Rock Picks: Grizzly Bear, Michigan and Smiley, Meshell Ndegeocello, Aztlan Underground 

Also, Ghostface Killah, Pi, Brother Ali and others

Wednesday, Oct 14 2009


Thao With the Get Down Stay Down, Portland Cello Project at the Echoplex
Thao Nguyen has no problem with the crippling wounds of romance. In fact, if her delightfully razor-sharp imagery is any indication, she revels in the pain — it’s evident in the way she places heartache on a high pedestal and dresses it up in her god-given, instinctual sense of beautifully crafted orchestration. Feeling like shit never felt so good. With the capable, folksy instrumentation and whimsical bounce of her cohorts’ playing (Adam Thompson provides bass, keys and additional guitar, and Willis Thompson, drums and percussion), Nguyen is making a formidable name for herself crafting torch songs for the hipster set. Her new album, Know Better Learn Faster, is less than one week old and careening its fresh style all over blogs, mags and airwaves in the know. Touring with Thao With the Get Down Stay Down is the Portland Cello Project, featuring a revolving roster of classically trained musicians who play — you guessed it — a whole mess of cellos. And they’re versatile players performing either their own original orchestrations, covers or collaborations with the likes of the Dandy Warhols, Horse Feathers, Mirah and, suitably, Nguyen — whose version of “Tallymarks” with the Cello Project makes for a looming battle of the hearts. (Wendy Gilmartin)


click to enlarge ALICIA J. ROSE - Thao With the Get Down Stay Down: Feeling like shit never felt so good.
  • Alicia J. Rose
  • Thao With the Get Down Stay Down: Feeling like shit never felt so good.

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Ghostface Killah at the Key Club
The new album from Wu-Tang’s most consistently compelling MC is an oddity by even his odd standards: On the formidably titled Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City, the man best known for his Rube Goldberg drug-caper yarns sets his one-of-a-kind mind to the love song, collaborating with a handful of new-jack R&B singers (including John Legend and Estelle) for a collection he recently told The New York Times was intended to channel the “warmer and rougher and dirtylike” vibe of his favorite vintage-soul songs. (“Dirtylike,” at least, poses no problem for Ghostface: “You can put my dick in your mouth and play with my nuts,” he offers generously in “Stapleton Sex,” “But before I bust, babe, I think I’ll come in your butt.”) As any Wu fan knows, this show is liable to go in any number of directions, including some that have nothing at all to do with The Wizard of Poetry. Caveat emptor. (Mikael Wood)


Dan Deacon, Nuclear Power Pants at Eagle Rock Center for the Arts
Baltimore’s Wham City Collective is all about the audio/visual onslaught. A generally maximalist art crew based in Baltimore, the many-headed group has long been renowned around its own stomping grounds for throwing the kinds of warehouse parties that leave attendees and venue alike forever changed. But only in the past few years has the Wham experience ventured as far as the West Coast, largely due to the impressive work of the collective’s unofficial figurehead, Dan Deacon. Even when Deacon isn’t touring with a 14-piece ensemble, as he did earlier in the year, he’s famous for creating a full-bore musical experience, usually from the venue floor, and asking the audience to participate in several energy-building games. So what does his music sound like? Brian Eno crossed with a pinball machine? A box of crayons versed in music theory? Something like that. Openers Nuclear Power Pants are Whammers as well, with a known penchant for foam monster suits, heavy rhythms, black lights, electronic squelch and dressing up like librarians. (Chris Martins)


Also playing Friday:

FEDERICO AUBELE, DEPEDRO at the Troubadour; THE BANGLES at Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts; KFMDM, ANGEL SPIT at Club Nokia; DAN DEACON, NUCLEAR POWER PANTS at Eagle Rock Center for the Arts; A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS, DARKER MY LOVE, ALL THE SAINTS at the Echo; DAVID GARRETT at El Rey Theatre; MAXWELL, COMMON, CHRISETTE MICHELLE at the Hollywood Bowl; KELLY JOE PHELPS at McCabe’s; KASKADE at the Hollywood Palladium; JAMIE FOXX at Nokia Theatre; AIMEE MANN, FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE at the Wiltern; PAT BENATAR & NEIL GIRALDO at the Canyon; B-SIDE PLAYERS at the Mint; MIKE WATT & HIS SECONDMEN at the Redwood Bar & Grill.



Pi at Room 5
Singer-songwriter Pi’s got this very nice long-player out called Fire Horse Girl, produced with high style and taste by Randy Wine (U2, Aretha Franklin). Very nice? Well, in a way-overcrowded field of singer-songwriters who trendishly seek to evoke the depth and charms of their great forebears from the ’70s, Pi somehow carries it off, and she does it with the most deceptively simple tools: She writes memorable tunes, and she sings them with a satisfying alto sweetness that’s free of “singerly” gimmickery. That simplicity also applies to her lyrical matter, which, like so many others’, addresses the trials and tribulations of love, loss, liberty and life itself; yet on songs like “Santa Ana,” which weaves gingerly finger-plucked acoustic guitar around Pi’s unadorned voice, and especially the chart-topper-in-a-parallel-universe “Brand New Shoes,” with its strolling bounce and sunshiney harmonies, that ’70s vibe gains an addictive new relevance. (John Payne)

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