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Bliss Factory

THE POLYPHONIC SPREE, GRANDADDY, CORN MO at the Wiltern, December 31

As if their own two dozen members weren’t enough, the white-robed Polyphonic Spree began their 2004 by joining Grandaddy (think a less self-conscious, bearded Radiohead) onstage for blustering midnight renditions of “Joy to the World” and “All You Need Is Love” before the curtain dropped and Corn Mo prepared us for the Spree’s set proper with his tired, ironically quaint versions of hard-rock cover tunes played solo, with accordion.

Few rock acts even approach the ecstatic Godspell-vs.-Jellyfish sensory overload that is the Polyphonic Spree (this night including revered composer/producer Jon Brion). Re-appearing in new, multicolored robes beneath a medieval fanfare of flutes and horns, the ensemble ushered in “It’s the Sun,” and it was immediately clear that this Texas troupe was in rare form. Months of global touring, far from blunting the Spree’s apparently irrepressible glee, has only made them more deft in delivery: the Beatles/Beach Boys–esque verses were rice-paper delicate behind prancing ringmeister Tim DeLaughter’s (the David Koresh of indie rock) lived-in pleadings, while the tsunami-swampings of the eight-strong, air-punching coed chorus (bolstered by just about every other mouth onstage) seemed more dynamically dramatic than ever.

Despite their multiple sonic tiers and textures, P.S. remain essentially a pop band: Drummer Bryan Wakeland’s purposeful grooves, embellished by a frenzied percussionist, and Mark Pirro’s chubby bass lines are articulate anchors amid the orchestrated, amorous anarchy. Meandering subtexts of brass, keys, harp and wildly freaky theremin can’t mask accomplished, if unoriginal, songwriting and are a reminder of the power of arrangement, rock & roll’s lost art.

The Polyphonic Spree ooze a collective, hair-flailing bliss that has been missing from a commercially superconscious music business for a generation. Even at close quarters, their borderline delirium is both convincing and contagious, leaving us with the startling New Year’s revelation that perhaps music can, after all, change everything.

AEROSMITH, KISS at the Forum, December 18

“We live here! L.A. is our home!” yelled former New Yorker Paul Stanley. Our gain. Stanley, Gene Simmons and Peter Criss slammed out the Kiss definition of monolithic arena thud, while guitarist Tommy Thayer assumed the Spaceman-makeup franchise of the sulking Ace Frehley. Thayer sequenced all four canonical Ace yanknotes on the “Deuce” solo, and never strayed from the template — “They’d fine him otherwise,” my cohort suggested. “I Love It Loud” was hard and heavy, Criss slamming sticks right between the eyes as specified. Aerosmith’s Joe Perry heaved his ax into the fray for “Strutter.” Stanley brandished the Tradition Torch, toying with the intros to “Stairway to Heaven” and “Angie” before launching the classic rave of “Black Diamond.” Simmons burbled blood and flew aloft; bombs burst — it’s in the program. But though Stanley’s “I be da blues” vocal workout was comic, Kiss’ jam on “Let Me Go Rock ’n’ Roll” cooked. They’re musicians, y’know.

Kiss just don’t flaunt it like Aerosmith, who were casually spectacular. The Boston bad men always relish their (pre-Nicks) Fleetwood Mac jam on “Fighting for Madge,” but the extra juice that Perry, Joey Kramer, Brad Whitford and Tom Hamilton pumped into this version, along with a high quotient of roots material, boded well for the blues project they’re fermenting. A thrashing “Rats in the Cellar” and a bouncing “Same Old Song and Dance” likewise showed real bite. Steven Tyler didn’t need to hump that speaker during “Love in an Elevator” to prove his vocal studsmanship; when he asked the crowd if they craved latter-day ballads like “What It Takes,” he already knew the answer, and the more recent lurcher “Jaded” is a gem he’ll be polishing for decades. Virtuosity, not virtuality. (Greg Burk)

Rick Van Santen, 1962–2003

Rick Van Santen, co-president of the rock-concert powerhouse Goldenvoice, which was largely instrumental in bringing punk and “alternative” to mass audiences throughout Southern California and beyond, died in his sleep on December 28 from flu-related complications. He was 41.

Born in Las Vegas, where his father, Robert Van Santen, was a co-owner of the Nevada Club, Rick grew up in Northridge and West L.A. before graduating from University High School. Rick became a sports fanatic at an early age and loved the Kings, the Lakers, the Bruins and the Dodgers. Ironically, he preferred sports and mainstream R&B pop to rock & roll; among his prize possessions were framed, autographed photos of New Edition and TLC.

I first met Rick in early 1979, when he was 16 years old and had entered the local punk scene, manufacturing and hawking merchandise for the Screamers. He was an eager-to-please kid who easily moved into band management and club promotion with an array of colorful clients, such as horror-metal-punk hybrid 45 Grave, Twisted Roots and glam-punk revivalists Celebrity Skin. I remember him persistently following me around at the Whisky (where I booked punk shows in the late ’70s), bugging me for tips on how to negotiate with owner Elmer Valentine. Rick got his toes wet as a promoter with a series of $3 Sunday-night punk shows at the Detour Bar in Silver Lake in 1980, and by February 1981 he had made his debut as a club promoter at the Whisky with a series of “nearly all-acoustic” nights with such bands as X, the Plugz, the Gears and the Circle Jerks, phem-pholk heroine Phranc, and readings by Exene Cervenka, John Doe and Richard Meltzer, the latter whose friendship Rick treasured till his death.

Rick was hired by Goldenvoice founder Gary Tovar in 1985 to handle publicity, but quickly switched to booking, a post he shared with Paul Tollett, with whom he became business partners following Tovar’s arrest on drug-distribution charges; Tovar signed over the company name to his young protégés in March 1991. For more than a decade, it was a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows: The two went through fire and water to remain independent before the business went down in a blaze of artistic glory with the self-financed founding of the Coachella Music and Arts Festival in 2000; although its first year was a financial bloodbath, the event was hailed as an artistic smash. Goldenvoice was sold to Anschutz Entertainment Group in 2001, and at long last Rick could enjoy booking without having to worry about the company’s tumultuously fluctuating bank balance. He told me days before his death that his pride and joy of 2003 was the All Tomorrow’s Parties event at the Queen Mary, which hadn’t been much of a moneymaker but had been creatively satisfying.

Rick’s biggest legacy was the value he put on friendship. It was Rick who sent post cards from his travels to and from Las Vegas, Alaska and Hawaii, where he pioneered rock venues; it was Rick who organized parties and funeral memorials, who used his Lakers and Kings season tickets to make sure all his friends got to see at least a couple of ball games a year, and who fostered a sense of community in a notoriously thankless business.

“We didn’t need to call band managers a lot of the time,” recalls Tollet. “Rick already knew everybody in all the bands on a personal basis. It was all about relationships with Rick.”

He is survived by his parents, Diane and Robert, and sister, Patty. A memorial gathering will be held at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Saturday, January 10, at 11 a.m.

—Brendan Mullen


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