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His Grand Majistery 

Thursday, Aug 7 2003
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photo by wild don lewis

MOMUS at Spaceland, August 1

Momus battles with murderous glitches on laptop and theremin while “London 1888” dissolves into a poetry reading. Levels are checked, and he leans into the wind of the slower rhythms, remonstrating with the audience like an incessantly put-upon statue in the town square. “All the little friends of Henry Darger/Living large but dreaming larger” heralds the brilliance of “Pierrot Lunaire,” and, even when his words are vexed by feedback, he approaches the mic stand with the passion of a prizefighter devouring the punching bag.

His experiments betray an undercurrent he sums up thus: “This is a song about being valued for qualities for which one is not very proud” (“Scottish Lips”). He dances like an ape amid his congealing accusations of love and affection, his skittering breakdances and delicate dandyisms not a hindrance but instead symptomatic of an individual adult human being discovering that his “limits” are in fact illusory. Thanking a fan for pornographic DVDs, he launches into “My Sperm Is Not Your Enemy,” which segues fittingly into “Beowulf (I Am Deformed),” a heroic meditation delivered from beneath his windbreaker. The husk of a broken relationship peels away with “Miss X, An Ex-Lover,” and the software warps of his wry observations dedicated to Barry White on “Born To Be Adored” whip his falsetto into epiphanies.

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“I’m sorry I fucked your best friend, Lucretia Borgia,” he says, and the pipe-and-jig prowls in electronic mode before a bracing ode to computer-language coders harks musically to the brave souls aboard the HMS Old Spice. Soloing on cracked keyboard now with a powerful conviction before the many encores, he catches the audience hook, line, sinker, rod, reel and the fuckin’ boat to boot.

TED LEO & THE PHARMACISTS, THE ORANGES BAND at the Troubadour, July 29

For all the arena-scale oomph of Ted Leo’s songs — two of his live staples are structured around the rhythmic hook of “The Boys Are Back in Town” — the man himself is hardly your standard-issue showman. Tonight, he answered audience comments with jokes (and apologies) too lame to reproduce, while repeatedly striking the next number’s opening chord, as if afraid he’d forget. These hesitations drained off some momentum, but they’re Leo’s brand of community building, and a link to his D.C. hardcore roots. When the microphone shocked him early on, he borrowed a fan’s sock rather than having the soundman fix the problem, as if he’d be more at home playing an all-ages basement show with a life-threatening PA.

Ultimately, both leader and band placed their confidence where it counts — in the music. The Pharmacists lineup featured on 2002’s Hearts of Oak, now beefed up by guitarist Drew O’Doherty, attacked hard-pop intricacies (“The High Party”) and one-chord groovers (the title track) with equal ahead-of-the-beat fury, and brought older material, iffy on record, up to the level of the new album. Leo’s syllable-packed lyrics (and Dorien Garry’s underused keyboards) may have been lost in the souped-up Celtic breakdown that capped “Timorous Me,” but the double-lead barrage served notice that this band is out of the basement for good, sock or no sock.

Four-fifths of Baltimore’s Oranges Band shared the stage-presence-challenged demeanor of collegiate indie-guys everywhere, but Dan Black’s choppy ax handling displayed enough nervous energy for the lot. The band’s dynamic is sharp and clean, hacking influences from Chuck Berry to Wire into new shapes via dropped beats, extra measures and shifting three-guitar textures. Smartly, they closed with an extended version of their best song to date: “OK Apartment,” a self-interrupting power-pop paean to the resonant wonders of an open G chord, the first that most guitarists learn. (Franklin Bruno)

EL GRAN SILENCIO at House of Blues, July 29

El Gran Silencio assumed the House of Blues stage Tuesday night with a public lashing emanating from the venue’s speakers — the taped scorns that start their latest effort, Super Riddim Internacional, Vol. I, and an ironic acknowledgment to the many fools who froth that El Gran Silencio is too messy an act to warrant serious attention. These were to be the only digressing digs tonight, though, as El Gran Silencio delved into the most rollicking two hours Los Angeles will ever experience outside a Sunday-morning gospel revival.

Beats from across the globe rushed from El Gran Silencio’s well-worn instruments with the escalating speed of a Randy Johnson fastball — the trilingual ragamuffin “Sound System Municipal” to begin, a bit of Algerian ululating with “El Espejo,” and steady streams of percussion and horn ruminations from across the Western Hemisphere. Brothers Tony and Cano Hernández traded off high-pitched rap spurts with the expertise of b-boys but also tweaked their voices with a nice and nasal norteño twang. The stuttering churn of cumbia and vallenato grounded each track with an ass-motivating foundation. But the soul of the show was undoubtedly Campa Valdez, he of the amazing accordion. The chubby chavo fingered his squeezebox’s buttons while alternately jumping and standing sentry, extending his accordion to its limits, then crushing it like an aluminum can, launching an unrelenting wave of trills.

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