|Photos by Wild Don Lewis|
BOB DYLAN, MERLE HAGGARD & THE STRANGERS
at the Pantages, March 21
In the middle of Bob Dylans Monday show last week (the first of a five-night stand), heavy red curtains parted, stars bloomed on a dark backdrop, and the band played Moonlight (from Dylans 2001 Love and Theft ) accompanied by Dylans firecracker fiddler, Elana Fremerman, in a knee-length dress. Jesus Christ, this guys a soft touch and, as demonstrated by his recent book, much more effective when he seems to let his guard down a bit, allowing us to observe our seduction.
In any case, the songs ragtimey feel and nocturnal lyrics brought to mind a young Hoagy Carmichael who once sat on a wall at night, thunderstruck with the melody to Stardust. Thank God Dylan wasnt overpowered by his band on this song, and we could hear the lyrics in all their dangerous beauty. I wont nag about Dylans voice or occasionally hilarious phrasing at moments during The Times They Are A-Changin, his staccato delivery felt like gangsta rap. It was even okay that he played keyboards the entire time kind of a nice change, actually. My problem with most of the show was that I couldnt understand a goddamn word, a frustrating experience comparable to seeing a Picasso exhibit with dark sunglasses on. The band, while really, really good precise, aggressive, sexy, fun and versatile was just too loud. However, they did bring fresh energy to diverse arrangements Donnie Herron plays pedal steel like a frustrated metalhead; Highway 61 became a reggae number; Summer Days showed off Dylans lindy-hop potential. Obviously, Judas has never been afraid of tainting his own music, but the overall sound here a glossy amalgam of country, jazz, blues, folk and rock & roll felt polished, even cold at times. Fortunately, Dylans harmonica cut through the mix, and during numerous solos especially his beautiful-ugly turn on Just Like a Woman gave a peek into a fully realized inner world: that emotional wellspring that knows no age, where playfulness, subtlety, romanticism, outrage and willful dissonance live beneath words. He closed with two covers, sort of a nod to Hendrixs version of All Along the Watchtower and Sing Me Back Home by opener Merle Haggard. Haggards set was entertaining as hell or troubling: full of false starts and stage banter, forgotten lyrics and a libertarian streak, just one beat away from rock & roll. As Haggard confessed, he and Willie have smoked so much, they cant remember a damn thing.
ALICIA KEYS, JOHN LEGEND
at Kodak Theater, March 16
Some singer-pianists are born to be legendary; this night we saw two. The first Legend was John, his casually comfortable attire setting the mood as he crooned, Relax, let me move you. He got a bit naughty on She Dont Have To Know, a song about cheating. Then he told the story of a call from Snoop Dogg, complete with Snoop impersonation: Nephew, you gotta write a song about changing; Legends response was the soulful I Can Change. When he sat down alone and hit the silky piano intro to Ordinary People, the women screamed in unison. We were lifted.
On a Cotton Clubstyle set, Alicia Keys looked like Billie Holiday in white heels, white pants, and a white top that showed more flesh than fabric and feathers. The hot, hot Heartburn had her dancing and shaking her behind like a Polaroid before she played a nice medley of If I Was Your Woman and Walk On By. I usually dont sing this song, she said, and delivered the R&B-flavored relationship statement Wake Up from under a white fedora. Its time, its definitely time time, she meant, for the sultry Diary: Your secrets are safe with me. Keys turned into Gypsy Rose Lee glittery headgear, silky white dress, long matching gloves for Fallin, and then got the couples slow-dancing with her Baby, baby, baby on You Dont Know My Name. During If I Aint Got You, Keys and piano rose high into the air above the crowd, all white, like a cloud. Entertainment or dream?
at the Troubadour, March 19
MAXIMO PARK, GOLDIE LOOKIN CHAIN
at Cinespace, March 22
LOUIS XIV, THE DEATHRAY DAVIES
at the Troubadour, March 23
In South by Southwest season, L.A. is swarmed with acts who use that Austin schmooze-athon as an excuse for a mini-tour.
Graham Coxon has outgrown his ex-Blur guitarist tag over his five solo albums, which have gotten increasingly accessible and include some audience-acknowledged minor classics. The further Coxon gets from Blur, the closer he gets to the pop instincts that he brought to that band: While his early lone forays were perverse reactions to Blurs sing-along stylings, his latest, Happiness in Magazines, is a comfortably shabby songwriting manifesto. Coxons laddish, sub-Cockney yap and his slightly stooping demeanor an odd offspring of Rivers Cuomo, Paul Weller and Michael Caine add a lovingly lived-in visage to his eccentric little chapter in Britpops story.
Cinespaces tiny stage hosted the weeks most incongruous pairing, Maximo Park and Goldie Lookin Chain. In terms of songwriting charisma, Maximo are the most vivid of the current flock of U.K. guitar bands; their mélange of the Smiths, Buzzcocks and the Undertones takes melody and melancholy on irreverent twists into poignant splendor. Front man Paul Smith, soldiering through a fever, channels mucho Morrissey into his sensitive-young-man-adrift-in-a-grim-northern-town shtick, and both he and keysman Lukas Wooller have the Ian Curtis electro-shock shuffle nailed. But Maximos sonic poetry outweighs their rather self-conscious, besuited presentation. From unfashionable Newport, South Wales, Goldie Lookin Chain already cover-story stars back in Blighty are to rap what the Darkness are to classic rock: a semiparody. Yet their Ali-G take on wannabe Brit gangstas strangely resonates with the very Chav hordes it ridicules. With their leisure suits, headbands and faux-bling, these pimp-pretenders are much funnier if you can picture them in sleepy Newport. Out of context, GLC are eight Welsh blokes jumping around to backing tracks.
Dallas the Deathray Davies, possibly Americas hardest-working band, seem to play more L.A. shows than some local outfits. At the Troubadour, aside from a couple of theremin?-spiked whack-attacks, the Rays seldom overwhelm; instead youre seduced by their understated charm like gradually realizing youre falling for that quiet, interesting guy from math class. Channeling 60s Brit-invasion sensibilities through the Replacements ragged pop, their new The Kick and the Snare is perhaps their definitive statement.
Louis XIVs buzz sold the Troub out weeks in advance, and their swaggering arena potential is obvious. Their tunes are musclebound heartbreakers expertly executed, but too T-Rex?-tinted, too faux-Anglo-affected, to be credible. Worthy, but not worthy of the dribbling hype.
For a day of Idol-atry
see A Considerable Town.