L.A. Weekly 39, July 19-25 2002

Kristian Hoffman and Friends, at the Derby, July 10

You know the way you worry that brilliant studio pop won't come off live? No cause for concern, pally; Kristian Hoffman loaded most of his scintillating new Kristian Hoffman & onto the Derby's decadent stage, and actually supercharged it. The tuneslinger (Mumps, Swinging Madisons, solo projects, etc.) was unambiguously received by shoulder-to-shoulder song vultures, who nearly stomped the brass foot rail off the oaken bar in response to the kinds of giddy melodies, bountiful arrangements and throbbing rhythms that have rarely surfaced since pop's adolescence.

Hoffman stuck to the concept of the album, conscripting a series of friends and past collaborators to trade vocal lines with him as he banged keyboards. A Garbo-garbed Carolyn Edwards applied her sensitively cutting soprano both to lead vocals (opening with a true high on the wistful "Get It Right This Time") and to backups. Hoffman dedicated "Anybody But You" to the late Lance Loud, who'd first sung it with the Mumps and whose mom, Pat, was in attendance; John Easdale did the cynical lyric full justice. Kristi Callan outsang the angels on the epic "Scarecrow," while Pierre Smith cranked its godlike guitar-solo coda. Abby Travis won the prize for cleavage and complementary vocal husk, climbing atop the parlor-grand piano for the old-timey "God, If Any, Only Knows." Paul Zone duetted on a technofied (with nods to Mama Cass) "Series of Yous." Micheal Quercio popped the ceiling off with "Just In Time." Ann Magnuson, draped in Olympian gauze, windmilled a tiny harp on "Sex In Heaven." And there was a ravaging rock-out on the Mumps' "Crocodile Tears." Not every singer looked comfortable - it's not exactly a natural situation - but every one delivered.

Hoffman himself displayed exceptional pipes, warbling operatically one minute, soaked in Phil Ochs folk the next. And his band - Joseph Berardi, Dave Bongiovanni, Ernesto Garcia and Smith - was a dynamic wonder. Congratulations, Mr. Hoffman. And happy birthday.

- Greg Burk

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