A Subtle Bullet

at Spaceland, September 1

In the midst of the RNC’s nasty horned fest, this: an anti-Bush refrain of “You gotta vote with a bullet” field-shouted into the November distance by blues-folk singularity Entrance’s guitarist-vocalist Guy Blakeslee, counterpunctuated by the notorious Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle, Zwan) on violin and a dreadlocked audience member on Blakeslee’s discarded electric guitar. It was powerful — the first time this evening of subtle music performed by sat-down musicians had reached that pitch.

The opening set by San Francisco–based acoustic country-folkists Vetiver was drumless, gorgeous and surprisingly assured, especially given the last-minute substitution of Lenchantin for Jim Gaylord on violin. Vetiver singer-guitarist-songwriter-mellow-goldminer Andy Cabic seems to have been particularly well served by the band’s recent time on the road with Devendra Banhart; he’s now singing with a wider spirit, ranging out without losing his precision and pretty melodicism.

The appropriately named Northern California boy-and-girl forest duo Brightblack followed with guitar, organ and hushed vocals — a couple of cowboy goners, Mazzy Star meeting Low, hugging quietude warmly, breathing stark-lonesome slow blues.

So Entrance was the loudest point, the sound of a mostly solo 23-year-old hollering traditional and original blues and gospel, with just his voice and his upside-down electric guitar, bravely venturing toward the edge of his abilities in Bob Dylan–Tim Buckley fashion. The audience’s willingness to go with him was exciting, and made me sigh four days later, when I saw Joni Mitchell lamenting to the L.A. Times, “Most of the art created in this particular culture is shallow and shocking, and I can’t create music for this social climate . . . Mass murder is probably the favorite entertainment of the American culture at this point.” If only she’d been there Wednesday night, I thought, perhaps Joni would feel like making music again. The character in Blakeslee’s song was calling for only one murder, after all.

at the Hotel Café, September 2

It was hot as hell inside the Hotel Café, packed for singer-songwriter Jim Bianco, but there were no complaints. Following a career-making appearance on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic earlier the same day, the gravelly voiced Long Island transplant and his band were exultant, the crowd congratulatory, and the infernal temperatures seemed to suit the speakeasy vibe of the tunes from Bianco’s new album, which is, after all, entitled Handsome Devil.

Bianco’s songs — products of a clear fascination with old-school jazz, blues and swing, coupled with an unabashedly commercial embrace of popular melody — might have sounded tired, even hokey, in the wrong hands, but with the deft touch of his backing quintet, each new tune was an enthralling vignette. “Southpaw,” a trip through Mississippi mud in spotless Dixieland loafers, was a great reminder of blues and country’s common origins. The flamenco-infused “Handsome Devil” was the sound of infidelity and suspicion, as the band — tight as a tango dancer’s turnaround — thrust emphatic notes over Bianco’s chorus of “Tell me you need me.” “Goodness Gracious” was a slow-motion burlesque with intertwining horn and woodwind lines so suggestive you half expected the vice squad to burst in and arrest saxophonist David Ralicke and muted-pocket-trumpet player Brad Gordon.

Bianco injected a little cold reality into the evening’s festivities before kicking into the white-trash imbroglio of “Tennessee Wedding” by passing his hat on behalf of ace drummer Jason Pipkin, who was facing eviction from his Hollywood digs. The situation made Bianco’s sage wisdom on “Ready or Not” stand out like a sore middle finger: “It’s lonely at the top . . . but the bottom ain’t so hot.” Hang in there, Pip. You’re on the way up, and your band is packed and ready.

—Liam Gowing

at the Smell, September 2

Expo 70 treat tapes, voices and guitar through various Valhallas of effects boxes, coaxing forth a messy ether of arctic howls and Buddhistic chants, deep-throat-singing the tones until they’re sucked into a black hole of their own unbecoming.

Tom Carter’s laptop guitar quickly arpeggiates, gentle in its initial swan dive and then deafening in the watery ride bottomward. Like a spirited game of Butt Bongo Fiesta, attacked guitar strings twang with shivering intensity and then hang until feedback erupts amid the wavering.

The legacy of Hototogisu member Matthew Bower’s seminal guitar noise cabal Skullflower reaches everywhere from Stereolab to sunn0))) to his presence here with Marcia Bassett from Double Leopards. Candles drip at the lip of the stage; a rotating whip of sound pervades space now suffused in green light. A brief kiss prefaces pungent amber incense the texture of shredded vinyl, and the crickets in the walls hit overdrive, racing with feedback blossoming now from a microphone waved in benediction. Their labyrinthine squall hides voices, thunder, the terrors of an incessant bell, and a shriveling skreak struck from space and sky. This is the cataclysmic carving of an island made entirely of sound, as real and as capricious as Ultima Thule; new lands made real solely by the sheer power of the human will.

As Open City flail their free-jazz across the room like a barbed wire, the remaining audience is left dazed and contused.

—David Cotner

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