It was a show at the Derby in Los Feliz that first attracted the folks at Santa Monica nightclub Harvelle’s to the Toledo Show. They contacted Toledo, the mastermind of this jazz-funk cabaret project, and grabbed his attention. The artist remembered the club from his time living in Venice and recalled that “it looked kind of sinister.” He did, however, have his reservations. The club wanted him to play Sundays, a notoriously slow night in club land, in a part of town far removed from the party hustle of Hollywood and West Hollywood. That arrangement would mean almost certain death for most bands.
Toledo, though, was ready for a change. New Cats (band members) and Dames (dancers) were replacing the old and, with that, the band’s sound would naturally shift. In the midst of this turnover, Toledo opted to take a chance, and now he and his band have been the Sunday night residents at Harvelle’s for nearly five years, consistently bringing in crowds that range between 200 and 300 people.
“It worked out in a really odd way,” he says, “and now the place that I dreaded has become the funnest place to play.”
Life, in general, has worked out in odd ways for Toledo, who currently has a new album, television show, and clothing line in the works. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he began his career as a dancer and choreographer, working with the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., Diana Ross, and George Michael. His segue into music was seemingly unconnected. In the 1990s, Toledo had taken to reading poetry amongst underground circles that included “the cats from Fishbone” and then-undiscovered soul singer Macy Gray. He soon caught the attention of musician/producer Danny Saber (Black Grape, Busta Rhymes), who asked him to lay down some tracks. Those demos ended up in the hands of dance music label Moonshine, who offered Toledo a deal before he even had a band, let alone a name for his project. Although not a commercial success, Fishnets & Cigarettes drew favorable reviews in the form of comparisons to Tom Waits and ultimately kick-started Toledo’s new vocation.
With seven albums and several tours across the U.S. and abroad under its belt, the Toledo Show has become a cult sensation with its weekly gigs at Harvelle’s drawing more than just Westside locals. People have been known to fly in from as far away as Australia to check out one of these performances.
“We have a really cool following of people that come to the shows, but become part of the shows,” Toledo says.
He goes on to describe the scene from the stage, watching as the people in the pit of the club perform alongside the band, and then looking out to Harvelle’s farthest reaches to see how those performances change in the distance.
“It’s a trip that every single week, this insane cast of characters come,” he adds. “It’s mind-boggling to me.”
Over the years, Toledo has met couples on dates that have gone on to marry. He has since played a handful of weddings at the request of his fans. He has met others who have told him that the music “saved” them and regulars who say that Sundays at Harvelle’s are akin to church. Amongst Toledo’s most heartwarming moments, though, was when he was told by soldiers that his music helped them get through the war in Iraq.
Toledo seems humbled when he recalls those experiences. “It’s really cool that your music can have that kind of impact on people,” he says, “because you don’t set out to do that. You just set out to do what’s inside your head and your heart.”
The Toledo Show, Sunday nights at 9:30 p.m. at Harvelle’s, 1432 4th St., 310.395.1676.