Last night’s Arthur Lee benefit at the Whisky a Go Go captured the lawlessness of the 60’s Sunset Strip and the flawlessness of “Forever Changes.”
Lee, the genius behind 60’s psychedelic band Love, is battling leukemia and has no insurance, so a benefit was put together at the last remaining Sunset Strip club from the L.A. band’s heyday.
The Whisky, where The Doors and hundreds of other bands first played Hollywood, is located “between Clark and Hilldale” Streets — the title of one of Love’s songs from the glorious 1967 album “Forever Changes.” Its third LP, “Forever Changes” is considered Love’s masterpiece. Like The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” from 1966, “Forever Changes” is thematically sound and a real band effort, less disjointed than “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” released in June, 1967, just a few months before Love’s opus.
I was sad to find out that Love aficionados Calexico, Cake, and X were asked but did not agree to participate in last night’s benefit.
When Lee got out of prison in 2001 (he had done five years for gun possession), he toured North America, Europe, and Australia with an excellent backup band called Baby Lemonade, who played last night with original Love lead guitarist Johnny Echols.
Ironically, it was Lee’s original reluctance to leave hometown L.A. that is blamed for the band not becoming 60’s royalty.
Baby Lemonade are a very tight band, and they even brought along a trumpet player for songs like “Alone Again Or.” Seeing Johnny Echols was great, too. He now looks a little bit like a kinder Felix Barbosa from “Deep Cover” (or Chano from Barney Miller).
The opening band was Vince and the Invincebles. Vince Flaherty fronted the band, which was made up of two older female backup singers, one of whom kept trying to be the yenta for various audience members during the long sessions when the band was getting its shit together onstage, two younger dudes with dreadlocks, a drummer and an older guitar player. The band itself was fairly solid, though, as a unit, their personalities were all over the place.
It was announced that Spencer Davis was in the audience.
“We love you, Spencer,” the dreadlocked white guy guitarist said, and started to noodle “Gimme Some Lovin’.”
Lead singer Vince Flaherty was a mess. I polled various older folks in the audience, people with gray or white hair and tie-dyes, about who this guy was and what right he had to waste our time.
“I think he knew Arthur before Love, or played on the same bills with him,” one man said.
Flaherty dropped the microphone so many times that his younger bandmates started making fun of him. Flaherty was surly and forgot his lyrics. He shambled around the stage. The white-haired sound tech for the Whisky kept crawling onstage to retrieve dropped microphones and stands, looking like he wanted to kill Mr. Invinceble.
Flaherty had the attitude of someone who gets more and more angry with the audience the more he screws up. It was painful.
I’d read that Baby Lemonade announced they would no longer perform with Arthur Lee the crazier he got. I wonder how long the Invincebles will stay around. I saw one of the Invincebles outside.
“We’re kind of the de facto backup band for people from the 60s,” he said, but was interrupted before I got any more information.
Somebody was videotaping the show for Arthur Lee and the camera would occasionally pan the audience during the numerous breaks in the Invincebles’ set. “We’re sorry, Arthur,” one audience member said.
Baby Lemonade, both by contrast and on their own, were fantastic. They played the entirety of “Forever Changes” and came back for an encore with Echols and Ware.
From the opening track, the late Bryan Maclean’s beautiful “Alone Again Or” (some of MacLean’s relatives were in the audience, but not his half-sister, Lone Justice’s Maria McKee) to “You Set the Scene” (as well as an encore of the protopunk “7 And 7 Is” from Love’s second album, “Da Capo”), the band outLoved Love, playing with a fan’s adoration and attention to detail.
It was good to be in a truly all-ages audience at the Whisky. I hope Lee recovers, but I hope he doesn’t shoot Vince.
UPDATE: Both the sound technician, Rick Beck, and Mr. Invinceable himself have responded to this post. Vince pointed out that the street in the title does not have an S in it – it’s Hilldale, unlike what I originally wrote.
Rick Beck writes:
I’m the white haired sound tech that Marty Barrett misrepresented crawling on stage to retrieve Vince’s dropped microphones “looking like I wanted to kill Mr. Invincible”. It’s funny how a person like yourself with a bigger head than insight spins things. The same problems with the sound board and the microphones continued with Willie Chambers where the double mic fell out of the mount while he was singing.
You must have talked the people I saw who were gaping at Vince and the Invincables as if they had never seen humans. Before the show I heard a lady say that Vince was keeping everyone waitingShe said they missed sound check. Later I found out Vince refused to sign a last minute contract giving the right to control the recording of his band. They were told they would not be performing unless he signed the contract. Cheap last minute music biz trick. It took at least 2 hours to get permission for the Invincables to take the stage and during that time a few people in the audience were understandably. I’ve never seen vibes like that in a pre show audience before. You are right about one thing, Vince was pissed by the time he got on stage. He was demolishing the mics because they were messed up and the audience couldn’t hear the vocals anyway. I thought it was part of the act and it was great. I’ve been to a lot of concerts and despite the bad vibes this one was one of the best shows I’ve seen in my life because of the contrast between the style of the two bands. They were both very good. I mean it and that’s the truth unlike Marty’s silly remarks.
UPDATE 2015: Arthur Lee died in August, 2006. “Love Revisited,” featuring Baby Lemonade with Johnny Echols, has been touring Southern California with trumpet and string section performing “Forever Changes” in its entirety. The band returns to Hollywood’s El Cid in early 2015.