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Music for a New World

Photo courtesy Domino RecordsJUANA MOLINA
at the Silent Movie Theater, July 25

Last week, the Argentine singer-songwriter Juana Molina played an invite-only show at the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax — “an intimate concert for industry and press.” Molina lived in Los Angeles for a spell in the late ’90s and has something of a following here. (She has appeared on KCRW and used to be a regular at the Hotel Café.) This was a celebration, though. Her third album, Segundo, has just received its first domestic release, on the Domino label. On first blush, it seemed like the show would be a disaster — 150 people RSVP’d, 30 people showed up. It was a bit too intimate.

Before Molina began her career as a singer-songwriter, however, she was a star comedian on Argentine TV, and those skills came in handy. She quickly broke the ice, asking the largely empty room, “Is it because it is the Silent Movie Theater that you are so quiet?” Frankly, she didn’t need the jokes. Molina’s music is a fine complement to silence. Her voice is a closely miked coo, familiar to fans of Brazilian styles such as bossa nova and tropicalia. Her songs are intimacy defined, spinning tight, whispered harmonies over dizzying structures reminiscent of Erik Satie. Synthetic sounds provided an intellectual, modern edge. Keyboard player Alejandro Franov’s wobbly synth squelches would make Sun Ra proud; the song “Misterio Uruguayo” was executed over a distant bed of crickets. The audience of three dozen was rapt.

Molina’s songs are more than Latin alternative music; they are music for a new world — far more adventurous than South American contemporaries like Bebel Gilberto and closer in spirit to the kind of genre-mash experiments coming out of Chicago’s post-rock scene. “This is a song from my second record,” Molina said midway through her set. “It is called ‘Rara,’ which means . . .” She paused for a moment to consider where she was going with the thought. “Whatever, I don’t know what it means!” The music
was far beyond language.

JOÃO GILBERTO, LUCIANA SOUZA

at the Hollywood Bowl, July 23

An evening of deep disappointment, though it started well. Singer Luciana Souza and guitarist Romero Lubambo displayed exquisite rapport as they tripped deftly through a short opening program of sambas, with the remarkably nimble Lubambo matching Souza’s airy scatting, often note for note. Then, as dusk deepened into darkness and the last victims of the endless will-call line found their seats, João Gilberto emerged onto the Bowl’s stage for the first time since 1964, clad in a navy-blue suit and looking a bit like a befuddled CEO walking into an impromptu board meeting amid thunderous applause. Settling into his chair, he adjusted the microphones with the assistance of a harried sound technician and quietly eased into song.

Murmuring lyrics into the audience’s ear like the most intimate lover, his soft, rhythmic guitar inseparably twined with his voice, the 63-year-old bossa nova pioneer cast an immediate spell. Moving into a sublimely sensual reading of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave,” his voice dropped to a whisper, and the crowd responded with a hush that bordered on the absolute. It was fragile magic, and it didn’t last.

Following his next number, a stunningly delicate samba, scattered shouts of “louder” burst from the sold-out venue’s upper stands, where the audience was apparently not spellbound but straining to hear. A pause ensued, fiddling soundmen emerged, and for all intents and purposes the concert ended there. Escalating delays and futile adjustments accompanied almost every subsequent tune, with Gilberto’s voice increasingly overmiked and his guitar succumbing completely to the onslaught. Bottles clattered, chairs scraped, and soon goodbyes could be heard over the muffled strains of “Manha de Carnaval,” after which a clearly exasperated Gilberto announced his imminent departure if the sound was not finally corrected.

He played one more song, Gershwin’s
“’S Wonderful.” Sweetly charming at first, it took on a disconcerting, nearly obsessive cast as Gilberto repeated its lyrics over and over, as if they might somehow balm the night’s battered soul. Then, with a curt bow, he was gone. (Brandt Reiter)

 

SQUAREPUSHER, LUKE VIBERT

at the Hollywood Athletic Club, July 25

If there’s a problem electronicats have, it’s nailing down just what that wily limey Luke Vibert is. Drum & bass? Downtempo? Turntable prankster? The answer: all of these and none, as seen in full effect during his generous three-hour set last Friday. Vibert — a.k.a. Wagon Christ a.k.a. Plug — cut a righteous swath across his own discographies, did some live (i.e., non-DJ) edits and, in the last half-hour, got into mash-up mode, crisscrossing unlikely pop songs as well as classics like Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” and Digital Underground’s “Humpty Dance” (the latter tune is now officially verboten).

But for fans of Tom Jenkinson — that boffo Brit known as Squarepusher — there’s no difficulty fingering him: He’s IDM’s closest thing to a rock star, and the insane line snaking around the venue was a clubocracy of raver hooligans, metrosexuals, broken-beat adventurers and the lighter-hoisting faithful hungry to see their boy ever since his 2002 U.S. tour was canceled without explanation. But those who had never seen Squarepusher were scratching their heads when he entered stage left strapping on a big ol’ eight-string bass (!). Er, was there an impostor in the venue?

For Mr. Jenkinson, instrument anarchy is as important as laptop sabotage. While he unleashed his customary glitch-shrapnel blizzards and, toward set’s end, backlashed with Dutch/Belgian-style gabber, ’Pusher simultaneously triggered loops with the bass while snap-thwacking up and down the frets as percussively as Primus’ Les Claypool, pogoing around the dais, waving at the crowd and blinding us with epilepsy-inducing white strobes. Yeah, it was a bit overstimulating, but where Squarepusher is concerned — to quote the Grateful Dead — “too much is just enough.” (Andrew Lentz)

ELEFANT, ALASKA!

at Spaceland, July 21

We in the rock & roll record-buying, concert-going public are a tough crowd. We like our vocalists to fit into one of two categories: the Syd Barrett acid-casualty/Elliott Smith bare-your-soul-in-a-whisper camp of freaks on whom we feel privileged to eavesdrop, and the Kurt Cobain/James Brown tighten-your-gut-and-belt-it-out crew of screamers for whom we can’t help but stand up and cheer. Generally speaking, we don’t like crooners.

So when Elefant’s front man Diego Garia took the stage wearing an immodestly mod shag and a scarf tucked into his button-down like an ascot, and asked the light man to “get a little funky” in a disturbingly rich baritone, there was some cause for alarm. But by the time the band had finished “Tonight Let’s Dance,” the crowd seemed convinced that they were witnessing the real thing, a new New Romantic whose impossibly good looks and detached charisma held sufficient alchemy to make the guys jealously melt into respect and the girls simply melt. The tunes — one heartfelt love paean after another from the band’s recent debut, Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid — seemed a little too soaked in Psychedelic Furs–style ’80s nostalgia to rise to Rolling Stone’s assertion of greatness, but the songs were certainly good and, with the right front man to deliver them, much better than good enough.

Spaceland’s July residents, Alaska!, got off to a rough start on “The Light,” with new drummer Lesley Ishino taking a few minutes to find the track’s speed-shifting groove, but the trio fell into lockstep on the very next song, the hard-charging “Love (To Be Your Main),” and by the time the band performed its closing “S.S.” — which found singer-guitarist Imaad Wasif writhing on the ground in the throes of a magnificently cathartic guitar solo — the crowd’s admiration was as big as the state for which they were named. (Liam Gowing)

IDLEWILD

at the Troubadour, July 23

Since their last L.A. headlining appearance (at El Rey in April), Idlewild’s stateside assault has continued unabated, including an exhaustive club tour and an arena jaunt with Pearl Jam. Tonight marks the end of this arduous trek behind the Scottish quintet’s third album, The Remote Part, and, while their chops are predictably lubed, Idlewild also appear drained and semipresent, mailing in parts of their set between flashes of bounding energy and interested, if introverted, sensitivity.

The place is packed yet strangely static as, for all their raucous edges, vocal interplay and purposeful rhythms, Idlewild remain chiefly a stand-and-listen affair, and their performances, though consistently engaging, rarely levitate to the truly spectacular. Yet they possess a clutch of tunes sufficiently robust to weather even the most weary of performances. Idlewild’s material, as they say back in Blighty, is a game of two halves: spirited, Smithsy anthems on the one hand (the hard-to-resist “You Held the World in Your Arms” and bombastic “A Modern Way of Letting Go”); Celtic-tinged, maudlin folky laments on the other (“American English,” “In Remote Part/Scottish Fiction”), at once evoking the poetry of the glens and the pub’s ale-sodden nostalgia. Looking like they’ve recently rolled out of bed (which is possible), Idlewild have grown increasingly disheveled as this tour’s rolled on, bassist Gavin Fox’s shaggy headbanging a foil to front man Roddy Woomble’s won’t-meet-your-eye stumbling and guitarist Rod Jones’ bouts of spastic leaping. A well-earned encore deflates into four inward-looking tunes (including an obscure Jackson C. Frank cover), a display of integrity both admirable and frustrating.

Idlewild are a diverse and diligent act whose charms have been overshadowed by omnipresent compatriots Coldplay and Radiohead. Yet, while their songwriting and stylistic signature are increasingly defined, Idlewild’s show still sometimes resembles an enthusiastic rehearsal. (Paul Rogers)