The Defiant Ones 

Wednesday, Oct 23 2002

BOB DYLAN at the Wiltern, October 17

Here's a sonofagun who virtually rose from the dead just a few years ago, and ever since has performed as if his life depended on it, which it does. Beyond that, in some way our own lives depend on it. Because if not for a few like Bob Dylan, we could lose touch with the vital abstract nouns that kept flashing across our minds' eyes as he blasted through over two hours of no-flab roots rock: integrity, unity, passion, commitment. DEFIANCE. Whenever Dylan sings a song it's new and now, so when he made the 40-year-old "Masters of War" into a cotton-field blues, quietly spitting, "I want you to know I can see through your lies," every fist in the house was clenched. We need that.

If at times in the past Dylan seemed like an aloof god, now he's willing to rank himself among a community of prophets all in service to a higher purpose of reckless poetry and shackle-busting abandon. He bit into no less than three songs by the dying Warren Zevon, as if to tell us not to forget, once that excitable boy has gone to glory, what crazed intelligence can do. He knows the value of pure energy: If the Rolling Stones, when they're in town a week from now, can pump half as much power and punch into "Brown Sugar" as Dylan did, we might once again have to start thinking about them as more than an act. And though no one would expect he'd cover anything by Neil Young, who was once considered his primary imitator, his take on "Old Man" had us strobing intensely between eras and identities.

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By pounding simple chords (sometimes the wrong ones) on an electric piano through much of the show, Dylan reminded us that he too began as an imitator -- copying Little Richard before Woody Guthrie. And the tutti-frutti energy of early rock dominated the mood, from the crunchy cook of the opening "Seeing the Real You at Last" to the nasty blues groove of "Honest With Me" to the raging pre-encore rockabilly jam on "Summer Days." But the acoustic ballads "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" were what really raised emotions, even as Dylan typically jammed their words and melodies into unfamiliar spaces, making them sound like rushed late-night phone calls -- which, come to think of it, is how we often communicate our deepest thoughts.

Delivering their thrust through the excellent sound system of the remodeled and much more partyable Wiltern, the band rocked together like the road-seasoned friends they've become over the last several years, with guitarists Charlie Sexton and Larry Campbell brilliantly firing licks off each other, and drummer David Kemper and bassist Tony Garnier throwing down a landslide of rhythm. Only on the surreal 1920 shuffles from "Love and Theft," as Dylan sang stuff like "I'm on my last go-round," did they sound fractured and weird -- and that was perfectly appropriate.

SING-SING at the Troubadour, October 16

I first saw Lush at 1992's Lollapalooza, Irvine Meadows. I had seen a few of their videos, and I was a big fan of "De-Luxe" -- I even dyed my hair red like Miki Berenyi's. However, I was impressed by the rich chorus-pedal sound of Miki's boss 12-string Rickenbacker live and how beautifully the voices floated out from the faraway stage. "That singer chick is rad," I said to my goth friend Heather. "Yeah, Miki's bitchen," Heather commented back. Then she pointed toward the sprightly guitarist to the side. "But Emma's the one who writes all the good songs."

Emma still writes the good songs. And even though Sing-Sing's other half, singer Lisa O'Neil, announced early on in the show, "This is not the return of shoegazer, this is pop!," Emma proceeded to fill the room with lovely, cascading chords o' shimmer on "You Don't Know" and "I'll Be" from their recent domestic release The Joy of Sing-Sing. The new songs sported a pleasingly Cardigans-ish spunk and included harmonicas and trumpets, sounding like cuddly sea chanteys. Otherwise the band and Emma and Lisa, clad in white, with clouds of bubbles showering them occasionally, played mostly tame, 4AD-tinged, up-tempo ear candy, further sugarcoated by Lisa's pillbox hat and kewpie-doll pouts 'n' wiggles.

Yet for Emma Anderson, the sugar seems to work. She's ventured into an unfamiliar, virulent land of samplers, Moogs and power chords and has come out sounding clear, focused and perky. But she is still the sprightly guitarist to the side, and needs a strong front woman -- whom she's found in Lisa O'Neil. O'Neil was successful at winning over an initially quiet and fidgety audience, then she even had the English courtesy to compliment us: "You're a very good-looking crowd, I think the best we've had." (Wendy Gilmartin)

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