Photo by Wild Don Lewis
FRANZ FERDINAND at the Greek Theater, October 7 At their best, Scotlands Franz Ferdinand are all finesse. Theyve greased it with VIP-style sleaze. Theyve roughed it up for rocks sake. But the strength is in the craft of these classically trained musicians: prancing-then-militaristic beats, razor chords that slice with precise menace, and the genteel, barfly croon of the imperially slim, coolly intelligent Alex Kapranos. So when the band quickly sawed through the typically elegant Darts of Pleasure with all the grace of a lumberjack, the song felt less ripped open than ripped apart. When Franz Ferdinand really stake their claim, though, they deliver. Almost nationalistic displays of pride proved that this band considers itself an aesthetic, conceptual unit, not just a band united by a few common musical tastes. Serrated into four panels, the white flag bearing Franzs signature flamed red and pink for the aching suspension of Auf Achse. And the crowd was properly concussed by FFs calling card, the wickedly stomping Take Me Out, which was marred only slightly by some errant guitar scribbling. The new songs from their second album, You Could Have It So Much Better, fared the best. Big, fruity near-power pop in the modes of Nirvana and Elvis Costello, with rolling drums borrowed from Tom Tom Club, sounded ripe for a little abuse. Do You Want To was an especially crystalline amalgamation of late-70s radio funk, 80s big-hair camp and a good live thrashing. But it was a shame to see so many tunes battered by an almost desperate need to appear rock & roll Kapranos even halfheartedly engaged in some Who-like equipment destruction at the end. Their grace? Their impeccably dry wit? A bit more of those wouldve been nice.
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BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB at the Henry Fonda Theater, October 8 The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club carried the effects-sodden, stoner-art baton of the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine through their first two albums. Then came a change of label, some drummer drama and this years Howl, which finds the trio suddenly serving harmony-rich, mostly acoustic, bluegrass-flecked Americana. Peter Hayes takes the stage alone, with guitar and harmonica, for Complicated Situation, soon joined by his bandmates and a touring multi-instrumentalist to exploit the meshed-vocal prowess that defines Howl. They nail the gospel-warm, three-part incantation of Shuffle Your Feet with album-quality accuracy, Hayes slightly shuddering timbre interspersed with bassist Robert Levon Beens more serpentine Britpop semi-sneer. When the two come together, the effect is Haight-Ashbury heavenly. Despite their shift in direction, when BRMC follow old material (the mini-classic Love Burns, the ever-gorgeous As Sure as the Sun) with new, theres considerable commonality: They always had a penchant for strummy psychedelia and murmuring bass lines, and their much-vaunted, fuzzed-out excursions were only part of the equation. That their current influences are more American than Anglo and as much 1930s as 1990s is detail rather than definition, mainly impacting the vocals (more direct) and ambience (more organic and accessible). Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are proving that there always was genuine songwriting and performance savvy beneath their erstwhile all-in-black skinny-boy cool and shoe-gazer veneer. Rather than a revolutionary force, theyre faithful inheritors; it wasnt fad or fashion that sold this place out tonight.
BETTYE LAVETTE at the Knitting Factory, October 10 Bettye LaVette represents the comeback story of the year, and listening to her magnificent rasp is a cold-water-in-the-face reminder that the genre-Balkanization of blues, R&B and rock has only debilitated all three. Slim and commanding, stalking the stage with a presence reminiscent of Tina Turner, LaVette was clearly having the time of her life: Its never been better than this, she said, smiling. Ever. Though she brought the house down repeatedly (especially with her unabashedly blues-soaked renditions of Dolly Partons Little Sparrow and Lucinda Williams Joy), it was her bleeding-wrists version of Just Say So that almost brought the room to reverent silence. Almost, because the song was given poignancy by the laughing assholes on the rooms perimeter, by the clinking of glasses from the bar and by the intrusive thumping of wack rap from the next room. It was all a telling metaphor for a woman whose voice has fought for more than four decades to cut through the clutter. That fucked dynamic was only deepened when the four-piece band (kinda mediocre, to be honest) left the stage, and LaVette, for her final number of the night, sang an a cappella version of Sinead OConnors I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got that was both fragile and heavily weighted with grief, resolution and a fierce transcendence. But the meathead doorman on the side kept opening the door to the adjoining dance-club, flirting with the idiot chicks wandering in and out. The delicate, hypnotic spell LaVette was weaving never fully took hold as a result. Someone should seriously be fired for that shit.