Big Star Albums Take Center Stage at Wilshire Ebell Theatre
The seminal Big Star albums '#1 Record' and 'Third' were performed Saturday evening (Sept. 27) at Los Angeles' Wilshire Ebell Theatre -- Aimee Mann, the Bangles and original Big Star member Jody Stephens were among the artists participating in the benefit concert.
Big Star alum Ken Stringfellow, whose versatile career includes stints with the Posies and R.E.M., kicked things off with 'Feel,' the opening song from '#1 Record.' Donning red pants -- which were the evening's biggest fashion standout -- Stringfellow was more than ready to take on the rousing rocker, and even though Alex Chilton's dark lyrics are slathered over the tune, Stringfellow ably belted out "I feel like I'm dying" without putting a damper on the occasion.
Semisonic's Dan Wilson performed 'The Ballad of El Goodo' with the Bangles, and it proved to be the perfect pairing on an evening filled with great collaborations. Wilson is exquisite at performing songs that ache with unfulfilled yearning, and 'The Ballad of El Goodo' is one of Chilton's more heartbreaking works. Coupled with beautiful harmonies from the Bangles, 'The Ballad of El Goodo' was another one of the evening's most memorable moments. The Posies' Jon Auer and Jason Falkner also brought '70s rock back (at least for one song), as they shared lead vocals and rocked out on the guitar driven track 'Don't Lie to Me.'
Aimee Mann's pensive vocal styles, coupled with another appearance from Susanna Hoffs, gave flight to an evocative rendition of 'Give Me Another Chance,' a performance that was highlighted with the introduction of Van Dyke Parks as the conductor behind the orchestra known as the Section Quartet. Jody Stephens also captured the spirit of 'The India Song,' perhaps the most whimsical tune from '#1 Record.'
Amidst the sea of veteran artists, up and coming singer-songwriter Skylar Gudasz's clear-eyed and no frills take on 'At Thirteen,' one of Big Star's most signature tunes, brought the packed house to a standstill. Big Star may be revered for their catchy tunes and their heartbreaking lyrics, but it's the simplicity and straight ahead emotion behind 'Thirteen' that makes it a universally loved tune, and Gudasz effectively stayed in that lane during the performance.
While '#1 Record' has its share of melodic tunes and catchy rockers, 'Third' is a different beast altogether, and the intricate, orchestral arrangements were an integral element to the concert's second half. After the intermission, Django Haskins' performed the standard 'Nature Boy' to begin the 'Third' section of the evening, with Jon Auer, Jason Falkner, Ken Stringfellow doing their best to bring down the house with 'Kizza Me'.
A lively Mike Mills won the award for most abnormal instrumentation, as he bounced a basketball during Ira Kaplan and Ken Stringfellow's performance of 'Downs.' Considering it's the most eccentric song from 'Third,' Mills' basketball bouncing wasn't as strange as initially perceived. Brett Harris, who spent most of the evening on backing vocals duty, took 'Kanga Roo' to stratospheric heights with his soaring voice. Although the night was focused on paying tribute to Big Star, it also served as a wonderful showcase for Harris and Gudasz.
After a group performance of 'Thank You Friends' closed out 'Third,' the party didn't stop as several encores were to be had. Pete Yorn chimed in with his rendition of 'I Am the Cosmos' (taken from Chris Bell's posthumously released album), with Susanna Hoffs, Dan Wilson and Wilco's Pat Sansone closing out the concert with 'I'm In Love With a Girl' (taken from the 'Radio City' album). The trio performed the song sans microphones to a rapt audience, and although it's predictable to describe it as Big Star's sweetest song, it was a fitting end to a memorable evening.
Organized by Trunkworthy.com and the Wild Honey Foundation, the concert's proceeds went to the non-profit organization Autism Think Tank. Check out our exclusive photos from the unforgettable evening below:
Big Star's Jody Stephens
Pete Yorn, Ken Stringfellow + Jon Auer
Dean Wareham + Susanna Hoffs
Aimee Mann + Susanna Hoffs