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Dandyland

Photo by Wild Don Lewis

SUNSET JUNCTION STREET FAIR, August 23-24

Colonel Mustard hooked me up with a ride into Silver Lake just in time to see a great little rock & roll band called Kennedy finish a set with their namesake’s magnificent bass launch . . . could have been an incredible Krist Novoselic “What happened to my nose?” moment, but the bastard caught it!

Sunset Junction Street Fair was a good scene from the get-go: Saxophonist Jon Wahl played his Captain Beefheart out for the Stooges-friendly sound of the Icarus Line, and it all looked like mad fun until their guitarist chucked — I shit you not — a Marshall half-stack right off the stage; Jake La Botz played the blues at El Cid as if he’d lived not one but several hard lives; Snake vs. Wizard threw down some almost impenetrable hard-rock grooves in a parking lot; and Anton from Brian Jonestown Massacre offered to impregnate most of the females in the audience. I had to swim through the crowds watching Christopher Wonder escape from a padlocked straitjacket on stilts, mind you, to see Circle Jerks’ forever hardcore front man Keith Morris just own the crowd — and shout “Coup d’état!” along with every other motherfucker there. Then I was Guided by Voices into Hollywood to attend the Dandy Warhols’ Welcome to the Monkey House release party at Bang! and witness an acoustic performance that highlighted the consistent core of the band’s sound amid the new record’s aural renovation: the intimate way cousins Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Brent DeBoer mix melody and harmony.

Made a Nervous Return on Sunday to bask in a second day of lemonade, carnival rides, tasty pupusas and great music. Realized that Keith Slettedahl has pipes, and that the naked pop of the 88 is going to be huge; saw the kids out in force to welcome Moving Units and Earlimart back home. Soul singer Vonyse added soprano to the insane low end of seven-string bass. Silversun Pickups sang, “Everything is connected and beautiful,” and it was. I wanted to see Isaac Hayes, but was pinned at the front of the Bates stage beneath the Dandy Warhols — staring up into the night sky, watching the rock stars.

BRIGHT EYES, BELLE & SEBASTIAN at the Greek Theater, August 24

The most frequent complaint against old soul Connor Oberst — the 22-year-old oracle behind Nebraskan sad sacks Bright Eyes — is that he overemotes. Naw, it’s just that most people at his age (make that any age) don’t feel the vicissitudes of life and love with such staggering, nerve-shredding depth. And while the “new Dylan” epithets might be premature, that voice’s reedy roller-coaster phrasing could survive the absence of the backing band’s lush orchestrations. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s really cute, as evidenced by droves of dumbstruck teenyboppers pledging their love.

Belle & Sebastian have the gift — just like Donovan, the Feelies and Burt B. — executing their strummalicious swirl of ecstatic pop as confidently as they breathe, with as many as five fiddlers and a cellist onstage at any given time. The yahoos screaming song requests should know you don’t push these gentle Scots, you let them do their thing, especially when they lay themselves as bare as guitarist/vocalist Stevie Jackson does: “I never wanted to be a singer, y’see. Fate just dealt a hand.” And like Mr. Oberst, B&S main man Stuart Murdoch (dig the white pants, man) fielded offers of marriage, which he took semiseriously: “Hmmm, I d’know — are you rich?”

The band’s energy escalated with time, so it seemed almost too much of a good thing by the time Murdoch bade us goodnight, as if there wasn’t going to be an encore. He soon re-emerged escorting no less a personage than bespectacled Buggles founder Trevor Horn, producer of Belle & Sebastian’s upcoming Dear Catastrophe Waitress, who strapped on a bass and cranked “Video Killed the Radio Star” as though it had been preserved in amber since 1983. Murdoch hadn’t been kidding when he said he had a “wee surprise.” (Andrew Lentz)

LEXICON, NORTHERN STATE at the Troubadour, August 20

Lexicon are local MCs and biological brothers Oak and Nick Fury, who scarcely need consult their namesake to verbalize their day-to-day travails — you know, heavy stuff like being addicted to footwear (“Nikehead”), weed and pussy. With one sporting a stylish white ’fro and the other in an olive-drab Marine cap, the two swung like seasoned microphone fiends in their 20-minute set. Lexicon may be clever wordsmiths, but the sporadic scratches and familiar samples from producer DJ Cheap Shot (who owns their label, SpyTech Records) and the whole say-“hey”-say-“ho” Yo! MTV Raps tone of their presentation was pretty stale. Still, Lex have the kind of heart that nearly makes up for it.

While the Beastie Boys comparisons that dog the female hip-hop trio Northern State ring truer than the abysmal “Feminem” tag, such analogies are no more intelligent than lumping Jay-Z and Lauryn Hill together because they’re both black, from New York, and dug N.W.A. Male/female, white/black, Northern State are an unapologetically old-skool triad of relentless boom-bap. Hesta Prynn, DJ Sprout and Guinea Love represented like a secret pact of best friends as they spat “rhymes so phat they got cellulite” and dropped Shakespeare as unselfconsciously as they used to in their Long Island bedrooms using hairbrushes for mikes. At least part of Northern State’s wallop came from the backing band, “the Groove Brothers,” who pounded real drums, bass and keyboards. And big-up to Katie Cassidy on tambourine, guitar, xylophone and autoharp.

“These chicks are ridiculous” (as in “so good it’s ridiculous”), shouted one guy in the men’s room just before the encore. “They must have had some clueless producer, though,” the guy next to him concurred, “because the CD really undersells them.” Actually, the CD kills for the most part, but after seeing Northern State live, you could think the second guy was right. (Andrew Lentz)

BEANS at Temple Bar, August 21

“I wear my Adidas when I rock the beat/Onstage front page every show I go,” declared Run-DMC in 1986. The Adidas present at the 10th-anniversary party for XLR8R magazine, though, weren’t what Run had in mind. The sneakers were prominently placed, all right, and a few pair could be found at center stage, but they were rocking it in Plexiglas display cases. This bit of hip-hop history wasn’t there for tradition’s sake; the shoes served to satisfy the event’s major sponsor.

In keeping with XLR8R’s mission statement — “accelerate culture” — the San Francisco–based publication is intent on documenting the future of left-of-center hip-hop and electronic music. How odd, then, that the night’s featured performer was Beans, former MC of the Antipop Consortium and one of the few rappers today who is effortlessly, wonderfully poised between then and now. His first solo record, Tomorrow Right Now (natch) is a strong blend of three decades: ’70s-style Afro-poetics sung in the bold tones of Gil Scott-Heron; spare beats mimicking the space of Run-D.M.C. and the snap of early electro; and the self-awareness and intellectual itch of ’90s underground hip-hop and intelligent dance music.

Beans had a shaved head and a bushy beard. These days most hip-hoppers are style conscious, be they the baggy-panted backpackers of the Def Jux set, the hippie-leaning traditionalists who surround the Roots, or the bling-bling fetishists on the Billboard charts. Beans? He wore a T-shirt with a crazy-looking black guy on it. (Sun Ra? Bootsy Collins?) His backing band was a CD player, but a multilayered human beat box kicked in as he began the carefree a cappella of “Crave.” “A deeper sense is what the listeners crave,” he rapped, “because there’s too many MCs and not enough listeners.” Point made, he swiveled his hips, without pretense. (Alec Hanley Bemis)

VERTICAL HORIZON at the Roxy, August 19

While sharing a template and background with the slew of overly sincere, strummy college-rockers who enthused their way from campuses to airwaves in the late ’90s, Vertical Horizon possess a musicality and a subtle melancholy that put some meat in their cheese. After their last album, Everything You Want, went double platinum, V.H. now have the famously fraught challenge of repeating the feat with their new Go. At a sold-out Roxy, the new single, “I’m Still Here,” was dabbed with all of the group’s enduring thumbprints: acoustic-guitar backbone, close harmonies, an aerial-view bridge and deft dynamic control. Founders Matt Scannell and Keith Kane boasted a cozy musical connection incubated over a dozen years on the road. The smiling, shaven-headed Skannell has now fully embraced the spotlight — crowd cajolery, grimacing guitar-hero histrionics and all — but when Kane took the vocal helm, his wind-weathered, folksy timbre and fatherly demeanor found the audience’s attention wandering.

Among a smattering of new tunes, the wistful open-road reflection of “Inside” curiously aped former tour mates Stir, while V.H.’s “other hit,” “You’re a God,” had its triple-barreled harmonies battered by a bellowing mix. For all their pop streamlining of late, Vertical Horizon are still stained with the past; they even rolled out the ultimate fuzzy dice — a bass solo. As salvation, the song that took V.H. from VFW halls to VH1, “Everything You Want,” finally appeared like a four-minute best-of collection: gorgeously ominous verses, crowd-swaying choruses and a typically elevated middle eight.

Vertical Horizon genially engaged a polite gathering in their late 20s and 30s, their high-caliber compositions and inclusive aura eliciting barely prompted Burning Man sing-alongs. Whether V.H. can maintain a contemporary connection or be reduced to a college-days nostalgia vehicle for their core audience will be determined by Go’s commercial reach. (Paul Rogers)


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