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Live Report: Ostara (Richard Leviathan) in Los Angeles

Richard Leviathan | Credit: Michele Brittany
Richard Leviathan | Credit: Michele Brittany

Richard Leviathan | Credit: Michele Brittany

Ostara (Richard Leviathan)

Live at Sabor y Cultura in Los Angeles, CA – May 30th, 2015

Written by Nicholas Diak   |   Photographed by Michele Brittany

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On the eastern edge of Hollywood, just at the border of Thai Town, sits the corner coffee shop, Sabor y Cultura. The exterior of this coffee shop looks modern, new and trendy, in stark contrast to the aged buildings and restaurants of Thai Town. The interior is generous with their space, consisting of many small, mismatched tables and chairs of dubious strength to accommodate the patrons seeking their lattes and waffles. Each wall was painted in a different color: purple, yellow, orange – while the service area and cashier effectively partitioned the café into two sections. Bookshelves and sofas provide relief to the weary, with posted signs stating: “Please no napping.”

Sabor y Cultura

Sabor y Cultura | Credit: Michele Brittany

Aside from caffeine and cuisine, Sabor y Cultura showcases different events in their evenings: Comedy bits, poets, musicians, and so on. Once every month, they also play host to Hollywood Acoustic Nights. This event started in January 2014 with the purpose to highlight three local acts and their acoustic performances and document them on YouTube. For this occasion, the performers included Dani Poppitt, Caitlin Danenhauer, and Richard Leviathan of Ostara. (Author’s note: I arrived after Poppitt’s performance but before Danenhauer’s, thus the omission of Poppitt from this report).

In the back corner of the coffeehouse, almost hidden, sat Richard Leviathan. Darkly dressed and slender, Leviathan hid his jet-lagged fatigue well by greeting each person who came to see him with politeness and gregariousness. At his side was his guitar, still in its case and itching to be played. He also had on hand a stack of the Paradise Down South cassettes for sale, which had just been released by Vanguard Productions. Leviathan’s trip to Los Angeles was to be a brief journey; as his primary purpose was meeting with his producer on the upcoming Ostara album. Leviathan explained his excursion, album progress, working with a new producer, as well as a new sound:

“It’s about raising my own expectations as far as production is concerned and doing the material justice. I have been at it for nearly 20 years, which is scary but also shows that for someone who didn’t pick up a guitar until he was 22, there is a late blooming abetted by a growing confidence in myself as a singer/songwriter. This may the golden season, so I want to get the most out of it before the tree starts to wither. The next album is called Napoleonic Blues, which has associations of defeat mingled with the threat of a comeback. I have been recording part of it in LA with a producer in Studio City and it has made a significant difference to the sound that I am very impressed with so far. The rest will [be] done in Australia but the bar has been raised high.”

Richard Leviathan | Credit: Michele Brittany

Richard Leviathan | Credit: Michele Brittany

Though Leviathan’s trip to the U.S. was only going to be a handful of days, he was able to finagle in his trip this performance for Hollywood Acoustic Nights, providing an opportunity to perform and showcase a few of the new songs he has been working on. Leviathan elaborates on being invited to perform:

David Cherubim attended one of my LA shows a few years ago. He has been hosting Hollywood Acoustic Nights for a while and, combined with his own accomplishments as a guitarist and writer, there is a natural affinity. I love small intimate venues so this was perfect for me, even though it was the first ‘free’ show I have done. It was all the more enjoyable for that and a nice way to introduce some of the new songs while I was recording in LA.” 

At 8:00pm, local performer Caitlin Danenhauer, armed with her electric guitar, took to the mic stand for her performance. Danenhauer is an old guard for Hollywood Acoustic Nights, having also been contacted by Cherubim via Facebook and invited to perform as her musical project, Kybele multiple times in 2014. While Kybele is a surreal-dream-pop-gaze project in a similar vein to Alison’s Halo, Danenhauer was actually trying out new material for her new project, Betty Petty. The songs Danenhauer performed were definitely in the “-gaze” end of the spectrum, with her guitar reverberating throughout the coffee house at the hand of her intense playing. Danenhauer confessed that this was her first solo performance in a long time, and in the transition period of juggling Kybele/Betty Petty in hopes to accomplish more with her music:

“I’m working on a much more stylized and theatrical show that pulls from a lot of genres and have a grand old time.  I generally want to work first on making the songs beautiful but then I really want to have as much fun as possible presenting them. I took music really seriously at first, like I had to rip my soul open every time I wanted to write a song, but I want to see if I can be profound while being a little more flippant.  I guess instead of drama, I want to write satire.  I want to laugh more and make people laugh but also move them.”

By 9:00pm, the late Spring sun had set. The large windows behind the performance area were dimmed with night, depicting the still-busy Hollywood Boulevard. At this point, the coffee house had attracted between 20 and 30 patrons, all seated at their individual tables in anticipation for Leviathan to perform. After a brief warm-up and equipment check, Leviathan took to his stool to begin his set. He quipped that he was feeling nostalgic, reminiscing on a time he was performing on Thanksgiving Day back in 1997 in Richmond, Virginia. The Ostara set list encompassed choice tracks from his vast repertoire but also showcased four new songs from the forthcoming album: “The Night,” “Killing the Things We Love,” “The Rift,” and “Burnt Offerings.”

Richard Leviathan | Credit: Michele Brittany

Richard Leviathan | Credit: Michele Brittany

The atmosphere was intimate and respectful: complete silence from everyone as he sang, and enthusiastic applauding at each song’s conclusion. Leviathan’s voice was crystal clear and projected across the coffee house. Acoustic versions of his classic material translated quite well – as an example, “Nightmare Machines” may have lacked the electric guitar from the studio incarnation, but the song still came across as neofolk-pop and catchy, as if Leviathan was actually recording live material for an unplugged album. The new material also demonstrated Leviathan’s trademark catchiness, with memorable choruses designed to stick with the listener despite having never been presented publicly before. For example, in the song “Killing the Things We Love” Leviathan laments that we are “Killing things we love / loving what is killing us / the truth behind the lie / devil in the angel’s eye,” – subject matter that seems to mesh with material from Paradise Down South, a fitting pairing with “Debt On Credit” which immediately followed.

The most epic and standout piece of the night was when Leviathan halted his guitar and belted out “Proud Black Templar.” As with the studio rendition, no instruments were needed: the song was every bit emotive and passionate as it should be. At its’ conclusion, Leviathan raced to his corner as quick as lightning, leaving his audience stunned and speechless. After a few moments of silence an audience member spoke out, “One more song!” At this, the rest of the patrons also cried out for one more song and at their urging, Leviathan ran back up to the stool to do an encore performance of “Operation Valkyrie.”

Leviathan’s set ended around 9:40pm, where he made himself available again for meet-n-greets, shaking hands and posing for pictures. In a few days he would have to return to Australia. His stay in Los Angeles extremely short, yet undoubtedly productive with new album recordings and memorabilia for his acoustic performance. His songs, both old and new, were all received with open arms, no doubt a positive portent of things to come with Napoleonic Blues.

Ostara Set List:

01) Overworld
02) The Night
03) Killing the Things We Love
04) Debt on Credit
05) The Rift
06) Nightmare Machines
07) Burnt Offerings
08) Black Spring
09) Proud Black Template
Encore: Operation Valkyrie

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