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Present Perfect 

Thursday, Apr 15 2004
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Photo by Wild Don Lewis

ELECTRELANE, SILVERSUN PICKUPS, TIMONIUM at Spaceland, April 9

This sold-out Friday night began with a whisper, slowly rose to a bounce and finished with a bang. Sounding at turns like Brit shoegazers Ride, or perhaps a less adroit Idaho, openers Timonium offered a glacially paced exercise in sparkling atmospherics, droning bass and clangorous drumming. Sadly, their timid stage presence and between-songs lulls kept them from delivering the full potential of their lovely work — until bassist Tracy Uba took over vocal duties for the final two songs. Once singer-guitarist Adam Hervey stood back and played more aggressively, Timonium finally arrived at the transcendence they’d been chasing.

Essentially a throwback to the indie pop/rock bands of the mid-’90s (à la Poster Children), the Silversun Pickups tossed off an inspired set of bummed-out anthems, each filled with inventive progressions, blustery vocals and subtle, almost angular guitar solos. To the delight of fans, local cellist Tanya Haden sat in, lending the band’s buoyant bash-’n’-pop an air of gravity and elegance.

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From the moment the ladies of Electrelane took the stage, they struck the awe-inspiring pose of a band supremely in command of their vision. Offering not so much as a “hello,” the Brighton four-piece blasted through three of their earliest driving instrumentals, characteristically jaw-dropping the audience with just Farfisa, bass, drums and guitar. However, when the single “On Parade” erupted (fresh from their Steve Albini–produced sophomore album, The Power Out), it was clear that a whole new Electrelane had emerged from the studio. Already masters at appropriating and revising elements of drone pop, minimalist punk and no-wave noise, they’ve added heavy doses of gospel, folk and doo-wop via the standout vocals of keyboardist/guitarist Verity Susman. Returning for a well-deserved encore, they boldly covered Springsteen and Roxy Music classics. Perfect.

A PERFECT CIRCLE, THE MARS VOLTA at the Long Beach Arena, April 7

Tonight the prog wet dream burst its banks, with two arch-exponents of that unexpectedly revived genre — local luminaries A Perfect Circle and the Mars Volta — filling a cavernous arena despite this being a rescheduled date.

The Mars Volta take artsy adventurism to extremes rarely witnessed at this level: Into a foundation of Fugazi’s stuttering arrangements, they inject nuevo-jazz, drum & bass and pirouetting webs of mauve psych-rock. Within these haunted-house acoustics, Cedric Zavala’s shimmering soprano adopts an underwater quality, as if leaking from the aquarium next door. Seldom pausing for breath, the Mars Volta lay down a blanket of bewildering, loop-inspired beats, landmarked with convulsions of irreverent, spastic-Santana guitar and video-arcade keyboard noodlations. The spidery Zavala animates it all with his jujitsu stop/go James Brown shuffle, demented Daltrey mike-swinging, and shamanistic, maracas-wielding crouch: captivating, even at arena range.

A Perfect Circle, though similarly enigmatic, offer a more measured and structured approach. Amid a twinkling enchanted-forest stage set, they unload great washes of traumatized 6/8 solitude and reflection over a spine of bleak tribalism, Billy Howerdel’s chiming-siren guitar frostings the only light in their metallic tunnel. Vocalist Maynard James Keenan, performing on a riser toward the rear of the stage, delivers mournful melodies from his patented geriatric-skiing-chimp posture. Yet the oft-misunderstood Keenan also lends an incongruous humor to the proceedings, encouraging the assembled to yell “shit fuck” at his command (which, worryingly, they do). The current APC lineup — with Jeordie White’s menacing bass lines, James Iha’s effected six-string treatments and über-drummer Josh Freese’s articulate and impassioned patterns — is more coherent than the original incarnation, and it says a great deal about the strength of their material that they can hold an audience with a headlining “greatest hits” set after just two albums. (Paul Rogers)

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THE VINES at the Wiltern LG, April 8

In rock & roll performance, there’s a blurry line between “raw” and “crap” — a divide that Vines vocalist Craig Nicholls is uncomfortably straddling. His band explore their often boisterous Beatles fixation convincingly on their big-budget albums — in fact, the new Winning Days is more consistent than their lopsided 2002 debut (most of which paled next to its amphetamine-addictive single, “Get Free”) — but in concert they’re like watching cement set, only more embarrassing.

A fundamental problem is that Nicholls’ voice, pleasant enough for the first couple of songs, soon degenerates into a Dylanesque homeless-dude drawl, his part-time proximity to pitch neither arty nor endearing, while his attempts at falsetto resemble roadkill’s death yelp. Hyped as a magnetic and intriguing front man, Nicholls is anything but: Repeatedly throwing his guitar down (a tired gesture three decades ago) does not constitute charisma. And his bandmates are about as on-the-edge as a wet weekend in Wal-Mart, static figures visibly embarrassed by Nicholls’ empty antics. In fact, in an ironic role reversal, drummer Hamish Rosser emulates a drum machine’s imagination-free beats for much of the set.

Credit where it’s due: “Get Free” is an irresistible, reckless blood rush, but that song’s a Vines anomaly, as they otherwise shamelessly indulge their Lennon-McCartney fantasy: “She’s Got Something To Say to Me” is a slavish Fab Four pastiche, and even Winning Days’ artwork is an homage/rip-off. Live, they seem incapable of re-creating the intricacies of their recordings, leaving Nicholls to put up a smoke screen of self-conscious tantrums to deflect attention from a stage sound that’s retardo-Radiohead at best.

From the get-go, the audience was shrinking tonight, and punters left in packs before the encore. The Vines have already stretched their career well beyond their merits, and these emperors’ new clothes are wearing transparently thin. (Paul Rogers)

TIJUANA NO at Jai Alai Palace, Tijuana, March 13, and at the Knitting Factory, March 14

It wouldn’t have been a real Tijuana No experience — as well as an appropriate tribute to the late T.N. singer-prankster-gadfly Luis Güereña — if there hadn’t been a bit of chaos at his hometown memorial. The concert, which had been moved to the jai alai arena earlier that day, started several hours behind schedule, after the promoters tracked down a generator for the stage lights. Nonetheless, the mood was festive rather than impatient or funereal as a couple thousand kids in black T-shirts lined up along Avenida Revolución to celebrate the life of the man who first smuggled punk rock south of the border. You could hear his impact in the other groups’ set lists, with even the sunny pop band Ohtli tackling a Sex Pistols tune, and L.A.’s fearsome hard-rock/rap collective Aztlán Underground slamming home a sinister remake of the Dead Kennedys’ “California Über Alles” via new Schwarzenegger-specific lyrics. In fact, Güereña’s absence was more of a palpable presence, with his leftist, rebellious idealism linking the otherwise disparate openers: Miseria Humana (propulsive, guttural grindcore), Dubus Sound System (idyllic reggae trances), Mercado Negro (Clash-like funk-reggae), L.A.’s Calavera (feverishly souped-up rockabilly) and a reunion of Mexican veteranos Solución Mortal (grungy and foreboding).

The pit really began to spin out of control once Tijuana No launched into the instrumental “Cowboys” and the hardcore rant “Conscience Call,” as guitarist Jorge Jimenez vented his grief through a psychedelic flurry of bitterly stinging note-stabs. Halfway through the planned set, the panicked authorities cut the lights and most of the power, but bassist Jorge Velasquez, drummer Alex Zuñiga and an army of percussionists improvised a wild “Sympathy for the Devil”–type samba-funk jam, with John Pantle’s forlorn trombone squalling above the murk like a spontaneous New Orleans funeral parade. Then the crowd rushed the stage and chanted the lyrics, soccer hooligan–style, to the band’s most beloved song, “Pobre de Ti,” until they were joined by T.N.’s clearly delighted Ceci Bastida.

The following afternoon’s Knitting Factory set was less anarchic, but just as thrilling, as Tijuana No’s third singer, Teca Garcia, pierced the Andean highland fog with his haunting flute intro to the epic “Transgresores de la Ley,” before Velasquez’s seesawing bass lurched into Bastida’s exotic, Persian-pop keyboard waltz. Garcia and Bastida did a brief slow dance together during a bluesy intro to the last song, Bastida’s winsome remake of the Clash’s “Spanish Bombs,” which — with Güereña’s death, and coming just days after the Spanish train-station bombings — was freighted with several new layers of poignancy. Under the band’s green EZLN Zapatista banner, revolution was still in the air, and Luis Güereña seemed more alive than ever. (Falling James)

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