Live in LA

at Barnsdall Art Park, September 4.

The two basses of Dos dodge the hornets of feedback; Mike Watt’s diminished physique reminds us that even his four-string sounds thinner when whittled down by Heat-Who-Cannot-Be-Named, so brutal hangs the sun. Only the redemptive power of music relieves the hours we spend in withering lines, ants to the magnifying-glass slaughter — yet the atmosphere remains friendly and communal, security level-headedly answering questions and kind souls giving out sunblock at the faintest hint of a lobster invasion. Nora Keyes plies her ear-splitting cackles and theremin-like vocal melodies atop a vale of e-piano, singing of rocket surgeon Jack Parsons. On the larger of the outdoor stages, Wolfmother inflict eardrum calluses, their old Korg synth issuing forth a misty pollen of psychedelia; neither hair nor flares can be denied as the bass-heavy groove suggests a homeless autumn following the Summer of Love.

On the smaller stage outdoors, Viking Moses and guest dulcimeress Larkin Grimm overcome technical difficulties, lowing onward about loss and belonging. Magik Markers conclude their blistering noise-blues, inspiring fans to headstands and riotous hoots in the Gallery Theater as lead singer Elisa Ambrogio attempts to pierce the veil between this world and an uncertain hell, her voice eddying out into forever on feedback waves. Outside, to the shepherding glint of the setting sun, Becky Stark’s shimmer of acoustic guitars gives way to a version of Yoko Ono’s “Sister, O Sister” with a choir that includes Paloma Parfrey, Mia Doi Todd and Tara Tavi. Six Organs of Admittance follow Magik Markers with guitar music so ornate, so beautiful and so spectacularly dull that it rivals the sands of the lands from which its influences have been spirited.

Stefan Betke of Pole stirs the audience to much rocking in chairs with his Drunken Monkey style of kung-fu dub, his beats lurching and retching but never missing their mark. Outside, Sleater-Kinney greet the dusk with propulsively chunky drums and declamatory vocals; elsewhere, the space-heating blues craftsmanship of T-Model Ford breathes through the cooling greens. Down in the Theater, Masami “Merzbow” Akita’s shrieking shards of laptop feedback plot a collision course with eviscerating bass and the sound of broken glass. Finally(!), Sonic Youth bring their tortuous art-pop to the outdoor stage. Amid old favorites and new jams, the quintet pull a photographer onstage and wrestle with him; Thurston Moore soaks his head in water and douses the crowd. The sun is now absent, but the blast remains.

—David Cotner

at the Hollywood Bowl, September 4.

As the Polyphonic Spree mass-cuddled their Elton John, Beatles and Beach Boys tributes/thefts, it became clear that positivity and ecstasy ain’t quite enough. “God only knows what you’re missin’,” warbled lead post-urchin Tim DeLaughter, but we knew, too: depth. Nice flute, though. The two dozen robed choristers’ crusade to out-hippie the hippies was doomed here anyway — Brian Wilson and his fans aren’t flower children, we’re dorks.

Blobbed center stage behind his keyboard, his hands often hanging in the air or attempting preschool gestures to illustrate the words, Wilson showed what kind of pop genius you’d lose if you always demanded charisma. Though the Beach Boys, whose hits packed the evening, will always represent summer, the music would suffer little if the lyrics were about textiles. The coiling and uncoiling harmonies to “In My Room” and even “Fun, Fun, Fun” — this wasn’t composition, it was the breath of God. Wilson’s crack orchestra turned out the layered arrangements with dynamic sensitivity, and even jammed strong on “Pet Sounds.” Props went out to Phil Spector (“And Then I Kissed Her”), Johnny Rivers (“Do You Wanna Dance?”) and Chuck Berry (“Johnny B. Goode”). A swell new Xmas number jingled forth. And Wilson made a righteous pitch for the hurricane victims.

Wilson delivered personal meaning, too. Smile, the epic struggle of his life, came off newly organic, hitting peaks of emotional intensity, devotional transcendence and swirling classicism. “Break Away,” written with his ogre dad, felt pretty damn significant. On “Please Let Me Wonder,” Wilson’s electronically enhanced voice pleaded, “Please forgive me for shaking” — no problem, Brian. Best was the moment during “When I Grow Up To Be a Man” when he sang, “Won’t last forever.” He wore the strangest, strangest smile.

—Greg Burk

at the El Rey Theater, September 2

Twenty years has changed the Knitters, alter ego of L.A. punk favorites X; it’s made them loud and fast and mean. Where once the group fell squarely in the country-folk category, here the quintet showed its shit-kicking side. John Doe and Blasters guitarist Dave Alvin started things off with two pretty ballads: “Silver Wings” and “Crying but My Tears Are Far Away.” But as Doe noted, those would be the last sad songs.

What followed was a set and double encore of cowpunk, drawn from the Knitters’ two albums, various X records and truck-stop jukeboxes. The band vamped it up, bringing to mind various Western icons. The mute Alvin, in red ascot, was every bit the slick city gambler; Doe, as a lanky deputy sheriff, kept him in line; Exene Cervenka became a sort of Miss Kitty meets Ma Ingalls; D.J. Bonebrake did his best bumpkin while beating out some of the fastest drumming you’ve ever seen. Rounding it out on standup bass was Jonny Ray Bartel, who looked as if he could find his way around a ranch.

The night’s high point was the expected crescendoing sing-along “Rock Island Line,” but there was new stuff, too; especially appreciated was “Lonesome War,” an eerie but uptempo Civil War story hinting more than a little at current events. Helping close things out was a reprise of the Knitters’ standard bearer “Wrecking Ball,” the tale of a man whose main thrill comes from stomping chickens to death, but who has since graduated to cattle slaughter at Harris Ranch off Highway 5. “It’s nice to be back in our hometown,” Doe said. “We’ve been playing this song all over the country, but no one knows where the fuck Coalinga is, so a lot of the humor is lost.”

—Ben Sullivan


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