If you happen to be in a band searching for a recording contract, you might want to investigate the offerings of Trampoline Records. Live From Los Angeles: The First Waltz is a DVD pimping the eclectic label’s talent and proudly displaying its family barbeque-style camaraderie. Recorded on February 8, 2003 in L.A.’s House of Blues, The First Waltz (cleverly playing off the title of Scorsese’s famous rockumentary The Last Waltz) offers twelve individual performances and one “Ok, everybody now!” jam, amusingly titled, “Lovin’ the Shit Out of It”.
Throughout the showcase, one may note that the house band is not, in fact, a house band. All of the artists pitch in to help one another out, and you get the sense that such fun and looseness contributed to the excitement witnessed on stage.
Gingersol gets the tough job of jumpstarting the party. They fare well, seducing the audience with rough-edged, Americana-pop akin to A.M.-era Wilco. Gingersol plays the kind of music that makes sappy girls sing and sway, music that makes you feel better about yourself, your friends, and your minimum-wage lifestyle.
With the train now traveling at full speed, the Jukebox Junkies take the stage to deliver a solid country-pop performance that brings both Springsteen and Whiskeytown to mind. “Why don’t you make it easy?” sings head Junkie sweetly, and one realizes that this band does just that.
Great Britain’s Minibar follows with “Unstoppable,” one of the evening’s standout performances. Taking cues from Mojave 3 by putting an elegant British spin on distinctly American music, “Unstoppable” finds the band making great use of space, sounding a bit like the Volbeats on Quaaludes. The melody is strong, and a whiskey-soaked guitar interestingly replaces a part that might ordinarily be reserved for some hot fiddle playing.
Enter singer/songwriter Joe Kennedy, aka, Happily Ever After. Kennedy is appropriately described by Trampoline co-founder/artist Pete Yorn as “Willie Wonka meets Bert Bacharach.” The charismatic artist gives us “Sadness,” a lovely ballad featuring strong lyrics and a melodic guitar solo by Kennedy himself.
It has to be tough following an act called Happily Ever After, but Chris Joyner, aka, Mavis, does a wonderful job with his poppy and soulful country-blues. Joyner performs “Only in My Dreams,” and calls to mind the better work of Keb Mo’. Ordinarily known as a keyboard player, Joyner’s voice proves irresistible, falling somewhere between Isaac Hayes and Ben Harper. The strength of “Dreams” lies in its patience, deliberately slow and heartfelt; it also benefits from a playful arrangement.
Next up, the Hangups, a Minnesota group perhaps best known for “Jump Start,” their contribution to the Chasing Amy soundtrack. Although they seem to execute their performance flawlessly, it leaves the listener (viewer) a bit unsure as to how to approach the band’s music. But sometimes that’s a good thing, right?
Mark Seliger, aka, Rusty Truck follows and is joined by onstage by whiz kid Kenny Wayne Shepard. Seliger is better known for his role as head photographer for Rolling Stone, but wears his singer-songwriter hat proudly during his performance. The Truck’s musical style is nothing new or stunning, but his voice is strong and emotive, and his beer-soaked working man’s electric folk not unlikable. Kenny does his weedly-weedly Stevie Ray Vaughan imitation, stopping seconds short of ruining an otherwise good song. You suck, Kenny.
Enter singer-songwriter Jeff Trott. Jeff is one of those guys who writes songs that springboard other folks to fame and fortune (in this case, one Sheryl Crow). Why doesn’t he chase the rainbows himself? About this we may only speculate, but let it be known that Trott is one helluva performer. Here, he offers “Nevermind Me,” a song of such emotional depth that it probably doesn’t even require the gorgeous B-3 atmospherics that compliment its presentation. Trott loves a clever turn of phrase, and here we are treated to hearing them straight from the horse’s mouth. Nice sport coat, too.
Next, multi-talented Evan Frankfort takes his turn, performing “Prime O’Life Housewife,” a song utilizing well-chosen layers of sound that create a hypnotic ebb and flow of anxious emotions. Frankfort possesses a voice quite unlike that of any other artist on Trampoline’s lineup. He wouldn’t sound completely out of place on modern rock radio, but we forgive him for that. “Housewife” delivers perhaps the loudest moment of the night, a chorus of fuzzy guitar crunch, eerie keyboards, and plenty of tom-tom bashing therapy.
Peter Himmelman then takes the stage and wastes no time planting a flag in it. A performer through-and-through, Himmelman has been known to lead an audience outside a club, singing and never missing a beat on his acoustic as he leads them right back inside. On this evening, Himmelman plays electric, calling to mind the stylings of Bo Diddly, and singing with a commanding growl (and hat) that can only be likened to the great Tom Waits. Himmelman oozes rhythm, injecting excitement into a weary crowd. Even his requests to the sound guy come off remarkably musical.
Phil Cody gets the job of following the spastic Himmelman, and were it not for his attention-grabbing Dylan-esque delivery, he might’ve come up short. On the charming “We Could Have had it All,” Cody comes off a sounding a bit like Ani DiFranco, sing-shouting his proclamations, ponderings, and even his la-la-la’s. If a showcase serves to garner interest in artists, consider this a job well done. If Cody didn’t sell records that night, I’ll eat his next one.
Pete Yorn does his Britpop-meets-roots-rock thing next, signaling the inevitable end of a spirited evening. Yorn performs “Hunter Green,” and if you’re a PY fan, you’ll gobble up his graceful performance.
Trampoline co-founder, Rami Jaffi, adequately summarizes the mission of all good record companies, saying that he and his partners organized Trampoline to “take matters into our own hands and get that music out there to people who wouldn’t normally get a hold of it.”
Indeed, Trampoline seems proud of its investments. Between-performance commentary offered by Jaffi and co-founders Yorn and Marc “Doc” Dauer (who calls Trampoline a “smorgasbord of good music”) finds these executives speaking as fans more so than business associates. The First Waltz is an informative and enjoyable sampling of like-minded musicians effectively drumming up interest in a promising label and its tight-knit family of artists. Now pass the potato salad, will ya’?