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So Fresh, So Clean 

Wednesday, Jul 24 2002
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Photos by Gregory Bojorquez

OUTKAST, THE ROOTS at Universal Amphitheater, July 19

"I don't think these motherfuckers know who we are," André 3000 shouted out halfway through OutKast's headlining spot last week on the local stop of the Smokin Grooves tour. He was obviously kidding. The Roots had the crowd out of their seats during the preceding set, which kicked off with hard-stomping, uptempo beats -- infused with incisive lyrics that inverted the concept of Phrenology (the name of their upcoming CD) -- then segued into a soul-diva star turn and closed with Rahzel's amazing human-beatbox impression.

But the forest of upraised arms that had been waving gently to the Roots appeared to be struck by a hurricane when OutKast hit the stage. With new wars on the horizon and the stock market plunging, OutKast's partners in rhyme, Big Boi and André 3000, made it clear that everything would be fine -- now that they were here. A moody blue light suffused the room, emphasizing what had previously seemed like throwaway lines in "So Fresh, So Clean": "We are the coolest muthafunkers on the planet/Ma ma, the sky is fallin'/ain't no need to panic." Yet the sunny, sing-along vibe of new hit "The Whole World" was countered by the lurking menace of "Xplosion," as André 3000, shedding his olive-green military jacket, repeatedly intoned "We just can't be amazed/Even if you pull the pin from your hand grenade" in the empty space after the song's kinky harpsichord line faded away. Even the yearning romantic ballad "Ms. Jackson" felt revitalized, angry and impatient. By the time Killer Mike and opener Cee-Lo joined OutKast for an apocalyptic finale of "B.O.B.," the words were flying in all directions like the confetti that rained from above the stage.

More than just a pro- or anti-war song, the 150 bpm "Bombs Over Baghdad" -- with its untethered psychedelic guitar solos, admonishing Greek chorus of backup singers, and litany of orangutans, ghettos, Taco Bell and babies -- pulsed like life itself, implying every heartbeat, every thought, of every molecule between here and Iraq. It was either the end of the world, or a cataclysmic new beginning.

NANCY SINATRA, B-52's at House of Blues, July 15

Looks aren't everything. That doesn't mean Nancy Sinatra isn't still attractive at 62, 'cause she is, it's just that no swanky designer dress and thigh-high silver boots could hide the fact that the original go-go girl wasn't having much fun tonight. Instead of effortless '60s cool, she and her band were laboriously honky-tonk, going for a rough-hewn charm they imagined would please HoB's budget tourists who thought they were in Vegas. And for the most part, it worked. A generous performer, Sinatra even allowed her guitarist a few moments to wank off in the limelight while her Johnny Bravo­esque bohunk of a drummer replete with ten-gallon hat gave the drums a good lickin'. Sinatra has hired some interesting songwriters over the years but never one who could equal 1966's surprise smash hit "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," which, of course, she saved up for the encore. At song's end, she slipped on some Jackie-O sunglasses and a leather jacket, and waltzed offstage with a languorous wave.

When B-52's guitarist Ricky Wilson succumbed to AIDS in 1985, three days after singer and li'l sis Cindy and the rest of the band learned of his condition, the bouffant-rock pioneers saw their fan base suddenly divide into Ricky and post-Ricky contingents. Were you at their Santa Monica Museum of Flying gig six months ago? That was a Ricky crowd, thronged with suburban straight couples nostalgic over their carefree new-wave days. Conversely, tonight was a decidedly post-Ricky assemblage of gay men and lipstick lesbians getting their swerve on. Bringing back song staples they hadn't done for years, like "52 Girls" and "Give Me Back My Man" (the sexiest ballad of the '80s?), the '2s played gobs of well-known and lesser-known singles spanning their 13-year, seven-album career, even indulging oddities from '86 sleeper release Bouncing off the Satellites.

For an over-the-top band, the B-52's don't engage the crowd much, precisely because banter at this level of camp would be redundant. Wilson's gold-braided Brünnhilde wig, Kate Pierson's spangled orange pantsuit and Fred Schneider's Soviet sailor duds were just the right sartorial flair to go with the studio-exact songs and vestigial Southern accents. Saving "Rock Lobster" for last -- like we knew they would -- Wilson/Pierson left us with the finest impersonations of sea creatures in all of pop. Except I don't think jellyfish can make a noise. (Andrew Lentz)

THE KILLS, RADIO VAGO, YOUR ENEMIES FRIENDS, BLUEBIRD at the Troubadour, July 17

"What a fucking refreshing bill this is to play," said Bluebird's spastic-'n'-elastic singer Sam James at the end of the night, just before thanking the openers. "Every band is so different from the others, and I'm so tired of homogeneous bills!" Musically and on the surface that sounded right -- but not so fast, Mr. James. There's always that potluck of neuroses today's bands have in common. For starters, the Kills, another in the recent long line of monosyllabic bands to emerge with their vintage amps set upon defrosting the raw-rock sounds of the late '60s/early '70s. The Kills did a damn good Velvet Underground impression, only with more voltage. What's that? They're from the U.K.? That explains the transatlantic buzz that infiltrated L.A., which they actually lived up to.

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