As far as Los Angeles goes, the Troubadour is hands-down my favorite venue to go see live music. It’s a lot like New York’s now-defunct CBGB, but much, much earthier. I’ve taken in bands at almost every spot the town has to offer and can honestly say that Doug Weston’s pint-size club is the best of the bunch.
Maybe that’s why the new documentary, Troubadours: The Rise of The Singer-Songwriter, directed by Morgan Neville is so mesmerizing. The film, which debuted at Sundance in January, chronicles the club’s guiding hand in helping then-unknown troubadours James Taylor, Carole King, David Crosby, Jackson Browne and Elton John.
As far as the construction of the film, Troubadours pieces together rare archival footage, live performances and up-close-and-personal interviews with many involved, from a banjo-playing Steve Martin to Texas music legend Kris Kristofferson. With the help of numerous quirky camera tricks and retro flash animation, Neville tells this Los Angeles fairytale in a truly lyrical manner. Neville also had access to mountains of never-before-seen clips and images fans are sure to salivate over. Seeing an extremely green Taylor doing one of his first live performances of “Fire and Rain” is definitely a standout moment.
In addition to the amazing tales of how these iconic musicians came to be, Troubadours chronicles the transition from the political music of the ’60s to a new era of artists who mainly produced material about their innermost emotions with the help of a stripped-down sound. If you’re a fan of the folk-pop movement that dominated the early-’70s, Troubadours is like a long-awaited family reunion. Conversely, if you’ve always hated these soft-rockers, Neville’s film may be grating. But the moments that are guaranteed to unite one and all are the juicy showbiz tales from icons Cheech & Chong. (Spoiler Alert: They involve drugs.)
Overall, the stars of Troubadours are Taylor and King and the music they experienced together over the years at the now-iconic venue. The film does get a tad cheesy at moments with a few overly polished renditions of old classics by the folk pair at the club’s 50th anniversary. But Troubadours does deliver what’s advertised.
I’m just waiting for a documentary about the punk and heavy metal movement that helped reopen and reinvigorate the venue back in the ’70s and ’80s. Not only did Taylor play his first solo gig at the Troubadour, so did Guns N’ Roses.