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Buckets of Rain

VIC CHESNUTT, M. WARD
at the Troubadour, May 2

Vic Chesnutt is no more interested in being a cult artist than in being treated as “the wheelchair-bound singer-songwriter.” But his fans have a cult artist’s reverence; during a lengthy technical delay, their collective silence bordered on the unnerving. Their patience paid off on the first number, an acoustic “Where Were You” from 1991’s West of Rome, mournfully co-whispered with opener M. Ward and full of the casual intensity that is Chesnutt’s stock-in-trade.

The set that followed was solid but disappointingly staid, drawn single-mindedly from the recent Silver Lake at the expense of his rich back catalog. Chesnutt’s current touring band, anchored by Lambchop/Bruces guitarist Curtiss Pernice, is sensitive unto invisibility. In these hands, certain album tracks caught fire, notably “Fa-La-La,” a deeply subversive jangler about not wanting to come home from the hospital. But “Stay Inside,” among others, seemed too closely tethered to its studio rendering, grimly anthemic four-part harmonies and all. Any spontaneity was saved for the encore, with Chesnutt and bassist Sam Mixon switching to keyboards for a lengthy, unfamiliar waltz, followed by a solo, nakedly soulful “Stupid Preoccupations,” a vociferously requested oldie that revealed what had gone before as a compromise, if not quite an outright lie.

Earlier, Chesnutt’s drummer, Ballard Lesemann, joined Ward for a ballad-pastiche original (“What do you do when your true love leaves?”), but otherwise Ward’s own set was an all-acoustic, half-instrumental scramble through 80-plus years of (mostly) American folk and pop. In the mix: liberal doses of open-tuned Faheyism, Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain,” the same Satchmo-associated standard he performed last time he passed through, fragments of “Rhapsody in Blue” and “The Entertainer,” and, yes, Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” His harmonica and wish-I-were-older growl don’t yet match his commanding guitar work, but Ward’s breadth of musical vision is obviously heartfelt and refreshingly egoless.

MULL HISTORICAL SOCIETY
at Largo, April 29

Mull Historical Society is Scottish singer-songwriter-producer Colin MacIntyre. In the U.K. he’s a gentle phenomenon, critically lauded and making frequent chart visits since his 2000 debut, Loss. So making his L.A. bow — a semiacoustic performance in support of his new collection Us — before all of 35 folks in a candlelit Largo could’ve been a challenge. Yet, even in sunny California, MacIntyre’s songs exude a Christmassy fireside nostalgia well-suited to this living-room setting.

On disc, MacIntyre is lo-fi yet multilayered, feathering his cozy compositions from diverse sources — from screeching seagulls to Sergeant Pepper’s horns — like a beachcombing Butch Vig. Though he left the tiny island of Mull years ago, growing up in such an insular and close-to-nature community has cast a shadow of wistful, outsider atmosphere over MacIntyre’s work. While his recordings hint at the experimentalism of the Beta Band and the Flaming Lips, these stripped-down live shows (accompanied only by acoustic guitar and keyboards) expose MacIntyre’s striding McCartney melodies and individualist standpoint, epitomized by the breakthrough single “Barcode Bypass.”

Opener “The Final Arrears” sets the tone for tonight’s set: purposeful 12-string strumming and charmingly accented if occasionally pitchy vocals from the seated MacIntyre, sprinkled with chiming, music-box keyboard arpeggios. Sadly, while his recorded arrangements are imagination incarnate, these whimsical two-man versions seem underthought and repeat this treatment into numbness. Yet the strength of the material is obvious: Amid déjà vu chord progressions appear yearning turns of musical phrase and curve-ball harmonies, distancing this from open-mic mundanity. MacIntyre’s encore tackling of Radiohead’s “Motion Picture Soundtrack” jarringly bursts the comforting embrace, the languid, druggy haze phrasing a welcome perversity after such wholesome fare. Mull Historical Society has something unique to say and an unusually cultured way of saying it, but tonight compromised the conversation for the sake of convenience. (Paul Rogers)

THE DIRTY THREE
at the Henry Fonda Theater, April 25

The Dirty Three’s Warren Ellis may be the only violinist in history to have a silver silhouette of a curvy chick stickered to the back of his ax in the style of a trucker’s mud flap. “This is a song for all the girls with broken hearts in the world,” he said at the start of the group’s set, dedicating it to the memory of Nina Simone. That’s about as succinct as his introductions got. Each song opened with a romantic shaggy-dog story that went a little like “This is a song about when as much darkness descends on you as in the summer of ’69 when Jim Morrison . . . This is about knowing when you drive west that you’ll go into the ocean eventually, and so you get out your credit cards and rent the best car money can buy and you get some sandwiches and you put them in the car, and then you put a brick on the gas pedal and point it east and south so you can go as far as you possibly can. This is a song called ‘1,000 Miles.’” As the de facto leader of this instrumental three-piece — augmented on their current tour by Low’s Zak Salley on bass — Ellis can get amazingly verbose.

 

Assembled in Melbourne 10 years ago, the group combines the adventurism and aggression of two veteran punk musicians, drummer Jim White and guitarist Mick Turner, with Ellis’ classical training and libertine heart. As the aforementioned introduction hinted, the band’s sound was distinctly summer of ’69: Violent hippies do bad acid, go on a bender, and make an independent motion-picture soundtrack for a Manson-family biopic.

The crowd at the Henry Fonda Theater was smaller and older than those who have turned out for the club’s recent blockbuster indie-rock shows. The balcony was empty, the floor was half open space, and a drunk guy in a leather jacket had enough room to dance free like he was at some alternate-universe Altamont. On stage, the loose-limbed Ellis kicked up his legs with such fury they seemed to jut out at acute angles from hip to knee to tip of the toe. His bowed notes rushed at you in successive waves; Turner’s guitar clusters came in massed, scratchy bits like ocean foam; and White’s leaden beats, augmented by Salley, sounded like stones dropped in the sea by John Bonham from heaven. (Alec Hanley Bemis)

EVAN DANDO
at McCabe’s, April 20

Two days before New Jersey–based indie Bar None’s release of Baby I’m Bored — ex–head Lemonhead Evan Dando’s first studio album in, ahem, seven years — the surfer-casual singer-songwriter ambles onstage and rambles more than an hour’s worth of new songs (“Rancho Santa Fe” a particular standout), old favorites (“Outdoor Type,” “Paid To Smile,” “Stove”) and a few offbeat covers. Twenty-four tunes in all, many of ’em simply perfect slices of sweet ’n’ sour pop: “It’s a Shame About Ray,” “Down About It,” “Confetti,” “Favorite Tee” and “My Drug Buddy,” for openers. While the new disc features ear-catching contributions from local multitalent Jon Brion, songwriter Ben Lee, longtime Dando collaborator Tom Morgan and a handful of other alt-rock vets, this evening’s first of two sets is strictly a solo affair.

Dando has always come off as an unlikely cross between a golden retriever and a human jukebox, and tonight is no exception. He forgets to bring his guitar cord onstage, then aborts his opening song. (He’ll reprise the tune 30 minutes later, noting that “it’s gotta be easy” and offering “thanks, man” to the audience member who calls out the appropriate chord change.) Other than that, he doesn’t talk.

Which is not only a refreshing change from the usual singer-songwriter prattling on in excruciating detail about the lyrics to the song we’re about to hear, but also a very good thing when Dando decides to fire off a straight-faced three-in-a row from the Velvet Underground songbook: “Heroin” (!), “There She Goes Again” and “Who Loves the Sun.” Or when he closes the show with “Rudderless,” repeating and repeating and repeating and repeating the “a ship without a rudder’s like a ship without a rudder” chorus while detuning his guitar into dissonance. (Don Waller)

AFRIKA BAMBAATAA
at Zanzibar, April 16

Afrika Bambaataa’s influence on dance music cannot be stressed enough, but suffice it to say that there was the world before “Planet Rock” and the world after. The song is, without a doubt, the first track ever to combine Krautrock, funk, disco, dub and punk. Bam not only helped deliver the first hip-hop music, but invented what is known as electro-funk, a style that took the Bronx and Berlin for a spin on George Clinton’s intergalactic Mothership and brokered a deal between black breakbeats and white electronic sequencing, thus creating the archetype of most every genre’s “club music.” Whether it’s electroclash, Miami bass, techno or any form of breakbeats, “Planet Rock” is in there. Bam continually pulls inspiration from Clinton’s magnanimous and diplomatic “Universal Funk” theory, as played out in “One Nation Under a Groove” (which Bam closed with tonight), only he calls it the “Perfect Beat.” The perfect beat has kinetics that transcend language, culture and even MTV; it’s why Bam can drop James Brown, Kraftwerk, the Jacksons and the Halloween soundtrack all in one set!

“Serious” DJs who came to observe the man’s technique and science may have gasped when Bam flossed the “Thong Song,” but guess what? He’s still Afrika from the block, and he still throws down a block party. Every booty was welcome on the stage; some were bumping by the walls, getting sticky with humidity, and others just sat on the couch next to Bam and blazed. Where many DJs would flip if you bumped into their shit, Bam just laughed it off. Nothing but love from Bam — he was even posing for photos and signing autographs during the set; it was like whoever was there, whether they knew about the significance of the “Apache” break or not, knew that they were in the room with a legend. (Daniel Siwek)

 

THE FUNK BROTHERS
at the Wiltern, April 23

Spurred by the success of last year’s Standing in the Shadows of Motown documentary, the six surviving members of the Funk Brothers — the hitherto largely unknown studio musicians who played on virtually every Motown hit from 1959 to 1972 — took their story to the stage before a near-sellout crowd at the Wiltern. Decked out in double-breasted, hot-pink blazers, Funk Bros. drummer Uriel Jones, bassist Bob Babbitt, keyboardist Joe Hunter, guitarists Eddie Willis and Joe Messina, and vibraphonist/tambourine maestro Jack Ashford, augmented by 11 other musicians/vocalists, hammered out 25 hits interspersed with some often-hilarious anecdotes (Marvin Gaye’s misadventure with a shoebox of weed and shag carpeting, for one) in 135 minutes.

While the tour’s trio of featured vocalists — Darlene Love, Maxi Priest and Joan Osbourne (Osbourne’s reprise of “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” from the aforementioned film was one of the evening’s highlights) — turned in thoroughly professional performances, so did the local winner of the “sing live with the Funk Brothers” contest and, arguably, even the five guys randomly pulled out of the pit to warble “My Girl.” Hey, with those songs and a band with those chops behind you, if you can count to four and carry a tune in a paper bag, it’s hard to fall on your aspirations.

Fever-in-the-funkhouse workouts on Shorty Long’s “Function at the Junction” and “Here Comes the Judge” aside, the evening’s foremost moments came from hearing the marvelously interlocking voicings that characterize such “heard ‘em 5,283 times before” bits as the shimmering guitars of the Spinners’ “It’s a Shame” re-created live, as they were originally recorded. A once-in-a-lifetime experience; too bad the seven deceased Funk Bros. couldn’t make the gig. (Don Waller)

PIGMY LOVE CIRCUS
at the Key Club, May 3

It was as if parallel realities collided Saturday night on the Sunset Strip. At the Key Club, a mix of young trendies, curious onlookers, 90210 rejects and the not-quite-beautiful people of Young Hollywood watched as Pigmy Love Circus assaulted them with song after song of relentless crunch and aggression. Indeed, Bill Gazzarri mighta been rollin’ in his grave; wasn’t this the very same stage he had once proclaimed was accessible only to “the foxiest guys”? Far from foxy and twice removed from their immediate audience, PLC nonetheless captivated the throng. It’s an old move they’ve been purveying since they held court at the long-gone hot spot Raji’s: Set up an irresistible monster groove that unites the band and crowd into one head-bobbing mass. It was doubtful at first that it would translate to these kids, many of whom were drawn in by the club’s ad stating that PLC features Tool drummer extraordinaire Danny Carey. (Indeed, Carey drew cheers of approval for every tribal-boogie floor-tom intro.)

The Pigmys held the crowd through their decidedly wrong-minded encore, “Go Suck Dick.” Not all of the Pigmys’ antics were warmly received — vocalist Mike “Scrotum If Ya Got ’Em” Savage’s continual flashing of his privates from beneath his kilt caused a kid to politely yell, “Please quit showing your dick!” Still, Pigmy Love Circus’ unstoppable midtempo grind, Peter Fletcher’s and John Zigler’s blazing guitar leads, and their anthems of camaraderie, winning over hardship and, eh, drinkin’ may finally reach out to an audience willing to accept the band on their own terms. Whether or not the A&R rumored to be present will deem it wise to take the Pigmys’ in-the-can long-player The Power of Beef to the masses is of little consequence, as these stubborn codgers will release it themselves in a matter of weeks. If Carey’s Tool connection continues to be enough to kick-start interest, Pigmy Love Circus may at last get their due. God help us all. (SL Duff)

ORQUESTA ARAGÓN
at the Sportsmen’s Lodge, May 2

Most people think of Cuban music as a tireless, polyrhythmic generator of orgasmic thrills, but Orquesta Aragón’s Friday-night performance at the Lodge’s unusually packed ballroom was all about elegance and understatement. Aragón plays charanga, the most European-sounding of all Cuban group formats. Delicately structured, its trademark sound is anchored by melodious strains of violins, acrobatic flute lines and endearingly old-fashioned vocal harmonies. So pleasing to the ears is this formula that Aragón has left it mostly unchanged for the last 60 years. Needless to say, the original members from the band’s heyday are not with us anymore, but Rafael Lay Jr., son of Aragón’s legendary leader from 1948 to 1982, runs a tight ship. (Due to visa problems, Lay was unable to accompany the group for this tour.) The kind of virtuoso, conservatory-friendly solos that burden most contemporary Cuban groups are kept to a minimum as individual personalities are placed at the service of a cohesive whole. The songs (“Cachita,” “Sabrosona”) are short and sweet. Aragón’s unabashedly nostalgic statement might be a gentle one, but its warmth is powerful and contagious.

 

Unfortunately, the band’s two short sets were interrupted by an extended salsa dance contest that was dutifully ignored by the older generation of Aragón aficionados — promoter Albert Torres strives to please both flashy dance-floor exhibitionists and hardcore music connoisseurs. Then again, it took Aragón very little effort to recapture an indelible mood. Their feet in perfect sync with the solid rhythm at hand (an impeccable groove fueled by congas and timbales), the band members danced slowly while performing a string of velvety danzones and bouncy cha-cha-chas, the genres of choice for any charanga worth its salt. Seamlessly performed early in the evening, the group’s classic anthem “El Bodeguero” offers some sound advice: “Drink hot chocolate/Pay all your debts,” as wholesome as Aragón’s quietly addictive musical time machine. (Ernesto Lechner)


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