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Got Robots?

CRACK (WE ARE ROCK), BRAD LANER, KID606, SEKSU ROBA
at the Derby, May 17

Crack (We Are Rock) charmed tonight's Gauloise-smoking fobs right out of their ennui-filled poses and onto the dance floor. Looking all of 12 years old in their matching white sleeveless gowns, Crack's leading ladies intoned fem-bot lyrics over keyboard riffs and drum machines "manned" by two faceless guys in back. I later asked the band if it was the droid-drones who composed the songs. "Oh, we're just front women -- we couldn't possibly have written any of the music." Never expect a straight answer from a San Francisco band.

Schlubbily dressed in everyday jeans and button-down shirt, Electric Company's Brad Laner layered reams of texture into grating-lovely-intriguing things. One of L.A.'s more far-reaching noise/sound/rock weirdos, Laner seems to take a lot of cues from television, as vaguely familiar theme songs and scores got clusterfucked every which way but loose -- just don't call it "explorations in pure sound" or collage or shit like that, 'cause there was definitely a narrative at work here. This assertion was later confirmed with sober fans, so you know it's not the Dextromathorphan talking.

There's a new paradigm for entertainers: Stand still, like a post, and avoid eye contact with the audience. Sounds dull? We defy you not to become transfixed by San Diego's Kid606 (22-year-old Miguel Depedro), the most accomplished digital-punk in the U.S. With face aglow from his dual PowerBooks, Depedro soon developed rosy medallions on his cheeks, giving 110 percent to a drill & bass-gabber-techstep onslaught cut with enough cheese-pop to keep the mix humorous and grooving. Feeling us out before launching into the encore, he asked, "Hard stuff? Soft stuff?" This kid may be more programmer than rock star, but at the end of the day even laptop-geeks are crowd pleasers.

Kevin Lee, a.k.a. Seksu Roba, does the bachelor-pad thing as well as any keen disciple of Esquivel, but this Crippled Dick recording artist invests his fluffly lounge chic with hip-swiveling heft. Tonight he got sci-fi on us with woozy theremin while sidekick Lunna Menoh -- in a satin majorette's leotard -- spun a mean baton. To play percussion, Lee even brought aboard a pneumatically controlled tin man (!). It was no Neil Peart, but it easily kept better time than those animatronic players at Chucky Cheez.

METAL SHOP
at the Camaro Club at the Viper Room, May 13

"Dude, it's not about how good you play, it's about how good you look," sneered sweat-drenched, poodle-headed Michael Diamond, lead singer for the Viper Room's Monday-night house band Metal Shop (also known as Danger Kitty from those credit-card commercials), as he twirled his locks and puckered his lips into a perfect Poison pose. The concept of an '80s metal cover band ain't exactly novel, but these guys' well-honed shtick, not to mention their ability to sound exactly like everyone from Motley Crue to Warrant to the Scorpions, has made them the undisputed kings of copycat camp.

And lately, the line between parody and real rawk has blurred. The boys may wear ghastly wigs and primp with Aqua Net, but they've also been attracting the likes of Steven Tyler and Ratt's Steven Pearcy for impromptu jams, while celebs from Gene Simmons to Drew Barrymore and the Strokes have been dropping by. This night, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith joined Metal Shop for a spanking version of "You Really Got Me" (Van Halen's version, of course), followed by a pummeling solo. Speaking of solos, guitarist Rachette does the obligatory ax-dance so right-on -- selfishly lengthy and bursting with masturbatory nuances -- that any arena attendee who made devil hand signs or lit a Bic back in the '80s will surely fall victim to flashbacks. The other members -- bassist Ginger Roxx and "Drummer No. 26" (in a Spinal Tap twist, these guys truly can't keep a skinsman) -- are equally accomplished players and actors. Metal Shop's hilarious medley about Whitesnake kicked off with "Here I Go Again," with Diamond ranting about how everybody rips off metal, then proving it by singing Styx's "Come Sail Away," Steve Miller's "The Joker," Sugar Ray's "Fly," Smash Mouth's "All-Star" and Weezer's "Sweater Song" over the same chord progression. Never mind that a couple of those tunes came before the Whitesnake "model."

Makeup and big hair may be a thing of the past, but power and attitude still rule, dude. (Lina Lecaro)



Shankar . . .

SHANKAR & GINGGER; LIU QI-CHAO & SOPHIE HUANG; PAUL LIVINGSTONE, ABHIMAN KAUSHAL & COURTNEY DuCAINE
at the Pacific Asia Museum, May 11

Microtones aren't always in the ear of the perceiver, as this Microfest concert of "Asian Tunings" demonstrated. When I asked micromalletman Kraig Grady (another late arrival skulking in the museum's statue-ornamented, koi-inhabited garden performance space) why I wasn't hearing many notes that sounded strange, he said I might be used to the slight flatnesses and sharpnesses of traditional Eastern scales on their native instruments; if I heard them on sax they'd probably sound out of tune.

Sitarist Paul Livingstone's speed was more what tricked the ear; when he clawed way up the neck and started blazing away, you had to think of Jimmy Page. Asked later where the harsh clusters that accented his playing came from, he said they arose from his instrument's sympathetic strings when he slapped the body. Despite its intensity, Livingstone's approach was more intellectual than that of tabla drummer Abhiman Kaushal, whose throbbing push balanced Livingstone throughout their original raga -- they took turns shredding, except when they locked into a simple, controlled groove toward the end. The drones of the gently smiling sarangi player, Courtney DuCaine, held the two together like a web.

Liu Qi-Chao, who played Chinese violin, wooden flute and vertical mouth organ, though masterful, quelled the packed gallery into a tea-ceremony mode that this coarse reporter found uncomfortable. Loved the rich, dark slides he got from that flute, anyway. Koto player Sophie Huang's harplike arpeggios added to the celestial atmosphere, except when she occasionally woke us up with tart bends.

We were all kidnapped, enslaved in Alpha Centauri and returned to our seats while the mesmerizing twin double-violins of Shankar and Gingger played. There was echo, fugue, drone, Philip Glass note-cycling, even rapid "Orange Blossom Special"­type sawing and spooky vocalizing, all running together in a trance. Original music.

Sorry I missed the Japanese. (Damned 7 p.m. start.) (Greg Burk)

FRENCH KICKS, THE RATTLESNAKES
at Spaceland, May 15

It's sad, really. A lot of opening bands would do better playing high school dances than Silver Lake's Spaceland. Case in point: the Rattlesnakes, a volatile fusion of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and the now defunct Jonathan FireEater. Front man Nathan Buckley howled, crawled, leaped and sweated buckets in a raucous set for the benefit of a handful of hipsters who wouldn't be caught dead perspiring at a rock concert.

Headliners French Kicks did a little better, drawing an average-size crowd to its feet, heads bobbing. Their short set showed the Kicks' many faces, shifting from garagey melancholy on "Right on Time" to the peppy uptempo pop rock of "Wrong Side." The group play marvelously together; they share an East Coast collegiate style and bring a compelling intelligence to their music, if a slight lack of swagger. Nick Stumpf is that rock anomaly, the lead singer­drummer. With the drum kit front and center, Stumpf thrashed and bounced on his stool like a spastic marionette, a lively puppet boy without strings. He pulled off his dual duties astonishingly, wailing and keeping the quick, catchy beats going. Still, on songs like "One Time Bells," the title track of French Kicks' debut album, Stumpf's voice took on a strange staccato singsong that grew repetitive; it was as if his vocal rhythm had been swallowed by the percussion.

Most of the songs were off the new disc, but the Kicks closed with a tune from their Young Lawyer EP, "Piano," a bouncy, Beach Boys­ish number that proved how many tricks the Kicks have up their sleeves. It'll be interesting to see what this odd little rock band gets into next. (Nathan Ihara)



...Roba!

FRANK BLACK, EILEEN ROSE
at the Knitting Factory, May 5

It's a bad year for the Vatican: pedophile priests, slippery cardinals, apostasy at record highs, etc. But on Eileen Rose's new CD -- Long Shot Novena, an addictive batch of down-home rock and high-plains poesy -- the plucky singer-songwriter adapts an obscure bit of papist voodoo as a springboard for her own conflicted devotion. "I'm a lapsed Catholic," she announced at the Knit, before quickly adding, "Is there any other kind?" Rose's powerful lungs surprised the audience, her voice seemingly too big for her birdlike frame. A few songs in, her backing band, the Confidence Men, left the stage so she could strum and croon alone to "Good Man." "This is my 'bad past boyfriend' song -- sorry, guys," she said while strapping on a harmonica harness. "There's no way you can look cool in one of these things." All the same, guys probably developed crushes.

Quite the opposite of Rose, Frank Black wouldn't engage the crowd as he and his fellow Catholics blazed through material that ranged all the way back to Teenager of the Year. Though it no doubt irks him to do it, Black shrewdly peppered his set with just enough Pixies tunes to give the crowd their fix yet keep his artistic cred intact. On that note, it was sad to hear "Monkey Gone to Heaven" without the cooing Kim Deal plucking bass at his side. "Hope everyone had a nice Cinco de Mayo," he said, finally loosening up toward show's end. "We spent the day drinking on Olvera Street." Insatiable fans demanded an encore and got the oldie-but-goodie "Where Is My Mind?" To the nostalgia-stricken crowd, the answer could only be: at an early Pixies concert. (Andrew Lentz)

SILVER
at Club Lingerie, May 16

The point of billing local hick Mike Stintson and his string-lassoing honky-tonks with the artsy rock band Silver was lost on the crowd. Who booked this show, game-maker Milton Bradley? It was like introducing Bakersfield to 1970s NYC; the audience was flummoxed, and forced to coexist with one another. Even so, every time Stintson squinted his eyes attempting to vine-swing to a higher octave -- which always seemed three feet away from his grasp -- things got interesting, and it made for a fun brand of anxiety.

How would Silver, a rock outfit that often brings mood-enhancing visuals to the stage, follow that? If they brought their belly dancers or their bongo slapper Sun, the country folk in the crowd might see a circus where there isn't one and start hooting 'n' roughnecking. Instead Silver played as a standard power-trio whose truckload of tightly woven rock came off effortlessly. Having just completed a West Coast minitour, Silver have perfected and elaborated on the songs from their new album Red City (Substance), and are at that prime point when the band members are collectively feeding off each other's instincts. At Club Lingerie, in between Jason Hiller's rise-and-fall bass lines and singer/guitarist Brandon McCulloch's pristine vocal delivery, the pulsation of David Goldstein's thumping skins stood tall. On the metaphorical "Angela," Goldstein jumped the chorus in with a Tool-ish militant drive, seemingly putting the song on trial. A promising new number called "Unknown Caller" brought to mind vintage Pixies.

As always, it was the underground hit "Dunger Tealeaves," a mod-rocking one-up on the Mission: Impossible theme, that got a few fists pumping. To see their faces, you'd have thought that some of the lingering Stintson faithful had mistakenly swallowed a cattle grub. (Chuck Mindenhall)

L.A. PHILHARMONIC
at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, May 19

With a big, colorful bang, the Phil ended its season by presenting the Los Angeles premiere of Esa-Pekka Salonen's Foreign Bodies, an extravagant piece for large forces in which the composer revels in the possibilities of absolute orchestral sound. From its opening giant blasts of brass, strings and tympani, into flurries of woodwinds awash in shimmering chimes, Salonen crafts a sprawling, thumping, episodic event whose descents into the maelstrom are reminiscent of the Bernard Herrmann/Mahler noir-drama in the Hitchcock films (lots of very heavy double-bass in this one), a wide-ranging bag of menace, thrills and opulence that breezes into diaphanous balletic motifs then airy climes even like that of Ferde Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite. It's a highly visual piece, set in four movements, revisiting and rhythmically compounding dancelike flourishes as Salonen struts his excellent gift for taking the sweeping sheen of romantic orchestral music's past and extrapolating via ingenious (and tasteful) harmonic maneuvers (as in his L.A. Variations, there are some great chords in this piece). Exciting stuff -- you feel your blood racing when the orchestra, amid the wild emotional fray, finally has a nervous breakdown, pulls itself together when called by a distant, strange organ, then hits its climax of screaming strings, bells and tootling brass, a gripping effect not totally unlike rinsing off with Janet Leigh. Boom! It ends, and the crowd goes nuts.

With Foreign Bodies Salonen achieves an accessible yet modern "serious music" equation that shrewdly pushes the parameters. At the Music Center, the piece owed much of its impact to the almost brutish physicality of the score and its performance by the Phil, which gave it a gleaming, dynamically chic recital, and punchy, not stodgy. Of course, that physical vitality is something Salonen as a conductor is especially good at; his fluid yet superprecise movements at the podium are as much fun to watch as the music is to hear. Even so, Salonen had some kind of cheek to present his own piece on this weighty program (capped by a majestic performance of Tchaikovsky's slightly exhausting Symphony No. 4 in F minor), with the formidable Yefim Bronfman attacking the rather insane athleticisms of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor. Bronfman, a charismatic bear of a man, works hard for money; his lithe tickling, stabbing, crisscrossing and caressing wizardry in this hair-raising and very modern-sounding work brought deserved thunderous applause. (John Payne)