They say getting there is half the fun, and that was definitely true for indie art-rock artist Chris Cohen’s latest show at Non Plus Ultra in LA. The underground venue’s address is ever-changing, as I discovered when I arrived at the one listed online and found only houses. Thankfully, I made some new friends who were looking for the same show, and we finally found the right place together.
It was worth it: Not only did I meet new people; I found myself at a visually fascinating warehouse-like building that looked more like an art gallery than a concert venue. Graffiti covered the walls, colorful jellyfish hung from the ceiling of the bar, and even the bathrooms were artfully painted.
The show was scheduled for 8 p.m., but it started around 9:30 with an experimental set by multi-instrumentalist Sam Gendel, who mixed music on his computer while speaking, singing, and beat-boxing into a microphone. As his voice warped against jazzy piano tunes in the background, animations of snakes, ballerinas, and other cartoonish figures appeared on a screen behind him. His unique style fit the artsy undercurrent of the whole event.
Next, indie folk artist Ruth Garbus performed several songs on vocals and guitar with the vocal accompaniment of Julia Tadlock, their voices harmonizing on poetic lyrics like “we’re waiting on the sun.” Garbus played part of the set alone, her voice operatic and airy and a bit reminiscent of Kimya Dawson, painting scenes of squirrels and other natural imagery. At one point, Gendel accompanied her on the saxophone.
At last, Cohen took the stage around 11:30 p.m., beginning with the slow-paced, dreamy “Edit Out.” The audience swayed as he crooned, “I rub my eyes and look around / You can hardly tell at all / Estimated what they’d edit out / Maybe nothing there at all.” Chimes filled the room with psychedelic echoes as he sang “No Time to Say Goodbye,” and the screen behind him matched, with gorgeous technicolor outdoor scenes that made it feel like I was inside a video game. Cohen doesn’t give the most animated performances, yet his expressionless face and gentle rocking compliment his mellow tunes. He picked up the pace to close the night with “Heavy Weather Sailing,” building on the event’s fantastical atmosphere as he sang, “Put the brakes on if you can / Weigh the world on a scale / Tell any story to suit you / Like Jonah swallowed the whale.”
Personally, I’d been hoping for him to play some of his more energetic and upbeat songs, like “Torrey Pine” and “Drink From a Silver Cup,” but I’ll take whatever he’ll give me, and his selections fit the dream-like setting of Non Plus Ultra’s tucked-away wonderland.
Chris Cohen’s self-titled LP is out now.