Beauty and Essex is an odd combination of a jewelry store, upscale bar, and high end restaurant off of an alley in Hollywood. Well-travelled readers will recognize the name from sister establishments in New York and Las Vegas, part of Chris Santos’ Tao Group. In addition to great food, fun drinks and an outdoor patio, it is also next door to The legendary Hotel Café showcase venue – which makes it perfect for a pre-show music launch reception. And it was last Friday night for Taylor Grey.
Actually it was a better place for a reception after Taylor’s performance, as I discovered when I arrived fashionably late for the pre-show gathering. I breezed through the jewelry shop (or is it a pawn shop – not quite sure) and up the stairs to the bar where I found many well-dressed millennials but no Grey nor her team, So I enjoyed a glass of bubbly, a few shrimp bites and headed over to The Hotel Café’s Second Stage to see if she was doing a final mic check. She wasn’t, but the warm up band, Mollie Jane, was getting ready to go so I stayed and was treated to a pretty darned good set of pop rock by Mollie and her band Milk.
There were only a handful of us in the seats for Mollie Jane, but around 7:45 the Second Stage began to fill up as a rush of people came through the swinging doors. I recognized some from the reception and caught sight of Taylor. Mollie Jane finished her last song, came offstage and she and Grey exchanged hugs while Milk packed up and Taylor’s band plugged in. Then the fun began.
Grey was road-testing six new songs to be released later this year out of a total set of seven–the seventh, “Back to Bite”, had come out that morning. They were a bit of a departure from the music in her debut album, Space Case, but, like those on the album, each was a carefully crafted work of art. That is how this Stanford Junior in Neural Biology who also tours and records does things – meticulously and right.
Once the conversations and instrument movement were over, Grey mounted the stage looking totally comfortable in a black running suit that showed off her glorious blond hair. With her high-wattage smile she opened with “Toxic”, setting a moving and swaying musical mood for the rest of the evening. She segued into “Talk to Me” with its deceptively simple backbeat that framed her voice as she soared and we applauded.
Grey moved a stool onstage, and sat down to chat with the audience about preferring to be home watching her favorite TV serials, sliding into “Won’t Say Shhh” with its haunting verses colored by Taylor’s opera-trained voice. The stool went away and she sat down on the edge of stage, three feet from the front tables (one of which unfortunately held 4 young women crammed onto three chairs who talked and looked at their phones during the whole concert) and delivered what I think was the best song of the night, “Warning”.
She moved to the keyboard for “Goodbye” after warning us that her piano playing was not the best (it was) and downshifted the tempo to the deeply emotional “Non Goodbye”. She was back on her feet and back in up-tempo land for “Heathers” and her “empowerment song” as she called her closing track “Back to Bite”. Of course we all wanted more, but it was not to be; there was another band scheduled behind her and of course the post-gig party next door.
Fortunately, Taylor actually could go to her party and celebrate with bubbly because she just turned 21. Despite her youth, she has years of song writing and performing experience behind her, penning lyrics at 12, in opera training from childhood, and teaching herself piano and guitar as a teen. She debuted in 2016, with a two-part EP Mind of Mine I & II, joined John Whiteside’s summer “Lovesick Tour”, and then was a special guest on The Summer Set’s sold out “Made For You” Tour in the fall of 2016. She released Space Case last year, cementing her place and creating a springboard for more.
The Hotel Café concert showed us that there is more. In the big, noisy post-performance party back at B&E, she told me she was still getting to know and understand herself, learning how to take the drama in her short life and mine it for lyrics, and how to pull together all of her musical training and influences into songs that she was happy with. This is the story of any rising musician: who am I?, where am I going?, how should I decide what to do next? Taylor Grey is exploring all that and she has another decision to make – what does she do when she graduates with a science degree from one of America’s best universities? I think whatever she decides, there will be more Taylor Grey songs, and they will just keep getting better, with or without receptions at B&E.