Event Review: Cody Carpenter At The Joint
December 8, 2005, Los Angeles, CA
Artist: Cody Carpenter
Event Title: Cody Carpenter At The Joint
Date: December 8, 2005
Venue: The Joint, Los Angeles, CA
Band Website: www.codycarpenter.com
Photos: Jim Whiting
As I was leaving my apartment to check out Cody Carpenter’s show at The Joint in LA, I ran into my neighbor who had just returned from a two month trip to the old world. I asked him how his trip was and he proceeded to tell me about how many women he had slept with in each country. Only some in Spain, but that wasn’t his fault because he was with his girlfriend. But he made up for that in the Czech Republic, because he was with a buddy and not his girlfriend. As he continued to boast, I thought back to minutes earlier when I thought I had had asked him about his trip, not his sexual exploits. Was he trying to impress me, earn my brotherly respect, or make me feel self-conscious about the fact that I myself had not slept with thirty women last month? If he was lying, he was showcasing his deeply rooted male insecurities, and if he wasn’t lying, then I was gonna have to get my place sprayed and make sure to wear latex gloves the next time I shook his hand.
When he finished with North Africa, I told him I was running late to a show, and had to be on my way. I arrived at The Joint in the middle of The Wood Fowler Scam’s set. Their bassist was wearing a gas mask and the lead singer had apparently plugged himself into the wall instead of his guitar because he moved and performed as if electricity was flowing freely through his body. As his hair stood on end, the electricity from the wall socket ensured a lively performance. When they came to their last song, the bassist toasted us all to the New Year, but couldn’t figure out how to get his straw through his mask.
As Cody Carpenter and his band set up, I noticed the décor of the place. Opposite the wall with six large mirrors were five flat screens pretending to be aquariums. I watched the televised fish swim back and forth, and thought about my own experience with goldfish in the past month. I had gone through at least five of the little guys. The only one who had survived had clearly signed a pact with the Devil, and I watched as he passed over to the dark side, his orange coat turning blacker every day. Whenever I added a new fish, Darth, as I now called him, would do his best to push the poor newcomer to the surface.
Cody Carpenter and his band shook me out of my thoughts as the intro to their first song physically pushed me back against the small space of wall that I had marked as mine for the night. The moment Cody put his hands on his two keyboards, he revealed that he was part musician, part mad scientist. His lab assistants behind him were Kevin Stevens on drums, Derek Frank sticking his tongue out on bass, Zack Throne on guitar—bobbing his head and tapping his foot like a member of The Beatles, and the lovely Eliza James on electric violin. Right off the bat, any band with an electric violin player gets huge points in my book, but what was even more inspiring was the unity, ease and joy with which they played. I tried to place their music, and couldn’t find the proper genre combo. These days the genres have become so entangled, it’s hard to tell if a band is neo-backdoor-garage-funk-modern or post-eclectic-counter-pop-punk-glam. When did talking about music get so complicated, I wondered. Luckily, the bassist gave me an answer later in the night by calling their music “progressive rock.” I liked it—it was simple, clear, hopeful. Their music may have been complex, but placing them in the genre of progressive rock made it easier to discuss.
As the beat got funkier and the keyboards blared, I was sent into the world of a 1980s film to a scene where the main character jumps angrily in his car, probably a Porsche, and does his best to drive away his frustrations of the tragic drama that has become his life. He pounds on the steering wheel, pulls recklessly in and out of traffic, and pushes his foot all the way down on the accelerator, daring the fates to cause a fatal accident. As tears stream down his face, a montage begins, showing everything wrong in his life ... the pressure from the mob, the foreclosure of his house, the scandal at work ... but every fifth image is a beautiful and pure-hearted woman. The main character realizes that he does have something to live for, so he slows down, pulls off the highway, and returns home to the woman he loves. Although he may go to jail for embezzlement and fraud, and will have to risk his life testifying against the mob. His wife will be there, prepared to enter a witness relocation program by his side.
The band then took a breather, and I realized I had to address the problem that had become my desert: dry throat. I decided against returning to the bar for another $8 bourbon on the rocks, and instead prayed that I still had a cough drop left in my jacket pocket. I located the cough drop, popped it into my mouth, and after sucking past the paper that refused to part from it, enjoyed relief. As Cody and his eclectic crew started what I would call my favorite song of their set, I noticed how amazingly still their bodies remained while their heads, hands and feet moved with the dexterity and poise of an Irish Ceili dance. Zack, Cody, and Eliza moved up to their mics and sang in unison to a song called “You Were Always In My Dreams.” The sincere purity of the emotion in their voices was touching, and the lyrics were both painful and pleasant at the same time. While they sang I noticed how very little ego was in their music and sensed that they were musicians’ musicians. I myself didn’t have the technical sophistication to admire the intricate details of their musical workings, but I knew my musician friend would be able to explain their complexity with ease. I could, however, recognize the maturity of their sound, and enjoy the way their songs climbed and fell, twisted into other worlds, then climbed and fell again.
After the set ended, a few of us went upstairs to talk with the band. While waiting for them to put away their equipment, I looked up to the ceiling to find numerous framed mock oil paintings of antiquated women without antiquated clothing. Whoever decorated The Joint was clearly a fan of double entendres, because it had a distinctly psychedelic feel to it. When the band joined us, they all attested that Cody was the genius behind the madness. His creative energy was so intense that he wrote at least a song a week. I was shocked to discover that they had only been playing together since August, and had already recorded one album at Cherokee Studios, produced by Bruce Robb. It should not have been surprising, though, because they are all professional musicians who simultaneously play in numerous bands. Eliza told us how she had been performing professionally since the age of five, when she had a miniature violin not larger than a pomegranate. Since then she has played with many talented musicians, most recently with Burt Bacharach. It’s really sink or swim in this industry, she explained to us, and if you’re not playing in multiple bands, it’s hard to make a living.
Cody remained silent and somewhat standoffish while the band members praised his songwriting ability and said that they looked so happy on stage because they were so happy—so happy to be playing such progressive music with a different sound. Zack then told us that although their music may not sound like punk rock, it’s completely punk in its approach. Cody won’t admit to it, but in theory he’s a true punk rocker because he’s going against the grain of what’s considered popular and commercial these days. He doesn’t have green hair or a Sex Pistols T-shirt on, and he sounds more like Genesis than The Dead Kennedys, but Cody Carpenter is a punk at heart. I would agree with Zack, but really, Cody had me at the mad scientist look and the electric violin.
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