Burning Questions

Photo by Gregory Bojorquez


Glass Candy & the Shattered Theatre have been described as a hit-or-miss live act, and Friday’s miss was the kind that leaves marketplaces in flames. Allah only knows what we did to deserve this. There was very little in the way of warning — Candy’s Love Love Love is a delicate and vexed record; it sounds like a fairy trying to escape a paper cup. The album’s landscape is not cluttered with much architecture — this is music like a swept-clean desk, chord progressions registering as seldom-touched mementos. But Ida No’s vocals are the piercing, desperate kind, the breakdown-in-a-cubicle kind. On disc, the flatness of the music works; it’s the mundanity the songs struggle against. Live, however, the songs are just flat. The band stands paralyzed, like a defendant standing mute. Whenever the vocals threaten to pierce the somnolence of the evening, in roll thick blankets of drum machine. For this night, at least, Glass Candy is the musical equivalent of cellulite — present, pallid and unnecessary flesh.

Paper Lions are looking Athens, sounding DC. They’re post-punk, clearly, but what does that mean? For our purposes, let’s say it’s a complication of punk’s schoolyard aggression. Post-punk means anger isn’t necessarily served by fast and loud, sadness isn’t just an acoustic guitar in a field of gray wheat. Sad and angry themselves start looking kind of dubious; who came up with such easy definitions? For whose benefit? Paper Lions are all about uncertainty, and play into the requisite gray areas of their genre. Their music is shaped like a brittle and burning question mark; the songs have the sort of anguish that is either the sound of being overwhelmed or the price of conquest. But here’s the catch: Their question’s vague; it’s more a question than specifically their question. For the moment they sound more competent than unique. But this small paragraph isn’t a gallows they’re being led to — this a young band with passion and drive. In a couple of years they’ll be leading us to the noose.

THE POSTAL SERVICE at the Palace, May 5

Glitchy and kitschy, the Postal Service’s packed local debut was as smartly conceived and smoothly executed an hour of pop art as anyone could wish. On its recent Give Up, this side project of Death Cab for Cutie’s Benjamin Gibbard and DNTEL’s Jimmy Tamborello updates the synth-duo formula with hard-drive-era sleekness. But onstage, with Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis as a full-fledged third member, it was both more musically ambitious and more fun.

Tamborello hung impassively behind his G4, but front man Gibbard swayed as joyously as his partner’s beats allowed, running back to a drum kit every few songs to toss some percussive energy into the mix. Lewis’ guitar and keyboard work were more assured than her vocal harmonies, but the duet “Nothing Better” was charming — the song is modeled on “Don’t You Want Me,” but her and Gibbard’s moves were pure “You’re the One That I Want.” With the Palace’s light-show capabilities used to full effect, the sense of having been dropped into Grad Nite at Videopolis circa 1986 was sometimes hard to shake — Gibbard even read a prom invitation for a fan. (She accepted.)

But it wasn’t all froth: Tamborello’s backings were significantly retooled and extended from their recorded versions, and the set, though framed by the hook-driven “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” and “Such Great Heights,” also found room for the rumbling, barely rhythmic “This Place Is a Prison.” Even the spaces between songs were often filled with slabs of un-dance-friendly electronica, and a late-in-the-set feedback duel was surprisingly raw. The encore was the sole misstep: A tranced-out cover of Phil Collins’ dreadful love theme from Against All Odds (you know: “Take a look at me now”), complete with back-projected video clips of Jeff Bridges’ undersea smooch with Rachel Ward. All souls can be redeemed; not so with songs. (Franklin Bruno)


THROWING MUSES at the Knitting Factory, May 7

Never subculturally “indie” enough for purists but too thorny for mass acceptance, Throwing Muses have long been an undervalued band. But not an unloved one: The audience’s sympathy outweighed its disappointment when KCRW’s Tricia Halloran announced that co-founder Tanya Donelly was at the hospital instead of the second show of this two-night stand, owing to an otherwise undescribed “incident” with her young daughter. (They’re both okay.) Donelly’s absence barely mattered: She officially left the band after 1991’s The Real Ramona; since then, Throwing Muses has been Kristin Hersh’s baby.

Hersh seems more at ease performing now than she once did, though she still has exactly one stage move, a snaky, head-swiveling shrug, like someone’s hippie-ish older sister shyly imitating Jim Morrison. But her musical confidence is absolute. Her voice veered from coo to cackle, and her rich-toned guitar work — that’s a Gibson SG through twin Voxes, gearheads — was both heavy and precise. The two male Muses understood their roles perfectly: Drummer David Narcizo articulated the songs’ trademark tempo shifts forcefully and without clutter, while Bernard Georges’ busy bottom end mobilized their circular chord progressions. “Mercury” and “Pandora’s Box,” from their recent self-titled “reunion” album, sounded like they’d been in the set for years, while material from uneven midcareer albums (University and Red Heaven) benefited from the same power-trio treatment.


If you didn’t already know the band had played together only on occasional minitours like this one since 1997, you wouldn’t have figured it out tonight. Their most potent number was also one of the oldest: “Mania,” a maze of untrackable rhythms wrapped around Hersh’s madwoman-in-the-attic rant (“My hands are cupped and full of blood/my eyes is spiral . . . rat rat rat rat rat”). Tonight, the song sounded as though it had emanated from Hersh’s head and hands just that minute, not 14 years ago. (Franklin Bruno)


LES YEUX NOIRS at the Conga Room, May 7

Although visa problems prevented their two Roma members from coming stateside, France’s Les Yeux Noirs again proved their mettle as master navigators of the celebration and sorrow at the heart of the Central and Eastern European musical experience. Sure, the rad-trad textures of Marian Miu’s clippety-clop cimbalom and Constantin Bitica’s teetering accordion were missed, but their absence opened up more space for the remaining six. François Perchat’s moody cello gained audibility, its latticelike lines fingerlacing Eric and Olivier Slabiak’s blue-hot violins. The rhythm section breathed with the conjoined gusto of Pascal Rondeau’s right-place, right-time guitar, Franck Anastasio’s EKG-charting bass and Aidje Tafial’s sneaky, subtle drums.

When the violins cranked up on “Sanie Cu Zurgale,” “Joc de Loop” and “Calusul,” tempos careened in ever-tightening, ludicrously speedy spirals. You could almost hear some moonshine-swilling dance caller clapping his hands, stomping his feet and shouting, “Faster, faster, faster!” The brothers Slabiak shook their hips like Buddha Bar regulars, leaned on or faced off at each other, bowing wildly, their fingers blurring across the frets. Eric really shredded as string-cheese-like threads came off his bow, the physicality of his playing escalating with each chorus.

Exultation gushed when tempos raced, but the band also drove home the stakes of lamentation. The tenderness of “Lluba” and “Rozinkhes” lingered in a soft melancholic light, while a sense of dread enveloped “Yiddishe Mame,” its haunted house of melody darkened by spectral trip-hop shadows. On the ballads as well as on “Tchaye” and other sing-along rave-ups, the band’s robust vocal harmonies made them more than just another flight of high-speed stringmen. (Tom Cheyney)



For a few hours in Silver Lake last Saturday night, Brooklyn was in the house, and we don’t mean trendy Williamsburg, we mean streetwise 718ers who still jones for Helmet and Quicksand — guys with “NYC Hardcore 4 Life” tats who live and die by the code. And like our local scenesters’ sartorial sense, it was all tight-fitting T-shirts, but the torsos underneath them were cut like Marines’ and the non-trucker baseball caps were slung over the eyes. This wasn’t about fashion, though, and even before JJ Paradise Players Club struck their first distortion-swaddled note, the vibe was auspicious: hooting and wisecracking, smack-talking and jostling — the sort of band-audience rapport you just don’t get enough of in polite, industry-strangled Los Angeles.

Specializing in ploddy slow-burn drums, twangy minor-key bass and chugging barre chords, Unsane can be seen in many ways: Sabbathesque doom for hockey nuts, testosterone shoegazer, SoCal desert rock from the Lower East Side, or — when singer/guitarist Chris Spencer breaks out the harmonica — white outer-borough blues. Whatever the context, this groove-based entropy swings in a downward-spiral kinda way. Plus, Spencer rocking back and forth with his guitar like a runner at the starting line before plunging into the band’s funereal jams (culled mostly from Total Destruction and Scattered, Smothered & Covered) was its own reward. But the evening’s real heartwarmer was the sight of Italian stallion Vinnie Signorelli (ex-Swans/Foetus) pounding away at his banana-yellow kit with a busted collarbone “that he broke riding my dirt bike the other day,” Spencer said. That these fellas killed despite grave orthopedic issues, that’s called heart.

Being the pissed-off big-city malcontents they are, it’s no surprise Unsane feel a natural affinity with Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickel, hence the sample from the flick’s classic soliloquy “Some day a real rain will come and wash away all the scum . . .” that the band blasted over the PA, then invited the Paradise guys up on stage for a five-guitar arkestra finale that went off without anyone getting shot. (Andrew Lentz)



VICENTICO, LOS ABANDONED at the Knitting Factory, May 5

Singers who pursue solo efforts outside their main groups are notoriously hit (Manu Chao) or miss (Mick Jagger) affairs. So it was understandable that a sense of trepidation filled the small Cinco de Mayo crowd at the Knitting Factory as they awaited Vicentico, former leader of the late, great Argentine aural amorists Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. Would Vicentico expand on the Cadillacs’ ability to inspire as much as perspire audiences, or would he be the latest version of Ringo Starr?

After a stellar set by Los Abandoned, the answer arrived, and it didn’t seem promising. Vicentico appeared onstage decked in vagabond-chic attire: a seedy trench coat with a Chaplinesque cane by his side. Cigarette smoke belched from his mouth, a scraggly beard adorned his face, and his mane appeared as if it had never known the discipline of a comb. But Vicentico allayed any reservations once his crooning commenced. Backed by a nine-member orchestra that out-Cadillac’d the original Cadillacs for musicianship, he opened with “Se Despierta la Ciudad,” a lividly dark number tumbling with Afro-Argentine rhythms that detailed the unrest of his native land. Vicentico’s trademark raspy prayer carried his outstanding solo material, which gravitates away from his former band’s frenzy toward a stately amalgamation of lovely bossa nova, thunderous batucada and a general lounge sensibility. Concentrating on his new songs, Vicentico nevertheless rewarded the faithful with a few Cadillacs favorites — of course, “Matador” was one of them — and even the Rubén Blades classic “Desaparecidos.” The crowd reaction? Dancers made the Knitting Factory floor quake like San Andreas. Vicentico was . . . well, fabuloso. (Gustavo Arellano)


UNION 13 at Huntington Park Family Center, May 9

Once a month the folks at MonkeyBone Productions rent the aging Huntington Park Family Center and host an all-ages music show for the city’s Chicano youth. Over 200 kids gathered at the Center on Friday, kept in check by friendly rent-a-cops and fascinated by a Guatemalan who sold .T-shirts and CDs at $10 a pop. No one but the MonkeyBone people seemed a day out of high school.

The youngsters had a grand old time. Two stages alternated among bands of various genres, from political psychobilly (Dexentonados) to straight-edge (Media Assassins) to sax-heavy punk (Santa Cruzans Flojos Nos Visten). These no-name bands were so-so, but the high schoolers didn’t care. Everyone took at least two dunks into the pit whirlpool, stopping only to suck on the lollipops that promoters threw into the audience at random moments. The few times the pit rested, attendees would begin battling each other on the dance floor with breakdancing moves. Ah, the impetuousness of youth!

It was past midnight when headliners Union 13 appeared and proceeded to rip out a screeching bash-stop-bash-again set that showed why so many of the chamacos in the audience wore the band’s logo. The quartet loved the ferocity their fledgling fans showed — at one point lead destroyer José Mercado took a respite from his howls to declare with admiration, “Good job in the motherfucking pit! Keep it going!”

Cutest scene of the night: panicky parents escorted by security as they looked in vain for their babies in the madness of the moshing. Worry not, padres y madres: MonkeyBone took care of your boys and girls just fine. (Gustavo Arellano)


THE SADIES, SALLY TIMMS at Spaceland, May 11

“Why’s your voice so sweet?” the wag wanted to know halfway through Cowboy Sally Timms’ set. She thought about it for a beat. “’Cause everything else about me isn’t,” she decided. “God had to give me one compensating good quality.” Though Timms’ between-song self-mockery brought her down to Earth (“I always say the same things: ‘I’m fat, I smoke too much . . .’”), once the music started, that voice kicked in otherworldly, as hypnotized as it was hypnotizing. Last time through town, backed acoustically by the Spinanes’ Rebecca Gates, she kept things slow, for a fragile, austere spell. Sunday, her dreaminess was given fuller power by the Sadies, and pedal-steel guitarist Eric Heywood, who artfully wove firefly trails ’round Timms’ languid phrasing on Johnny Cash’s “Cry Cry Cry.” Her lingering delivery on fellow Mekon Jon Langford’s closing-time ballad “Sentimental Marching Song” took the protagonist’s aching loneliness to an elegiac level. Even when she picked up the tempo on John Anderson’s “Seminole Wind,” the mood was soulfully urgent rather than raucous.

The anti-heckler also asked the Sadies’ Dallas Good why his voice was so sweet. “Same answer,” Timms replied for him. Unlike Timms’ angelic breathiness, Good’s rock-bottom crooning wasn’t sweet so much as it was impressively gloomy and weary-sounding on Western shuffles like “Oak Ridges.” The Sadies broke up well-considered covers by Bob Wills and Johnny Paycheck with their own mournful variations on spaghetti western–surf instrumentals. The most poignant moment of all came near the end, on a somberly rueful version of the Gun Club’s “Mother of Earth,” in which brother-guitarist Travis Good deftly manipulated his volume control, fading in and out of vibraphonist Paul Aucoin and Heywood’s shimmering waves. Bitter and sweet. (Falling James)

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