By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
THE NOTWIST, THEMSELVES at the Knitting Factory, April 19
From Berkeley to Bavaria, there's a bit of Anticon in all of us. Tonight, the nation's most bugged-out and multifaceted hip-hop collective showed its game face: Themselves, a splinter of a splinter group featuring Anticon programmer/mixer Subtle and bespectacled brainiac Dose One, ringing the rafters with floor-filling beats that, sad to say, were wasted on trainspotting Knit-wits. As though fueled by the crowd's quizzical looks, Dose pushed his luck with a poetry-slam monologue that dripped with coffeehouse solipsism, plowing through his freestyle diary in spite of churlish boos from above.
It's hard to nail down exactly what the Notwist are onto, other than being the first digital folkies from Germany to be taken seriously. Imagine the Beta Band on an island with only Can and Neu records, or that American roots was now holing up in Munich, or that there was such a thing as the Black Forest Sylphs Orkestra. To see the Bavarian quartet play from their recent Neon Golden — a hash of twangy plucking, Farfisa clouds, Clinic-y jamtronica and Macintosh plug-ins that chatter like crickets — is to see a band that never wants the rain to let up. Toward the end of the set and throughout the encore, however, the band nostalgically defaulted to their long-disavowed arena-metal mode, whipping their hair around and flying over the frets like it was 1986. The band's German professionalism and chops out the wazoo notwithstanding, it's singer Markus Acher's scruffy, soft-spoken mewlings that are the band's center, a trickling font of plain-spoken feeling that quivers like the world's biggest nerve ending. (Andrew Lentz)
THE DECEMBERISTS at the Troubadour, April 18
On their debut full-length, Cutouts and Castaways, the appeal of Portland's Decemberists is mostly due to front man and sole songwriter Colin Meloy, who displays the vocal mannerisms of They Might Be Giants' John Flansburgh, the vocabulary of early Natalie Merchant ("pantaloon," "indolent," "dram") and enough melodic melancholy to satisfy anyone impatient for Belle & Sebastian's next disc. A crowd impatient for headliner Mason Jennings is another matter, though; early on, the Decemberists looked like a sacrifice to whatever minor demon controls the fact of unsuitable support acts. First bad sign: their cutesy stage setup, which included a pedal steel hung with a pirate flag.
Wisely, Meloy underplayed the eccentricities, keeping banter to an explanatory minimum. ("This one's about California . . . you'll relate to it.") His backing quartet are ringers, by shambling indie-pop standards, especially drummer Rachel Blumberg, who rocked her child-scaled kit about as hard as anyone in an embroidered cardigan could. The playing was solid, but the pacing was iffy: An attempt to turn "The Youth & Beauty Brigade" into a noise jam fizzled, and 20 minutes of elaborately structured, uniformly midtempo songs blurred together before the chunky "Odalisque," powered by Jenny Conlee's organ pads, brought the band's dynamic possibilities into focus.
It was the final three songs that turned the crowd their way. Conlee switched to accordion for album highlights "A Cautionary Song" and "Legionnaire," which share outlandish lyrical conceits and a bouncy, sober-Pogues vibe. Last, and best: the unreleased "I Was Meant for the Stage," a majestic, Morriseyesque stardom fantasy ("I was meant for applause/I was meant for the shouting") that contrasted smartly with Meloy's just-like-you demeanor. The ending, a sloppy Big Rock Climax that had him on his back, whacking at his acoustic with both feet, would have seemed hack from many bands; from this well-behaved crew, it was downright bracing. (Franklin Bruno)
ZWAN, THE CHILDREN'S HOUR at the Wiltern Theater, April 18
It's unfair to begrudge your favorite artists a little slice of happiness, but let's face it, what made Smashing Pumpkins so compelling wasn't Billy Corgan singing "Today is the greatest day I've ever known" in an endless loop, but the juxtaposition of such optimistic sentiments alongside darker statements like "The world is a vampire." Unfortunately, with his new band Zwan, it seems Corgan has finally found a permanent place in the sun and left much of his original fan base in the cold.
You have to admire the artistic integrity of any superstar willing to relinquish a multiplatinum moniker and begin anew, but Zwan's lineup — which retained recently sober Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin but dumped quarrelsome bassist D'Arcy and guitarist James Iha — really seems like an effort to purge the Pumpkins of elements the famously dictatorial Corgan found insubordinate. Whatever the case, at the Wiltern it was obvious that Zwan had incubated a cheerful and tension-free environment on songs like "Declarations of Faith," "Baby, Let's Rock!" and "Sol," the latter of which celebrated the virtues of "a little sunshine and sympathy." And though Corgan's jazz-metal overdrive guitar solos have lost none of their bite, the whiny vocal snarl that gave the Pumpkins its fangs was in short supply. In the end, Zwan sounded like the perfect sonic accompaniment to Corgan's Old Navy ensemble of striped rugby shirt and brown cargo pants: comfortable, conventional and dull.
Swedish trio the Children's Hour proved far too aptly named, playing a set of dreary songs with all the professionalism you might expect from a junior high talent show. And though their chipper, goofy demeanor earned them a "get out of jail free" card from the audience, their "Fly Lesbian Seagull" folk had about as much emotional appeal as a saltine cracker. (Liam Gowing)