VANS WARPED TOUR at Cal State Long Beach, July 11
A worthwhile experiment would be to blindfold an attendee of the 03 Vans Warped Tour and walk the test subject from stage to stage during performances: He or she might well think it was the same band playing. Whether youre talking M.E.S.T. or the Unseen, Slick Shoes or Matchbox Romance, Simple Plan or Never Heard of It, too many of these pop-punkers were formulaic to the point of being interchangeable.
Thats not to say the trek down south didnt pay off. Long Islands Glassjaw were as explosive as ever. Elder statesmen Pennywise gave 110 percent, especially on Fuck Authority: Lets see those middle fingers up in the air, screamed singer Jim Lindberg. In the past, Warped has made token stabs at hip-hop, but it went all out this year, netting Talib Kweli. Nostalgic for the old country? Even though Dropkick Murphys made the usual show of Celtic pride, the a cappella free verse of Authority Zero singer Jason DeVore spawned a ceilidh dance that made Dropkick look like wannabe Fenians. No surprise, Rancid was still the main event in terms of sweaty bodies per square foot, especially on hits like Ruby Soho, regardless of third-wave skas quaintness. Without a doubt, the heaviest, most technically accomplished, ass-kickingly pleasantest surprise was Avenged Sevenfold could it be that imposing singer M. Shadows thought this was Ozzfest?
Youd think CSLBs spacious campus would have been a pastoral idyll compared to the urban isolation of USC, the host of last years festival. Dream on. The athletic field was as sardine-packed as a high school hallway after the bell rings, and what with the Brian and Teal stages a mere 20 yards apart, facing the same direction, bands performances at times bled into each other despite efforts to stagger them. Still, many of the days gems could be found underneath the tiny tents on the fringes, like Frances Munshy. Their funk-metal may have been dated, but the ensuing pit was très énergique.
THE ETERNALS, BROKEBACK, CALIFONE at the Knitting Factory, July 7
High anxiety, its in up my days, runs the self-censoring refrain of one of the Eternals new songs; indie-rock audiences are doing the same for MC/keyboardist Damon Locks nights. The sparse Sunday-evening crowd could have been at a chess match, despite the below-the-neck potential of the trios dub (and even dancehall) rhythms. A few numbers employed programmed backing, but the deepest grooves were the sparsest, with bassist Wayne Montana and Tortoise drummer John Machine Herndon laying down a muscular, inescapable one. Locks own couplet-heavy rhyming style is dated, by current rap standards; even so, he shouldnt have been the only one dancing.
Originally a solo-guitar outlet for Doug McCombs (also of Tortoise), Brokeback has grown into something more orchestrated and ambitious, though still focused on the leaders heavily tremeloed guitar. His present bands musicianship is flawless, and a rearrangement of The Wilson Avenue Bridge at the Chicago River, 1953 was mesmerizing, with McCombs draping his Morricone-isms over percussive keyboards, splash cymbal and Noel Kuppersmiths bowed double bass. But other performances flaunted their avant credentials too eagerly; drummer Tim Mulvenna often seemed less concerned with serving the music than with proving he could do both John Convertino and Han Bennink.
Closing out this Thrill Jockey road show, Califones double-length set was like the Tennessee Valley before and after FDR first rural, then electrified. The common elements: Tim Rutilis bluesy slur (often lost in the mix) and the two-drummer back-line of Joe Adamik and Ben Massarella. Extending even quieter songs from Quicksand/Cradlesnakes into percussive workouts, the band allowed more grit into their gears than most of their Chicago brethren. Still, the warm response accorded their art-damaged rewrites of Southern field hollers made one wonder why the same 40 people had seemed bamboozled by the presence of an actual African-American (Locks) on the same stage two hours earlier. (Franklin Bruno)
JUANES at the Wiltern, July 10
When I came to Los Angeles about four or five years ago, no one knew me or my music, Colombian rockero Juanes reminisced one hour into his set at the Wiltern. There was no need to finish the thought. Proof of his triumph over obscurity swooned before him this muggy evening a sold-out throng that had also filled every aisle the previous two nights to ensure Juanes didnt feel lonely during his three-day residency in the city.
The adoration seemed to have corrupted Juanes handsome head by tours end, however, as he spent most of tonights concert feigning the antics of arena-rock gods. Hed skip across the stage to scrape off jagged notes from his Colombian-flag-colored guitar for whichever section of the crowd cheered loudest. After that lost its novelty, Juanes would then join in circle-jerk solos with two other axmen, their faces portraits in masturbatory excess. On the cheesily pulsing Es por Ti, Juanes crouched to let supple ladies caress his holy thighs as he crooned about how femininity was the pacemaker supporting his fluttering heart. He even did a scissors-kick hop complete with power chord!