Phantom's LA Viper Room Recap

How to you describe the indescribable?  How do you explain the taste of water to someone dying of thirst?  Or, worse, sit drinking a nice cold one in front of a throng of parched people?

I wish all Soul Patrollers could have experienced the Viper Room last night, because then I would feel less guilty about trying to describe it to you!  You know the ad, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful”.  Well, don’t hate me because I was at the Viper Room I’ll do my best to share with you what I can.

First, to set the scene, a description of the venue and crowd…

The venue is tiny.  It’s on the Hollywood strip and the outside is painted matte black with a skull.  The marquee had “Little Memphis Blues Orchestra” on it.  I’m not sure if mentioned special guest – maybe someone with a better eye for detail can remember.

I was nervous about all the rumors about the venue.  It turned out more relaxed than anyone expected.  The fashion police were not evident.  People were wearing sandals and even operating cameras in the venue, despite all the warnings.  Go figure.  I left my cameras and even my cell phone at the hotel, not wanting to risk getting kicked out.  The crowd was a mix of Soul Patrollers (older and a bit more conservative dressing) and some locals (young, dressed for clubbing), but it was the Soul Patrol who ended up taking up most of the real estate by the stage and seemed to predominate.  Very quickly I was up front and couldn’t observe much of the crowd for the rest of the night.

The venue was a single room with a small, semi-circular stage at the front. The stage itself was much smaller than Workplay’s. There was a faded red velvet curtain that went around the stage between acts.  The bar was at the side of the room and the entire place couldn’t have held more than 200 people.   It was PACKED.  Very uncomfortably packed.  I got there early along with some other Soul Patrol friends and we were at stage front.  Holding that ground became a real challenge.  The crowd was very aggressive and the security guard brought some people that knew the band up to stand in the first row, pushing many people back.  Fortunately, I was a bit stage left so I retained my front row standing.  But, yeah, it was extremely pushy in there.

I didn’t notice any celebs.  They may have been there, but I couldn’t see them.  I would have liked to have studied the crowd more, noticed reactions, etc but, believe me, when LMBO and Taylor are on stage, there’s just no room for anything but drinking in your fill of what’s going on up there and screaming your head off. I can tell you that the screams were EXTREMELY loud all night and Taylor had the crowd in the palm of his hand.  Maybe the noise was not quite as big as Workplay, because there were less people in the tiny Viper Room, but the crowd really did bust a gut.  There was NOTHING laid back or “L.A.” in their reaction.

Continuing with who was there… Taylor thanked his representation from The Firm for being there.  I think they had a VIP booth. After he thanked them, he said “I’m very happy with my management company.  VERY.” and kind of gave an evil laughed.  My impression was that they’ve been helpful to him in supporting him vs AI’s nonsense --- like, perhaps, making sure he got to some of the LMBO shows.  Pure speculation on my part.

I was thrilled to have Mr. Phantom with me at the show.  We both loved Taylor during the Vegas auditions, but since then DH had become more of a skeptic.  He still liked Taylor, but felt his “schtick” was a knock off of many other artists (Ray Charles, etc) and he winced at some of Taylor’s dancing.  DH is a musician and a huge music history buff, doncha know.  It takes a lot to impress him. And of course, his lessening regard for TH was not related in any way to jealousy, despite the attention his wife was lavishing on the gray-haired one.  That’s his story, and as a devoted wife I will say “Yes, dear” and believe him.   Nonetheless, I was eager for Taylor to blow Mr. Phantom away and add him to the ranks of the truly converted.  I’d been to Workplay.  I believed.

OK… so on with the night.

We arrived about 9 o’clock and there were 2 bands that played before LMBO came on.  Sorry to say, but they were both awful.  The first band was a 3 piece hard rock act that put a lot of work into being sexually suggestive.  Mr. Phantom said he’d been in better bands when he was 12.  Not impressed.  The second band was a group of 4 kids who were kind of on the young-and-nerdy side. They did original stuff and I found it boring.  Since I was RIGHT in front of the stage, I did my best to boogie a bit and smile and clap. Let not the Soul Patrol be rude to young artists.  But, sheesh!  I said to my DH, “This is why the music world needs Taylor Hicks”.   The good news is, they had the audience more than ready to appreciation good music once it came on.

Finally, at about 11, the curtains closed again and we saw the guys from LMBO working their way through the crowded space to get to the stage.  Yeah!  The calvary!  Relief was in sight!  Go, Brian!  Go, Sam!

At this point, the crowd was pushing forward so hard I was practically getting sexually abused by various people from behind.  I smiled and held my ground.  It was LMBO time!

The curtain opened and Lmbo immediately began and kicked some serious a$$!  The first song they did was an R&B instrumental tune that just wailed.  They were tighter than tight – drums, keyboard, guitar, bass, sax.  They were loud, they sounded amazing! The crowd was screaming!  It was great seeing those familiar faces up there, in their L.A. debut.  The Soul Patrol was giving them a lot of love and support.  They did a second song, a blues number on which Sam sang.  Then I think one more.

I was anticipating an entire set, maybe even two, before any possibility of Taylor.  So when Brian suddenly announced his name after just a few songs I was like “What…?  What???”  Everyone was searching the crowd and, sure enough, there was the gray hair trying to work it’s way up the small steps to the stage with security.  Then he was there, 3 or 4 feet from me.

I looked at Mr. Phantom and Mr. Phantom looked at me.  He was grinning, and I don’t even want to know what MY face looked like. How cool is this?  I mouthed, and Mr. Phantom was finding it very, very cool.

Taylor and the band immediately lit a fire.  I’m not sure, but I think the first song was “Call me the Breeze”.  They also did “Hell of a Day”, Clapton’s “Forever Man”, “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man” (a very cool, longer version I’d never heard before) and “Gonna Move”.  He brought Elliot and Bucky on after a few songs and they did “Use Me”.  At the very end he closed with “Dance to the Music”.  I’m probably forgetting some and I have no idea of the order.  I was probably in system overload.

Taylor looked thuddingly gorgeous, as usual, but it seems it is more shocking each time I see him live.  Black shiny suit jacket, black button down shirt, blue jeans, tennis shoes.  His hair was shorter and kind of gelled and messy.  He was mesmerizing.  He was a star.  He eclipsed the room.  He owned it and us.

I feel so incredible PRIVILEDGED, seriously privileged to have had these opportunities to witness Workplay and now, the Viper Room.  It is such a rare honor, so much luck that I just happened into this particular space and time in the world to watch this legend in the making.  I felt an enormous sense of joy and gratitude and appreciation being there last night and I still feel it today. I will never stop feeling it.

There were some interesting differences between the Viper Room and Workplay.  At Workplay, Taylor seemed very happy and almost free-spirited.  He was upbeat and having a rip-roaring homecoming.  He was joyful.  At the Viper Room last night, Taylor seemed to me (subjective opinion warning) much more intense, dark and focused.  There was a definite aroma of “f*** you” in the performance, as if he was trying to prove something to TPTB.  You know that look he got on his face sometimes when he faced the judges?  That “I know I’m good so go ahead and say what you’re going to say” look?  There was one time when he even swiped at his nose, almost like a boxer.  He had that intensity last night.  Either that, or the focus I saw was just the result of being pent up on the tour for so long and finally being able to let loose.

Both nights were amazing in different ways.  It was incredible to see Taylor so happy and beloved in Birmingham, but the “killer look” Taylor at Viper Room last night was pretty damn white hot as well.

This intensity had an interesting edge to it.  For example, the shout-out he did to his management.  And when he decided to take a break after a number of songs, he was holding the mic and he just said, “I’ll be back” and dropped the mic and left the stage.  He didn’t even bother to return the mic to the stand, it was just like he opened his hand and the mic dropped, like “I’m done RIGHT NOW”.  It was kind of a super star disregard.  Hilarious and hot at the same time.

He did smile a lot and grin, mostly when his band mates were kicking it on their solos, but he remained intense.

At one point on a song, he changed up the lyrics and sang “I’m making a new CD… compared to what?”  He repeated this 3 times and would make this funny quizzical face each time like ‘who the hell knows’.  It was funny in a dark way, as if he was making fun of all the crap he gets about what niche his CD will fall into or whose music it will be like.

He didn’t do any scatting, like he did at Workplay, but at one point he did a long section of rap.  Sounded great.

He didn’t pull out the harp until the last song, Dance to the Music.  In that song every instrument on stage gets a solo and he goes last with the harp.  Jeff Lopez put a hat on Taylor’s head just before this, a beige fedora, and Tay did the harp in the hat.  God, it was a great harp solo.  He just WAILS on that thing.  He pulled a high note and just held it forever.  Smoking.

After the harp, he took us to church big time with dancing.  It was a small stage, so he did the “dog wind-up” in place – first time I’ve seen him do that since top 24 and it was great, did a tight little Tay-go-round and other indescribable moves.  Fabulous.  He left the stage with the audience panting and screaming.

So let me give you Mr. Phantom’s thoughts as I pried them out of him after the show.

1.      LMBO.  He’d never been that hot on LMBO, having seen vids from the B’ham homecoming and City Stages.  He thought they were a “typical bar band”, “not tight enough” and that Taylor should upgrade as a pro.  After last night he was shaking his head and admitted that they were really, really good.  He thought the drummer (Zippy) and the bass player (Mitch) were the best of the group, phenomenal.  Zippy reminded him of Levon Helm (from The Band).  He actually said he would give his left acorn (ahem) to play with a drummer like that.  Of Mitch, he said “there was never one extra note, he was always dead on.  That’s what you want in a bass player”.  He thought Brian (on keyboard) had the chops but would like to see him add more dynamics instead of always “playing at 11”.  He thought Brian would pick that up as he went along.  He thought Sam (lead guitar) was as good as Zippy and Mitch but that he needed a bigger amp or a booster because he wasn’t coming across as clear and loud on the solos as Mr. Phantom would have liked.  He thought Jeff (sax) was good, but he thought some of the showy stuff (playing 2 instruments at once) was more for the crowd than legitimate from a musician’s POV.  “But he’s good”, sez Mr Phantom.  Overall, I asked if he thought they could back Taylor on tour and he said absolutely.

2.      TAYLOR.  Mr. Phantom was shaking his head a lot when Taylor was on stage and grinning at me.  Afterwards, he said that the night reminded him of when people like Bowie or Elton John or the Doors played on the strip before they hit it huge.  He told me I didn’t need to worry, that Taylor would be HUGE.  He said he has “it” for sure.  The best part… he said, and I quote, “Taylor is like a young Elvis”.  Now, folks, you have to understand that I have never used the E word in the same sentence as Taylor with Mr. Phantom because I knew I’d only get guffaws of derision.  Mr. Phantom could tell you who the 3rd drummer was for the Bryds, what they did before joining that group, and how they died.  He knows everything about every music act there ever was.  But at the absolute top of his pyramid are 2 groups – the Beatles and Elvis.  It’s not like he sits around playing Elvis music, but he’s read every book, seen every documentary and, as he puts it, “respects him as the root of the tree.”  So for Mr. P to say, completely of his own accord, with no prompting from me, and never having read these boards, that Taylor was a young Elvis…  Well, let’s just say I knew then that my husband had been profoundly Taylorized.  I was a happy woman.

Phantom’s final conclusions:

First, if you have any chance to see these guys perform, do yourself a favor and mortgage the house, get a sitter for the kids, conquer your fear of flying, just do WHATEVER IT TAKES to get to one of these shows.  Because it is extremely unlikely that this opportunity will ever come again.  Next spring Taylor will be on his own tour, very likely with LMBO, and it will be amazing.  But it will be at big venues and not quite the same.  I plan to be there, at as many shows as I can, but in the meanwhile I am going to go to Texas in the chance that this magic might happen one more time.  And don’t worry about whether or not Taylor will come.  Seeing LMBO is an awesome treat in itself.  Just go to lots and lots of LMBO shows and you may at some point get the full whoo!

Second, it really is about the music, and I believe Taylor is going to have a big, even huge, impact on the music scene.  I salute him. I adore him.  I am content to do that from the sidelines and just observe this man and his career with fascination.  And now Mr. Phantom can finally stop thinking I’ve lost my mind and join me.