Live in L.A.

DR. ART DAVIS QUARTET at Catalina Bar & Grill, May 6.

This looked like a "How To Play Jazz" set — student contingent in the audience, emphasis on history and fundamentals. Dr. Art Davis has played bass with Coltrane, for god’s sake; you could hardly ask for a deeper teacher. But the whole thing never quite swung.

Which doesn’t mean a load of wizardry wasn’t poppin’. The mood was blanketed by the recent death of another great bassist, Percy Heath, whose brother Albert ("Tootie") manned the traps this night. Tootie proved the life of the wake anyway, setting off dynamic bombs, whipping up a tornado of polyrhythms on a Davis composition inspired by New Orleans funerals, and laying down both an African-rooted hands-to-skins solo and a celestially elevating cymbal work-up. Reedman Doug Webb, though he blew with polish and gusto on tenor, soprano, clarinet and even stritch (the alto hybrid invented by Rahsaan Roland Kirk), generated only Bic-level spark. Pianist Donald Vega was granted the solo spotlight for a wondrous rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s "Lush Life" — you’ll never hear its complex structure more coherently fanned out, or its revelatory harmonies more sensitively illuminated. Elsewhere, his rather bland improvisations contrasted with a spare, smooth comping style sprinkled with nice little chunks of tart pineapple.

Smiling like the full moon, Davis acted as genial host and focused educator, sticking mostly to the simplest of walking bass patterns and soloing with an ear toward organization rather than expression. One thing he can’t teach is that tone — as oaky, unveneered and true as a Pilgrim coffin. Was he all there on this occasion? Judging by the way he consulted his timepiece during one bandmate’s solo, probably not.

Wish I could’ve hung around; the second set is always better.

—Greg Burk

BRENDAN BENSON at the Troubadour, May 4.

When Brendan Benson, during his brief late-’90s stay in Los Angeles, tried to launch the same sort of cleverly direct power pop that had the kids at the Troubadour Wednesday night literally screaming in adoration, it fell largely on deaf, dumb ears, and Benson hightailed it home to Detroit. Interestingly, when the White Stripes–approved Benson and his band zipped through a supercharged set culled mostly from his new The Alternative to Love (V2) and his previous One Mississippi and Lapalco, Benson earned the veneration seemingly on the strength of his pop tunes alone, each of which stands as an encapsulization of the best that ’60s-’70s pop has to offer. Interesting, too, how genuinely charismatic Benson becomes onstage with his affably non-rock-star-ish demeanor and serious focus on playing and singing. Even the appearance of Benson’s Detroit buddy Jack White (the pair have recorded an album awaiting release) during "Good to Me" didn’t manage to upstage him.

On disc, songs like "Cold Hands (Warm Heart)" are built like Bach, emphasizing counterpoint among the guitars, keyboards, voices and rhythm section, adding to the impact with abrupt key modulations and dynamic shifts. Live, his superb compositions are played with that rare snap! required to make such deceptively breezy tunes fly. Benson and his band did it with lean, unfussy settings, often twinning Benson’s Gibson 335 with bandmate Dean Fertita’s guitar and electric keyboard (and new-wave synth squiggles on the MTV2-aired single "Spit It Out"), in consummate balance with drummer Matt Aljian and bassist Michael Horrigan. Sung in a clear, serviceable voice, Benson’s wry lyrics about ex-girlfriends and A&R guys seemed a bit pedestrian. That same non-"poetic" plainspokenness, however, was refreshing in Benson’s set-closing solo-acoustic version of the lovelorn "Metarie."

—John Payne

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN at the Pantages, May 2.

If Bruce Springsteen doesn’t really, truly embrace the jive he’s shucking on his solo-acoustic tour, he deserves a smack.

On one hand, it’s all right to play mostly newer material, largely from an album released just days before (Devils & Dust). Sure, a couple more familiar bones — say, "For You," "The River" or even "I’m On Fire" — would have been great. But hey, the guy’s got a record to promote.

What pushes the limits of rock & roll taste is when Springsteen insists fans neither clap nor sing along, as he did at the first of two shows. Eventually he gave the sign that it was okay to join in, but not before telling a guy in the third row that his peculiar dancing was giving him the heebie-jeebies.

All that said, you do get the feeling Springsteen believes he’s tapped a vein of truth and spirit that needs to be shared. At times, singing crazy falsetto, Springsteen looked like nothing so much as a Muslim ecstatic, and simply turned beautiful. The Devils & Dust tour isn’t cheerful, but if you can achieve rapture while bypassing happiness, that’s what Springsteen did. Beyond his writing, what comes across solo is Springsteen’s proficiency on guitar and piano. Among the evening’s high points were "The Hitter," about a boxer who shortchanges himself; "Reno," about a guy paying for sex when he’d rather be with Maria; and "Jesus Was an Only Son," the crucifixion story with an emphasis on Mary.

Springsteen’s sermon centered on familiar themes of loss, hypocrisy and desperation. The action impetus was less clear. After such an effective tour of anguish, priming us for a call to arms, Springsteen suggested we support our local food bank. Okay, Boss.

Monday night’s crowd was packed with actors, including Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Pierce Brosnan, Meg Ryan and Sean Penn. You gotta hope, for everyone’s sake (but especially Springsteen’s), that the sanctity he demonstrated was more than a hat tip to fellow thesps.

—Ben Sullivan

Fashion Plates and Bashin’ Skates

Ladies dumped by a guy with delusions of rock-star grandeur, bands who’ve been unceremoniously dropped by your record label, and music lovers trying to break into the industry with a minimum-wage job — designer Ali MacLean feels your pain, and she’s created a clothing line, called "Rock Victim," just for you. The former "Gig Guide" girl on Indie 103.1 showed off new pieces from her Rock’n’Role label last Saturday at the recently reopened downtown art-and-party space Hangar 1018, parading strugglin’ but stellar stage stars from local bands, including the Prix, Circus Minor and the Oohlas down the runway with reconstructed wearables bearing the "Rock Victim" logo among others, all embellished with debauched excess-ories like laminate necklaces and flasks. It was a dose of raunch and realism at an otherwise surreal-ish event. Called Naked Lunch, the gathering also had Counter Culture Couture’s rock frocks, groovy art (we liked the psycho-delic stuff painted onto 8-track and cassette tapes), live tunage by the Sharp Ease and Dirty Little Secret, and indie dance sounds from DJ Paulie (L Train, Ruby Tuesdays), who bade farewell to L.A. fans and friends — he’s moving to NYC to work for AddVice, Vice mag’s music division. A gang of gals who’re anything but victims, L.A.’s rough and tumblin’ roller girls the Derby Dolls marked the last night at their digs near Chinatown with a weekend match featuring two terrorific teams: the Fight Crew vs. the Sirens. The bout attracted the tattooed-greaser and butch sets — who all seemed to love KXLU DJ Reverend Dan’s punkish soundtrack, not to mention the $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon. Pow-packin’ playas like Juana Beat’n and Myna Threat threw treats into the crowd (we got smacked in the face by a flying bag of doughnut holes), not to mention hard-as-hell body slams on their opponents, but neither raging ramp vamp was victorious. After getting a call from a mysterious derby hater, the fire marshal broke up the boisterous fun and kicked everybody out before the first half’s climax. It might be all about "skates, skirts, skills and scrapes" for these battling babes, but now another "S" word has the league’s wheels spinning: shelter. The eve’s announcer and D.D. dame Evil E, a.k.a. Else Duff (wifey of the Flair’s Bruce Duff), tells us the ladies need a new Dollhouse for training and games ASAP. Check out to see how you can help these hot-wheelin’ femmes keep the female roller-derby flame burning in L.A.

—Lina Lecaro


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