A compelling indie-rock lineup tunefully floated the theory behind the L.A. Philharmonic’s intriguing series examining how music reflects elements that constitute a city. For Bob Mould it was highway surveyors and an inadequate road; pianist Annie Stela had an epiphany on a dog walk near some blossoming jacaranda; and the duo of Inara George and Van Dyke Parks struck a cogent note with Randy Newman’s “Vine Street.” Meanwhile, John Doe played his chestnut from the first X album, “Los Angeles.” Very few notes felt uncomfortably shoe-horned in to fit the concept.
While not every piece reflected on Los Angeles, the evening did convey the city’s sprawl and diversity, with 14 musicians performing two songs each and telling a bit about their selections over the course of 2½ hours. The hall’s rich acoustics made each performance crystal clear; the audience was enthralled to the point of complete silence between acts and even songs.
Unity, or at least parallels among the musical selections, are often a driving force in L.A. Phil programming; here, unity would have made for a monotonous experience, especially considering the lack of familiar tunes and with most accompaniment limited to a single piano or guitar.
The younger musicians on the bill (Zach Rogue, Stela, Marc Bianchi, Biirdie) leaned toward the fragile, often employing early ’70s singer-songwriter touches in song construction. Bianchi has a real romantic winner in “Boys and Girls Good,” a song he recorded under the name Xoxo, Panda.
Husker Du founder Mould, working one of the most identifiable sounds in rock ‘n’ roll, dipped into his obscurity bin and pulled out two gems, “Surveyors and Cranes” and “Thumbtack.” It was fascinating that the well-traveled man from Minnesota who lives in D.C. would choose songs penned in Austin for this show; his tales of nasty traffic jams in “Surveyors and Cranes” could have been easily penned any afternoon on the 405.
The stories were often as good as the songs. Sondre Lerche explained moving to New York from Norway and how starting a tour from his Brooklyn home made him nostalgic for Gotham and his girlfriend, which generated the Brazil-tinged “Minor Detail”; Stevie Jackson of Belle & Sebastian borrowed show opener Biirdie to flesh out a tune about bored Glasgow teens; Kyp Malone exposed a side of his personality generally not seen in his work with TV on the Radio.
Only actress Zooey Deschanel cheated, performing Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town” and “I Put a Spell on You,” which seemed to cross-pollinate versions by Nina Simone and Credence Clearwater Revival with no explanation.