LIVE: Beat This: Hal Willner Presents: A Celebration of the 60th Anniversary of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” With Music, Words, and Funny People at the Theater at the Ace Hotel (4/7/15)

Nick Cave, Lucinda Williams, Van Dyke Parks, and others came together to celebrate Ginsberg’s legacy and raise funds for the David Lynch Foundation.

“Howl” 60th Anniversary
April 7, 2015
The Theater at The Ace
Downtown Los Angeles, California

As a veteran producer of live tributes, and a personal friend of Allen Ginsberg, Hal Willner was uniquely qualified to present the sixtieth anniversary celebration of Ginsberg’s “Howl” at the Theater at the Ace Hotel on Tuesday night. Produced by Willner and directed by famed Saturday Night Live writer Matt Piedmont, the event featured a broad range of performers as disparate as Nick Cave and Amy Poehler, and ran the gamut from jazz to stand-up comedy. Willner and Piedmont stayed true to the celebration aspect of the event, wisely shirking the requisite deadpan beat-style poetry readings—the one exception, Willner’s reading of excerpts from “Howl” with actress Chloe Webb, which received a well-deserved and unanimous standing ovation—in favor of music and comedy that captured Ginsberg’s essence, if not always his actual words.

Nick Cave and Beth Orton / photo by Andy Barron

Nick Cave and Beth Orton / photo by Andy Barron

Though Nick Cave (performing “The Mercy Seat,” “Love Letter,” and later, accompanied by Beth Orton, “The Ship Song”) was the predictable standout of the night, there was no shortage of noteworthy performances. Van Dyke Parks delivered a riveting, albeit lengthy, arrangement of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “I Am Waiting” with The Section Quartet (that the audience whoo!-ed at the poem’s mention of “anarchy” will give you an idea of the crowd that night); Devendra Banhart quipped, “I finally have some good lyrics,” before launching in to a cover of Ginsberg and Bob Dylan’s 1971 song, “Vomit Express;” the evening’s house band, The Americans, played “Stowaway,” a rousing original; and Peaches and Will Forte got the audience to scream “birdbrain!” throughout their performance of Ginsberg’s punk song of the same name.

Hal Willner / photo by Andy Barron

Hal Willner / photo by Andy Barron

Overwhelming roster aside, the event felt surprisingly unified—musicians drifted in and out of each other’s sets, playing back up, and comedians entertained the audience with stand-up routines during instrument changes and tuning breaks—everyone helped out, and no one tried to steal the show. It all served to create a sense of effortless flow—fitting for an event benefitting David Lynch’s foundation for transcendental meditation. FL

To learn more about the David Lynch Foundation, and to donate, visit DavidLynchFoundation.org.

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