The Mustache Circus at the Echoplex: Henry Clay People, Fol Chen, Others Perform Death-Defying Hooks
View more photos in the "Mustache Circus" slideshow.
Friday night was mustache night in Echo Park. At least it was supposed to be. That and circus night. It was way more of the latter than the former. There was cotton candy. There were balloons twisted into funny shapes. There was ski ball.
There were antics. The smokers juggled cigarettes and flames on the patio, the drinkers made cocktail after cocktail disappear, and the pot smokers vanished into the ether, only to return into a whole other dimension (man). As far as actual mustaches, not a Fu Manchu to be seen, let alone a Walrus or Pencil Thin. Mostly it was stick-on prop 'staches. So it was more like a Faux-Mustache-Circus. Which is fine, but in the interest of journalistic integrity, it should be noted that that as a mustache circus, we were left wanting.
The band activity was onstage some of the time, but there was a lot of action on the smoker's patio, where ski ball, side shows, cotton candy and popcorn were set up. Eli from the Monolators stood atop a bench and sang some songs. Another musician (who? anyone??) plucked an amplified balloon, which emitted a deep bass-like warble. And the ski ball balls were flying hither and yon.
We arrived late, sorry to say, so we missed the Les Blanks and the Flying Tourbillon Orchestra. We'll let the photo above do the talking, though, regarding the Les Blanks, and submit it as evidence that they were at the very least entertaining, if not downright amazing.
Fol Chen is a fictional something-or-other band whose first album, last year's John Shade: Your Fortune's Made, Pt. 1 (released on Sufjan Stevens' Asthmatic Kitty label) landed on some end-year best of lists, mostly due to the catchy lyrical wit and infectious synth-pop delivery. (They just released a free download version of remixes, which is highly recommended.) West Coast Sound wholly endorses the notion of narrative rock, loves the idea of constructing fictions of the musical variety. Live, however, the fiction doesn't really hold up, because there they are up onstage, Fol Chen, a band of five happy-looking, college-educated-looking 20-somethings playing catchy pop. Save for a brief appearance by a hunter in a safari hat and a few curlicue inked-on mustaches, there was little drama of the theatrical and/or plot-forwarding variety.
That said, Fol Chen were a lot of fun, and catchy, and dynamic. Their songs -- especially "No Wedding Cake" and "Cable TV" -- possess super sticky melodies and lots of smart, subtle arranged flourishes. Plus, they covered Sublime.
A weekend after Henry Clay People gigged Lollapalooza in Chicago, they arrived to a much friendlier crowd in their hometown. This whole circus thing was their idea, and they brought with them the usual mix of their own sturdy, oak-solid rock songs and a batch of covers (Petty, Bowie, Mott the Hoople), the best of which was an absolutely thrilling version of T. Rex's "Bang a Gong," in which the five Henrys expanded to eleven. When that many people are screaming GET IT ON, BANG A GONG, GET IT ON! at full volume, well, it's hard not to feel a warm glow.
It must be said, though, that since this was Henry Clay People's brainchild, and came with the whole "mustache circus" as a theme a few months ago, we'd have hoped for some real deal 'staches. Despite this long potential gestation period, it should be noted that neither Joey nor Andy Siara committed to growing one. Yes, Lollapalooza was last weekend, and we understand that the brothers might not have wanted to gig Lolla and be mistaken for the Allman Brothers, but if you're throwing a mustache circus, you should have some hair on your upper lip. Instead, the pair had stick-ons, which kept drooping and dipping throughout the night. We're just saying. Mustache is no joke. If you invoke it, you must remain steadfast in your commitment.