Westside joint gives unsigned bands a boost

Just west of L.A.’s Miracle Mile, the restaurant/nightclub Life on Wilshire hosts a weekly Monday night showcase of mostly unsigned acts that’s been slowly gathering steam over the past year and a half.

Westsiders with a taste for live music who dread penetrating the rock-club bottleneck of the Strip, the alt-pop lounges of Silver Lake and Echo Park, or downtown’s urban hipster zone might view this almost forlorn stretch of Wilshire Boulevard as an oasis of easy access and plentiful parking.

Organized by musicians John Jones and Kim Crain via jjsongsalon.com, Monday Music Night , which they have never advertised, attracts a motley crew of wannabes, has-beens, industryites and some surprisingly compelling talent, considering there’s no cover. The performers span the spectrum from goth-country siren Lynda Kay, with her towering beehive and David Lynchian theatrics, to the stark, confessional songs of Caroline Waters.

Last Monday was particularly notable, with the bands Piel and Kid Theodore seemingly ready for cameos in CW shows such as “Gossip Girl” and “90210” or any music supervisor on the lookout for punchy pop and youthful magnetism.

L.A.-based Piel — whose lead singer, Chicago transplant Tiki Lewis, touts supermodel looks and a sinewy voice that ranges from a whisper to a scream — recalls bands like Blondie, which it cites as an influence, and the late, great Sugarcubes, with its atmospheric, neo-new wave sonic assault.

Kid Theodore, which has appeared at SXSW and was chosen by Billboard in 2008 as the No. 1 indie band in the western U.S., has been compared to the Cold War Kids. The band’s infectious, hook-laden licks had the people at Life bouncing in front of the stage.

Crain and Jones, a Grammy-winning producer who has collaborated with such artists as Celine Dion and Duran Duran, curate the weekly affair based on their extensive contacts in the biz, from in-demand guitarists such as Yogi Lonich (Buckcherry, Chris Cornell, Seal) and Brian Ray (Paul McCartney) to drummer Steve Ferrone (Tom Petty). Often they’ll get tips from fellow musicians on tour about opening acts, or somebody will pass them a demo. There’s no science to the booking, with the pair often flying by the seat of their pants to fill the bill at the 11th hour.

Crain is also a stylist in her day job for well-known rock ‘n’ roll couturier J. Gerard, who designs clothes for Prince, Cher and Rihanna. So the people who frequent Gerard’s Melrose Avenue boutique might also help feed the talent pipeline.

“We’re trying to support original music in Los Angeles,” Crain says. “We call (Monday Night Music) a ‘musicians’ refuge’ because people meet there and get hooked up with other pros for recordings and tours.”

Whether Jones, Crain & Co. can keep it intimate — and free — is another matter. Says Crain: “We want to make it like the (Hollywood’s) Hotel Cafe — a special place.”

* * *

Fox’s “Glee” is on a roll. The Tuesday night hit, which might be credited with single-handedly making the primetime musical a realistic proposition and not a failed experiment, was the top-rated scripted show among young adults for the third straight week. The “Glee” cast LP, “The Power of Madonna,” entered the Billboard top 200 comprehensive album chart at No. 1. And, in a classic case of turning sow’s ears into silk purses, all five songs from the recent episode “Bad Reputation” — showcasing discredited hits from the likes of Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer and Olivia Newton John — were among the top 25 iTunes downloads as of May 5.

The fact that “Glee” cast members have reconstituted past hits with a fresh, modern spin is not lost on the artists they’re covering, since the benefactors are experiencing a surge of interest in their catalogs and a boost to licensors’ coffers. And in a brilliant stroke of cross-promotional synchronicity, the episode “Home” featured Kristin Chenoweth and Matthew Morrison performing a stirring mashup of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classics “One Less Bell to Answer”/”A House is Not a Home,” underscoring Bacharach’s gorgeously complex melodies. The episode also served as a reminder that Chenoweth is starring in the Broadway revival of Bacharach/David’s “Promises, Promises,” a musical take on Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment” in which Chenoweth plays the Shirley MacLaine role. Who says television can’t foster the arts?

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