Midnight Bumblers

THE VINES, THE MUSIC at the Henry Fonda Theater, March 25

"Disanticipointment." It's a word Paul McCartney invented to describe the public's tepid response to the Beatles' superhyped "reunion" track, "Free as a Bird," but it just as accurately describes the reaction of the crowd to the Vines' performance at the Henry Fonda Theater last Tuesday: There was a real buzz on the floor when the Aussies hit the stage with their radio-friendly rocker "Outtathaway," but where the recorded version takes flight on the torrential release of vocal aggression, all hoarse front man Craig Nicholls could manage was an outburst of falsetto-voiced chicken clucks that seemed an attempt to approximate Mick Jagger but sounded more like the Stones mid-Heimlich.

Nicholls tried to compensate for his blown pipes with a slew of slacker theatrics, but his diversionary tactics — affecting a drunken stupor after taking a couple of dramatic swigs off a beer, playing a feedback solo to "Mary Jane" with his ass, and nearly decapitating Dave Olliffe when he hurled his guitar at the drummer's head during "In the Jungle" — smacked more of petulance than righteous punk indignation. And when the Vines' roadie appeared onstage with a replacement guitar before Nicholls actually smashed his during their mosh-pit anthem "Get Free," it appeared that the rebellion was indeed just more choreography. So it was fitting that the true lead vocalist of the revolution came from the audience and spoke only two words at the end of the night: "You suck."

The Music's set fared much better than the Vines' debacle, buoyed by the seemingly endless vocal range of Robert Harvey. And though the tunes were occasionally victimized by overly ambitious arrangements and excessive effects, it was obvious from songs like "Take the Long Road and Walk It" that these guys had soul, and that always goes a long way.

BEDROOM WALLS at the Derby, March 28

Bedroom Walls describe their music as Romanticore — approximating (among other things) "the last paragraph of The Great Gatsby . . . knowing your ex-girlfriend is happier now . . . sighing too loudly and too often." What sets it apart from typical diary-rock is that this is also music about joy.

Joy is a difficult thing to write toward. Joy isn't mere happiness, nor is it ecstasy. Joy may be pleasure you don't earn, simply allow yourself to experience; it's about surrender. Coming back again to the band's mission statement — "knowing your ex-girlfriend is happier now" — this joy is sad and kind of beautiful, the ability to shrug it off. What's familiar is the willingness to be absurd, refusing to let your intelligence become a burden. Because joy is absurd, joy's all about enjoying things more than you should, be they cigarettes, wind or bedroom walls. Even music. Perhaps especially music. Music has to be liked a bit too much.

Bedroom Walls make that easy, playing songs with awkward perfection; music to dance to like an idiot, in your room alone, or in the opulently lit Derby. How to convey the music? It's shamelessly melodic, kind of ambient, kind of spaced-out, surprisingly clever. It's like your little sister on drugs, insouciant and a bit off-the-wall. It's all these things, but it's precisely them; this is a personality carefully crafted and practiced. However, pop skill doesn't preclude the need to rock out. It's just that when Bedroom Walls do, they caution the crowd they're about to do so. As exquisite and polite as any dandy. (Russel Swensen)

MICHELLE SHOCKED at Molly Malone's, March 25

"You may be Shocked, but I'm awed," quipped Paul Krassner to Michelle Shocked, delighting the packed house. There was a palpable hunger in the air at Molly Malone's, a need to simultaneously express outrage at the devastation wreaked upon Iraq by the U.S. military while making a joyful noise to relieve the concomitant widespread nausea. In front of fiery fake logs and with piped-in chirping crickets, Shocked presided over the fourth and final "Campfire Series," equal parts variety show, anti-war protest and benefit for International ANSWER. Shocked's endearing Texas twang and down-home demeanor are proof that — in spite of the spurious spin — dissent is profoundly Middle American.

Shocked delivered three songs in her folk-with-'tude trademark style — "Who Cares?," "Looks Like Mona Lisa" and "Go in Peace" — and, as mistress of ceremonies, introduced Groundlings legend Maryedith Burrell and the Firesign Theater's Peter Bergman, who presented mock awards called the Bummers. Tony Blair won Best Adaptation of a President for "impersonating a prime minister while actually wanting to be First Poodle of the United States." L.A.'s diva deluxe Suzy Williams belted out three tunes with Bill Burnett as the Boners, including "Dear God We Broke the Planet." Artist David Willardson painted and Pogues accordionist James Fearnley squeezeboxed throughout, notably while the performers leaped out of their seats and danced a jig.  

The highlight was Realist editor/Yippie co-founder/investigative satirist Krassner's pointed standup. He remarked that this "was the first time in history that one country tried to get another to disarm so they could invade them" and reminded the audience to laugh, otherwise "it'll only help the terrorists." Thankfully, no one needed help during Krassner's brilliant set. (Michael Simmons)

JAGUARES, LA SONORA SANTANERA at Universal Amphitheater, March 28

For years, Saúl Hernández and his once-Caifanes, now-Jaguares delivered their fans from terrestrial troubles with mystical musings rather than political pabulum. But there he was, on the Universal Amphitheater stage Friday night, wearing a mock-military jacket emblazoned with "No More War" and a T-shirt with a Stars-and-Stripes-painted hand offering the peace sign. In the rockero god's hands was a gleaming guitar. Phil Ochs' dream of a revolutionary Elvis was about to come true.

The music? Beautiful. An acoustic overview of all the Caifanes and Jaguares hits. Moody arena rock channeled through a troubadour soul. "Viento" became especially liberating with a bawling sax solo from session player Jimmy Zavala. Hernández let his shamanistic wails guide the sold-out crowd through the peyote dreamscape that is "Detrás de los Cerros." "The start of the Iraq war begins the darkest chapter of this world," opined Hernández. "The day we don't have war will be the day we will finally be human." Two Jumbotrons flashed images of revolt: peasants confronting police, and a grinning Dubya accepting boots from Mexico's own cowboy, Vicente Fox, for starters. The dedications flew like bullets — to murdered Mexican activist Digna Ochoa, to César Chávez, to the slaughtered women of Ciudad Juárez.

Fellow chilangos La Sonora Santanera joined Jaguares for a boogaloo "Como Tú." The tropical titans, impeccable in their sharp suits, stayed to perform their own call-and-response classic "La Boa." Hernández tried to join La Sonora in dancing simple steps but couldn't keep up. After a while, he just stood and grinned. The encore needs no elaboration. Sure, Jaguares flipped on the electricity, played a good 45 minutes more and ended perfectly with "Afuera," but the trio had already accomplished their transformation. Jaguares has always possessed a hell of a roar; now they have fangs. (Gustavo Arellano)

ANDREW WEATHERALL, PREFUSE 73, PLAID at the Henry Fonda Theater, March 28

Besides his membership in hot-five-minutes-ago Two Lone Swordsman, there must have been a reason Andrew Weatherall was headlining tonight, but even the promoters who put on this party couldn't figure it out. Surprisingly, the effete jock wasn't cutting anything remotely close to the commercial beats of the Swordsman, opting instead for Dutch-style hardcore-meets-Chicago house, with enough bpms to satisfy the tweakers. Speaking of chemicals, American DJs like to keep work and play separate, but the English tend to booze and blaze up the fags the deeper they get into the mix (it's about concentration, innit?). Fortunately, Weatherall takes greater risks the more fucked-up he gets, but by 1:30 a.m. (he spun at least a half-hour too long) it was too little too late.

Good thing Prefuse 73 (a.k.a. the king of glitch-hop) was on first, because he's got the left-field funk that makes you go geometric. The Atlantan specializes in MC flows drowning in choppy static on steroids, best heard on the primo Vocal Studies and Uprock Narratives. But since his session at Mobius last year, Prefuse has honed his keypad chops and broadened his melody files tenfold, and the results almost put the disco dancers into pleasure comas.

It was the evening's other Brit duo, Plaid, that dashed expectations of a Warp Records blip fest. Though IDM has scarcely been mentioned in the press in the last year, Plaid never identified with the laptop nerds anyway. Sure, they got clicks 'n' clacks, but it's just window-dressing for their majestic swells of angels' breath — imagine 13th-century church chorales lit up like Xmas trees — that nearly took the roof off this aging theater. Cynics won't accept that wormholes of beauty exist between the 1s and 0s, but Plaid sure know where to find them. (Andrew Lentz)

DERRICK CARTER at the Ivar, March 27

If American rave-house (think Sneak, Dan, Donald Glaude, Charlie Feelgood, Doc Martin) has an elder statesman, it's Derrick L. Carter. The Windy City legend has been spinning since junior high school, and he helped the Chicago sound make the metamorphosis from post-disco soul in the '80s to hand-raising global party music in the '90s. Like his aforementioned spiritual brethren, Carter approaches the turntables like a basketball center — manhandling his vinyl, slapping it down and taking the transition game to new levels. The transformational blends and banging house style that became a staple of West Coast jocks were long ago abused by Carter, a true party animal. His tendency to push up the tempo and animate behind the decks has given house a new entrée for the jittery candy generation.  

Despite our respect, we were a little worried. Carter failed to show at a DJ Dan-promoted gig at the Martini Lounge a few years ago. But on Thursday night, Carter made it out to help open a new weekly, Fidelity, at the relatively new Ivar in Hollywood, a venue whose owners are clearly trying to make that long-needed connection between L.A.'s massive underground dance scene and its often musically deaf, industry-crazed nightlife. The pretty people in effect at Ivar, as one observer noted, were more "Hollywood" than E-culture. Carter threw down behind a booth that was guarded by a velvet rope (apparently to prevent gawkers and spotters from blocking foot traffic). It was a stiff, well-behaved vibe, but Carter got the fists pumping and the elbows bumping with a redux of the Star Wars track "Cantina Band." Carter brought out the kind of bass-line punk and dirty funk that made his album Squaredancing in a Roundhouse (released last year on his own Classic label) a critical surprise. His relentless, razzle-dazzle programming — quickly mixing record after record — charged the air, and he actually left unattended two records in the mix for what seemed like a long moment as he dug for yet another track. Bravo. (Dennis Romero)

NEIL INNES at Sixteen-Fifty, March 20

"Ladies and gentlemen, I've suffered for my music — now it's your turn," prodigal troubadour Neil Innes declared at the outset, tuning wildly with feigned confusion, then launching into the sweet-and-sour harmonica squeaks and earnestly vague lyrics of his solo acoustic Dylan parody, "Protest Song." Later, he donned a bright-yellow duck hat for the spare piano ballad "How Sweet To Be an Idiot," but before you could dismiss it as a mere sight gag, he crooned, "Fee fi fo fum, I smell the blood of an asylum," with an unsettling, haunted urgency. There's a bit of the tears-of-a-clown syndrome at play here; even the Beatles and French-song parodies were limned with gorgeous, original melodies, hinting at and reveling in deeper emotions.

Although it was a thrill to hear the man perform Bonzo Dog Band classics like "Urban Spaceman" and the full-tilt boogie of "Trouser Press," the real revelations lay in a generous selection of lost solo material. "Libido" chugged along pleasantly with a faux South Americana vibe; the shock was in the casually frank lyrics. "Freedom is . . . the image of illusion in the goldfish of your bowl/The shampoo of perfection in the bathroom of your dreams," Innes chanted during "Slaves of Freedom," with certain lyrics taking on special meaning at the outset of Bush's private war: "We can't all be Wyatt Earp."

Backed by a versatile group that included sparkling guitarist Rutling Ken Thornton, Bonzos bassist Joel Druckman, and longtime pianist and strings-and-horns arranger John Altman, Innes was in stronger form than when he last appeared locally in 1997 and 1994 with various pickup-band versions of the Rutles. During his second set, Innes (a.k.a. Ron Nasty) whipped up a medley of Rutles favorites, including rarities from Archaeology like "Lonely-Phobia" and an impromptu version of "Hey Mister!" It was all a joke, yes, but with tunes that were often more memorable than their influences. (Falling James)


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