I have often remarked that, as the music capital of the USA, Los Angeles attracts talent from not only around the country, but from around the world – and often the artists who come here bring with them global experiences and influence that make the Southern California music mix such a rich tapestry. Wednesday night at Hollywood’s renowned showcase club, the Hotel Café, a major new thread was added to that tapestry – Athena, (AKA Athena Andreadis) the Anglo-Greek singer, actress, poetry and prose author who spans two and now three continents.
Born in London of Greek parents, but raised in Greece with its own rich musical history, she moved back to the UK at 18 and began racking up awards for music, poetry and prose and then earned a degree in business administration. None of that mattered when she took the stage in relaxed denim short shorts and a beige sleeveless top, beamed a luminescent smile at the standing room crowd and delivered a performance worthy of Mt Olympus.
The 11-song set – all new songs likely destined to her first US-produced album now in process – were performed with a new all-star band comprising AdamLevy on guitar (Norah Jones), DeronJohnson on piano (Miles Davis), MichaelJerome (Richard Thompson) on drums and JonathanFlaugher (Ryan Adams) on bass. Every song was jewel, from the pop rock happiness flowing from the opening song “You Bring Me Luck” to the equally pop but more introspective closing tune “Everybody Knows My Face.”
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Along with the pop energy, Athena took us on thrill ride that went from heavy emotion in “All of You” , accompanied only by Johnson’s exquisite piano, to the determined “Stronger” flowing with beats from guitarist Adam Levy, to the ultimate Southern California song “Ready for the Sun”. But for me the best moment was not when she was standing at the mic or jumping and swirling around the stage or even when she was catching the eyes of audience members with her 1000-watt smile and lithe dancing body, it was when she sat down at the piano and crooned “I Don’t Know How to Say Goodbye” like warm honey with a broken heart. The room quieted, attention focused and we all understood in our gut what the breathy-voiced lyrics meant deep down.
A tell-tale of her prodigious talent was the face of her guitarist, Adam Levy. As guitarist for Norah Jones, Tracy Chapman, Sex Mob and others, Levy is one of the best jazz guitarists around and he knows talent; he is not easily impressed. The twinkle in his eyes, the smiles that flashed between Athena and Levy, and his ease with the music and her voice spoke volumes. She is beyond a pro. Athena is a talent whose music and lyrics are 5-star professional and whose performance transcends the notes on paper.
But Athena was much more than emotionally transcendent. She turned on the fun with “Autopilot” as the band cranked along and Flaugher came in with a whistle. When the song ended she beamed at the audience and told us that she couldn’t get over how good LA smells, referring to the night-blooming jasmine that perfumes many neighborhoods in this previously smoggy city. That was a great segway to “Where Wild Flowers Grow” delivered in her intimate ballad voice that carries an undertone of electricity, like a tiny Taser applied to your emotional gut – not enough to hurt, but enough to feel.
As she neared the end of the set, Athena raised the joy quotient with her ebullient “Don’t Forget to Sing”, a crowd pleaser (and great advice for life) and rolled into an up-tempo finale “Everybody Knows My Face”, a chorus hook perfectly designed for top 40 radio and audience sing along.
Athena checks all the boxes for success – first-class song writing, great audience connection, stunning beauty, trained voice, top talent team. But she adds a critical and personal ingredient to this mix - an intuitive touch for music that affects people, that makes them feel, that makes them happy – and makes them hit repeat button. Athena’s stay in LA may only be temporary – just long enough to produce a new album. But I have lost count of the artists who came here “just for a while” years ago, so who knows, we may see her jewel added to the city’s musical crown. In the meantime, it is enough that a Greek goddess of song is here with musical gifts for us all.
Patrick O’Heffernan. Host, Music FridayLive!