By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
This looked like a "How To Play Jazz" set — student contingent in the audience, emphasis on history and fundamentals. Dr. Art Davis has played bass with Coltrane, for god’s sake; you could hardly ask for a deeper teacher. But the whole thing never quite swung.
Which doesn’t mean a load of wizardry wasn’t poppin’. The mood was blanketed by the recent death of another great bassist, Percy Heath, whose brother Albert ("Tootie") manned the traps this night. Tootie proved the life of the wake anyway, setting off dynamic bombs, whipping up a tornado of polyrhythms on a Davis composition inspired by New Orleans funerals, and laying down both an African-rooted hands-to-skins solo and a celestially elevating cymbal work-up. Reedman Doug Webb, though he blew with polish and gusto on tenor, soprano, clarinet and even stritch (the alto hybrid invented by Rahsaan Roland Kirk), generated only Bic-level spark. Pianist Donald Vega was granted the solo spotlight for a wondrous rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s "Lush Life" — you’ll never hear its complex structure more coherently fanned out, or its revelatory harmonies more sensitively illuminated. Elsewhere, his rather bland improvisations contrasted with a spare, smooth comping style sprinkled with nice little chunks of tart pineapple.
Smiling like the full moon, Davis acted as genial host and focused educator, sticking mostly to the simplest of walking bass patterns and soloing with an ear toward organization rather than expression. One thing he can’t teach is that tone — as oaky, unveneered and true as a Pilgrim coffin. Was he all there on this occasion? Judging by the way he consulted his timepiece during one bandmate’s solo, probably not.
Wish I could’ve hung around; the second set is always better.
BRENDAN BENSON at the Troubadour, May 4.
When Brendan Benson, during his brief late-’90s stay in Los Angeles, tried to launch the same sort of cleverly direct power pop that had the kids at the Troubadour Wednesday night literally screaming in adoration, it fell largely on deaf, dumb ears, and Benson hightailed it home to Detroit. Interestingly, when the White Stripes–approved Benson and his band zipped through a supercharged set culled mostly from his new The Alternative to Love (V2) and his previous One Mississippi and Lapalco, Benson earned the veneration seemingly on the strength of his pop tunes alone, each of which stands as an encapsulization of the best that ’60s-’70s pop has to offer. Interesting, too, how genuinely charismatic Benson becomes onstage with his affably non-rock-star-ish demeanor and serious focus on playing and singing. Even the appearance of Benson’s Detroit buddy Jack White (the pair have recorded an album awaiting release) during "Good to Me" didn’t manage to upstage him.
On disc, songs like "Cold Hands (Warm Heart)" are built like Bach, emphasizing counterpoint among the guitars, keyboards, voices and rhythm section, adding to the impact with abrupt key modulations and dynamic shifts. Live, his superb compositions are played with that rare snap! required to make such deceptively breezy tunes fly. Benson and his band did it with lean, unfussy settings, often twinning Benson’s Gibson 335 with bandmate Dean Fertita’s guitar and electric keyboard (and new-wave synth squiggles on the MTV2-aired single "Spit It Out"), in consummate balance with drummer Matt Aljian and bassist Michael Horrigan. Sung in a clear, serviceable voice, Benson’s wry lyrics about ex-girlfriends and A&R guys seemed a bit pedestrian. That same non-"poetic" plainspokenness, however, was refreshing in Benson’s set-closing solo-acoustic version of the lovelorn "Metarie."
BRUCE SPRINGSTEENat the Pantages, May 2.
If Bruce Springsteen doesn’t really, truly embrace the jive he’s shucking on his solo-acoustic tour, he deserves a smack.
On one hand, it’s all right to play mostly newer material, largely from an album released just days before (Devils & Dust). Sure, a couple more familiar bones — say, "For You," "The River" or even "I’m On Fire" — would have been great. But hey, the guy’s got a record to promote.
What pushes the limits of rock & roll taste is when Springsteen insists fans neither clap nor sing along, as he did at the first of two shows. Eventually he gave the sign that it was okay to join in, but not before telling a guy in the third row that his peculiar dancing was giving him the heebie-jeebies.
All that said, you do get the feeling Springsteen believes he’s tapped a vein of truth and spirit that needs to be shared. At times, singing crazy falsetto, Springsteen looked like nothing so much as a Muslim ecstatic, and simply turned beautiful. The Devils & Dust tour isn’t cheerful, but if you can achieve rapture while bypassing happiness, that’s what Springsteen did. Beyond his writing, what comes across solo is Springsteen’s proficiency on guitar and piano. Among the evening’s high points were "The Hitter," about a boxer who shortchanges himself; "Reno," about a guy paying for sex when he’d rather be with Maria; and "Jesus Was an Only Son," the crucifixion story with an emphasis on Mary.