Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis

Photo courtesy of HBO

Photo courtesy of HBO

When I think of rock n roll music I tend to think of a collective exhale. The act of breathing out from whatever was holding you in. Rocking the eff out is a basic human right. It doesn’t even have to be related to music. Feeling stressed? Rock the eff out to your favorite tune. Long day at work? Rock the eff out and throw off those work clothes as soon as you step in the door. Little Philly break your heart? Rock the eff out and take down a quart of ice crea…

Whoa. Sorry, I had to cut myself off there because I just suffered rock whiplash and have found myself eating mint chocolate chip, in boxers, with “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” blasting out of the Pandora that plays through my Roku that plays through my TV and if Kellyanne Conway is to be believe my microwave is filming all of this.

What I mean to say is that rock and roll music has its foundations built on ultimate expression. It is loud and often times unfettered, it brings people together and builds friendships, it is a pure exaltation of love. And when that collective exhale is cut short the world takes notice.

On Friday November 13, 2015, an attempt was made to cut our breath short. What unfolded was a crazy series of events through the city of Paris that resulted in the death of 130 innocent individuals. 89 of those individuals were rocking the eff out to a rag-tag group of musicians hailing all the way from Palm Springs, California. Just like that a band vaulted into the mainstream to be forever marked by this event and become the unlikely torchbearers of rock and roll expression. Through Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis director Colin Hanks expertly takes the viewer into the heart of the band and the night’s events.

Photo coutesy of HBO

Photo coutesy of HBO

Before explaining my thoughts on the film I want to take a moment to remove myself from the narrative and say that my heart goes out to each and every person who lost their lives that night. Not only in the Bataclan Theatre, but around the city. I struggled on how to approach this obvious aspect of the story and decided to face it upfront. These people are not to be forgotten. The awful individuals who carried out these acts had two objectives. One was to kill and one was to threaten the idea of rock n roll and the freedoms expressed through it. They succeeded in one aspect of their mission, but this film proves that they completely failed at the other.

When I finished watching this movie I was struck with the idea of love that unexpectedly repeated itself over and over. In a small act of rock and roll I am going to forgo literary structure and detail my findings:

1: Love of Friendship

Hanks starts the story with the genesis of the friendship of Jesse Hughes and Josh Homme who would go on to form The Eagles of Death Metal. The two grew up together in the strange oasis that is Palm Springs. Through interviews a love between friends quickly reveals itself. From Homme Pulling Hughes out of the pool as a teenager to Hughes embracing his friend the night they return to Paris, it’s a friendship that is more rock n roll than anything I have ever seen.  As the story of the band unfolds it becomes clear that their quirkiness and laid back style is straight from the mind of Hughes. Overtime the band grows and shapeshifts, but at its core you always have Hughes smoking a cigarette and wearing a cape.

2: A Love for Humanity

In the defining act of the documentary we hear the retelling of the night’s awful events through the words of band members, fans, and loved ones. It is truly chilling, and as a person who constantly finds themselves in concert venues exactly like this one it was hard to watch. What rises through the terror is incredible acts of compassion and a love. Anecdotes of total strangers helping translate so the band can rush off to safety. People giving their lives to protect the ones they love. Police responding with bravery. Homme calling Hughes to let him know everything that his son is being cared for. The stories that are told in these mere minutes provide a lifetime of examples of the care and compassion many people are eagerly waiting to dole out every single day

3: Love for Music and Community

Music and community is what brought each and every member of that show together. The Eagles of Death Metal community is why it was so important for Hughes and crew to return and complete the show that they started. Hanks does a wonderful job in showing that the love of music and the sense of community it inspires is the reason everyone has been able to process and grow from the experience. Hughes understands what his band means to others, and as difficult as it was, he returns to the city to strength the community and embrace the music that allows him to do the only thing he was truly meant to do.

Photo coutesy of HBO

Photo coutesy of HBO

To those unfamiliar with their music it is important to know that it is as carefree and wild as it gets. Albums titled Zipper Down and Heart On tell you all you need to know. An event like this completely flipped the script on the meanings of this band and their songs. Little did anyone know that these carefree songs would be the ones that got a community to move on. It is a powerful example of the meaning and importance music can play in all aspects of life. When something comes along and threatens that we must all get together to do everything we can to make damned sure it doesn’t happen again. So keep making loving friendships, expressing compassion, and building your communities. Nothing is more rock and roll than that.

May all your favorite bands stay together,

Tmax

You can catch Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends) on HBO Now and HBO Go.

Local Natives' Sunlit Youth Bursts Forward with Confidence

Local Natives (the musical act formerly, and forever in our hearts, named Cavil at Rest) has a storied and close personal connection to the whole AU crew. Growing up and attending high school in the same area with the band members means there were many interweaving friends and experiences. For over a decade our special group of friends have been able to see them perform in places ranging from the now extinct Sing Sing at the Irvine Spectrum to Outside Lands 2014 in Golden Gate Park. Let’s not also forget the time we stuffed into a downtown LA hotel for a shenanigans filled night that featured one of their great performances in the Gorilla Manor days as well as Cosmonaut Paul Giuliano callouts, Mickey Rooney discussions, and a patented 3am business discussion with Peter as I lay in bed half awake.

Local Natives  Sunlit Youth  Album Art 

Local Natives Sunlit Youth Album Art 

With the release of their new album Sunlit Youth on September 9th and having just caught them on their current tour in San Diego it seemed a perfect opportunity to share my thoughts and encourage everyone to check them out.

To those unfamiliar with the band their defining characteristic is their fierce collaboration. The shared experiences and selfless behavior in the songwriting process shines through in all aspects of the band. After figuring it all out in the early days and going through re-branding the group released Gorilla Manor to highlight their teamwork. Named after the house they all lived together in in Orange County, the soaring harmonies, personal lyrics, and cinematic melodies put the group on the indie radar with high comparison to Arcade Fire and Fleet Foxes. With Hummingbird the group slowed it down a bit on a more meditative effort. The album dealt largely with the death of Kelcey Ayer’s mother and though it lacked the rush and freshness of Gorilla Manor it hardly mattered as it gave rise to a more mature and impactful record.

Zip ahead three years to today and we find the group in a much happier place and the result is the shiny and polished Sunlit Youth. Much in line with the music trend of the last handful of years Local Natives have added electronica elements to help move their sound forward.

The Taylor Rice lead album opener ‘Vllainy’ directly addresses the new approach when he sings “I want to start again” over the groups trademarked harmonies. Only this time we get electronic overlays and simple synth chords. The anthemic quality of the band is maintained through songs like ‘Fountain of Youth’ and ‘Mother Emanuel’ with lyrics that perfectly reflect the album’s title.

Amidst the rebuilding of their sound we come across songs like ‘Coins’ and ‘Dark Days’ that harken back to the youthful experimentation and myriad of styles that made Manor so memorable. While these two different approaches might lead some to believe the band is stuck between their roots and evolving into a new defining sound, I see it as a perfect mix of everything the band does well. For someone that has been along for the journey as long as I have this is all that you can ask for.

As a live act the anthems and group harmonies fuel a performance tailor made for festivals at dusks and singalongs in venues across the nation. It is still a strange experience to see massive rooms full of strangers singing word-for-word to their songs when our impressions of them will always be that band from high school. The show I saw in September has the band as crisp as ever with a setlist filled with new and old. The new songs sound fantastic and added equipment brings a new quality to old songs as well. There is never a more fun moment at a concert to participate in the craziness and party that is ‘Sun Hands.’ The band has perfected the song and makes for the highlight of their set.

Needless to say everyone should go check them out and here is a look at their latest single:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqO6zpUPZOs

Keep on keeping on, 

Tmax

LA’s EAT Show - A Celebration of Culinary Excellence

One of the reasons that Orange County is the gem that it is, and why I find myself living here (even though I once scoffed at the thought in my angst-ridden young twenties), is it’s location. I know, I know, seems obvious - famous Southern California, no need for explanation when multiple beaches are a stone’s throw away. I’m referring to location in the sense that we are in close proximity to two very distinct, major cities: Los Angeles and San Diego. Living here, we have the opportunity to drive a little over an hour either North or South to explore cities that are unique travel destinations for people around the world, all in just one day. The events, sights, history, and culture of both cities are in Orange County’s backyard, making it a little sliver of quiet paradise.

 I was recently reminded of the geographical benefits of living in Orange County when I had the opportunity to attend the first annual EAT Show in Los Angeles, an event with over fifty restaurants and food industry establishments. After a quick drive up, my cousin and culinary partner in crime, Allison, and I entered the Reef, a space designed for hosting creative events, like fashion shows and media productions. It’s a cool place, with lots of slick polished concrete, and the EAT show was being held on the second floor. We were escorted to the elevator by men dressed in nice suits. Shit, we are underdressed, we thought aloud in the privacy of our elevator, which is something we both have a fear of. We were wrong of course, as plenty of people were wearing similar attire, which makes sense - it’s called the EAT show. We were all there to chow down, and in order to do this properly, you’ve got to be comfortable, like Joey wearing Phoebe’s maternity pants in one of the Friends Thanksgiving episodes comfortable.

After checking-in and receiving our VIP swag bags (couldn’t resist the temptation of a mysterious swap bag when purchasing tickets), we headed straight to the open bar. Yes, that’s right, OPEN BAR. The hired bar for the event was Mr. Bartender, an LA based crew of talented mixologists that creates custom cocktails for events. Dressed in casual suits sans jacket, bowties, suspenders, and sleeves rolled up, the team emanated a relaxed, party-is-well-on-it’s-way atmosphere. In short, very cool vibes surrounding the bar, which we frequented. They created five cocktails for the show, and since it’s a foodie event, the cocktails had to bring it - and they did. Of the five (yes, we tried them all - sharing of course) the “Pop Up Punch” stood out as an original, one of a kind, libation. With a title playing on the event itself, and the addition of gin, raspberry, and citrus juices shaken, poured over ice, and topped with a float of champagne then garnished with a sprig of fresh thyme, we were in a daze of tasty wonder, ready for more.

Our thirsts quenched, we formed our plan of attack, which was easy to do, as the coordinators of the EAT Show truly had the attendees in mind when planning the event. Only 1,000 people were admitted to each session (lunch and dinner - we chose lunch) making the vast space of the second floor give you enough room to breathe while enjoying the food. This was also awesome because we never waited for more than three minutes at any location, allowing for maximum food intake. Food vendors lined the outskirts of the room, and long, family style tables and the bar were located in the middle. Your “ticket” was a miniature monopoly board game, where vendors were arranged much like Park Place or the Boardwalk - each section contained four different vendors. We decided to just head around counter-clockwise (with trips to the bar in between).

With over fifty eateries involved in the event, it would be naive for me to expect you to patiently read my thoughts regarding each one. So, I’ve listed my top three that absolutely crushed the small-bites event. Coincidentally, these three killer places were located in the same “monopoly block,” and were the first stop on our list.

First up is Swami’s: A Sandwich Experience, which clearly put dedicated care into not just the delicious tostadita they prepared, but into the entire display of their table and booth space as well. The display was unique; with a clean-cut, black cloth backdrop and handmade wooden and aluminum Swami’s lettering, we felt like we were in a genuine space, and not just one of the plebes at a 1,000 person event. Fresh cut flowers adorned the daffodil-yellow square tiles they used to form a hardtop for their table, making it one-of-a-kind at the show - sincerely, their booth owned it. From what I have learned about Swami’s, the food truck has become a staple in Los Angeles’s mobile eatery scene, challenging other trucks’ culinary prowess, like Kogi Beef and The Grilled Cheese Truck. After tasting the braised lamb and pork tostadita, you can clearly see why Swami’s has become an LA essential. Chef Ramanathan “Ram” Swaminathan makes everything from scratch, and on the truck, everything is made to order - no substitutions. I greatly appreciate the “no substitutions” movement; trust the chef - they put a lot of thought into every ingredient and flavor profile that goes into a dish. So, once I heard that Swami’s did this, I knew it was the real deal. Now, back to what matters: the tostadita. The chile-braised lamb and pork tostadita ended up being the perfect bite at the show. Starting out, you get the traditional chile and cumin seasoning that you’d expect (and hope for) in the latin-inspired dish. However, the addition of the mint to compliment the depth of the lamb and the saltiness of the fresh, homemade queso fresco was, unearthly. It almost took us a moment to figure out what it was we were eating, which seems like an odd statement, I know, but that is what I loved about it - the taste demanded that our tastebuds think, but then quickly reminded them of familiar home-cooked Sunday meals after being away for a while. That, and the artful smear of chipotle crema and hibiscus pickled shallots that topped the tostadita were enough for us to call it a day. We had already won.

Next up is Restauration, located in Long Beach on 4th Street’s “Retro Row,” whose EAT Show table design definitely complimented the joint’s title, a combination of “restaurant” and “restoration.”  With a teak wood and burlap feel at their station, it’s no doubt that Restauration takes pride in it’s locally sourced and responsibly grown ingredients (something AU & Co. appreciates and promotes with their use of homegrown and deadstock fabrics). The dish: crispy pan fried pork belly, pinenut cassoulet, and white bean puree, topped with a pinch of microgreens. The pork belly, oh my God, the pork belly - it was cooked to perfection, with just the right amount of crisp to provide that bacon consistency that everyone loves,  but also melt in your mouth tender, like it had been slow roasted for hours. Mixed with the pinenut and subtle white bean flavors, this dish had the elements of salty and creamy that need to happen on the daily in my life (heart attacks aside, I’d still probably be really happy if that happened). Keep an eye out for a future AU&co blog post about Restauration, because if this dish relays what the rest of the menu contains, I’m down. I don’t have a photo for this dish, unfortunately, but this is for the best due to the fact that every time I saw it I might have a sensory overload.

Lastly, we have Westlake Village’s Aroha, owned by New Zealand’s own Chef Gwithyen Thomas, which specializes in his native country's cuisine. Now, arriving to Thomas’s table, Allison and I thought that perhaps we weren’t at the right spot. We checked our monopoly maps - we were indeed in the right place, but it seemed...wrong. This table was not up to the standard that Swami’s or Restauration had set. There was no decoration, no thoughtfully placed flair to enhance the eater’s experience, which is something I absolutely appreciate. There were long, rectangular, styrofoam coolers. That’s it. We were about to move on, when a head popped up from behind the coolers. It was Thomas, and he was sitting in a chair, shucking clams with a long, serrated knife. Not just any clams, though, he calmly explained in his accent. These were Cloudy Bay Clams from New Zealand, that had been harvested from the ocean only two days before, and shipped express for the event - just as he does for Aroha, daily. The clams were served cold in the shell, partially cooked, with absolutely no seasoning, no lemon - nothing. I can’t have clams any other way, ever again. They were so fresh - so, so very fresh. I didn’t think that clams could ever taste that way. I will be venturing to Aroha for clams soon, and you better believe I will be trying many more of Thomas’s dishes - stay tuned.

Although I may never know what crack-infused ingredient Swami’s puts in their braised lamb, or how Mr. Bartender creates silky and smooth cocktails, I do know this: EAT Show nailed it their first go-around, and I will definitely be attending next year, cocktail and swag bag in hand.

Vibe on, 

RG