Miki Berenyi Trio, Tolhurst x Budgie at Fonda Theatre, May 29, 2024

Miki Berenyi Trio live at Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles on May 29, 2024 (Photo: Liz Ohanesian)
This was the least crappy cel phone pic of Miki Berenyi Trio I took from the back of the room at Fonda Theatre.

Lol Tolhurst x Budgie were a couple songs into their set opening for Miki Berenyi Trio on Wednesday night when I noticed something strange. The sea of people in front of me at the Fonda Theatre was dark. There was not a single cel phone glowing above their heads. It was a sight I hadn’t seen since the year before the iPhone was released and it was jarring. Did I miss an announcement or something? Was security going to kick me out if I pulled out my phone?

Not long after that, I saw one phone shoot up in the air, then two, then none, then one again. The phone situation ebbed and flowed like that throughout most of the energetic set from the two drummers. That is, at least, until Lol stepped out from behind his drum kit and walked up to a synth. A familiar sound filled the room and it only took a second or two for The Cure fans in the room (likely the bulk of the crowd) to realize this was “A Forest” and start recording. 

Tolhurst was a member of The Cure from the band’s inception the late 1980s, first as a drummer, then as keyboardist. Although it’s been more than 30 years since he was part of that band, he played on all the classic albums from Three Imaginary Boys through Disintegration. Budgie was the drummer for Siouxsie and the Banshees from Kaleidoscope until the band split, plus he was half of The Creatures. Last year, they released an album with musician and producer Jacknife Lee called Los Angeles. It’s a killer album featuring guest vocals from James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem), Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream) and Isaac Brock (Modest Mouse). So, it’s basically a classic alternative/indie superalbum. 

At the show, Tolhurst and Budgie played drums live while the vocals were pre-recorded. That sounds bizarre on paper and it actually is strange to not see a singer on stage, nearly as strange as seeing a crowd with no cel phones in the air. However, think about this for a second. Singers perform to backing tracks all the time. That’s the default performance style for solo artists in small clubs and it’s not unusual in larger spaces either. Shouldn’t the drummers have their time in the spotlight?  

Singer and guitarist Miki Berenyi is best known as part of Lush, the 1990s U.K. indie band that bridged together the original shoegaze era and the Britpop one. Berenyi is also the author of a fantastic memoir called Fingers Crossed that finally came out in the U.S. last month. 

Click here to read my interview with Miki Berenyi for Southern California News Group. (Gift link)

Lush reunited briefly in the mid-‘10s. Following that, Berenyi formed the band Piroshka, who have released two albums. Her current project is Miki Berenyi Trio. In the studio, the trio is rounded out by Kevin “Moose” McKillop and Oliver Cherer. On stage, Mick Conroy, of Modern English and Piroshka, filled in for Moose. Last night’s show was the first of their U.S. tour, which you should see if you have the opportunity. 

The trio haven’t released much music yet. They dropped a cover of the Lush song “Light from a Dead Star” in March and the original song, “Vertigo,” earlier this month. So the set was a mix of new material with Piroshka and Lush songs. 

The first thing I noticed was that, in contrast to Lol Tolhurst and Budgie, there was no live drummer. Later on during the show, a friend of mine, another DJ, mentioned the same thing. Now I’m curious if this was intentional or happenstance.

The second thing that struck me about this show was the lighting. At times, the band appeared to be swathed in a rainbow. At other moments, when blue and fuchsia dominated the stage, it looked like a majestic, desert twilight. It was lighting that complemented the music perfectly, which one would think is a given at a concert, but it’s not. 

The flow was fantastic. Miki Berenyi Trio were able to play through a set of songs from different projects, including songs that date back some 30+ years, in a way that was cohesive and engaging. The highlight for me was “Ladykillers,” which they played near the end of the set. That might sound like an obvious choice, since “Ladykillers” was the closest Lush had to a hit in the U.S., but it’s a song that means a lot to me. 

Back at the end of the ‘90s, when I was in college and going to Cafe Bleu here in L.A. on Thursday nights, there were multiple Lush songs that got play, but “Ladykillers” was the one that would get me going on the dance floor. Later, when I DJed at Bang! in the early ‘00s, I played the song often. For me, and maybe for most (all?) of the ladies on the dance floor, it was a song that was instantly relatable. You don’t have to go out all that often to have a run-in with a dude who thinks he’s far more charming than he actually is. When you’re in your late teens/early 20s and going out nearly every night of the week, rolling your eyes at wannabe Casanovas is just a part of your life. 

When I interviewed Berenyi for Southern California News Group recently, I talked to her about the song, since it’s in her memoir. My favorite quote from that part of the interview is when she talked about the “grief” she got over the song and said, “Rather than an anti-male song, I would argue that it’s actually a female bonding song.” That made so much sense to me, given how this song always hit in a way that brought the girls out to the dance floor. 

So, I danced and then looked around and noticed how overwhelmingly male the crowd appeared, at least from my vantage point. Then I thought respect to Berenyi for playing “Ladykillers” to a room full of guys. So far, that’s been the coolest music moment I’ve witnessed this year. 

Liz O. is an L.A.-based writer and DJ. Read her recently published work and check out her upcoming gigs.