HIDDEN CAMERAS, HEY WILLPOWER
at the Echo, February 11
Newbie Frisco dance-popsters Hey Willpower are living proof that we will freak it to anything as long as you dont call it electroclash even if thats precisely what it is. Bespectacled keyboardist/programmer Tomo, in a Star Treklooking top, activated preprogrammed jingles while singer Will (formerly of Imperial Teen) dropped cosmic karaoke, and Hey Willpower got their swerve on as if coming out of the closet was as painful as a day at the spa. "I want to be your windowpane," gushed Will, flirting coyly with Tomo. And "Dont our dancers look hot?" he inquired re his solid-gold steppers, who were getting primed to bust Le Tigrelike choreography. "Dont you want to fuck them?" Oh, behave, Will!
When the Echos habitués began hushing one another after Torontos Hidden Cameras took the stage, it meant the jejeune shimmy-fest was over and an important art-pop band had arrived. After an inauspiciously solemn beginning, lead Camera Joel Gibb became perhaps the only indie-rocker in history to request "more viola in the monitor." But it was a telling glimpse: These technically sophisticated chamber-pop experimenters need premium acoustics to pull off their fragile fusion of hopped-up hillbilly spirituals and twee-pop fizz. For the most part, the Cams replicated the clarity and precision of their CDs; even the xylophone pings and choruses of d-doo-doo-doo-DOO-DOO-doos pierced through the sustained orch-punk crescendos.
Like many metropolitan Canadian artists, Hidden Cameras exude a subtle superiority to Americans and especially to plastic Angelenos. "Do people work for the weekend in L.A.?" Gibb cracked, as if he were in working-class Winnipeg. Nevertheless, Gibbs repeated urgings of "Lets see you all dance" pointed to a desire to maintain the crunky hedonism, and he even kicked it up by unleashing a Chris Isaakworthy yodel at the conclusion of a double-encore set. Its moments like these that bring about cease-fires.
at the Troubadour, February 10
If it were 1969, Liverpools Zutons could have played Woodstock and flourished. They have that same warmth, that sincerity, that wide-eyed spark and skilled musicianship redolent of the 60s before Altamont purportedly ripped everything into sneering, violent bits. Call it a hippie vibe, or something better: a joyful, communal shout of rock & roll.
Playing to a sold-out house and Mr. Morrissey himself (demure in a balcony), the Zutons gloriously showed that spot-on harmonies, groovy melodies and memorable guitar riffs are not dead. Launching straight into the twangy intro "Zuton Fever," the band barely paused between songs, jumping seamlessly between swampy folk and high-energy garage rock. Singer-guitarist David McCabes clear, deep voice sounded even better than on record; in fact, the bands overall mix from sexy lead guitarist Boyan Chowdhurys treble-seeking crescendos to saxophonist Abi Hardings center-stage bursts showcased one of the best Troubadour sound jobs in recent memory.
Especially amazing was Harding, a shimmying, long-haired lynx who sang along to almost every song, in between using her sax as an uncompromising third guitar. Bassist Russell Pritchard grounded slower acoustic numbers such as "Confusion" while pounding out sweet, heavy lines in feistier songs such as "Pressure Point" and the anthemic "You Will, You Wont." He synchronized with drummer Sean Payne perfectly; even their Mars Volta Afros shook in unison. As the crowd ecstatically clapped in time, the Zutons dove into "Dont Ever Think (Too Much)," a Top 20 U.K. hit with a lingering I-told-you-so chorus.
No hipster jadedness or brooding theatrics dampened the Zutons forward drive. After ending with a 10-minute Mediterranean garage medley, they bowed in line arms wrapped around one another like the Creation might have at some point in their careers, or maybe even like the Beatles.
at House of Blues, February 9
The Navigators and Escalades on Sunset Boulevard slowed to a crawl to check out the blaring giant screen deployed to advertise this sold-out show. American Express Jam Sessions went way out: blue carpet, lights, cameras, plasma-TV action.
First up were the beneficiaries of the Jam Sessions music-education programs, some Santa Monica elementary-school kids playing funky jazz. Then, wearing a Christmasy sweater, John Legend took the stage and sat down to his weapon, the piano. A nice dresser and an even better singer, he killed on selections from his debut album, Get Lifted. "This song is about cheating," he said of "She Dont Have To Know," blurting out afterward, "But she usually finds out" and ripping into "#1." The sweating really started when he got up and sang his smash "Used To Love U"; accompanying himself beautifully on piano on "Ordinary People," he really showed why his stage name is Legend.
Kanye West came out lookin like Marvin Gaye in beanie and Adidas warm-up jacket. With his signature "Jesus piece" hanging from his neck, he got the crowd going and the women shaking that thing with "The New Workout Plan" before duetting with John Legend on Commons "Baby Im Selfish" and getting freaky on "Spaceship." Common and Talib Kweli made an appearance on "Get Em High"; Kweli, in green Army hat and matching jacket, blew on his hit "Just To Get By." Everyone sang Commons "The Light": "I will be by your side/There is a light that shines." Just as the surprises seemed over, out came Grammy winner John Mayer with his Fender guitar as West kicked into "All Falls Down"; West mixed his DJ A-track with some old R&B including Al Green on "Slow Jamz." The encore was "Jesus Walks." "God show me the way," West sang angelically, and the diverse crowd danced like they were in heaven.
CALARTS NEW CENTURY PLAYERS
at REDCAT, February 4
Modern string-quartet music can be as fierce, ominous and devilish as todays news. Tonight, a 1970 George Crumb exorcism inspired by Vietnam lit the historical flamethrower, and new works by Yusef Lateef and John Zorn burned down the village.
The opening Bismilah dashed wildly across Dr. Lateefs enormous range: unsettled, whirling rhythms; coy swooning; tart, semiclassical stops and starts; a fury of fugues. It really seemed like four unrelated works, but with these kinds of all-saturating harmonies low and dark, or high and scary it hardly mattered. An African-robed Lateef looked pleased when he rose from the audience to acknowledge the response to his string-quartet debut, and pleased he shouldve been.
Zorns Necronomicon raised more hair than a horror movie. The youngish though experienced stringfolk (Mark Menzies appeared in all three composers segments) surmounted the challenges of a treacherous score that had them switching madly from bee-wing bowing to dense pizzicato episodes, gorgeous sustained chords and superdelicate fingerings. Who other than Zorn writes for extreme high notes like this? Who else could get a quartet sawing so hard that bow fibers were flying everywhere and the clouds of rosin dust rising aloft made the players look as if theyd caught fire? Yet the feel was often beautiful, sensual and somehow not tense. Zorn took his bows from the rear. He exists!
By contrast, Crumbs Black Angels came off as quaint as the Geneva Accords, though Zorn wouldve been the first to acknowledge his influence. The hee-haw plucking and bowing, the unsubtle dynamic contrasts, the gimmicky chanting, the auxiliary gongs and goblets it never quite cohered. Of course, Crumb was the only composer who didnt have a chance to drill the corps, and that makes a difference.