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Music Picks: Too $hort, Best Coast, Brad Mehldau Trio 

Also, Lee Fields & the Expressions, Simon Stokes, Sonnymoon, and others

Thursday, May 17 2012
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fri 5/18

Best Coast

WILTERN

click to enlarge PHOTO BY LAUREN DUKOFF - Dum Dum Girls: See Friday.
  • PHOTO BY LAUREN DUKOFF
  • Dum Dum Girls: See Friday.

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"We were born with sun in our teeth and in our hair," Bethany Cosentino declares on the title track of Best Coast's just-released second album, The Only Place. "Why would you live anywhere else?" she asks endearingly, as sparkling rays of guitar jangle behind her. "We've got the ocean, got the babes, got the sun, we've got the waves." So many anthems about L.A., such as the Go-Go's' "This Town" and X's "Los Angeles," come off as sarcastic or bittersweet, but Best Coast's new ode — much like the local band's very name — is sincerely celebratory and irony-free. As ever, Cosentino charts the ups and downs of love and heartbreak while she and musical partner Bobb Bruno exchange shimmering garage-pop guitar chords, but the harmonies and production this time around have a grander sweep, reflecting the duo's rapid rise from tiny clubs to large theaters. —Falling James

Take Offense

COBALT CAFÉ

Venice thrash is alive and well — in Chula Vista. This young CV crew (with production and writing input from Terror drummer Nick Jett) channels Suicidal Tendencies like few of its generation, yet behind Take Offense's mimicry lurks a real command of the manipulation of riffs and grooves and feels to maximum muscle-bound effect. Take Offense isn't the fastest, hardest or most technical band on the circuit but instead delivers a competent bit of everything: frantic pit fuel, chugging breakdowns, menacing gang chants and A.H.'s convincingly belligerent bellow. The fivesome's new Under the Same Shadow EP, by far its best-produced work to date, takes tentative steps toward experimentation, too, sometimes to considerable effect (the unusually tuneful guitar solos), sometimes not so much (the over-delayed, aimless "singing" of "T.O. Zone"). —Paul Rogers

Dum Dum Girls

THE ECHOPLEX

Sometimes good girls don't wear white. Dum Dum Girls may look fierce, prowling catlike around the stage in funereal black lace, but, as the song goes, they're ultimately good-bad, not evil. They still draw from '60s garage rock on their second album, Only in Dreams, with the reverb-drenched, Jesus & Mary Chain–style guitars of the first album giving way to a broader and fuller sound. While there's a risk that they'll lose some of the tinny, lo-fi charm of their early songs, lead singer Dee Dee exudes more confidence and melodic force now. She also plunges into heavy topics like mortality and the confounding vagaries of the heart with more tunefully penetrating soul than most garage-rock singers. Despite its retro structure and arrangement, there's something exhilarating and strangely brand-new about the way Dee Dee's and Jules' churning guitars fuse together on lovelorn laments like "Teardrops on My Pillow." —Falling James

Also playing:

DNTEL, SHIGETO at Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock; VENDETTA RED, SPONGE at Viper Room; KHAIRA ARBY AND HER BAND at Satellite; GREAT LAKE SWIMMERS, COLD SPECKS at Troubadour.

sat 5/19

Too $hort

HOUSE OF BLUES

It's undoubtedly for the better that pimp culture has taken a backseat to personal independence in the rap vernacular, but that doesn't mean we can't reminisce with one of the iciest players to ever turn a ho out on record (we're using technical terminology here). At 46, Too $hort is a veteran, having been one of the first Bay Area rappers to rise to prominence after dropping his first cassette in 1985. It was titled Don't Stop Rappin', which turned out to be fitting since he's released 19 albums to date, including February's No Trespassing, an independent release that still managed to raise some big stars for the occasion: 50 Cent, Twist, Snoop Dogg and, of course, E-40. All of that speaks to $hort Dog's commitment to craft, which in this case involves lacing strip-club beats with timeless braggadocio. —Chris Martins

Lee Fields & the Expressions

THE ECHOPLEX

Lee Fields started as a pleader in the James Brown style — well, maybe "James Brown mold" would be a better description, as young Fields was pretty much poured into the silhouette of Mr. Please Please Please — in the late 1960s and then bent backward to make overcranked dancers like "Funky Screw" and "The Bull Is Coming" in the '70s. After decades with a respectable, if not yet remarkable, career, a rediscovered Fields (like Sharon Jones before him) roared into public consciousness as the '90s snapped into the '00s. Now with top-notch backing band the Expressions behind him, he delivers deep and supremely detailed soul à la Bill Withers, Syl Johnson or the similarly reactivated Darondo — it's less-is-more music and just-too-much-to-bear delivery from a lifelong pro who summons heart and hurt anew at every performance. —Chris Ziegler

Roger Waters

L.A. MEMORIAL COLISEUM

Roger Waters has never lacked ambition. In fact, it was an overwhelming abundance of tenacity, coupled with his former bandmates' reluctance to tickle his every creative fancy, that caused the now 68-year-old bassist, best known as the lyrical and songwriting brains behind Pink Floyd, to eventually part ways with his already superstar–level crew. For three decades post-Floyd, Waters has been on his own, free to indulge in his wildest musical whimsy. That he's recently resurrected a full-scale stage production of his 1981 semi-autobiographical rock opera–ish epic, The Wall, in all its outsize glory (he'll touch down at the massive L.A. Coliseum before taking it nationwide to baseball stadiums this summer) should surprise exactly no one. As he's proven time and again, what Waters wants, he shall receive. —Dan Hyman

Toadies

THE ROXY

Though best known for uniquely creepy 1994 single "Possum Kingdom," Toadies' consistently distinct sonic statement is perhaps personified by their much-delayed 2001 sophomore full-length, Hell Below/Stars Above (poor sales of which hastened the band's breakup shortly after its release). The stop-start male angst of "Push the Hand," the bass-propelled bounce of "Motivational" and the epic struggle in "Doll Skin" are all high points of an album without a weak song. Though today's re-formed Toadies lack the eccentric lilt of original bassist Lisa Umbarger, they continue to push great banks of emotional buttons through disquieting use of space and pace; burbling basslines behind sneering, strangulated guitars; and, above all, Todd Lewis' fixed-stare confessional croon and irreparably wounded wail. —Paul Rogers

Betty Blowtorch

EL CID

Much like their heroes the Runaways and AC/DC, the late-'90s hard-rock quartet Betty Blowtorch had the unique ability to appeal to both punks and metal-heads with no-nonsense headbangers like "I Wanna Be Your Sucker" and the succinctly eloquent "Shut Up & Fuck." The local band appeared to be well on its way to national success, when lead singer/bassist Bianca Halstead was killed in a car accident in New Orleans in 2001, a tragedy that was ruefully examined in an unusually insightful and ultimately heartbreaking documentary film, Betty Blowtorch & Her Amazing True Life Adventures. At tonight's tribute show, the surviving members of the group — lead guitarist Blare N. Bitch, rhythm guitarist Sharon Needles and drummer Judy Molish — will reunite and back an array of guest vocalists sitting in for Halstead, including Faster Pussycat's Taime Down and Lit's Kevin Baldes. —Falling James

Also playing:

CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH at El Rey Theatre; ERIC HUTCHINSON, GRAFFITI6 at Troubadour; IGAF SEQUOIA at Cobalt Café; PLANTS AND ANIMALS at the Satellite; BUYEPONGO at the Del Monte Speakeasy; TINA RAYMOND at Vibrato.

sun 5/20

UK

EL REY THEATRE

If you're an aficionado [sniff!] of the great progressive rock bands that found their fullest flowering in the '70s, you'll have already bought your tix for this performance by perhaps the best of them all, UK. The band's original lineup was a sterling super-grouping that featured King Crimson/Yes drum god Bill Bruford, Crimson (and later, uh, Asia) bassist-singer John Wetton, jazz-rock guitar deity Alan Holdsworth and Roxy Music violinist-keyboardist Eddie Jobson. Well, now here's Jobson and Wetton joined by ex-Zappa drumming ace Terry Bozzio (who'd replaced Bruford in the UK lineup after the band's first album) in a one-off world tour. As this is their first time playing together in more than three decades, tonight's show is, of course, touted as a rare event. Hopefully, it'll be well done, too. —John Payne

Also playing:

THE HOLMES BROS. at McCabe's; REBECCA GATES at Townhouse; ANGELA MCCLUSKEY at Hotel Café; BRIGHT BEAST at Origami Vinyl; MONICA LIONHEART, DANIEL AHEARN at Bootleg Bar.

mon 5/21

Brad Mehldau Trio

BROAD STAGE

At this point in his career, is it too soon to credit the visionary pianist-composer with becoming the most influential jazz artist of the past two decades? He has inspired an entire generation of players, and it's hard to find a young pianist who hasn't borrowed something from him, a copycat reverence heretofore applied to such hallowed figures as Parker, Coltrane and Hancock. Still, there's no improving on the original, and Mehldau's new album, Ode, presents an artist firmly in flux to maturation — he found his voice long ago but is becoming ever more comfortable with it. His pianistic and harmonic innovations were once a tad expository, but he now delves deeper into them, finding freedom within his ideas, untethered from self-consciousness. Go, witness a sage climbing toward a lofty place in jazz history. —Gary Fukushima

Also playing:

JOSH NELSON at Vitello's.

tue 5/22

Spiritualized

THE WILTERN

There's something inexorably magical about rock & roll odes to girls named Jane. "Queen Jane Approximately" was one of Bob Dylan's most mysteriously beguiling songs of the mid-'60s, while "Sweet Jane" was just about as close as Lou Reed ever got to a feel-good classic rock anthem. Garage-rock howlers Dead Moon revealed a previously unknown pop reverence on their obscure gem "Jane," and even Slade's glitter-rock stomper "Gudbye T' Jane" had a certain compulsive allure. (Jane's Addiction's dopey and sentimentally obvious ballad "Jane Says" remains one of the few exceptions to this rule.) On the 10-minute-plus epic "Hey Jane," from Spiritualized's new album, Sweet Heart Sweet Light (whose very title evokes Reed's Velvet Underground), Jason Pierce sings the praises of a transvestite prostitute. Like many of Spiritualized's best tracks, "Hey Jane" starts out as a fuzzy, bouncy ramble before gathering gradual momentum and tripping out in a spacey swirl of psychedelic sound effects and angelic harmonies. —Falling James

Lianne La Havas

BOOTLEG

This young English singer — one of several in recent months to be tagged as the next Adele — has a debut coming out in August on Nonesuch, Is Your Love Big Enough?, parts of which she recorded here in Los Angeles with Matt Hales of the U.K. pop act Aqualung. Hales is just one of La Havas' high-profile benefactors; last year Bon Iver took her out on the road as an opener after they met on Later ... With Jools Holland. These fellows' admiration is well founded. On her five-song Lost & Found EP, La Havas flexes her timeless, old-soul vocals over handsome arrangements that aren't afraid of a little new-school shine. She plays here before heading to Europe for a string of festival dates. With Ferraby Lionheart. —Mikael Wood

Sparta, Ki:Theory

TROUBADOUR

When the mighty At the Drive-In disbanded in 2001, the El Paso band's former members split their influences down the middle. The group's experimental soul went to The Mars Volta, while their post-hardcore heart would beat on as Sparta, fronted by earnest barker Jim Ward and propelled by the drums of Tony Hajjar. With those two back on the road with their old group, ATDI, Sparta too has returned from a self-imposed hiatus (a "three-year nap," according to Ward) to both tour and record. While fans will no doubt be thrilled to hear old favorites like 2002's "Cut Your Ribbon," the band is expected to use this series of return shows as proving ground for new material, which is expected to advance the arena-sized agenda of its last LP, 2006's Threes. Arty electronicist Ki:Theory is Sparta's handpicked opener. —Chris Martins

Also playing:

MARK LANEGAN at the Echo.

wed 5/23

Sonnymoon

LOW END THEORY

Sonnymoon defy easy categorization, but that's what makes this unusual duo so enticing. Imagine a sampler platter of nearly every significant, groove-steeped, experimental movement of the past 60 years — jazz slink, motorik bass, buzzing sitar, ambient atmosphere, electronic soul — rolled up into a surprisingly sticky ball of far-out pop. Anna Wise has a voice that could soar in mainstream R&B or pull its own weight in a band like Dirty Projectors. That's good news for producer-instrumentalist Dane Orr, whose rare mastery over his clearly disparate influences results in tracks that hit a dozen sweet spots at once. The pair's self-titled debut plays like a surging, swirling dream — perfect for headphones, and also for the bass-amplifying low ceilings and thick, heady air of Low End Theory. L.A.'s own KONE kicks things off with a mix of hard-hitting beats and primal psychedelia. —Chris Martins

David Ryan Harris

HOTEL CAFE

Readers of liner notes may know this Los Angeles–based singer-songwriter from his gigs with the likes of John Mayer, Cassandra Wilson and Nick Jonas. (Harris played guitar on the youngest Jonas brother's weirdly legit soul-rock record, Who I Am.) But right now dude's working on a new solo album that promises to carve out a space of his own: In the four cuts I've heard — including a lovely duet with India.Arie and a funky shuffle co-written by Inara George of The Bird and the Bee — Harris uses deep craft to make simple points about love, life and how you don't need drugs to feel like a junkie. Tonight, he plays the second date of a four-show Hotel Cafe residency that extends through early June. Don't sleep. —Mikael Wood

Also playing:

LESLIE STEVENS, ROBERT FRANCIS at the Troubadour; OTMARO RUIZ at Vitello's; I BREAK HORSES at the Echo; MARGOT & THE NUCLEAR SO & SO'S at Bootleg Bar.

thu 5/24

Wolfgang Schalk

BANG STUDIO

Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Schalk has used Wednesdays in May on the usually comedy stage of Bang Studio to showcase his new album, Word of Ear, about which he's rightly excited. Schalk's straight-ahead approach is complemented here in live performance by the backing trio of the fine Venezuelan pianist Otmaro Ruiz, Mike Valerio on bass and Zach Harmon on drums. Schalk's style is friendly to mainstream jazz ears, but he's more inclined to offer up inventive, original compositions rather than rely strictly on jazz standards. KCRW's Tom Schnabel is "knocked out" by Schalk's new album. The minimal cover charge even includes wine and snacks, so it's hard to go wrong with this one. —Tom Meek

Simon Stokes

REDWOOD BAR & GRILL

Famously signed to Elektra the same day as the MC5, rock & roll wrecker Simon Stokes ran afoul of the industry because of his similar balls-out-itude. There wasn't a "motherfucker!" in his song lyrics, but there was a bound-and-whipped S&M gal upside down on his album cover, with what looks like Stokes grinning maniacally next to her. That was enough to slide him firmly into the not-for-mass-consumption camp. Which is fine — this is high-octane stuff, somewhere between early Beefheart, the gnarliest CCR guitar songs and the freak blues of Iggy Pop, whose screw-ya! sense of humor and showmanship are nicely compatible with Stokes' black-whip-thrill-band aesthetic. Although he's opted for a more backwoods country style lately, make no mistake, this guy is proto-punk in the proto-est, punkiest way. —Chris Ziegler

Also playing:

VARDAN OVSEPIAN, MIGUEL ATWOOD FERGUSON at Blue Whale; HUGH LAURIE at El Rey Theatre; JON MCLAUGHLIN at Troubadour.

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