at the Troubadour, October 24
When a sold-out show has a will-call line a block long, you know the buzz behind the Streets is industry-fueled, not spurred by heads swapping demo tapes. Well, you can bloody well believe the hype. The Streets, a.k.a. 22-year-old rapper Miky Skinner, is the first white British MC to be taken seriously. The reason, a chipper B-girl confided, is not because "he's their answer to Eminem." Unlike Slim Shady's self-obsessed spazz, Skinner's appeal lies in his status as a "geezer," an ordinary bloke biding time on the dole, and without preying on upper-class guilt, he calmly invites you into his world "to kick back and open up your sack."
Production- and lyricswise, the Streets' brief set from Original Pirate Material was real-time and raw, two-steppy synth shards popping that much harder with a live drummer and bassist. "Do you know [U.K.] garage? It's heavy," a DKNY-T-shirted and ball-capped Skinner bellowed between pithy, conversational verses -- a brand of flow less about pyrotechnics than dispensing nuggets of hard-earned wisdom. The chorus of Pirate's lead single said it all: "Geezers need excitement/If their lives don't provide it, they incite violence/Common sense, simple common sense." Chain-smoking Benson & Hedges and sipping on stout, Skinner rocked it like a karaoke session with his mates at the neighborhood pub, especially when, in the middle of "Let's Push Things Forward," he segued wildly into the Specials' "Ghost Town" and finally broke into that irritating Nelly song.
"Booooo -- that means good," said the Streets, translating cockney patois for the novelty-hungry hiperati. "What's good about L.A.? Silicon, yeah?" He was joking, but you got the feeling that, 5,000 miles away, the dreary housing-council tenements never seemed so much like home.
at the Palace, October 25
The rock-star status of DJs on tour has resulted in countless disappointments as the jocks give us what we want (hits) instead of what we need (a musical journey). Sasha, Danny Tenaglia and Paul Oakenfold all fell into this trap in Los Angeles stops over the last year. But Deep Dish, the Washington, D.C., duo most responsible for today's fusion of house, techno and progressive, really did it this time, and the effect was sublime.
The Palace was electric with beautiful people as Ali "Dubfire" Shirazinia got behind the turntables and programmed the sound of filtered jet engines for his midnight introduction. Shirazinia stayed cool and rinsed one of the pair's first-ever productions, 1994's "The Dream," a pure house jacker that said Get ready for takeoff. From here on, the floor was hip-to-hip and never let up. Hats off to "the light guy" who was killing with on-beat blasts of gorgeous pastels and white heat; mixing was crisp, and the house music chugged like a Mississippi steamboat as Dave Gahan's voice floated over twisted, evil bass lines. Sharam Tayebi took over the turntables at 2:07 a.m. and lifted the venue in Herculean fashion, blending in a sizzling progressive redux of Foreigner's "Urgent" ("You stay up, you won't come down/You wanna live, you wanna move to the sound" -- rock & roll!).
Of course, soon there was TVP -- Typical Vocal Progressive, an affliction facing the dance scene that pairs sweet but unimaginative lyrics with tribal drums and rolling breakdowns. Based on the success of Deep Dish's Grammy-winning remix of Dido's "Thank You," it was a formula many in the audience came to hear. No thanks. On balance, however, the duo came through with steady rocking house and elevating unreleased tracks, vibing the hyper locals like lion tamers and, for the most part, avoiding the typical cover jock's song and dance. (Dennis Romero)
at Hotel Cafe, October 25
Patrick Park's left hand looks like a spider doing yoga, contorting into horrid shapes as it moves along the fret-board. It's hypnotizing. The shocking chord progressions he forces from his acoustic guitar convey more than sound; Park's love of sound reverberates through everything he plays, giving his music a special, sacred intelligence. A Colorado native, Park writes songs born from personal tragedy, but his songwriting philosophy is akin to that of his pop heroes, the Zombies: "I will triumph over this shit with the prettiest music you ever heard. Key changes and crazy chords and time changes will save the world!" (He glides between 4/4 and 6/8 on "Nothing's Wrong" like it's no big thing.)
Park's show at the Hotel Cafe last Friday was sparsely attended, with some cloth-ears even leaving in the middle ("See you guys," Park said affably as they walked out). Somehow, it only made the show feel more, you know, exclusive, secret and important. Park had trouble tuning his guitar, apologizing repeatedly ("I'm fucking tone-deaf tonight") and made a few boo-boos while playing. It didn't really matter. In fact, Park has a way of using his weaknesses to his advantage. If anything, he sings above his natural range, letting his voice grow thin and even break at times, to lovely effect. Park also has a refreshingly unpretentious stage manner: He just stands there, hardly moving, singing his songs with his head thrown back, as if that were enough. It is. (Kate Sullivan)
at the Roxy, October 23
The Donnas are already ancient; they've been sounding "bad girl wrecking prom" since they were 13. While waiting to turn 21, they kicked out a lot of jams owing something to the Ramones and a whole lot to Nikki and the Corvettes. On their latest LP, Spend the Night, they seem to have finalized themselves as a Hessian version of Jem and the Holograms; the girls have gone hentai, the solos are beery and arena, the back-seat snarls are a bit fuller. The question is whether any of this is progress.
Live, they grind out a tight, ferocious set. They strut. They're older now but still play with the doe-eyed abandon of girls out way past curfew. Perhaps that's the problem -- Spend the Night trades heavily on the continuing allure of schoolgirl slumber-party coquette. The lyrics are interchangeable with any of their previous albums', a verbal shimmy of drink up, you're hot, you're not; it's still "You wanna fuck me but I'm going to fuck you." It's hard to hear this spiel repeated; at 16 it was flat-out, but six years later, after at least one girl's stumbled down the aisle? It's a failure, if not of nerve, then of ambition.
It's easy to think of the Donnas as commenting upon the persona they've adopted, to view their repetition as being distant in intent from the original. But the Donnas don't give a damn about irony. They care about jeans and rep and hot-rod hormones; they're Motley Crue, basically. They're not here to save rock -- they want to rock. No one's going to confuse this with intelligence, but the music's still voluptuous, riffs barely contained by their own exuberance. They play as they have to play, indifferent to their own limitations. They close out the show with a rousing version of "Skintight." And who knows? Perhaps one day their charm will be more than skin-deep. They're only 22. (Russel Swensen)
THE (INTERNATIONAL) NOISE CONSPIRACY
at the Palace, October 22
A self-proclaimed "grassroots political group," Sweden's the (International) Noise Conspiracy are in fact a bunch of garage punks drunk on sex, noise and revolution. At the Palace, the five-piece -- uniformly hot in raven mullets, red pants and black T-shirts with sawed-off sleeves -- reached for ammo from their 2001 manifesto New Morning, Changing Weather, dressing situationism and bolshie politics in dirty talk, slapping pop glee and riffs nicked from the Kinks on the primal tension of Stooges and MC5 rhythms, and twitching like the godfather of soul had just entered the building. Hammy front man Dennis Lyxzén dive-bombed off the amp stack and executed scissors kicks with the radical aplomb of David Lee Roth high on lighter fluid, while cool switchblade Sara Almgren shook it up with a bass, a tambourine, maracas and keyboards. No matter what you thought of their political wisdom ("Let's say no to the war in Iraq, okay?"), it was impossible to resist the Who-inspired maximum-R&B action of "New Empire Blues" (which went from a commentary on "free-trade restructuring plans" to "Give it to me, mama!") or the driving menace of Stooges riffs paired with the ridiculous uplift of organ grooves on "Born Into a Mess." Likewise, the feminist stomp "Breakout 2001" had all the sisters in the audience spasming with desire.
A year ago T(I)NC hit town with the Hives in tow, and their own opening act came furiously close to stealing their thunder. This time around they brought along their more sedate countrymen Division of Laura Lee, brooding rockers with a dark sexual edge squalling the welfare state blues. (Ain't it a bitch when the government pays for your amps and rehearsal space?) D.O.L.L.'s sound, cobbled together from heavy, distorted power chords in the brooding vein of Jesus & Mary Chain, is pleasantly moody, and their nimble bassist/co-vocalist Jonas Gustafsson has an attractive snarl, but the crowd wasn't buying it. Vocalist No. 2, Per Stålberg, tried in vain to work up some mojo: "Los Angeles, you don't have to be afraid! Can you dance? Do you know how to do that?" Er, apparently not. D.O.L.L. concluded their set by trashing their drum kit, possibly in frustration. (Sorina Diaconescu)
at the Wiltern, October 24
Midway through Ani DiFranco's solo date at the Wiltern, she quietly spoke to her adoring fans: "My heart has been breaking, and it means so much to feel this love and support." The woman sitting next to me began weeping while the crowd roared. It was an unparalleled moment of naked honesty, and it proved, to paraphrase an adage about another musical act/social movement, that there is nothing like an Ani DiFranco show.
To further paraphrase, DiFranco isn't merely the best at what she does, she's the only one. With dreadlocks flying, she bounced around the stage, half-Jagger, half-Chaplin. While she performed a few recent songs, including "Garden of Simple" and "Your Next Bold Move," most of the material was new, and her music continues to grow exponentially, employing an improvisational style incorporating elements of jazz, hip-hop, spoken word and sounds plucked from the air. Like everything Ani, her phrasing is wholly unorthodox. She'll sing/talk a word repeatedly, voice autistically swinging between wail, hum, giggle and mumbled jokes. She changed guitars between each tune: 6- and 12-string and strangely shaped axes, all tuned differently. She's retained her trademark percussive, rhythmic style but is also a dexterous soloist.
As with many Americans post-9/11, DiFranco's personal life has evidently nosedived in sync with the deteriorating planetary Zeitgeist. Yet she not only clings to the lifeboat but continues to demand that there be room on it for everyone. With every political lyric or aside, her fans expressed thunderous solidarity, giving vent to the growing rage that the Righteous Babe has consistently been an outlet for. When the topic somehow came to breasts, DiFranco laughed. "Sign of the times, opening the L.A. Weekly. Half the fucking thing is trying to make you okay 'cause somehow you're not," she said, ever speaking truth to bullshit. (Michael Simmons)
at the Troubadour, October 24
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Spoon are the epitome of contemporary American indie rock. They live in Austin, Texas, a little college town with a great music scene. They write tight little songs about life's unspectacular cases. It's a lot of littleness. Last year's well-crafted Girls Can Tell was a career breakthough, because it was tighter than anyone else's average indie rock, and they were more strident about setting their sights so low. But is aiming low ever a virtue?
I was watching Spoon from the Troubadour's skyboxlike VIP room, the Loft. A woman dressed in a style notably more upscale than the thrift-store chic displayed by most of those in attendance turned to me and asked, "Is he British? His name is Britt, right?" I did the "I'm not hearing you, and if I am, I'm not caring" nod, but she was on to something. One of Spoon's cardinal virtues is Britt Daniel's voice. The roughness of it is as hard to forget as a sore throat, and, to seal in your remembering, he enunciates every word in a clipped, affected accent. On top of the group's pulsing songs, Spoon bring to mind British post-punk, specifically Elvis Costello & the Attractions as angry young men. Each line propels you gloriously forward.
On record this comes across as controlled brilliance. But their live delivery was lacking. For one, you can see that, far from being angry, Daniel is just being precise and getting his syl-la-bles correct. The band -- longtime collaborator Jim Eno on drums and part-timers on bass and dinky electric keyboard -- came across less like the Attractions and more like posing mods. Spoon knocked out the songs with the effortless skill of a pool shark polishing off a patsy, but it sounded like they were on a very short leash, the rhythms slavishly subservient to Daniel's guitar cues. The compressed pulse and insistent hooks made it hard to lose focus on the songs moment to moment, but the reliance on thrum rather than melody made them equally easy to forget.
I like Spoon, but there's something desultory about music that seems so easy. On their new album, Kill the Moonlight, Daniel celebrates the little things: "Oh yeah, small stakes ensure you the minimum blues/but you don't feel taken and you don't feel abused/Small stakes tell you that there's nothing can do/Can't think big, can't think past one or two and awlright!" But sometimes it's not all right. (Alec Hanley Bemis)