The LA Community Shines Again at Sound in Focus

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SIF stage
All photos by Dennis Provost unless otherwise stated

Three weeks in and the Sound in Focus series at the courtyard of the Annenberg Space for Photography is feeling quite comfortable. This weekend’s event, featuring the inspired combination of punk legends X with country great Dwight Yoakam, also featured some familiar faces amongst the crowd, with repeat visitors promptly staking out their preferred spots on the lawn. And the promised combination of remarkable sights and sounds both on stage and in the museum spaces kept the vibe just as fun and communal as the prior weeks’ events.

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But there were some subtle differences this time around. Even KCRW’s Gary Calamar, who started the event off, gave his own distinctive spin during his DJ set – I mean, c’mon, who else is going to play Sinatra’s “LA Is My Lady” at such an event!

SIF crowd SIF jason and gary

Photo by Unique Nicole for the Annenberg Foundation
Photo by Unique Nicole for the Annenberg Foundation

But as soon as X hit the stage, the energy amped up immediately, signaling that this just wasn’t your usual opening act. Ripping through twenty songs from their first four albums in their hour-long set (playing one song twice, just so they could play it faster!), John Doe and Exene Cervenka led drummer DJ Bonebreak and substituting guitarist Jesse Dayton through such classics as “White Girl,” “Hungry Wolf,” “Los Angeles” (of course!), and their cover of the Doors tune, “Soul Kitchen” (fun fact: the Doors’ Ray Manzarek produced all four of X’s first albums!)

excene 2 Jon doe

Even Dwight couldn’t resist hopping on stage during their set, loving the music like a true fan. The only thing missing was founding guitarist Billy Zoom, who is recovering from a second run-in with cancer, but everyone present was sending out good thoughts as we were celebrating some of the great music he helped make.

[youtube width=”500″ height=”344″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqZ7rUJ0yM8[/youtube]

After that, we all needed a moment to catch our breath, whether it was via a stop at the exhibitions, a visit to the food trucks (man, that mac & cheese looked good!) or just a quick doze on the grass. But it was not long before the lights dimmed and Dwight and his band came out. Now, like many people (especially KCRW listeners), I can appreciate a wide-range of musical genres. But what I appreciate most of all is a tight, road-tested, professional, firing-on-all-cylinders kind of band, and that’s what Dwight has in spades!

He and his killer group brought the honky-tonk and the proverbial “Streets of Bakersfield” to the middle of Century City, and those of us watching couldn’t have been happier.

dwight 2

The denim-clad Yoakam spun & two-stepped his way through a batch of songs covering his whole career, including favorites from his early records, to covers like “Ring of Fire” and “Suspicious Minds” done the Yoakam way, to tracks from his latest acclaimed album, Second Hand Heart, including “Liar” and “She.” You could hear his yelps on “Liar” echoing throughout the concrete canyons, where they are probably echoing still.

So perhaps there were a few more cowboy hats and fluorescent mohawks in the crowd than at previous shows in the series. And who knows what curveballs will be thrown next Saturday, August 15, when the Annenberg hosts Cold War Kids and Other Lives, which will be your last chance to check out this year’s series. But one thing is consistent as every week’s event passes: everybody goes home with a smile on their face.

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ERIC J. LAWRENCE