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Music | POP REVIEW

Emerging artists team up for recognition

Nine performers with ties to Hollywood's Hotel Cafe share the spotlight and fans.

October 14, 2005|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

With such Internet forces as MySpace redefining the nature of pop culture communities through cyber connections, the notion of a music community built around a small club such as Hollywood's Hotel Cafe seems almost obsolete. But the two worlds have teamed on an effective tour that came to the El Rey Theatre on Wednesday.

The venture allows a varied roster of up-and-coming or indie artists who have developed some level of association with Hotel Cafe to face an audience that at 800 was five times as many as the club itself can hold -- thanks in part to MySpace's sponsorship.

Size isn't everything, though, and what was most impressive Wednesday was the actual community on stage. The earnestly sensitive Cary Brothers (a he, not a they), mugging punk-vaudevillian Jim Bianco (complete with mohawk) and stream-of-consciousness craftsman Butch Walker (styled in Keith Richards mode and best known as Avril Lavigne's producer) not only showcased their own wares in brief sets but also backed up each other and shared band members in a spirited round robin.

Capping it off was a solitary, electronics-backed set by English chanteuse Imogen Heap, who has had success as half the duo Frou Frou and who called to mind Kate Bush -- as entrancing as she was incongruous in the setting.

Though there were no real revelations, each of the nine featured artists made a solid impression.

Tim Jones opened with a set that could have taken place at the Troubadour in 1972 on a bill with the young Eagles, Sara Bareilles touched on Norah Jones territory, Joe Purdi echoed the folkier side of Van Morrison and Joshua Radin recalled Simon & Garfunkel's more subdued moments.

Kevin Devine, who flew in from Brooklyn to close the evening's first portion, was particularly impressive, his shaggy Prince Valiant haircut contrasting with the simmering emotions that at times boiled over in his songs.

Whether this will turn the Hotel Cafe into a meaningful brand name remains to be seen. But the fans seemed almost as interested in the lesser-known performers as in the relatively higher-profile Heap and Walker.

And if the show was as much fun for the musicians as it looked, future editions could attract a growing community of stars and stars-to-be.

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