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Rock Picks: Digable Planets, Pigeon John, the Wedding Present, Prima Donna 

Also, Josh Rouse, the Raconteurs, Chicha Libre and more

Wednesday, Sep 17 2008
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THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18    

 
PRIMA DONNA at the Knitting Factory

Prima Donna singer-guitarist Kevin Preston must have spent a lot of time playing with dolls when he was growing up. His band’s new self-titled debut on Acetate Records includes the songs “Doll Face Baby” and “Stray Doll,” and the word “doll” figures prominently in at least three other tracks on the CD. (Not to mention that Prima Donna borrows heavily from the style of the New York Dolls, although the young Hollywood quintet ultimately sounds more like Mott the Hoople, thanks to Aaron Minton’s “sexy sax” and “killer keys.”) Lyrics are obviously not Preston’s strong suit (when an amoral vixen attempts to seduce the surprisingly timid singer on the S&M romp “Crucify,” he can only protest, “The leather’s so tight/I can’t see clearly”). If anything, Prima Donna’s retro-glam songs would actually seem cleverer without the inclusion of the demystifying lyric sheet, which undercuts the power of the group’s energetic and genuinely anthemic choruses. For all of their clichés and borrowed imagery, “Everything’s Wrong” and “Double Crosser” have rousing hooks that evoke the Dragons and tonight’s headliners, the Joneses — bands who have managed to amplify their Johnny Thunders influences while adding their own sense of seedy majesty. (Falling James)

click to flip through (6) Teresa Covarrubias, back when she was still a Brat
  • Teresa Covarrubias, back when she was still a Brat
 

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SAVINA YANNATOU at Japanese American National Museum

Athens-born singer Savina Yannatou is a virtuoso in the body of a chameleon. She has made her specialty an extensive range of vocal traditions and languages from the Mediterranean region — folk tunes that she uses as a springboard for daring, exploratory pieces bursting with staggering sheer technique and, more importantly, wild new tonalities. There’s a keen yet brash intelligence in her improvisation-enhanced performances, and never a dry academic feel, in glorious evidence on her latest release, Songs of an Other (ECM), recorded with the instrumental ensemble Primavera en Salonico, in which the old songs of Armenia, Macedonia, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Greece and southern Italy are given fresh and feverish new life via Yannatou and company’s spectacularly adventurous interpretations and transmogrifications. This is a strange kind of beauty that frees the mind as it inflames the soul. 6:30 p.m.; 369 E. First St., Little Tokyo. (213) 625-0414. (John Payne)

 
FOALS, HEALTH at El Rey Theatre

Following the lead of all good things from Oxford — the Jazz Butcher, dictionaries, dress shoes and the shoegazing thereat — Foals present an alchemical admixture of rocks both art and math with their latest, the Dave Sitek–produced CD Antidotes. The scene: musicians with metabolisms of laser beams, limbs held jerkily and tightly to their sides even as they strain to break free of this notion or that. Lead singer Yannis Philippakis is possibly the most entertaining spastic nerfbag since the Wacky Wallwalker, and the Foals sound shoots out almost as angularly as said nerfbag’s hair, his voice riding a razor-thin line between startled yelps of sudden illumination and anguish. HEALTH, on the other knee, offer a slightly more shouty and gravid, tumescent bulge with their vision of pop sensationalism. Buffeted by the winds of their own creativity, their bottomless-pit vocals and deathly drums — coming down fast like the tolling of an incessant bell — ensure that the big gun-down preceding Foals becomes an eminently enlightening experience, like twilight dissolving night and smog. (David Cotner)

 
Also playing Thursday:

VAMPIRE WEEKEND, ABE VIGODA at the Wiltern; RUBEN GUEVARA & THE EASTSIDE LUVERS at Eastside Luv; LENKA, EMILY WELLS, SARA MELSON at Hotel Café; ROCKY DAWUNI, MONEY MARK at Key Club; WAYNE HUSSEY at Knitting Factory; SEAN & SARA WATKINS at Largo; RAW POWER RANGERS, THIRD GRADE TEACHER, INSECT SURFERS at Safari Sam’s.

 

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 19

 
DIGABLE PLANETS, PIGEON JOHN at El Rey Theatre

Thanks to the brainy backpack-rap explosion they did as much as anyone to ignite, Digable Planets’ two studio albums no longer sound as ground-breaking as they once did. But they still sound pretty damn nice: If you haven’t dug into the luxurious soul-funk grooves on 1994’s Blowout Comb lately, do yourself a favor and spin “Dial 7 (Axioms of Creamy Spies)” immediately. After a decade apart, the three Planets reunited in 2005 and have been performing somewhat steadily since; each has kept individually busy, as well. (Peep Ladybug Mecca’s work on this year’s debut by the all-star kiddie-rap collective Dino 5.) According to the group’s MySpace page, they’re at work on a new CD, a sneak peek at which they might provide tonight. Local MC Pigeon John released a great record in 2006 on which he rhymed over a sample of the Pixies’ “Hey.” (Mikael Wood)

 
THE WEDDING PRESENT at the Troubadour

Like so many British musicians before them, the Wedding Present find themselves both repulsed and attracted by the glittery lights and mirages of the United States. They crash headlong onto the shores of wicked America with their latest CD, El Rey (Manifesto), and come back forever changed with such tracks as “Spider-Man on Hollywood” and the mysterious throb of “Santa Ana Winds.” Perhaps much of this fascination is the result of singer David Gedge living in Los Angeles and Seattle in recent years. The production by the ubiquitous Steve Albini is crisp and spacious rather than dense and heavy, but it does add a subtle glow to the austere track “The Trouble With Men.” Gedge’s sense of humor emerges from the mostly somber settings on songs like the wave-swept idyll “The Thing I Like Best About Him Is His Girlfriend,” which eventually builds momentum with his and Christopher McConville’s churning, droning guitars. The album never really breaks free and rocks out completely, but there are some lovely moments, especially bassist Terry de Castro’s languidly beguiling album-closer, “Swingers.” (Falling James)

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