Some wonderfully unexpected things happen in Los Angeles. On Sunday night, one of Silver Lake’s hilly neighborhoods reverberated with the unmistakable sounds of the pedal steel guitar. Trying to find the source was not easy. One moment the echoes seemed to descend from somewhere up a hill, the next from down an alleyway. The shimmering ribbons, which felt all encompassing, created a surreal sense of passing through a scene of a movie set somewhere in west Texas.
But this was no Hollywood trickery. The ambient noise came down from producer Daniel Lanois’ home, where he and Rocco Deluca performed in celebration of their new album, Goodbye to Language.
Entering the property is to be transported to another realm. The multi-leveled swatch of land is hidden below some 120 trees (as stated by Lanois, himself), has views of the Ewok village-like lights of adjacent neighborhoods, and is dotted with myriad elements that must foster a deeply creative environment: statues, fountains, a leafy network of cobblestone foot paths, fire pits, and a lagoon pool (all of which were thoughtfully and colorfully lit).
Towering above all of this is Lanois’ home studio. With many a door and window swung wide open, invitees were welcomed like friends or family. A fire burned in the studio’s fireplace, anointing the proceedings. Lanois’ instruments were out in the open, collected around a massive mix board where a gentleman live mixed the performance.
The performance! If the setting sounds surreal, the music validated it as such. The home takes on a shape similar to that of the White House, with an outwardly jutting veranda akin to the Truman Balcony. It was here that Lanois and Deluca sat face to face in low light, Lanois on pedal steel guitar, Deluca on lap steel.
At times, the two played alone, volleying hypnotic sounds back and forth. At others, Lanois jammed by himself. Some songs included participation of drummer Kyle Olson and bassist Jim Wilson. Attendees sat on chairs, or the veranda itself, just a few feet from the band.
The musical portion of the evening was structured much like it sounded: free flowing and infinitely relaxing. There were two sets, split up by an hour break. This provided ample time to “explore the property,” as Lanois encouraged, or get a drink or a taco down by the lower garage.
The night doubled as a fundraiser for local charity, The Art of Elysium, an organization that aims to “empower artists and communities of need to join together and emotionally triumph over their circumstances through art.” Lanois made sure to speak of them a few times, relating his own experience as one of four children to a mother working as a hairdresser in Ontario, Canada. He remains grateful to such efforts that once helped feed his family, and that work to improve the lives of “those less fortunate than us.”
While certain identifiable songs were played (a selection from Lanois’ contributions to the Sling Blade soundtrack, “Satie” off of Goodbye to Language, “Sonho Dourado,” Deluca’s “Congregate,” to name a few), the program felt comprised more of movements than of stand-alone pieces.
During certain meditative passages, Lanois would call out chord changes to his mates: “Keep building the F,” “Gentle C sharp,” or “Let the C resonate!” The ad hoc direction only added to the house party/jam session experience.
For all of his wizardly capabilities in the studio, it is a Lanois-penned song that is his masterpiece. “The Maker” was the final piece played, on this night sung in a whisper, his electric guitar forgotten for the delicate pedal steel.
After the music ended, some gathered jovially in the kitchen, others continued to mill about the garden areas, themselves feeding wood in to the bonfire. It was almost midnight, and Daniel Lanois’ 65th birthday.