationships been tackled with such depth, shades of regret ("What Went Wrong"), understanding ("high and Lows"), loss ("What Love Can Do") and the mystery of it all ("If I Didn't Know Any Better") all delivered in Smith's genre-blurring mix of alt-country, folk, pop and bluegrass, held tightly together by her beautiful soprano.
Other highlights of her well-paced performance included the pretty "Tennessee" and a beautiful acoustic version of "One Moment More," a song Smith wrote for her mother, who died of breast cancer in 1991.
Smith's superb set was reason alone to brave the driving rain to get down to the Coach House this night, but that good news got even better thanks to a couple of solid openers.
Landon Pigg, also from Nashville, served up a 40-minute set of inventive, tuneful songs drawing from '60s pop-rock, '00s Britpop and the modern-day singer-songwriter movement. There's no doubt that songs such as the Beatlesque "A Ghost," the shimmering "Blue Skies" and the uplifting "Take a Chance" are the work of a young artist who crafts songs as accessible as they are listenable. He closed with his biggest hit, "Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop," an irresistible bit that masterfully demonstrated his strong vocals and songcraft.
Local singer-songwriter Alice Wallace turned in a 35-minute set that served as kind of a sequential tale of her recent move from Florida to Orange County. Armed with a voice capable of impressive vocal gymnastics (including an aptly-titled closer about teaching herself to yodel that would impress Jewel), Wallace used effective storytelling and straightforward songs to entertain. A reworked cover of the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand," the original power-pop arrangement transformed into reflective longing, was a crowd favorite.