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
VIC CHESNUTT, M. WARD
at the Troubadour, May 2
Vic Chesnutt is no more interested in being a cult artist than in being treated as “the wheelchair-bound singer-songwriter.” But his fans have a cult artist’s reverence; during a lengthy technical delay, their collective silence bordered on the unnerving. Their patience paid off on the first number, an acoustic “Where Were You” from 1991’s West of Rome, mournfully co-whispered with opener M. Ward and full of the casual intensity that is Chesnutt’s stock-in-trade.
The set that followed was solid but disappointingly staid, drawn single-mindedly from the recent Silver Lake at the expense of his rich back catalog. Chesnutt’s current touring band, anchored by Lambchop/Bruces guitarist Curtiss Pernice, is sensitive unto invisibility. In these hands, certain album tracks caught fire, notably “Fa-La-La,” a deeply subversive jangler about not wanting to come home from the hospital. But “Stay Inside,” among others, seemed too closely tethered to its studio rendering, grimly anthemic four-part harmonies and all. Any spontaneity was saved for the encore, with Chesnutt and bassist Sam Mixon switching to keyboards for a lengthy, unfamiliar waltz, followed by a solo, nakedly soulful “Stupid Preoccupations,” a vociferously requested oldie that revealed what had gone before as a compromise, if not quite an outright lie.
Earlier, Chesnutt’s drummer, Ballard Lesemann, joined Ward for a ballad-pastiche original (“What do you do when your true love leaves?”), but otherwise Ward’s own set was an all-acoustic, half-instrumental scramble through 80-plus years of (mostly) American folk and pop. In the mix: liberal doses of open-tuned Faheyism, Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain,” the same Satchmo-associated standard he performed last time he passed through, fragments of “Rhapsody in Blue” and “The Entertainer,” and, yes, Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” His harmonica and wish-I-were-older growl don’t yet match his commanding guitar work, but Ward’s breadth of musical vision is obviously heartfelt and refreshingly egoless.
MULL HISTORICAL SOCIETY
at Largo, April 29
Mull Historical Society is Scottish singer-songwriter-producer Colin MacIntyre. In the U.K. he’s a gentle phenomenon, critically lauded and making frequent chart visits since his 2000 debut, Loss. So making his L.A. bow — a semiacoustic performance in support of his new collection Us — before all of 35 folks in a candlelit Largo could’ve been a challenge. Yet, even in sunny California, MacIntyre’s songs exude a Christmassy fireside nostalgia well-suited to this living-room setting.
On disc, MacIntyre is lo-fi yet multilayered, feathering his cozy compositions from diverse sources — from screeching seagulls to Sergeant Pepper’s horns — like a beachcombing Butch Vig. Though he left the tiny island of Mull years ago, growing up in such an insular and close-to-nature community has cast a shadow of wistful, outsider atmosphere over MacIntyre’s work. While his recordings hint at the experimentalism of the Beta Band and the Flaming Lips, these stripped-down live shows (accompanied only by acoustic guitar and keyboards) expose MacIntyre’s striding McCartney melodies and individualist standpoint, epitomized by the breakthrough single “Barcode Bypass.”
Opener “The Final Arrears” sets the tone for tonight’s set: purposeful 12-string strumming and charmingly accented if occasionally pitchy vocals from the seated MacIntyre, sprinkled with chiming, music-box keyboard arpeggios. Sadly, while his recorded arrangements are imagination incarnate, these whimsical two-man versions seem underthought and repeat this treatment into numbness. Yet the strength of the material is obvious: Amid déjà vu chord progressions appear yearning turns of musical phrase and curve-ball harmonies, distancing this from open-mic mundanity. MacIntyre’s encore tackling of Radiohead’s “Motion Picture Soundtrack” jarringly bursts the comforting embrace, the languid, druggy haze phrasing a welcome perversity after such wholesome fare. Mull Historical Society has something unique to say and an unusually cultured way of saying it, but tonight compromised the conversation for the sake of convenience. (Paul Rogers)
THE DIRTY THREE
at the Henry Fonda Theater, April 25
The Dirty Three’s Warren Ellis may be the only violinist in history to have a silver silhouette of a curvy chick stickered to the back of his ax in the style of a trucker’s mud flap. “This is a song for all the girls with broken hearts in the world,” he said at the start of the group’s set, dedicating it to the memory of Nina Simone. That’s about as succinct as his introductions got. Each song opened with a romantic shaggy-dog story that went a little like “This is a song about when as much darkness descends on you as in the summer of ’69 when Jim Morrison . . . This is about knowing when you drive west that you’ll go into the ocean eventually, and so you get out your credit cards and rent the best car money can buy and you get some sandwiches and you put them in the car, and then you put a brick on the gas pedal and point it east and south so you can go as far as you possibly can. This is a song called ‘1,000 Miles.’” As the de facto leader of this instrumental three-piece — augmented on their current tour by Low’s Zak Salley on bass — Ellis can get amazingly verbose.