I usually write about music and events that take place in off-the-beaten-path venues in Los Angles, sometimes performances by known artists like Gaby Moreno with a solid program of songs and a well-rehearsed stage show in an unlikely place like a parking garage. Today’s excursion into LA music breaks that mold; it is about a wild night in LA’s best known rock venue by an artist who got onstage with no set list and no limits but the greatest happy birthday song ever.
The location was the Whiskey a Go Go on Sunset Strip; the artist was the Canadian transplant to LA, Kirsten Collins, known to over 2 million followers on social media and hailed by the Wall Street Journal (no less!) as one of the major influencers on the influential site musical.ly.
For those of you who may not know the Whiskey, with a capacity of 500 and excellent sound equipment and stage, it anchors the west end of the Sunset Strip music and entertainment zone. It is named after the world’s first discothèque, the Whisky à Go-Go, which was opened in Paris in 1947 by Paul Pacine. The Sunset Strip version (no relationship) was opened in 1964 by 4 partners and soon became the launching pad for major acts like The Doors, Janis Joplin, the Byrds, Smokestack Lightin’, and many others.
Having been to the Whiskey many times (yes, I saw The Doors there – it was , and still is – all ages), I knew that 24-year old Kirsten Collins was going to deliver a first class show. You don’t get to the Whiskey unless you can do that in your sleep. What I did not expect was that she would do it with no set list and no song order, and no limits on her act but mom and dad there to keep things rolling smoothly. And it did – beautifully.
Kirsten had been on my radio show earlier that week and was a very sharp, amusing and entertaining guest for my radio audience, so I was interested in seeing how she handled a live audience. I have to say, that despite going to clubs and music events 2 -3 times a week, I have never seen anything quite like Kirsten on stage. She managed to be freeform and risky and controlled and joyful simultaneously – not an easy trick anywhere but even harder when you are on a stage like the Whiskey a Go Go.
The audience was well warmed up by the young, athletic pop singer Jesaiah. When Kirsten Collins walked/danced/strutted on stage in an off-shoulder orange sheath with a fur coat, She flashed her 1000-watt smile at the crowd and announced that anyone in the house who did not know her, well that’s a problem, but (big smile) nice to meet you! She introduced her mother who was on stage setting up a computer and keyboard and launched into full-throated rap with intermittent operatic choruses. She followed with ballads, love songs, rock, pop, more rap, more pop and more smile. Along the way she led the audience in finger snapping, call-and-response singing, and jokes and conversations between new songs and old songs accompanied by a cello and electric violin, drum kit and her dad onstage solving a piano wiring problem.
Toward the end of the evening she announced that it was her brother’s birthday and she was going to sing him a random birthday song – made up on the spot – accompanied by her mom on the piano. What followed may well be the best happy birthday song ever. She belted, soared and turned the two words “happy birthday” into a tour-de-force. I want her to sing at my next birthday!!
Several times during the performance she mused onstage about what she should do next. This was genuine as I learned later when I asked her for a set list – she was making it up as she went along, using songs from her inventory, new songs, whatever she was working on at the time, and whatever struck her fancy.
That was surprising, but she has the chops to pull it off. She sang on key at the age of 2 years (her mother claims), soloed at 5, won the Calgary Junior Idol at 10 and was named Miss Teen Calgary – World in 2012. She is featured on the MC Mario single “Anti-Gravity” and has sung and acted in films like “Rust”. If anyone could take a risk it was Collins.
The Whiskey has seen many things since 1968 and I think the performance last week by Kirsten Collins was one for the memory book. No set list, no limits, and the best birthday song ever.