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Lizard Queens and Amazing Things

Photo by John Falls

MERCURY REV, THE SHINS at El Rey, June 11

"Plans and schemes/Thoughts and dreams/Who cares what they mean/When they work they're amazing things" is how the song goes. And amazing is how tonight's sold-out show goes. First, though, are the Arizona-based Shins with their we-may-be-here-by-accident onstage demeanor and catchy enough psych-pop tuneage sung by a guy with a remarkably high voice. Close your eyes and you're at any number of '90s No Life Records in-store performances. Open your eyes and you're underwhelmed . . .

Until the theater goes dark and the light/sound guy gets your attention by timing the strobes with the riff-breaks of Brian Eno's "Needles in the Camel's Eye." And then there's Rev singer-guitarist Jonathan Donahue ambling sheepily onstage in the same unnaturally happy mood he was in last year at the Troubadour, as if he's been ordered to be nice or he'll be swimming with the fishes. The whole set Donahue is all beatific smiles and broad "thank you's" and mime-motions: He flaps his arms for "Tides of the Moon," points at his mighty proboscis for the big-nose lyric in "Lincoln's Eyes," impersonates a petulant child's tantrum during "Little Rhymes." Dressed in black, standing on a stage lit in Romantic color schemes, he's a goth caught in the amber, a cool-blooded psychedelicist, a lizard queen whose theatricality complements the dreamy melodramas and color-burst bombastics of the six-piece band's minisymphonies: the Vangelis-ish keyboards of "Chains," the buttery lines from lead guitarist Grasshopper on "Spiders and Flies," the stretched-out disco boogie of "You're My Queen," the almost-motorik pulse-groove that extends "Opus 40" into a cover of "Once in a Lifetime," featuring reworked lyrics ("You may find yourself/With a big record deal/And you may find yourself/Behind the trigger of a large gun") from Donahue . . . who, midsong, is tracing a five-pointed star in the air with his finger as piped-in fog drifts down from the ceiling vents. What does it all mean? Who cares? It works. It's an amazing thing.

THE GOSSIP at the Smell, June 20, and at the Echo, June 21

Thursday night the Gossip brought their Arkansas heat to the Smell, the concrete walls dripping sweat in appreciation of the "secret" opening appearance by Glass Candy. Shirts were stripped off and bodies shook as the Gossip laid into the downtown crowd with their unique red-hot blues rock. The next morning singer Beth Ditto woke up "with lumps all over my vocal cords"; still, it was impossible to hear any aural injury that night, as her voice swayed and sauntered into every corner of the Echo, a funky former Latin dance club turned fabulous Echo Park rock/hip-hop venue. Post-show, guitarist Nathan Howdeshell would tell me that he loves music that aims for one genre and misses, like the Ramones, who wanted to be the next Beatles but ended up inventing punk rock.

The Gossip try to be punk rock but end up reinventing ancient blues and gospel traditions. Case in point: A new song, "Don't Disturb the Water," plunged the band's punk sound into the deep end of religious revival slash gospel ya-ya. Ditto waved her arms like a black mama in a Southern Baptist church, "haaay-haaay"ing and "hmmmmm-hmmmmm"ing fit to wake the latent spiritual fervor in the least of us. The clapping, stomping, hollering crowd wasn't just rocking out, they were testifying. Of course, when Ditto started preaching over "(Take Back) The Revolution," God wasn't the subject of conversation. "Unity, that's the best fucking bet ever made!" To end the song Ditto shot out into the motley -- short, fat, old, weird, queer, crusty and punk -- crowd to let members of her flock finish the anthemic chorus. Ditto: "Take back!" Fan: "THE REVOLUTION!"

As strong as the Gossip push their political agenda, their real religion is rock & roll. This was abundantly clear as the band took the stage for an encore with their tour mates the Chromatics and launched into a criminally insane cover of "I Wanna Be Your Dog." Howdeshell overlaid Sonic Youth­worthy distortions (even after falling on his back in the middle of the audience) on top of Ditto and Chromatics lead singer Adam M. Regrettably's oscillating Iggy-screams, audience members beat on broken bits of drum, and finally everything collapsed into beautiful chaos. (Nathan Ihara)

GOLDENBOY, THE RAY MAKERS
at the Echo, June 22

Electronic shows often read as a trip through the musical looking glass, presenting the band behind the band, jaded men crab-handing their Powerbooks as if only adjusting the music filtering through from some unimaginable space. The crowd's limpid, many-limbed moves read as the energy released from this inversion, or as a celebration of it, or even as a celebration of music returned to a purer state. What these shows lack is any staying power; they hit and fade like cheap MDMA.

 

Goldenboy & Miss Kittin have created a record not so easily reduced, and without his partner in crime Goldenboy is unable to re-create that experience live. Miss Kittin has a voice so purely artificial it seems sincere: android with a lisp, human and not, right at the crux of what makes electronic music interesting. She works in an eyeliner vein (what to say/girls & fashion/boys & girls/boys & fashion/oh whatever), but it's not the lyrics themselves, it's the way they're embedded and the way they seem simultaneously created by the beats and oppressed by them. That's the point. And that's what Goldenboy seems to be missing. He appears in a coat of golden mirror ball, reflecting images off himself. The beats are compelling, a yellow brick road you can't help but skip down, but without Miss Kittin there's nowhere to arrive; Goldenboy is the Wizard of Oz, dazzling the natives, hidden in artifice. When Kittin wearily asks, "What should I say?/I don't know what to do/I don't know what you want me to," it's not the listener that's being addressed, it's the music. Here, we only hear half the conversation and can make nothing substantial of it.

Local faves the Ray Makers opened with a listless set of dance tunes, though the more shoulder-you-aside beats and the occasional scream made me stop toe-tapping and start paying attention. For those of you looking for something a little more feline? Miss Kittin & the Hacker will be clawing up American furniture on their September-October tour. (Russel Swensen)

A GUY CALLED GERALD
at the Conga Room, June 19

Gerald Simpson looks down from a loft-level DJ booth in that beautiful memory, when hundreds of bodies used to pack themselves inside the rinky-dink enclave of the Pink, where Raymond Roker threw an essential drum & bass night called Science. With the venue's narrow, high-ceilinged expanse and walls of industrial brick, it seemed like we danced beneath a city bridge while the Monday-morning skyline stood unconscious. And the music was great, unimaginable at times; a U.K. originator like Simpson would visit, let his records reverberate the music's black secrets and technology, and give an international magnitude to a burgeoning local jungle scene.

Time went by, Science moved a few times and then closed, and it's hard to determine what changed more, the records, the DJs or the listeners. The question didn't dissuade Simpson's fans from picking up his 2000 full-length, Essence, an album with so many soft-sparkle gems that many were certain d&b would survive in our bedrooms if not beneath darker city bridges. Meanwhile, you have to get out of the bedroom; you hear that A Guy Called Gerald is coming to town and think that's a good opportunity. But with a handful of fine drum & bass clubs still kicking in the city, what the hell is he doing at the Conga Room? "To play some samba-y, Latin-y, jazzy stuff, just to get away from the regular breakbeat groove for a while," he says, perhaps knowing that he moved to d&b to get away from his early acid house stardom, and then released a (pretty great) mix album last year of early soul records.

But he definitely sees some long faces in the sparse crowd tonight. "Sorry, I didn't think this was that kind of place." He's right, of course. The Conga isn't a club for drum & bass, but if your next album is going to meld electronic and samba rhythms, this is a good venue for you. (Tommy Nguyen)

SAMMY HAGAR/DAVID LEE ROTH
at the Blockbuster Pavilion, June 22



Sammy Hagar (top) and David Lee
Roth; photos by E.J. Camp(top)
and Neil Zlozower

The guitar-tech dudes, loadies, tough chicks and mounds of leathery cleavage came out Saturday to see party-rock's frontmen Sam and Dave battle it out "song for song" -- each during 90-minute sets -- for the elusive Champ of Rock title. And although Sammy's fratboy shenanigans look pretty forced these days, and the Robert Plant­ish curls are giving way to poodle frizz, Devore handed the "Champ" award to Hagar, who closed the show after a mix of Van Hagar/Sans Halen songs like "There's Only One Way To Rock," "Finish What Ya Started" and "Poundcake" accompanied by a video of crotch shots, exposed tits and other bits of flesh whooping it up in Cabo. This fit with the live bikini girls on hand to fetch Sam his shamelessly plugged blue Waboritas. At one point surprise bassist Mike Anthony took the stage as Sam lay on the ground, screaming; Hagar's well-buzzed audience was impressed.

 

But where Hagar overcompensated with the tequila piñata, the bleachers of spastic fans behind him and the Day-Glo stage motif, David Lee Roth ruled the roost. Diamond Dave got more panties thrown at him, more shots of his unit on the big screen, more kung-fu kicks (he can still get a leg over his head) and more cocktail waitresses raising eyebrows, purring, "Damn, he looks great." With a modest three-piece band, DLR was the captivating focal point during his 90 minutes of Van Halen songs, which included "Hot for Teacher," "Unchained," "And the Cradle Will Rock" and a fist-in-the-air version of "Ice Cream Man." In skin-tight, shiny turquoise bell-bottoms and jacket, bare-chested Dave struggled with some notes but was in fine form with his hawkish squawks, wiggling hips and banter about blowjobs.

So if Sammy's the hedonist, seems DLR got his high from the crowd's reaction to him. It was Dave's beaming face, then, as he left the stage that was almost heartbreaking. Whereas Sammy heads toward inevitable Jimmy Buffet­dom, Dave's at his end. But there was one redeeming sentiment to all this nostalgic woe, a jab at the guy who brought Sam and Dave together here: the crowd's continuous chants of "Eddie who?" (Wendy Gilmartin)

RAPHAEL SAADIQ, JOI
at El Rey, June 17



Joi
Photo by Daniel Hastings

Raphael Saadiq and his opening act, former Lucy Pearl bandmate Joi, have clearly studied the blueprint of Cool Negroes of the '70s, Rock & Soul Division. Both had the era poses and idiosyncratic outfits down cold. (Her: a huge, cocked- over-the-face white hat made of feathers, with matching curly-lace pants that hugged every contour of her legs, capped by a sexy, backless black top; him: a silky two-piece outfit that swung loosely from his frame and showed off his ass to great effect.) And both had fantastic accompaniment. Saadiq's band was made up of old chitlin-circuit brothers who brought to his retro-soul songs a bluesy funk texture that all but screamed "authentic." (And the blistering, guitar-heavy opening that they provided as Saadiq first took the stage demonstrated just how impressive their old-school chops were.) Joi's backing singers were two thick Black Rock Coalition wet dreams, sistas complete with powerful voices and even more powerful attitude; her camaraderie with them was so strong that it made you long to see even more interplay among the three. But both singers could take a tip from Lenny Kravitz, the original imitator, who has taken his transparent and shameless mimicry of his idols and elevated it into something that is just his.

Joi's cool sex-kitten persona was a little too self-contained to really connect with the audience except for a handful of moments in the show (her heartfelt a cappella tribute to her late father, a bit near the end where her simple and repeated belting of the phrase "My name is Joi" whipped the crowd into a frenzy, a guitar-driven version of "Sunshine & the Rain" from her Pendulum Vibe album). She was like a state-of-the-art music video unfolding onstage: beautiful, carefully scripted and two-dimensional. Joi needed to whip the hat off (it kept her face in shadow for much of her set) and really work the stage. Her sinuous bumps and grinds would put any professional stripper to shame, but they weren't enough to lift the show into the realm of brilliance that it skirted.

Saadiq, likewise, had the moves down pat and has a voice that can flip from sexy player to wounded lover on a dime. And he knows where his bread is buttered; when he sang such trite, unpoetic lines as "To get respect, I know I have to show it," the women lost their collective mind. But despite the crowd's willingness to be putty in his hands, he wasn't able to push his power beyond leading sing-alongs in tunes old ("Kissing You") and new (his single, "Be Here"). It was interesting that someone with the performing experience he's racked up as part of both Tony! Toni! Toné! and Lucy Pearl, and who has worked with the likes of D'Angelo, Angie Stone and Bilal, would be so uninspired in the flesh. It was a perfectly competent show, but for someone so frequently hailed as a savior of "real R&B" and a "grossly underrated talent," he didn't quite live up to the soul-cultist hype. (Ernest Hardy)


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