Last week, the Argentine singer-songwriter Juana Molina played an invite-only show at the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax — “an intimate concert for industry and press.” Molina lived in Los Angeles for a spell in the late ’90s and has something of a following here. (She has appeared on KCRW and used to be a regular at the Hotel Café.) This was a celebration, though. Her third album, Segundo, has just received its first domestic release, on the Domino label. On first blush, it seemed like the show would be a disaster — 150 people RSVP’d, 30 people showed up. It was a bit too intimate.
Before Molina began her career as a singer-songwriter, however, she was a star comedian on Argentine TV, and those skills came in handy. She quickly broke the ice, asking the largely empty room, “Is it because it is the Silent Movie Theater that you are so quiet?” Frankly, she didn’t need the jokes. Molina’s music is a fine complement to silence. Her voice is a closely miked coo, familiar to fans of Brazilian styles such as bossa nova and tropicalia. Her songs are intimacy defined, spinning tight, whispered harmonies over dizzying structures reminiscent of Erik Satie. Synthetic sounds provided an intellectual, modern edge. Keyboard player Alejandro Franov’s wobbly synth squelches would make Sun Ra proud; the song “Misterio Uruguayo” was executed over a distant bed of crickets. The audience of three dozen was rapt.
Molina’s songs are more than Latin alternative music; they are music for a new world — far more adventurous than South American contemporaries like Bebel Gilberto and closer in spirit to the kind of genre-mash experiments coming out of Chicago’s post-rock scene. “This is a song from my second record,” Molina said midway through her set. “It is called ‘Rara,’ which means . . .” She paused for a moment to consider where she was going with the thought. “Whatever, I don’t know what it means!” The music
was far beyond language.
JOÃO GILBERTO, LUCIANA SOUZA
at the Hollywood Bowl, July 23
An evening of deep disappointment, though it started well. Singer Luciana Souza and guitarist Romero Lubambo displayed exquisite rapport as they tripped deftly through a short opening program of sambas, with the remarkably nimble Lubambo matching Souza’s airy scatting, often note for note. Then, as dusk deepened into darkness and the last victims of the endless will-call line found their seats, João Gilberto emerged onto the Bowl’s stage for the first time since 1964, clad in a navy-blue suit and looking a bit like a befuddled CEO walking into an impromptu board meeting amid thunderous applause. Settling into his chair, he adjusted the microphones with the assistance of a harried sound technician and quietly eased into song.
Murmuring lyrics into the audience’s ear like the most intimate lover, his soft, rhythmic guitar inseparably twined with his voice, the 63-year-old bossa nova pioneer cast an immediate spell. Moving into a sublimely sensual reading of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave,” his voice dropped to a whisper, and the crowd responded with a hush that bordered on the absolute. It was fragile magic, and it didn’t last.
Following his next number, a stunningly delicate samba, scattered shouts of “louder” burst from the sold-out venue’s upper stands, where the audience was apparently not spellbound but straining to hear. A pause ensued, fiddling soundmen emerged, and for all intents and purposes the concert ended there. Escalating delays and futile adjustments accompanied almost every subsequent tune, with Gilberto’s voice increasingly overmiked and his guitar succumbing completely to the onslaught. Bottles clattered, chairs scraped, and soon goodbyes could be heard over the muffled strains of “Manha de Carnaval,” after which a clearly exasperated Gilberto announced his imminent departure if the sound was not finally corrected.
He played one more song, Gershwin’s
“’S Wonderful.” Sweetly charming at first, it took on a disconcerting, nearly obsessive cast as Gilberto repeated its lyrics over and over, as if they might somehow balm the night’s battered soul. Then, with a curt bow, he was gone. (Brandt Reiter)
SQUAREPUSHER, LUKE VIBERT
at the Hollywood Athletic Club, July 25
If there’s a problem electronicats have, it’s nailing down just what that wily limey Luke Vibert is. Drum & bass? Downtempo? Turntable prankster? The answer: all of these and none, as seen in full effect during his generous three-hour set last Friday. Vibert — a.k.a. Wagon Christ a.k.a. Plug — cut a righteous swath across his own discographies, did some live (i.e., non-DJ) edits and, in the last half-hour, got into mash-up mode, crisscrossing unlikely pop songs as well as classics like Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” and Digital Underground’s “Humpty Dance” (the latter tune is now officially verboten).