Leftover Cuties At The Hotel Cafe
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By Brent Burns
The Hotel Cafe is one of my favorite venues. Hidden in an alley off the Cahuenga Boulevard strip, the Hotel Cafe originally opened as a coffee shop by Max Mamikunian and Marko Shafer, two aspiring screenwriters, but has quickly earned a reputation as a premier intimate performance space.
Needless to say, this venue was the perfect setting for the heartbreaking and heart-soaring songs of indie pop collective Leftover Cuties, where every note and every breath sounded crystal-clear. Embellished with jazzy horns and a bluesy guitar, the band opened with the title track from their debut album, 2011's Places To Go. The song exemplifies Leftover Cuties' signature sound: polished production qualities, accessible melodies and string accompaniment — blessed with the sonorous vocals of lead singer Shirli McAllen. I could almost feel the sun on my face as the fun sounds made me want to toss Hula-Hoops and surfboards into the car for a sojourn to the beach.
McAllen's voice features variations in pitch, and the speed with which her pitch varies molds everything she sings into a work of art. To know her — or at least to watch her perform — is to love her. She is a natural performer with an emotional depth, accompanied onstage by an impressive and rare combination of creative talents. The upright bass (Ryan Feves), accordion and horns (Mike Bolger), brushed drums (Stuart Johnson), and ukulele (Austin Nicholsen) are a few tricks this band uses to lure its way into your heart and possibly break it. Have you ever loved anyone so dearly that it seems only a song could justify the feeling you have in your heart? McAllen's voice personifies the very sound by which those words flow through my heart and mind.
Leftover Cuties played 15 tracks, rotating between the 11 blustery yet streetwise songs of their Tony Berg-produced Places To Go, and their new EP of cover songs, Departures, which features songs ranging from Regina Spektor's "Fidelity" and Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" to Coldplay's "Trouble." The band even shared a couple songs they're already working on for their new album just to ensure they completely satiated all of our summoned senses for the evening.
Last night's set left me with chills. The way the band's notes slide around, veering on the precipice, like they're about to fall off the cliff, and the way McAllen achieves such emotional depth with such nuance and subtlety from her accompanying bandmates made for an inspiring performance. The crowd stood shoulder-to-shoulder, but that didn't stop the sway of the room. How many bands can capture the sweet sadness of saying farewell to summer love with simple vocals over chugging drums and rich acoustic guitar plucks, while at the same time remind the listener that there are still memories to keep you warm in the fall?
It's clear that Leftover Cuties' journey has just begun, promising a rich and rewarding career, lovingly toying with one heart at a time.
"Places To Go"
"Everything I Got"
"Fidelity" (Regina Spektor cover)
"Trouble" (Coldplay cover)
"Should've Left You"
"Game Called Life"
"Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"
"Poker Face" (Lady Gaga cover)
"Thick And Thin"
"All These Men"
"You Are My Sunshine"
(Brent Burns is the dance/electronica GRAMMY.com Community Blogger.)