The crowd at Johnny Brenda’s was transported by L’Rain on Wendesday night. But first, Flanafi composer/guitarist/vocalist Simon Martinez climbed onto the stage with versatile and revered bassist/producer Tone Whitfield. The two slid into a nest of synths, guitars, a sax, and loop and vocal distortion pedals. Masters of their gear, Flanafi delivered a multi-instrumental, genre-melding, dynamic show, setting the tone for headliner L’Rain to roll out their new album, I Killed Your Dog.
Flanafi’s music is anchored in guitar rhythms and sonic cues, and those rhythms and cues take many forms. On “Dividends” for instance, Martinez played a rippling guitar solo filled with astral or pitched-down beeps, rings, and tones from the 1981 arcade game Galaga. His worn Chelsea Dr. Martens darted around the effect board at his feet, tap dancing through a well-sequenced menagerie of vocal samples, looping melodies, and embellishments as the switches softly clicked.
Martinez’s soft vocals are hard to string together live, almost like he’s in a vast meditative state, conversing with himself. On “Unaware” off sixth night. sleepless. you made the world. wallowing. released this past July, he sent bird chirps into the crowd soaring above a tapestry of open guitar chords and dissonant harmonies.
Whitfield’s virtuosic bass playing cannot be understated. On “Track ID” off 2022 Follow It Back and “Gjuijar” off 2021 The Knees Start to Go, he and Martinez were mind-melding, adding an intimacy and urgency to Flanafi’s music. The crowd was enthralled and ready for L’Rain to take the stage.
L’Rain kicked off their headliner set with a howl
All eyes were on Tara Cheek, as L’Rain took the stage. The audience hushed and Tara let out a subtle wolf howl. The lead singer/composer/multi-instrumentalist then looped the howl, adding in atmospheric sounds as she built the onramp to their first song. As the howls got closer together, the crowd joined in. Tara smiled, “you can howl with me if you want.” Next, the audience was transported into a metaphorical, dream state via the song “I Killed Your Dog”, also the title track of their latest album that dropped about two weeks ago.
Expressing gratitude on the release of I Killed Your Dog, Cheek confided in the crowd that she was relieved to finally put out the album and share it with everyone. She said the album had been her little secret and she recalled being around groups of people and in her mind she’d be saying to herself: “I know something you don’t knowww…”
L’Rain’s music is a looking glass into the many depths of Cheek’s subconscious. They build these complex, nonlinear, thread-pulling songs that seem to converge into otherworldly realms while mixing various genres. I Killed Your Dog is no exception, and as they ran through the tracks, they were mixing R&B/Psych/Jazz making their music feel boundless and unpredictable as it washed over the audience at Johnny Brenda’s.
The unpredictable nature of their music was on display when they played “Uncertainty Principle,” which builds and builds and doesn’t reach a climax until the last 35 seconds when the song does a swan dive into chaos. “New Year’s UnResolution” kept up that high-octane energy, while also feeling elusive and mysterious with ethereal and astral tones waxing and waning.
“This is cooking in real time.” —Tara Cheek
As a surprise, even to themselves, L’Rain returned to the stage for a one-song encore. Longtime member Synth/Saxophonist/Vocalist Ben Chapoteau-Katz, said he needed a moment to create a patch because they chose a song they hadn’t played in a while. “This is cooking in real time” Cheek joked, as they bantered about always calling each other “chef” (even WAY before The Bear came out).
The song L’Rain chose was “Alive and a Wake” off 2017’s self-titled. It’s a heavy song. By the end, Cheek had hunched over her knees letting yells and screams escape from deep within.
Tara Cheek, along with sax/vocal/synth wizard Ben Chapoteau-Katz, manned the merch table after the show. Last in line, two eager fans approached the table and remarked how bands or artists claim they are making original music but Tara and L’Rain were actually doing it—A sentiment the whole crowd Johnny Brenda’s would agree with.