Sometime in the mid-aughts, I caught a performance by New York-based avant-garde political cabaret collective, The Citizen’s Band, at a benefit, in the Maritime Hotel’s Hiro Ballroom. And while the entire production was gripping (the talent – including Zooey Deschanel, Sarah Sophie Flicker, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Karen Elson, Ronin, et al. – the Zaldy-designed costumes, the choreography, the styling, etc.), what stood-out for me (as I wrote, at the time, in my monthly “Diva Las Vegas” column, in VEGAS) was “Scottish songbird, Angela McCluskey, whose soulful rendition of Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” in TCB’s Chewing Up the Scenery brought the audience to tears.” [Get a dose of McCluskey’s three-hanky performance in Chewing Up the Scenery from 04:40 – 06:10, in the video, below…]
And while her name may not be known to everyone, the emotive voice of the Wild Colonials co-founder should ring a few bells. It is this voice, after all, that’s provided a common thread between such disparate acts as Deep Forest (2002’s “Will You be Ready”), Kendrick Lamar (2009’s “Is It Love”), Robbie Robertson (2011’s “When the Night was Young”), Delerium (2011’s “Stargazing”), and Paul Oakenfold (2015’s “You Could be Happy”) – as well as such motion pictures soundtracks as Rachel Getting Married, Sherrybaby (featuring her stark, haunting, and poignant cover of Marianne Faithfull’s “Times Square”), and The Beat that My Heart Skipped; and that of the television series Grey’s Anatomy.
But to American audiences, especially those who remember the dawn of the EDM movement, it was the 2003 commercial for the Mitsubishi Outlander, featuring McCluskey’s first collaboration with French electronica trio, Télépopmusik – the Grammy-nominated “Breathe”* (for which, in addition to providing the vocals, McCluskey received a songwriting credit) – that always has them saying “Oh yeah… That’s her? I love that song! She’s amazing!” (Seriously, it happens. A lot…)
Well, since I don’t get back to New York as often as I’d like, imagine my surprise and delight to learn that McCluskey would be performing in West Hollywood, when I’d be in town, as well! Needless to say, I was there (“there” being the Peppermint Club – The h.wood Group and Interscope Records’ ‘60s-inspired music lounge, on Beverly Boulevard), and it was sublime.
Some of McCluskey’s Citizen Band-mates – including international fashion model turned Emmy-winning thespian, Ian Buchanan (Twin Peaks), and Rain Phoenix (whose band, Venus and the Moon, was the night’s opening act) – came to cheer-on their bandmate and friend; as did the gorgeous Jackie Cruz (Orange is the New Black) who arrived in an futuristic cocktail dress, and joined McCluskey on stage, for some soulful wailing.
McCluskey may have opened with her haunting cover of “Wild is the Wind” (which, though I usually think of it as a Nina Simone song, was originally recorded by Johnny Mathis); but within a few songs, the audience was on its collective feet, and by the finale, the whole room was dancing, feverishly. As I said to McCluskey, via text the following day, “What a concept: Start with the tears, and end with the cheers!”
The Peppermint Club
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[Editor’s Note: “Breathe” by Télépopmusik featuring Angela McCluskey was nominated for a Grammy Award, in 2004, in the category of Best Dance Recording]