Key Club, December 29
A prime Danzig experience can be biblically elemental, violent, contradictory, poetic. Absurd to some, Glenn Danzigs brow-knit hardness and grievous sensuality are really about survival: You cant fight through the dark unless you notice that the light went out.
So hes strong, and he lifts you. Never one to wallow in past glories, Danzig paraded muscular armaments from recent years, including a fearsome "SkinCarver" ("All the world must die!"), a corpse-prodding "Black Mass," the burdened dirge "Skull Forest" and a blindingly inspirational "Black Angel, White Angel," confident in the sanded resilience his versatile voice has acquired with time. Bevan Davies and Jerry Montano were worthy punishers on drums and bass; Tommy Victors jigsaw/noise solo on "1,000 Devils Reign" was typical of his knightly axmanship. Of course, when Danzig polled the hell-bent crowd (younger than youd expect) on whether they craved new stuff or old, the response was predictable. "Could you let it go?" he crooned on a dynamic "How the Gods Kill" (1992). No, and the stallionlike unmanageability of the classic sing-along "Her Black Wings" was further reason to cling.
Metal is big now, but since punk is bigger, the loudest huzzahs arose for the entry of Doyle, Danzigs 80s sidekick in the Misfits. Apollonian of stature and blank of visage, the near-naked and dog-collared guitar chopper wheeled blindly around the stage to the rampaging rhythms of "Die Die My Darling," "Hate Breeders" and a satisfying selection of other Misfits nuggets before Danzig "put him back in his coffin." The mob went nuts.
Overamped run-throughs of the turn-of-the-90s howlers "Twist of Cain" and "Mother," plus a Doyle reprise, merely gilded the funeral lily of the best Danzig show Ive seen. It wasnt just the clarion club sound, it was the energy and (dare I say) the warmth and even joy. Dont expect Danzigs "retirement" to be permanent.
JOHN DIGWEED, THE KILLERS, JASON BENTLEY
Wilshire Boulevard, downtown, December 31
Nearly foiled by torrential rains earlier in the day, the "Giant Village" event saw skies clear just enough so thousands of New Years revelers could invade the pavement of downtown L.A. Men in black, accompanied by girls who ditched the bunny ears of Halloween for New Years crowns, experienced electronic music pouring from three stages located off three major streets. The sound was phenomenal, managing not to intersect between simultaneously playing artists, of which there were several; unfortunately, most of the planned visuals appeared to be inoperative due to the weather.
L.A.s own star DJ, Jason Bentley, laid down his usual blissed-out grooves and flawless house under the Hope Stage tent, where the audience was a mix of club kids dancing like Shivas and random partygoers engaging in public affection. Bentleys mix was so good, you might have had to reach out and touch someone even if you werent on E.
An hour before midnight, electro-poppers the Killers took the Grand Stage with commanding fury, storming through half a set of energetic originals before giving the massive crowd their big single, "Somebody Told Me." The quartets songs were intriguing in an early-Bowie-meets-Fad-Gadget sort of way though arent lyrics about androgyny a bit clichéd these days, boys? The Killers delivered a stellar performance; its incredibly hard to believe this sound came out of Las Vegas. As the set wound down, the crowd assembled around the countdown screen, hoisted cell phones and hollered under fireworks as the New Year was ushered in.
Aside from controlled substances and fantastic people-watching opportunities, a clear highlight of Giant Village was DJ legend John Digweed. Oh, how the lightsticks came out when Digweed slid onto the decks of the Flower Stage and illustrated, with a cool poker face, why hes the king: He spins the lushest mixes, and knows when to drop a beat. It was virtually impossible to navigate the bodies packed tight to dance their brains out. As the crowd, stacked thousands deep, throbbed in time, one thing was certain: Although everyone may not remember just who or what they did that night, it was certainly a New Years done proper.
AUTOLUX, 400 BLOWS, THEE OUTFIT
at Spaceland, December 31
Lets face it, like no year in recent memory, 2004 truly
ate a bag of dicks. With 366 days of misery and death to consider, I approached Spacelands New Years Eve bash
in a particularly gloomy frame of mind. Honestly, ringing in 2005 with a rock show at this beloved bastion of bleakness seemed at first like one of the most impotent gestures imaginable. Soldiering on, I hoped the transcendent power of rock & roll would work some New Years magic on my woeful constitution.
The club, decked out in streamers and balloons, was packed with an agreeable and not entirely predictable mix of impatient hipsters, oversauced college types and sport-jacketed actors. From front-of-house all the way to the smokers fishbowl aft, the crowd appeared sufficiently celebratory. However, apart from a few revelers donning kitschy party hats, it was, yknow the usual (booze, blank stares, hookups, cigarette butts and fucked-up haircuts).
Thee Outfit, a laptop artist, opened. Though his pleasing glitch-hop blips & burbles went relatively unappreciated by the rock-oriented crowd, he deserves credit. Standing onstage alone, trying to get the New Years Eve party started while looking like youre doing nothing more than checking e-mail, takes guts.
The club went from lethargic to electric as the mighty 400 Blows lurched their audio assault into action, front man Skot Alexander and his bandmates again proving themselves first-rate punk showmen. Reminiscent of Crimes Frankie Fix, at once fantastically agitated and bizarrely at ease, Alexander wore mirrored shades and rocked a Nazi-cop vibe while peppering the bands invective-laced workouts with banter exalting friendship and encouragement for 2005. It was hilarious, loud as hell and exactly what I needed.
Autolux, on the other hand, while proficiently striking a shoegazery pose and making a few very pretty sounds, delivered a decidedly lackluster set. Much hyperbole has greeted this band (chiefly within this very paper), but apart from the drummers genuinely inspired playing, such fuss, as yet, is unwarranted.
Arlie John Carstens
OZOMATLI, KINKY, JUANA MOLINA
at Walt Disney Concert Hall, December 22
Hosted by KCRWs Nic Harcourt, this "A Latin Christmas" extravaganza heated up the night like a holiday tamale. Experimental solo artist Juana Molina provided the soft, smooth masa shell; the electro-pop band Kinky added a kick of spice; and the local rap/salsa troupe Ozomatli topped it all off with some rich, sweet mole. The juicy combination gave downtowns premier classical concert venue a true taste of Latino rock & roll.
In a floor-length red dress, Molina performed first. The Argentine chanteuses graceful alto glided over shifting layers of sound, with loops of synthetic beats thumping beneath guitar riffs and prerecorded backing harmonies. Though famous in her native country as a former comic and TV star, Molina maintained an intense veneer, cracking it only a few times once barking like a maniacal Chihuahua, and later telling the audience behind her, "I didnt mean to give my back to you!"
The entrance of the talented, sexy quintet Kinky was met with shrieks from young girls and middle-aged women alike. The lithe guys from Monterrey, Mexico, launched into a funky version of "Jingle Bells" before flashing through their high-energy set. Percussionist Omar Gongora played standing up, smashing a traditional set of drums while expertly pounding a pair of congas. Floppy-haired singer Gil Cerezo, grinning and hyperactive, led the shimmying crowd in yelling along to the groups wah-wahinfused 2002 hit, "Más."
But Kinky only swept the stage for Ozomatli. L.A.s favorite hip-hop/rock band throws a joyful shindig. "Dip/Dive/Socialize/Get ready for the Saturday night!" shouted MC Justin Porée and rapper Jabu as the groups eight other members cheered the audience to its feet. "Saturday Night," from Ozomatlis new Street Signs, is probably the best party anthem a Disney Hall audience has heard. With the bass-hooked "Christmas 1985" and the sing-along "Santy Claus," the band gladly encouraged participation: "Its okay to clap between movements at this show," said saxophonist Ulises Bella, and the line between band and audience crumbled soon after. Chanting "Ozomatli, ya se fue!" the group filed offstage, still playing, and strode down an aisle, through the theaters doors, down some stairs into the foyer and out onto the street, surrounded by chanting throngs. The spark of solidarity felt warm enough to melt the Disney Halls cold metal frame.
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Artie Shaw was a difficult man, but I couldnt help liking him anyway. He was so cantankerous that it often made me laugh out loud, but his insistence on speaking the truth as he saw it was a rare and beautiful thing.
By the time I met Artie, 45 years had passed since he quit being a jazz musician, and his house in Newbury Park was the silent environment of someone who spent his days reading, and writing the fictionalized autobiography that had become his primary focus. Music was still very much a part of his life, however. It was one of the things we regularly argued about, and once just once he took me upstairs to the library that housed his record collection and played me a few of what he considered his best selections. It was fascinating watching his face as he listened to these tracks hed surely heard hundreds of times. Ive never seen anyone listen so intently, and he was clearly still dissecting the performances, still finding passages that couldve been improved. Arties ability to hear unlimited potential in a given composition, in fact, played a role in his decision to put down his clarinet. Yet, he said, "I cant help thinking like a musician I wake up and there are chord sequences going on. But it would kill me if I tried now, because I cant play what I hear in my head."
Artie had been struggling against the indignities of declining health for several years, and I think he felt hed finished what he set out to do when he died at his home on December 29. "There are things Ive done that are as good as it gets," he once told me. "People are entitled to be judged by their best, too, because everything else is accidents that happen along the way. When a guy does something important, he deserves credit, because its hard to do. You do it in spite of the world."
To read Kristine McKenna's interview with Artie Shaw, click here.