Upfront: Religion isn’t something that is mentioned on this website very often. I think I’ve read a couple passing references to religion, but nothing where the topic infused the whole column. This column deals with religion in a more direct way due to the musician I’m writing about, Diane Birch. It would probably be a disservice to her if I ignored the topic. If you’re offended by this topic of discussion, you’ve been warned and should stop reading . . .
I got an e-mail from a friend during the middle of the day about Diane Birch having an 8 p.m. set at Hotel Café. She was a must see he told us all on the e-mail. Now recent work hours had ramped up, but I was still game to go. When I walked out of the office at around 6:45 p.m., I felt a tinge of guilt when a VP of Finance came walking down the hall with a stack of binders, but the guilt wasn’t great enough to prevent me from continuing my walk towards the elevator.
Side bar: At times, I’m not sure that what I do makes sense to people. A friend of mine has complained about the following habit of mine: I don’t always do this, but I will sometimes just jump onto the Metro Red Line and get off at either Hollywood/Highland or Hollywood/Vine when hanging out in the Hollywood vicinity versus driving into Hollywood. There are a handful of reasons why I do, which I won’t get into at the moment. So to get to Hotel Café I drove to the nearest Red Line stop, got off at the Hollywood/Vine stop and then walked two blocks west. (So that my friend’s complaint sounds more reasonable, I should emphasize that I am usually just going a few stops versus going from, let’s say, the Gold Line to the Red Line.)
I got to Hotel Café at about 7:30 p.m. and caught the back end of Nick Motil’s set. He was visiting from Las Vegas. I didn’t hear this story directly, but someone mentioned it to me: Nick had just moved to Las Vegas and ran into a young lady at a party. He thought she was just wonderful and was surprised that he had such instant chemistry with someone so quickly after having moved to Las Vegas. Bad news; however, he found out she was married. Oh well, he decided to write a song about her. Three years later he ran into her at another party. Her marriage had since ended. He told her about the song he’d written about her. And now they’re married.
Up next was Diane Birch, and so now the discussion about religion begins in earnest. (This really is your last chance to stop reading.) To give you an understanding for why religion influenced her life to such a degree that I feel I should mention it, read the following quotes from her myspace page:
“Birch was born in Michigan, but at a very young age she moved to Zimbabwe with her South African-born parents. Her dad was a conservative pastor who moved his family from continent to continent. So the young Birch migrated with her folks from Zimbabwe to South Africa to Australia, following her father’s mission.
Compared to the average American teenager, Birch was truly exotic, both in terms of where she had resided and in how she had lived – within the confines of a strict religious community that had little interaction with its secular neighbors.
Birch initially cycled through a serious Goth phase, perfect for an “old soul” trying to define itself. She embraced Goth both musically and sartorially, as musical inspiration and teenage rebellion – listening to the Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division, the Cure, even Christian Death; arriving at her father’s church in a floor-length black cape and waiting until the rest of the congregation was seated before swanning up the aisle.”
That last sentence is classic: swanning up the aisle. The imagery here just has me thinking of a young teenager between the ages of 13 to 16, re-enacting the Swan Lake ballet in Goth. A tinge of Winona Ryder from Beetle Juice and Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael added in, I say. Of course, from the perspective of her preacher father who was likely up on the podium, he was probably dying.
And so this is the lovely conflict that infuses her music. Her bio implies a sense of oppression and yet she can’t help but find inspiration from it.
For an example of this, take into account the lyrics from the song “Forgiveness.”
I got water, I got air
that once held me now aren’t there
Oh ‘cause honey my heart has let you go- oh yes
I got flowers in my hair
When I crossed the border
There were angels waiting there
They took me down to the river of forgiveness and washed me clean
Hallelujah . . . The chains that once held me . . . .down the river of forgiveness. These are classic Christian themes.
And then lyrics from the song “Photograph.”
Oh we’re gonna make it right
You know we’re gonna make it right
If you spent your childhood in church, think about the song “This Little Light of Mine.”
A few notes about her set: Two of my friends wanted to buy Nick Motil’s CD so I took up a lot of space with my body to prevent people from taking their spots. I always get nervous about doing this. Anyone else get a nervous feeling when holding spots? You’re in a movie theatre and five of your friends decide to take off to buy popcorn or go to the washroom and you’re stuck telling 50 people, “Sorry these seats are reserved.” Hotel Café was packed. I suspect it was as close to sold out as possible. The age range was from 21 to 70. She has a voice that soars with beauty. She rotated from keys to piano throughout much of the set, sometimes in the middle of a song; however, I found her most engaging when she let her band carry the music and she focused in on her vocals. Her backup band consisted of a drummer, guitarist, bassist and trumpeter. The trumpeter added the most to her sound. She is a beauty. During the set, a trio of folks started to move up to the front and stopped right in front of my friends and me. They were looking for some open tables. There were no open tables. I mean, the place was packed, why would you think there would be open tables? I can’t give them too much grief, because they did head back (or did a friend guilt trip them due to the fact that they were standing RIGHT in front of us). Her set lasted about 45 minutes. To end it, her band either misread the set list or was having fun along with her. They walked off the stage, thinking they were finished while she was getting ready to play a final song. She called them back on stage and they finished up in fine fashion. In the audience was Aaron Beaumont – you don’t know who he is, you say – well, he’s a friend of mine and I’m tossing his name into this column to plug his upcoming US tour. He’s played Hotel Café a number of times. I’ve also listed one of his songs in one of my “What I Listened to . . . “ intraffik.com lists. (By the way, he plays August 17 at Life on Wilshire to kick start his US tour.)
After her set, we all decided to leave, but I told my friends I wanted to buy her CD before we left. They all said they weren’t going to do so and walked outside to wait for me. They must have held a conference outside, because soon after they all walked back inside and got in line for a CD. I only took up a brief amount of her time, but I found her to have a very personable personality. My other friends took photos, talked about music gigs and Africa with her. We then all went outside and talked about her for twenty minutes or so. Yes, we found her intriguing.
Side bar: It is summer and I learned one thing while riding the metro: this is definitely European tourist season. There was a rather large family or group of friends waiting for the metro when I was heading to Hotel Café. From the sounds of it, I’d tag them as Germans. On my way back to the metro stop, a group of tourists (I believe in this case French) jaywalked across Vine, forcing cars to stop. (I have to call them French, because we Americans like to poke fun of the French, right?) Tourist season in Hollywood – it makes me feel like I need another vacation. Hey intraffik.com editor, if you send me off to a foreign city, I promise to write another in-search-of-music-in-foreign-city column.