ELECTROCLASH II at the Henry Fonda Theater, April 5
With straight boys slumming as cross-dressers, fashion damage ranging from aqua satin tops to purple stilettos, and enough cyber-slut cleavage to gag Dale Bozzio, there was no mistaking tonight's crowd as the same misfits that made last year's Electroclash premiere such an inspired freakfest. Even billboard goddess Angelyne was there, parking her hot-pink Corvette right under the venue's marquee and winking at this writer as she darted through the crowd with a 20-year-old boy toy on her heels. Yeah, she has a thing for me.
Besides the slammin' remixes he cut between acts, the evening's host and scene founder, Larry Tee, exhibited genuine affection for his charges. "These two girls really put the 'ass' in electroclash," he said, introducing chanteuses-cum-Cheetah's dancers Avenue D, who make smut queen Peaches look downright Victorian. As the Ave.'s cherubic Daphne sported next to nil but nipple pasties and hooker-tuff Debbie maximized her ample bosom, the girls bumped and ground their way thru a flurry of synth-pop confections culminating in pleasure-device paean "Orgasmatron," which boasts the fetching chorus "It comes with batteries, no assembly required/Stick it in your ass when your pussy gets tired." But the steamy lyrics were nothing compared to the "fan" who jumped onstage for the mock three-way, grabbing tits, dogging that ass, and, in a true display of coital acrobatics, perfectly illustrating the "wheelbarrel" from Chapter 7 of The Joy of Sex.
But if Avenue D were as nastee as they wanted to be, headliners W.I.T., in matching beige taffeta gowns, were demure performance artists flapper girls reimagined as game-show bimbos? They specialize in synchronized dance steps, with Christine Doza's coy pout reminiscent of Bernadette Peters if she had Farrah Fawcett bangs, and one of the strangest routines was "It Kills," in which Mandy Coom and Melissa Burns vogued pretentiously with guitars they never played. Though W.I.T.'s most nostalgic tune was "Ooh, I Like It," the highlight was a cover of "Just What I Needed" that Ric Ocasek would either have loved or hated. But the trio's real gift is playing the tease, doing only a handful of numbers after keeping us waiting till 12:30! True, eight songs is all they've written in their brief existence, but these eye-batting coquettes could have played 80 and it wouldn't have been enough.
TURBONEGRO at the Troubadour, April 3
"What are you doing tonight?" "Oh, I'm going to go see my favorite band!" When was the last time you were able to say that and mean it? I wasn't alone in my feelings, given the fact that underground Norwegian band Turbonegro sold out the Troubadour in less than an hour, creating enough demand to add a second show the same night, which also sold out almost instantly. Judging by the reaction from the throng, anticipation for the recently reunited six-piece denim army created full-on Turbomania. Why? The key reason is the group's last official studio release, 1997's Apocalypse Dudes, which many hotshots (such as Eddie Spaghetti of the Supersuckers) proclaimed as the best rock album of the '90s, nevermind Nirvana or any other contenders. Despite the album being embraced by forward-thinking rock fans worldwide, the group called it quits in '98 after a grueling tour, officially citing "religious differences" in the press. Undaunted, the group's European label assembled a star-studded tribute album that subsequently spiked demand for a re-formed Turbonegro. They reunited, recorded a new album, toured Europe, and recently toured the East Coast as guests of Queens of the Stone Age, who are true Turbo fans (Turbojugend) and who recorded Turbo's "Back to Dungaree High" for the tribute.
Turbonegro took the Troubadour stage like conquering warriors. Opening with "The Age of Pamparius," their set closely mirrored the highlights from Apocalypse Dudes, with one lone selection from their upcoming studio opus Scandinavian Leather, out domestically next month. Two favorites from their earlier Ass Cobra album met with similar audience glee, and seemingly the entire crowd knew the words to the anthems "Midnight NAMBLA" and "I Got Erection." Vocalist Hank von Helvete, resembling a well-fed Charlie Manson in Love It to Death-era Alice Cooper makeup, sported a cane and denim cape as he led fans through sing-alongs like "Prince of the Rodeo" and "Good Head." Euroboy, lead guitarist extraordinaire, is the ultimate successor to the glam-noise crown of Mick Ronson. His smooth but energetic slow-hand Les Paul solos ripped through the P.A. like a gilded dagger. The band's powerful twin-guitar attack draws from sources such as the Dictators, Ramones, Cooper and Spiders-era Bowie.
Hard rocking but hooky as hell, Turbonegro's brand of apocalyptic arena rock is well poised to break out to a wider and younger audience tired of the manufactured punk and nu-metal shoved down its throat by corporations more concerned with fighting downloads than finding bands with anything real to present. Operating well beyond such clichés as metal or punk, Turbonegro could prove to be the last great real rock band a band whose ideals are held together by stubbornness, singular vision, humor, a disregard for common sense and good taste, and the ability to musically kick major ass. (SL Duff)
BLVD., VIVA MALPACHE, LOS ABANDONED, GO BETTY GO at Westchester Sports Grill, April 5
Los Angeles' best venue for local Latin alternative acts is the Westchester Sports Grill, a tavern on the outskirts of LAX whose all-wood walls and leather couches would seem more comfortable hosting a VFW reunion than the region's rockeros. But Spanglish is the lingua franca here every couple of weeks, and even international acts now inquire about paying a visit during tours.
This is not to say that every band performing at the WSG is superb. For instance, take last Saturday's opening act, Blvd. Their head-nodding sound can potentially be the best thing out of Las Vegas since Don Rickles, but the lead singer needs to learn how to shut up. Her big voice prattled about nothing, and the group's we're-from-Vegas shtick wore out its welcome quicker than Casino. There must have been something in the WSG's $5 beers, because Viva Malpache's lead singer proved to be as annoying as Blvd.'s Gwen rip-off. His yowls weren't appropriate for a 7-year-old with a skinned knee, let alone a 20-something Vince Vaughn look-alike. Thankfully, Viva Malpache's music slightly sinister ska painted with dark percussion diverted audience members from this car wreck of a croak.
Los Abandoned saved the bar's reputation for booking stellar slates. Their nervous pop pulsates with insecurities, but the quartet nevertheless plowed through their set with the confidence that having been Aterciopelados' opening act instills in a group. Los Abandoned certainly learned their audience interaction from the Colombians: At one point lead singer Lady P. invited LATV Live staffer Lili Montero onstage and plucked "Happy Birthday" to her with a ukulele. Go Betty Go closed, but no words about the muchachas from me. We ran a gushing story on them a couple of weeks back. Find it. The article still applies. (Gustavo Arellano)
SUBHUMANS at the Roxy, April 1
Subhumans' music like their message is an uncomfortable, confrontational concoction. Born of Britain's early-'80s post-punk anarcho movement (alongside Crass, Conflict, etc.), which expanded the punk genre's lyrical and musical vision without diluting its venom, Subhumans have inspired word-of-mouth awe since their split in '85, to the point where the re-formed band are on an exhaustive international trek, including two sold-out nights at the Roxy. With their classic lineup and integrity intact, Subhumans are now playing to kids barely born during their original incarnation, yet their pent-up sense of injustice and jaggedly anthemic compositions defiantly translate.
Subhumans remind us that rock & roll especially in its punk guise is as much about commitment as content. Bespectacled figurehead Dick, looking like the office nerd gone postal, is not big on melody, ranting out his heartfelt diatribes in almost spoken-word fashion between bouts of unison backing vocals. The choppy "Walls of Silence," the fluttering toms of "This Year's War" and the almost fluid, sub-Zeppelin licks and offbeat interludes of "Stresshead" evidence a broad range of '70s influences well beyond the cartoony adrenalized pop that parades as "punk" today. Dick's sweat-spraying torment aside, the Subhumans are disappointingly inanimate and overcompensate for often atonal vocals; the endless stop-start, call-and-response instrumental interplay and tempo tampering soon wear thin. The sizable pit responds best when Dick's lyrics lock directly with the caffeinated kick and snare, the primal, soccer-chant connection launching geysers of Mohawked crowd surfers. Eventually, the (very) white reggae, sing-along verses of "Human Error" satiate the screamers, and once again security have their hands full as the swirling refrain gathers steam.
There's an irony in Subhumans who personify the squat-dwelling, dog-on-string subculture of Mrs. Thatcher's bleak Britain showing up 20 years later to be idolized on the Sunset Strip. Yet there's nothing cynical about their reappearance, and such unpretentious, uncompromising anti-establishment rage will always resonate with young hearts. (Paul Rogers)
TOM RECCHION, ALEX CLINE, G.E. STINSON, VINNY GOLIA at the Forum at All Saints Church, April 5
Yes, it was quietly thrilling to walk onto the hushed grounds of the All Saints Church in Pasadena Saturday night, knowing that, incongruously, one was about to take in an evening of raucous free improvising by a group of veteran players that included the great and usually reclusive Los Angeles Free Music Society co-founder and turntable-and-tape whiz Tom Recchion. One also heard that this was going to be a "walkaround music" experience, and there indeed were nine musicians variously clustered at the far four corners of the auditorium, with the magnificent percussionist Alex Cline perched smack in the middle, surrounded by his trapset and gongs and facing a huge video screen that hypnotized some of us with slow-zoom, tilted images of the players, and us.
The first signal that the piece (a "scored improvisation") was under way in the midst of our walking bodies and shuffling feet was a brushy smattering of fluttering brushes across tom-toms that ended in a small, quick spangle of cymbal pangs. Woozy video distraction aside, a gloomy, hissing jungle of steamy electronic sounds was enfolding us, thickening into a dense crescendo of menacing noises, pushed forward by Vinny Golia's hollow-metallic circular patterns on the bass saxophone, fluttering like a vulture's wings. Smack, thwack! added Cline.
There were many such crescendos, and, widely spaced or not, these mothers filled the hall with some mighty strange and entertaining sights and deafening sounds: On the screen there's Recchion, who appears to be placing a slab of Styrofoam with a needle attached to it onto a spinning 78 rpm record (but at what speed?), while in this corner, G.E. Stinson unleashes a violent, droning blast from the Stratocaster with an e-bow (or a cassette player?) reverbing into the strings. All good. All told, it was the best group free-improv concert in living memory. (Tony Mostrom)
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IDLEWILD at El Rey, April 3
A band can carve a career in the music business as mediocre purveyors of a revolutionary style, or through spectacular execution of more generic fare. Scot rockers Idlewild, for now, personify the latter: At their best ("You Held the World in Your Arms," "I Am What I Am Not") they're a steroidal Smiths as, like Morrissey, vocalist Roddy Woomble embarks upon tumbling trails of miserably empathetic melody, underscored by Rod Jones' strangled guitar foils. Elsewhere Idlewild recall a more loose-limbed Interpol, flash flecks of the Catherine Wheel's arrangement elegance and even meander into introverted emo territory.
Before a comfortably full El Rey rich in track tops and sneakers, Idlewild established stars back in Europe simulate the orchestration of their sometimes solemn third disc, last year's The Remote Part, with the addition of second guitarist Allan Stewart. At first, Woomble a less pretentious Ian Brown/Damon Albarn amalgam is buried in the instrumentation, irrelevant until infused with Jones' sweet 'n' sour harmonies. With the mix fixed, Idlewild are predictably punkier than their recordings suggest: more reckless in tempo and detail, visually fueled by Jones' son-of-Townshend leaps and new bassist Gavin Fox's head-tossing appreciation. When washed in acoustic guitar ("Live in a Hiding Place"), traditional folk flavors and Woomble's Celtic lilt bleed through.
With quality compositions in seemingly unlimited supply, and buoyed with the self-assurance of adulation back home, Idlewild offer few gimmicks or intros, Woomble limiting himself to occasional, heavily accented thank yous. When the main set ends amid discordant sustain, many of tonight's politely appreciative crowd head for the exits before the encores finally get the front rows bobbing. Idlewild are not an artistic revelation; they're a damn good rock & roll band, robust in all departments songwriting, structure and performance. In gourmet bites, they'll tastily tide us over between the real meals. (Paul Rogers)