The Rails — Live in Nichol's Canyon — 8/31/19
Concert review by Eric Sandberg
Photos by Mike Berman
Before record labels, Soundscan, Sam Goodies — long before there were
recordings of any kind, musicians survived through a system known as patronage. Wealthy patrons of the arts, including the courts of kings, queens and emperors, commissioned composers to create works and arrange and conduct performances. Musicians made their livelihoods by performing for patrons and their invited guests in their homes.
Haydn embraced the patronage of a prince while his contemporary, Mozart, famously despised his musically ignorant benefactors, burned his bridges and essentially became music's first freelancer.
Chances are, even Mozart would have loved Peter Hastings, Hollywood producer, writer, voice actor, musician and music lover. With the music industry in a shambles, and composers and performers receiving checks for pennies from billion dollar streaming companies, the idea of patronage is making a modest comeback. Noted New Orleans jazz pianist Tom McDermott recently documented his house concert tour on social media after booking a number of inquiries from eager patrons before setting out in his marginally reliable car.
Hastings often turns his spacious, post-modern home, nestled in winding Nichols Canyon above Hollywood into a music venue, not too dis-similar to McCabe's guitar shop in Santa Monica, with various vintage stringed instruments lining the walls of his spacious front room.
After parking on an adjacent street, a polite young man with an English accent picked up our party of three in a black SUV and drove us up the steep driveway to Hastings's house where our fit, middle-aged, host greeted our arrival in rose pink slacks, a gray collarless pullover and flip flops. Any similarity to a music venue ended there as Hastings operates on the honor system, assuming that, if you knew to come, you must have paid the $20 in advance or were prepared to drop $20 in an urn whether or not he was around to witness it.
From this point forward we were at a swanky Hollywood cocktail party with Hastings's de-facto co-host, the inimitable Nancy Covey, greeting and chatting up each new arrival. As the ranks of beautiful people, who all seemed to know each other, swelled I began to feel as if I had crashed the party. There was an aircraft carrier-sized kitchen island full of hors d'oeuvres, a wine table, Stella Artois on ice and a bucket of La Croix flavored water, all out of Hastings's pocket as all the proceeds from the event were going to the performers.
By 8:30 PM an announcement was made and the attendees filed into the front room to their seats, already mostly claimed by the presence of an article of clothing or a half-filled wine glass, and Peter Hastings introduced The Rails in a humorous, self-deprecating manner.
The Rails are a wife-husband duo from England who have released four albums [their first was under a different name] and a handful of EPs. Kami Thompson and James Walbourne have just released their latest Cancel the Sun [Psychonaut Sounds/Thirty Tigers]. Produced by Stephen Street [The Smiths, Morrissey, Blur, Cranberries, Sparks].
Cancel the Sun is a departure from the duo's acoustic folk roots and is teeming with infectious power chords and biting, sardonic, lyrics while leaving their luscious vocal harmonies intact. It is a remarkable album where each song embeds a subtle hint to their influences, from The Everly Brothers to the Beatles and maybe a dash of a little known beret-wearing English guitarist and his former partner.
In Peter Hastings's front room, The Rails performed seven of the album's ten songs in stripped-down, acoustic fashion which only enhanced the beauty of the songs and their astute observations of our rapidly decaying society.
"Save the planet, Kill yourself, It's the least that you could do..."
"Praise your dictator, Love the revelator, All the news that's fit to sing, Doesn't mean a single thing..."
These lyrics and many more are delivered sweetly by voices that compliment each other like they are in love.
The set was rounded out with a couple of traditional songs, two from their previous LP Other People and four selections from The Rails's debut LP Fair Warning including the highlight "Panic Attack Blues." Walbourne had been hinting at his devastating acoustic guitar skills all evening, but this track's opening salvo of prestidigitation left no doubt why Walbourne is currently the latest in the line of worthy successors to James Honeyman-Scott in The Pretenders.
After thirteen beautiful and charming performances, the duo with "nowhere to hide" as Thompson put it, brought their patron for the evening Peter Hastings to the stage [and, by stage, I mean a couple rumpled carpets that the duo miraculously avoided tripping over all night] to perform the evening's final number "I Wish, I Wish" on upright bass. To his credit, Hastings looked like he had been playing the song with them on tour since April.
After the show, Thompson and Walbourne graciously made themselves available to the large group of appreciative attendees and were probably still doing so long after our party had tiptoed down the steep curving driveway to
L-R: Nancy Covey, James Walbourne, Kami Thompson
The Rails return to the UK in October for a nine date tour.
Call Me When It All Goes Wrong
Something Is Slipping My Mind
Ball and Chain
Other People (Dedicated to Boris Johnson)
Panic Attack Blues
Cancel The Sun
Encore: I Wish, I Wish
(with Peter Hastings on upright bass)
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.