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Love or Fusion 

Thursday, Jan 23 2003
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McGILL MANRING STEVENS, COSMOSQUAD, BUTTERMILK at Sixteen-Fifty, January 16

Mesa Boogie amps, guitars plucked way up under armpits, tangles of FX stompboxes, rows of audience tech vultures in band T-shirts -- the entire Pageant of Fusion Tradition unfolded in this hi-klass Hollywood barn during a night of voxless power trios, but so did the Future.

Nobody’s told Buttermilk drummer Kofi Baker that he can‘t be as good as his dad, Ginger; his busy but ballsy grooves rolled out like a tsunami big enough to carry the Graf Spee, in furious union with the plunketyplunks of bassist Robertino Pagliari. Burnin’ ex--Megadeth chopster Chris Poland guested, physically contrasting his rock-god slouch against snaky-fast Buttermilk guitarist Bob Robles‘ robot lurch. There were few flashbacks within the blues-bleeding flurries, except when a closing quote from “I Am the Walrus” linked Buttermilk with yellow-matter custard. Good band.

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Fusion can’t go massive unless chicks dig it, which is where Cosmosquad might come in. Not only did guitarist Jeff Kollman sport arena poses and new-wave hair, but he augmented dramatic funkety-crunch compositions with a nothing-wasted burp-gun style and a tone that Olympians might envy. (Overheard in the crowd: “I‘m just gonna go home and break all my fuckin’ gear.”) Hockey-shirted Shane Gaalaas somehow managed to twiddle mind-boggling six-string bass without geek damage. Barry Sparks seemed at first an ordinary rock trapsman, then kept adding flash and kick till by set‘s end (de rigueur snippet: “Third Stone From the Sun”) he was shaking the rafters. He’d been holding back, if you can dig that. These guys are ready.

More from the cool Euro school were Scott McGill (guitar), Michael Manring (bass) and Vic Stevens (drums), who jammed as if alone. McGill‘s squeegly effects, Manring’s alternate-tuned pings and Stevens‘ shifting grooves were subtle and involving enough to detain their devotees past midnight -- they are, after all, the best. It was like a synagogue in Egypt.

KJEHL JOHANSEN BAND, ROTTERS, URINALS, THEY WALK IN LINEat Mr. T’s Bowl, January 19

In 1978, displaying the limited musical materials at their command as Duchampian pseudo-songs (“I‘m a Bug,” “Ack Ack Ack Ack”), Urinals were minimal by both choice and necessity. In 2003, with ex--Ten Foot Faces guitarist Rod Barker replacing founding member Kjehl Johansen (see below), they’re streamlined by experience. Barker‘s no showboater, and hell, three chords are three chords. Tonight’s set was nearly all post-reformation material, some showing the new guy‘s hand (the relatively elaborate “Beautiful Day”). But there’s not an ounce of fat on John Talley-Jones and Kevin Barrett‘s bass and drum parts, and the former can still reduce the notion of a hook to absurdity in one syllable: “Cold!”

Ex-Urinal Johansen has taken his time in resurfacing; tonight marks the new band’s fifth show. As a leader, he‘s generous to the point of self-sacrifice: The best songs from his recent Tower of Isolation disc have the is-it-jaggedis-it-jangly? ambiguity of his later project Trotsky Icepick, but the set also included three bar rockers penned by bassist Tom Hofer, and a Syndicate of Sound cover (“Hey Little Girl”) sung by guitarist Steve Andrews. The band only jelled sporadically, and Johansen’s vocals sounded most at ease on Trotsky‘s all-but-forgotten “Windowpane.” There’s potential here, especially in the guitar interplay with Andrews, but right now Johansen‘s traversing that gray area between extending his legacy and tarnishing it.

In between: I have no problem with the Rotters’ shaggy rhythm section, but when guitaristbirthday boy Phester opens a song with a locked-in, adventurous solo that zips past the Lazy Cowgirls and closes in on Sonny Sharrock, said song deserves better lyrics than “I‘m a weenie machine.” Finally, They Walk the Line opened their set with the kind of all-pedals-glowing guitar whiteout My Bloody Valentine used to end with. Then they stayed there. (Franklin Bruno)

DEVENDRA BANHART, ENTRANCEat the Silverlake Lounge, January 17

Both Devendra Banhart and his opening act, Entrance, played music that fit neatly into the tortured-troubadour tradition that unites Van Morrison, Syd Barrett, Tim Buckley, Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley and Elliott Smith. The less said about Entrance (a.k.a. 21-year-old Guy Blakeslee) the better. He had the outfit right -- b&w striped shirt; purple velvet jacket; I think his shoes were Clark’s -- but a hot outfit and tousled black curls do not a tuneful voice make. His meandering acoustic thrash was intolerable, like nails on a chalkboard or cats having their tails chopped off.

As the bearded, black-haired Banhart removed his brown cloche hat and sat Indian-style on an Oriental rug in the middle of the stage, one feared we were in for more posturing. But obviously he is committed to the wigged-out path: He would retain the cross-legged pose for the rest of his performance; a front row of about 20 audience members did the same. This was but the first sign of his power as a performer; his eccentricities had already charmed us. At 11:30, Banhart took out his guitar, asked for a glass of red wine, closed his eyes and began picking out small acoustic figures. When he opened his mouth, he unleashed a beautiful warble that brought to mind 1) black female blues singers from scratchy old 78s; 2) Ravi Shankar; 3) your best-ever psychedelic experience; 4) the blind-man charms of Jose Feliciano, Andre Bocelli and Ray Charles; and 5) a wizened Chinese scholar yawning as he schooled you in the Tao of folk rock.

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