Column: LA/LA Land – Grammy-nominee Gaby Moreno
Grammy-nominee Gaby Moreno in a parking garage in one of LA’s best-kept secrets
The only hint that a concert by a beloved Grammy-nominated, Latin-Grammy winning artist was about to take place was a crude hand-lettered sign taped to a steel door at the bottom of a damp concrete stairwell in Santa Monica. But that was enough. People were lined up a half hour before the doors were scheduled to open – actually, get propped open by an orange traffic cone – at 8 pm. At 8:10, John Kibler, standup bass player of the band We Are the West, opened the door, inserted the orange traffic cone and welcomed people into one of LA’s most unusual and least known concert venues, an underground parking garage.
Inside was a dark cavernous space with a pathway lit by floor candles leading to a card table with a smiling woman who took a donation – $10, $20, whatever you could afford, a table with $2 glasses of wine and cans of beer and $1 healthy sodas in an ice chest bar, staffed temporarily by We Are the West drummer Elizabeth Goodfellow. Beyond the bar was wonderland. The cavern had been transformed with twinkling lights, candles, and rows of white plastic lawn chairs facing the stage but artfully positioned around a battered Mustang awaiting restoration. The “stage” was carpeted floor area brightly lit with clamp-on floods and spots and flanked a sound control room on one side and a green room for artists on the other, both created with draperies. Art adorned the walls and a steady EDM beat pulsed from a twin turntables manned by DJ Jerard. The acoustics were phenomenal.
Then Gaby Moreno emerged from the drapes, gave a shy smile to the fans sitting a few feet in front of her, and took the SRO crowd on a musical adventure with her phenomenal voice sailing around the concrete walls like angels in flight. With songs mostly from her most recent album, Ilusión, she transformed the garage into a majestic concert hall while retaining her friendly openness with an audience sitting almost close enough to hold her mic stand.
So how did a woman who toured the world with Tracy Chapman and Annie DiFranco, won the Grand Prize in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, was nominated for an Emmy for her music in Parks and Recreation, won a Latin Grammy, and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Latin Pop Album find herself singing to a packed crowd in a Santa Monica Parking garage? The answer is another LA story.
The evening ended with We Are the West performing a set that included their famous cell phone song (put a group of people in a closed space, have them call one another on their cell phones with speakers on and you get a feedback effect like flying inside a flock of birds – perfect for an overlay of mystical music), and Goodfellow’s astonishing drumming, cymbal play and singing. As the audience filed out after the show murmuring about the magic night they had just experienced, I overheard one woman say maybe We Are the West had set a new standard and Grammy-winning stars would start calling to ask if they too could sing in the garage. If so, the line in front of the steel door and the bottom of the stairwell with the hand lettered sign will que up a lot earlier.
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