Returning to 1960s Laurel Canyon

IMG_6813Jakob Dylan grew up amid his own small-town musical crossroads — Woodstock — but the subject of his new documentary is the one that flourished on the other side of the country in Los Angeles’ bohemian Laurel Canyon in the late 1960s. An added treat to his bringing the film to festivals ahead of its release is accompanying it with a live performance much like the one captured in “Echo in the Canyon” — accompanied by Cat Power and Jade Castrinos.

Their eight song set at the Lincoln Theater Saturday, kicking off the Washington D.C. International Film Festival, included some of the highlights from the film, which had its origins with a 2015 all-star concert saluting the era that also included Beck and Regina Spektor. But it also veered into areas the film did not because of time.

A documentary on Laurel Canyon could focus on the singer songwriter heights of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles and the eventual formation of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Or it could look at the epicenter of experimentalism that was Frank Zappa’s home base. Or that Jim Morrison wrote “Love Street” for the Doors about the vicinity.

Instead, the directoral debut of Andrew Slater, the former president of Capitol Records, with Dylan the interviewer, focuses intently on a few bands — the Byrds in particular, but also Buffalo Springfield, the Mamas and the Papas, and the Beach Boys, whose Brian Wilson lived there while writing “Pet Sounds.”

The focus was the electrification of folk music, which the Byrds helped pioneer (but who Dylan’s dad had more than a little to do with as well). But the film also stresses the cross-fertilization of ideas among bands, hence the “Echo in the Canyon.”

Because of familial respect, Dylan seems to have reached everyone he wanted to talk about concerning the time, from getting David Crosby to admit he used to be an asshole, to Graham Nash, Steve Stills, and the last surviving member of the Mamas and Papas, Michelle Phillips. And there is royalty, too: Wilson, walking in on a session of “I Just Wasn’t Made for this Time,” but also Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr. (Neil Young never sits down for an interview, but appears to have agreed to enter the studio to add a guitar solo, shown over the credits; he’s also on the soundtrack, due out on BMG May 24, coinciding with the film opening in L.A.).

Dylan says he was interested only in the band aspects of the Canyon, hence no Mitchell, whom everyone would agree would be the canyon’s musical matriarch (and who titled her third album “Ladies of the Canyon”) and there is no music from Jackson Browne, though he is interviewed. Instead, the Rickenbacker rings through so much of the documentary you’d think the guitar maker was an underwriter.

But that influential sound also brings out Tom Petty, who extended its sound into his own music, doing one of his last interviews before his death in 2017.

The live show in D.C. began with a focus on the sturdy songs of the Mamas and the Papas, perhaps because it had the strong vocals of the appealing Jude Castrinos, the former Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes vocalist, whose exuberance for the material, as well as her strong, clear pipes, shine though on film just as they do on stage.

Indeed, for all the Byrds in the film, the only song from that band in the show was an early B-side that’s much more associated with The Turtles, who later made it a hit, “You Showed Me.”

For that and for an even more perplexing choice, the Association ballad “Never My Love,” guest Cat Power was never completely at one with the music; perhaps because “You Showed Me” began in Dylan’s key and not hers, and she didn’t get a full chance to stretch out and make the Association tune her own. (As for choosing that song, Dylan said they were part of the Canyon world as well, but mostly it was about selecting songs that stood out).

One influential Canyon band never mentioned in the doc, Arthur Lee and Love, nonetheless became part of the concert, with a straightforward rendition of “No Matter What You Do.” The Monkees were a big part of Laurel Canyon life as well, though they didn’t get much mention in the movie either, so Dylan led a hard-hitting version of “She.”

The performance of Buffalo Springfield’s “Questions” in the film is the cause for a transatlantic guitar soloing between Clapton and Stills (who can’t quite get his groove. On stage, the standout was guitarist Fernando Perdomo.

And because Dylan said his favorite interview in the film was with someone who wasn’t part of the 60s Laurel Canyon at all, Tom Petty, they closed the show with “The Waiting.”


The setlist for the “Echo in the Canyon” concert Saturday was: 

  • “Dedicated to the One I Love”
  • “Go Where You Wanna Go”
  • “No Matter What You Do”
  • “You Showed Me”
  • “Never My Love”
  • “She”
  • “Questions”
  • “The Waiting”
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