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Get on It or Else 

Thursday, Feb 12 2004
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THE FIERY FURNACES at the Silverlake Lounge, February 2

Packed despite the season’s heaviest rain, the Fiery Furnaces’ local debut had something of the get-on-the-train-now feel of the White Stripes’ first shows here. Singer Eleanor Friedberger is already gaining a rep for “withering intensity” — that’s wrong, though she did stare down a fan who attempted to watch the show seated. She’s simply an engaged performer, the kind that years of diffident indie-rockers have trained us not to expect. If anything, her multi-instrumentalist brother Matthew cut the stranger figure: expressionless, with a standard-issue Williamsburg fringe cut, but glancing back at bassist Toshi Yano and Dan D’Oca to indicate actual concern with how the music was coming off.

The Friedbergers have real presence; they’ve also got real songs. They wisely front-loaded the set with the sharpest, most blues-based numbers from their Gallowsbird’s Bark. “Crystal Clear” and “I’m Gonna Run” are a hair precious on record, with their glancing references to off-track betting and the Millennium Dome, but here, in jittery two-guitar arrangements, they read as observant slices of boho exasperation. (Are these songs really “the blues”? No. Are Dylan’s?) The pace slackened when Matthew switched to electric piano midset; the unreleased “Chris Michaels,” on which the siblings traded verses, seemed aimless on first hearing.

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But even this valley had its peaks, notably another new song concerning an abduction fantasy, which morphed into a streamlined cover of the oft-recorded “I Wish I Was Single Again,” a public-domain chestnut of indeterminate authorship (“He beat me and mauled me/And threatened to scald me”). The encore was among the more uncomfortable in memory: There was no notable ovation, but no one moved an inch. So the pair returned, bandless, for three numbers in the guitar/vocal format of their first New York shows. After the somber and decidedly unprecious “Rub-Alcohol Blues,” they stopped — then the crowd wanted more.

DAVID BOWIE at the Wiltern LG, February 7

At some point, one thing had to run through the mind of everyone lucky enough to catch the still-thin white duke’s current Reality Tour: The man is hotter-looking than ever. We even overheard a couple of goo-goo-eyed lasses wondering if he’d had any work done — this is L.A., after all. Dressed in fitted jeans, worn-in Chuck Taylors and a big belt that hung suggestively over his groin, Bowie was sprightly and sexy, doing his signature leg bounce during upbeat numbers such as the opening “Rebel, Rebel” and the midset midcareer fave “Blue Jean.” More understated classics like “The Man Who Sold the World” and “Ashes to Ashes” balanced out the set, showing the rock god’s sultry and sophisticated vocals haven’t dulled, even on the high notes. The new material also fared well, delivered by a band that included old mates Mike Garson (keyboards) and Earl Slick (guitar) and punctuated by giant video projections filled with arty animation and trippy visuals — only a hokey tribute to the New Jersey kiddie show Uncle Floyd felt out of place.

Of course, it was his catalog of hits that we were all waiting for, and highlights included an exquisitely funked-out “Fame,” a soulfully slick version of “Under Pressure” (with bassist Gail Ann Dorsey taking over Freddie Mercury’s vocal parts), and a faithfully dramatic version of “Heroes” that got even the upstairs-balcony VIP-ers off their asses. Those who craved a little Stardust weren’t disappointed either: “Suffragette City,” “Five Years” and finally the Ziggy anthem rounded out the encore with nothing less than the glam-bam fervor hardcore fans expect. (Lina Lecaro)

COHEED & CAMBRIA at Spaceland, January 27

Spaceland is the clubhouse for a motley microculture who ache for ’80s adolescence: too-tight T-shirts and anoraks abound, studiously neglected hair creeping into Leif Garrett licks. So the appearance of geeks-of-the-week Coheed & Cambria — an unlikely East Coast quartet straight out of a Xena convention — is met by a gawking capacity crowd, eager to absorb their lovingly prepared, anti-fashion progressive ponderings. Like a touring Tolkien tale, C&C deal in epic-concept compositions that resonate with a generation soaked in role-playing Xbox opiates. Theirs are restless, rambling fables, earnestly delivered and scribbled with Iron Maiden–style harmonized twin-guitar between bouts of screamo clout.

Yet C&C teach this old prog new tricks, lending a soulful and politely aggressive post-punk passion (personified by bassist Michael Todd’s bellowed buttressing) to a famously sterile genre. Front man Claudio Sanchez, spiky Explorer guitar strapped high, could be the Melvins’ Buzz Osborne’s talented little brother, a mass of mind-of-its-own nearly-Fro hair and stocky intensity who faithfully delivers the dog-deafening, squeezed-nads melodic meanderings of Coheed’s lauded sophomore collection, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3. Opening with the ominous Stone’enge strains of the title track, Coheed are met with whoops of elated recognition. Unfortunately, they never quite match that multi-section master class in dork-metal; though they’re consistently engaging, the buzz fizzles as their short set matures. Yes, Coheed & Cambria resemble a reanimated Rush, though they bend the template with an unpretentious warmth and subplots of trim new-wave chugging. And while Geddy Lee’s ludicrous helium timbre suits his birdy visage, similarly vibratoed warblings from Sanchez’s stout silhouette conjure an incongruous, gentle-giant charm.

Coheed & Cambria are both rampant revenge of the nerds (they also sold out two nights at the Troubadour) and, inadvertently, punk rock personified: artistically honest and blind to conformist compromise. And guess what? We like it. (Paul Rogers)

Reach the writer at fjbruno@mac.com

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