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Love or Fusion

McGILL MANRING STEVENS, COSMOSQUAD, BUTTERMILK at Sixteen-Fifty, January 16

Mesa Boogie amps, guitars plucked way up under armpits, tangles of FX stompboxes, rows of audience tech vultures in band T-shirts -- the entire Pageant of Fusion Tradition unfolded in this hi-klass Hollywood barn during a night of voxless power trios, but so did the Future.

Nobody’s told Buttermilk drummer Kofi Baker that he can‘t be as good as his dad, Ginger; his busy but ballsy grooves rolled out like a tsunami big enough to carry the Graf Spee, in furious union with the plunketyplunks of bassist Robertino Pagliari. Burnin’ ex--Megadeth chopster Chris Poland guested, physically contrasting his rock-god slouch against snaky-fast Buttermilk guitarist Bob Robles‘ robot lurch. There were few flashbacks within the blues-bleeding flurries, except when a closing quote from “I Am the Walrus” linked Buttermilk with yellow-matter custard. Good band.

Fusion can’t go massive unless chicks dig it, which is where Cosmosquad might come in. Not only did guitarist Jeff Kollman sport arena poses and new-wave hair, but he augmented dramatic funkety-crunch compositions with a nothing-wasted burp-gun style and a tone that Olympians might envy. (Overheard in the crowd: “I‘m just gonna go home and break all my fuckin’ gear.”) Hockey-shirted Shane Gaalaas somehow managed to twiddle mind-boggling six-string bass without geek damage. Barry Sparks seemed at first an ordinary rock trapsman, then kept adding flash and kick till by set‘s end (de rigueur snippet: “Third Stone From the Sun”) he was shaking the rafters. He’d been holding back, if you can dig that. These guys are ready.

More from the cool Euro school were Scott McGill (guitar), Michael Manring (bass) and Vic Stevens (drums), who jammed as if alone. McGill‘s squeegly effects, Manring’s alternate-tuned pings and Stevens‘ shifting grooves were subtle and involving enough to detain their devotees past midnight -- they are, after all, the best. It was like a synagogue in Egypt.

KJEHL JOHANSEN BAND, ROTTERS, URINALS, THEY WALK IN LINEat Mr. T’s Bowl, January 19

In 1978, displaying the limited musical materials at their command as Duchampian pseudo-songs (“I‘m a Bug,” “Ack Ack Ack Ack”), Urinals were minimal by both choice and necessity. In 2003, with ex--Ten Foot Faces guitarist Rod Barker replacing founding member Kjehl Johansen (see below), they’re streamlined by experience. Barker‘s no showboater, and hell, three chords are three chords. Tonight’s set was nearly all post-reformation material, some showing the new guy‘s hand (the relatively elaborate “Beautiful Day”). But there’s not an ounce of fat on John Talley-Jones and Kevin Barrett‘s bass and drum parts, and the former can still reduce the notion of a hook to absurdity in one syllable: “Cold!”

Ex-Urinal Johansen has taken his time in resurfacing; tonight marks the new band’s fifth show. As a leader, he‘s generous to the point of self-sacrifice: The best songs from his recent Tower of Isolation disc have the is-it-jaggedis-it-jangly? ambiguity of his later project Trotsky Icepick, but the set also included three bar rockers penned by bassist Tom Hofer, and a Syndicate of Sound cover (“Hey Little Girl”) sung by guitarist Steve Andrews. The band only jelled sporadically, and Johansen’s vocals sounded most at ease on Trotsky‘s all-but-forgotten “Windowpane.” There’s potential here, especially in the guitar interplay with Andrews, but right now Johansen‘s traversing that gray area between extending his legacy and tarnishing it.

In between: I have no problem with the Rotters’ shaggy rhythm section, but when guitaristbirthday boy Phester opens a song with a locked-in, adventurous solo that zips past the Lazy Cowgirls and closes in on Sonny Sharrock, said song deserves better lyrics than “I‘m a weenie machine.” Finally, They Walk the Line opened their set with the kind of all-pedals-glowing guitar whiteout My Bloody Valentine used to end with. Then they stayed there. (Franklin Bruno)

DEVENDRA BANHART, ENTRANCEat the Silverlake Lounge, January 17

Both Devendra Banhart and his opening act, Entrance, played music that fit neatly into the tortured-troubadour tradition that unites Van Morrison, Syd Barrett, Tim Buckley, Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley and Elliott Smith. The less said about Entrance (a.k.a. 21-year-old Guy Blakeslee) the better. He had the outfit right -- b&w striped shirt; purple velvet jacket; I think his shoes were Clark’s -- but a hot outfit and tousled black curls do not a tuneful voice make. His meandering acoustic thrash was intolerable, like nails on a chalkboard or cats having their tails chopped off.

As the bearded, black-haired Banhart removed his brown cloche hat and sat Indian-style on an Oriental rug in the middle of the stage, one feared we were in for more posturing. But obviously he is committed to the wigged-out path: He would retain the cross-legged pose for the rest of his performance; a front row of about 20 audience members did the same. This was but the first sign of his power as a performer; his eccentricities had already charmed us. At 11:30, Banhart took out his guitar, asked for a glass of red wine, closed his eyes and began picking out small acoustic figures. When he opened his mouth, he unleashed a beautiful warble that brought to mind 1) black female blues singers from scratchy old 78s; 2) Ravi Shankar; 3) your best-ever psychedelic experience; 4) the blind-man charms of Jose Feliciano, Andre Bocelli and Ray Charles; and 5) a wizened Chinese scholar yawning as he schooled you in the Tao of folk rock.

 

Banhart‘s lyrics were so freeform as to be almost indescribable, but I’ll never forget his couplets about the guy who put ovaries in his mouth so his dogs wouldn‘t die, or the moment he sang, “My friends are useless hensthey don’t lay anymore.” A half-hour later, after nine brilliantly inchoate songs and fragments, Banhart was gone. (Alec Hanley Bemis)

THE MIMSIESat the Dragonfly, January 15

The Mimsies personify that highest state of band existence: devoted enough to tour themselves into oblivion to make it happen, yet with sufficient integrity to shun musical compromise in their bid for commercial nirvana. Hence, three years after relocating to L.A. from Norman, OK, they‘re still at the Dragonfly and continue to confound record labels with their uncooperative (though increasingly to-the-point) compositions.

Two Warped tours have mutated the Mimsies: Though slicker than ever, their show’s shaken off the self-conscious, subglam trappings in favor of more organic allures. Likewise the tunes are now lower flash and more fiber, new-wave-tinted rock & raunch bolstered by double-barreled backing vocals. From the deliberate opening chords of “Dirty,” matters are more measured now, a self-assurance born of endless road miles. Despite having taken two months off after front gal Casey Castille fractured her back during onstage convulsions, and debuting a new drummer (Adrian Bernardo), the Mimsies are more supple than ever: Castille‘s voice explores almost-baritone regions, yet summons succulent sustain amid all the vogueing and cajoling; guitarist Jerod Vance has a newfound fluidity, snaking cords of bluesy countermelody around Castille in both stranglehold and caress. Bassist Bryan Showalter is suddenly sufficiently at ease to be part-time MC, his confidence doubtless bolstered by Bernardo’s dependable meter and dexterous delivery.

Of course, a Mimsies show is all about Castille, the punk rock Pat Benatar: a woman who can look both slutty and an advert for self-respect, and rock like a mofo while exuding elegance. Radio mikes were invented for Castille, who as ever skips through the throng and onto bars and tabletops to make her point. If the Mimsies captured half the exhilaration of their live show on disc (and they‘ve never come close), they’d light up KROQ like a drunken distress flare. Their closing cover of Heart‘s “Heartbreaker,” though delightfully delivered, is also a reminder that, for all their recent honing, the Mimsies’ own tunes still lack that arena-filling connection. The Mimsies: one great song away from stopping traffic. (Paul Rogers)

KATIE THE PESTat the Bigfoot Lodge, January 12

The Bigfoot Lodge seems the perfect venue for this band -- all red ambiance and fake fire; there‘s the sense that a forest is outside and perhaps you want to lose yourself in it. Katie the Pest is stark against this backdrop, a girl equally thrilled and bitter, equally knee-sock and wrist-slit. The band is the idea of the Girl, the songs her story. The narrative’s opaque, but the narrative doesn‘t matter; there’s something in the music and the passion it‘s performed with that exceeds the concept, makes the concept itself seem a dream we agree to believe in only to avoid the reality we suspect.

Katie the Pest sounds young, is what it comes down to, and these days that’s a rare commodity; an assembly-line aesthetic has become prevalent, frenzy‘s become orchestrated and precise. But Katie is just tiny amps and tiny girls turned up way too loud. Their sound crowds the near-empty club with overdriven sequin and My Bloody Valentine drone. The set comes down to Talia Rose screaming, “I can danceI can dance like a fucking dream”; the defiance in the statement couldn’t be more genuine, and what‘s being defied simply doesn’t matter. The harmonies go missing for most of the show, and it isn‘t hard to fill in the frequent musical blanks: a bass player, a drum sound more driving than carbonated, a less threshed guitar tone -- doesn’t matter. What sound is extant is in excess, too loud, too sloppy, just too much. Entirely to their credit.

Rock‘s imperfections aren’t supposed to be sanded down; they‘re supposed to be Nthed. That’s why we go to shows instead of holing away with albums; we still prefer a girl with most of her makeup washed off. A girl with her makeup off is a secret being told. (Russel Swensen)

 

KINKY, NI--O ASTRONAUTAat the Mayan Theater, January 16

Even a KCRW representative couldn‘t recall exactly how many Kinky concerts the station sponsored last year -- at least six, by his count. It’s all a big blur to him; see, the Mexican funkall-Latin-rhythms practitioners are the subject of so much Morning Becomes Eclectic love, the rumor is that Monterrey synapses have infested Nic Harcourt‘s frontal lobe. And the Thursday-night to-capacity multiethnic crowd at the stately Mayan proved KCRW’s efforts to brainwash Angelenos with Kinky‘s slinky chords are succeeding.

Before the beautiful people could groove to their kinkeros, however, they had to survive the effluvial electronica of Ensenada trio Niño Astronauta. A last-minute replacement for hometown heroes Pastilla, Niño’s digital insults worsened existence. The addition of a singer for one song helped little; her scatting seemed to owe more to an allergic reaction than any inspiration.

But anchored with the relentless bounce of tejana-sporting bassist Cesar Pliego, Kinky‘s take-no-prisoners-but-be-sexy-about-it method soon had hulking men shrieking ’n‘ shaking like prepubescents. What allows the quintet to trump their hype is a sonic style approaching the orgasmic, escalating toward climax with samba-type percussion and dreamy programmed swirls, relaxing by means of mysterious record scratches, then starting anew via strummed ecstasy. Even in tonight’s at-least-sixth show, Kinky didn‘t deviate from this fabulous formula. Lead singerguitarist Gilberto Cerezo’s synthesized wisp commanded the crowd and his mates to want mas y mas fun on -- what else? -- “Mas y Mas,” so each did; Pliego‘s furious keep-the-beat stomp revved the crowd into convulsions while he and Cerezo do-si-doed around each other’s bodies and notes. And when scruffy keyboardist Ulises Lozano left his post for the closing “Cornman,” strapped on an accordion, and slid and squeezed across the stage with a perfect marriage of James Brown and Ramon Ayala . . . well, thank God KCRW keeps giving L.A. mas y mas Kinky. (Gustavo Arellano) Post-NAMM: paxe.l.m. conceptions soundblasters at Plastic Factory, January 18

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