- The Washington Times - Friday, August 8, 2008

Despite its misleading name, the Hotel Cafe is neither a hotel nor a traditional cafe. “It’s this underground, smoky place - almost like a jazz club,” explains Meiko, who cut her teeth on the Cafe’s stage in downtown Hollywood.

Since moving to Los Angeles at the age of 18, the Georgia-born songwriter has come to view the Hotel Cafe as a home base. It was there that she secured one of her earliest jobs in Los Angeles, working as a waitress during the venue’s nightly concerts. Inspired by the songs that helped orchestrate her work, Meiko redoubled her focus on creating original music. Her songs showed promise, even if her waitressing skills did not.

“I would just stand there, awed by the music,” she says of her former job, “and forget I was supposed to be serving people drinks.”

Despite the negligence, Meiko received a promotion and became the Cafe’s bartender. Visiting musicians often would ask her to abandon her post and clamber onstage for a duet, which helped raise Meiko’s local profile. Before long, she had amassed a number of personal songs that paired her alto vocals with piano and finger-plucked guitar.

Rather than wait for a record label’s support, Meiko took an independent approach to her music.

A self-titled album arrived in 2007, packaged and released at Meiko’s own expense. Two songs were cherry-picked for use in the fourth season of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” and Meiko soon saw her popularity skyrocket on iTunes, where her album topped the folk charts. This time, the record labels weren’t so silent.

“I’ve been an independent artist for so long,” says Meiko, who signed a recording deal in June with MySpace Records. “It’s different, but really nice, to have people helping me out now.”

For the time being, not much will change in Meiko’s world. She will continue to tour the country, toting along a batch of catchy, acoustic-based tunes about love and heartache. However, she also will release her album once again - this time with new artwork, new recordings and the backing of an influential record label.

Additionally, Meiko recently shot a music video for “Boys With Girlfriends,” a telltale sign that she won’t be so inconspicuous for much longer.

Those who can’t attend Meiko’s performance Sunday night at Jammin’ Java are encouraged to catch her return to the East Coast as part of the Hotel Cafe Tour. “It’s like summer camp,” she says of the tour, which shuttles multiple songwriters from town to town in a single bus.

Meiko shares a bill with Joe Purdy, Jay Nash and Chris Seefried at Jammin’ Java on Sunday. Tickets are $12 in advance, and music begins at 8 p.m.

The Beat Goes On

In early 1964, four British musicians crossed the Atlantic and arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Beatlemania officially began that afternoon, with several thousand fans showing up to herald the band’s arrival. Later that week, approximately half of the American population tuned in to “The Ed Sullivan Show” to watch the Beatles perform.

It’s been nearly four decades since the Beatles disbanded, but a new Fab Four is making its way across America. Meet the Silver Beats, a Japanese “tribute band” of four musicians who look, play and sing like their Liverpudlian predecessors.

The band debuted in 2002 at Tokyo’s Cavern Club, a venue guitarist Hajime Kubo describes as “place where Beatles fans gather.” The Silver Beats spent several years in the club’s employ, playing nightly concerts exclusively dedicated to the Beatles’ catalog. The band recently struck out for American shores, where it shared concerts with the Killers before embarking on its own headlining tour.

“[Americans] express their feelings more openly than Japanese fans do,” Mr. Kubo says when asked about his experience playing with the Killers. The Silver Beats received multiple standing ovations during the tour, an honor rarely bestowed on opening bands.

Mr. Kubo models himself after George Harrison; Eric Mabuchi is the group’s resident John Lennon. The resemblance is uncanny, from Mr. Mabuchi’s shaggy haircut to his pitch-perfect vocals.

“My voice is very similar to Lennon’s in tone,” he says, alternately referring to his position in the Silver Beats as “my fate” and “my destiny.”

While some may scoff at the Silver Beats for being a kitschy imitation of an inimitable band, Mr. Mabuchi’s intentions are open and pure. He believes in the Beatles’ music and wants to replicate it as closely as possible.

Few fans have experienced the Beatles’ music in a live setting. The Silver Beats provide a unique opportunity to hear George Harrison’s guitar chords ring through a crowded venue or to feel Ringo Starr’s drums thud inside the audience’s chests. Whether they’re commanding stages in Japan or the United States, the Silver Beats are a testament to the Beatles’ ability to transcend racial and geographic boundaries.

The Silver Beats will play the Virgin Mobile Festival in Baltimore on Saturday. Following their afternoon set, the Beats will serve as the backing band for headliner Chuck Berry. Tickets are $175 for a two-day pass and $97.50 for Saturday-only admission.

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