By day the Gibson Guitar Showroom, around the corner from the Playboy Headquarters in Beverly Hills, is where LA’s music tribes go to test and buy their latest equipment. But at night, couches and tables and chairs disappear (but not the guitars) and a stage rises in the east end of the building, complete with lights and sound and an engineer. One night last week the pop up stage was populatedby a five-band Afonico Music production, headlined by the Latin pop rock group, Los Hollywood, and introducing the stunning Irish blues rock balladeer, Sarah Packiam. It was a magic night for the crowd of music producers, fans, writers, and music biz insiders who had found their way to the private showcase.
Miami-based Marthin Chan, Afonico’s A&R, assembled a review of both California and Florida talent including Calico Ghostown, Las Cruxes, the sultry Miami songstress Marlin Limon, Packiam and the headliner, San Diego-based Los Hollywood. Music ranged from the tuneful acoustic harmonies of Calico Ghost Town to the hard rock/punk of Las Cruxes to Limon’s buoyant pop to Packiam’s heart-wrenching blues and Los Hollywood’s nuclear (and bass) -powered world-class American Latino/American danceable rock.
The new star of the night was Sarah Packiam, who is relatively new to California audiences but no stranger to top level rock stages, having played with Smashmouth and Jason Mraz at the Sunfest Festival, and with Carole King, Gloria Estefan, Queen Latifah, Ricky MartinEstefan’s Charity event “The Power of Love Gala” in Las Vegas. She gave us four songs, two from her albums and two singles. Heads looked up from cell phones and conversations quieted when she stepped up to the microphone and without introduction began the rhythm strum of “Miss You”, her urgent, breathy voice commanding attention. When she shifted to the mournful “Sparks in the Current “ from her latest album Again, the room was focused on her. And that focus stayed as she upped the ante and the insistence in “I Love You First” from her Unplugged album, and then blew us all away with the heart-stopping single “You Are Not Alone”. Her voice, simultaneously husky and beautiful, soared to piercing highs anddropped down to pullthe guts out of our hearts.
But the highlight of the night was Los Hollywood, whose Latin rock in English and Spanish is as infectious as it is joyful. Lead singer and bassist Heidy Flores kicked off the seven-song set with “Te busco” from the debut EP Los Hollywood, produced by Thom Russo, who was in the audience. Flores, resplendent in white and blond hair (you never know) and her silver light up sneakers was flanked by the three male band members with black beards bedecked with silver glitter. The band downshifted tempo to “Bumeran”, which showcased Flores’ soaring voice and then got the room singing with everyone’s favorite, the classic “Cucu”, also from the EP. Heidi delivered it with the smiles, big eyes and joys it deserves.
Flores and crew – Gustavo Mojica (drums), Marcos Mondragon (guitar) and Chuy Garcia(guitar) – launched into “Hasta Manana” from the EP, with Flores’ voice staying at the high end, adding power and determination, while her bass gave added depth to the drum line. Switching back to English with “Feel Good” and the hard driving pure rock and roll “Love”, the band got the crowd moving as a single organism, clapping and head bopping. The dancing broke out in full in the back of the room – appropriately – when they ripped out “Baila” demonstrating that Los Hollywood knows exactly how to inject energy into a room and keep it moving. And moving is exactly what happened when the band finished the night with the hard rock “No te Aquites”, starting in English and shifting to Spanish and then back to English to say good night and thank the cheering audience.
The set ended too early for the crowd who cried “otra” to no avail. Los Hollywood had given us their best and Gibson’s staff had to get ready for business the next day. Heidy Flores and her band mates have created a unique combination in the swirling Southern California creative cauldron of Latino and Americano music forms. And they are great performers who know how to entertain and engage an audience for an unforgettable evening. They made a great headliner for the lineup at the Gibson Showroom pop up stage. I am looking forward to their return.