Music Picks: Amanda Jo Williams, Usher, Masaki Batoh, Procol Harum
GHOSTFACE KILLAH AT THE ROXY
Ghostface Killah seemed to have carved out his niche in the rowdy Shaolin Land clan as the playboy character. Swaddled in a fur bathrobe and gnawing on a toothpick, Ghost was in the background makin' sly moves with his sleepy eyes trained on the thickest girl. Though he's still known for his lyrical bee sting — the old gang got back together again and proved they still had it at this year's Rock the Bells — these days he's more interested in spilling honey. While he and fellow Wu Tang members Method Man and Raekwon dropped the viciously titled Wu Massacre last spring, the assault was tame and trim. But a year ago, he released an R&B album, Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City, and dismissed selling crack in favor of settling down. These are Ghostface songs, not Shakespearean sonnets, and the lyrics are as hypersexual as you once imagined Hugh Hefner's mansion to be. Still, he loves women, and women love a man who makes them laugh. Ghost keeps going like this, and he won't have to worry about growing old alone. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
RED CORTEZ AT DINNER HOUSE M
Morrissey's blessing should hand any area indie band the keys to the Eastside (the "real" Eastside so protected by belligerent nativists), so expect Red Cortez — whom Mozza personally invited to tour last year — to be well supported at this in-the-know lounge/jazz joint in the shadow of downtown (it's a benefit show for Asaprosar, the Salvadoran Association for Rural Health). Red Cortez evoke the uncomplicated musicality, melody and melodrama of War-era U2 or pre-ubiquity Kings of Leon, but with a jangly abandon that's more backyard kegger than stadium mega. Though a song like "Western Front" is the product of organized minds, it boasts sufficient irreverent shimmer (mostly thanks to frontman Harley Prechtel-Cortez's eccentric verse delivery) to sound stream of consciousness. Red Cortez's supple, punky soul/rock is far from a train wreck, but it's not rocket science, either — and therein lies its delicately balanced charm. (Paul Rogers)
FREE MORAL AGENTSAT THE AIRLINER
Long Beach's Free Moral Agents are under the command of Mars Volta synthmeister Ikey Owens, whose day job doesn't seem to present the kind of musical constraints you'd imagine someone rebelling against. Nevertheless, on the recently released Control This (the Agents' first effort for Chicago's Chocolate Industries indie) Owens definitely takes advantage of his side-project liberation, leading his bandmates on a freewheeling journey through big-beat soul-funk, neo-shoegaze psychedelia and shimmering space-station prog rock. The group's songwriting doesn't always impress, especially in the wake of the Mars Volta's relatively concise Octahedron, from last year; the most memorable thing on Control This is a woozy cover of Sonic Youth's "Little Trouble Girl." But the intensity of their sound is something to behold. (Mikael Wood)
FUTURA LAUNCH AT CENTER FOR THE ARTS, EAGLE ROCK
It's a nice, clean typeface (also, apparently, the name of an Italian hard-core-porn studio), but for L.A.'s music-loving denizens, the word Futura is about to take on a new meaning. Once a month in Eagle Rock, fans of beat music, ambient electronics and forward-thinking orchestral forays will find a welcoming home at the Center for the Arts. That's because locals Teebs (beat architect behind the fantastically lush just-released album Ardour) and Asura (whose recent self-titled electronic LP is full of multi-instrumentalist moxie) have teamed up to launch Futura, a night that will find those two performing while none other than Flying Lotus and Strangeloop handle a steady stream of tripped-out visuals. Expect plenty of special guests, too; this kickoff event features Quartetto Fantastico, a jazz-leaning string quartet featuring virtuosic player/arranger Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. The group recently gave a concert-length performance of John Lennon songs at Footsie's in Highland Park, so expect the unexpected, but expect to be impressed. (Chris Martins)
Also playing Friday: MASTERS OF REALITY at House of Blues; STARS at the Wiltern; MAYER HAWTHORNE AND THE COUNTRY, CHILDISH GAMBINO at Music Box; MISFITS, JUICE HEAD at Key Club; LACO$TE, BIRTH, TOE JAM at The Smell; TEITUR at the Bootleg Theater; DENGUE FEVER at UCLA; SONNY AND THE SUNSETS, THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART at the Echoplex; OVER THE RHINE at the Troubadour; FANG at Alex's Bar.
BEST COAST AT THE TROUBADOUR
As profiled last week in L.A. Weekly's revealing cover story, Best Coast frontwoman Bethany Cosentino has had a pretty remarkable year, taking her local fuzz-pop combo from blog-scene buzz band to darling of the star-making pundits here and abroad. Still, 2010 has not been without its lowlights: "I understand that negative criticism is a part of my job," Cosentino wrote on Best Coast's blog last week, "but honestly sometimes I cannot comprehend how cruel and immature people can be." Same here, homegirl: What's up with the Best Coast hate? Maybe you're not charmed by Crazy for You's scrappy beach-punk vibe, but to our ears it seems like pretty innocuous stuff, hardly worth making the lady feel afraid to turn on the Internet. (For the record, that Converse song with Kid Cudi and the dude from a certain overhyped Brooklyn band that shall not be named was kind of wack.) In any event, the band's two Troubadour gigs are already sold out, so Cosentino is unlikely to face any hecklers tonight. Also Sun. (Mikael Wood)
DOOMTREE AT THE ROXY
Doomtree is a lot of things. A record label. A rap collective. An unwieldy family of musical Minneapolitans. A significant portion of the 23-member-strong, Bon Iver–related Gayngs project. [Music Ed.'s note: Go get the Gayngs record. Do it now.] But here's what you need to know to make sense of this tour: 1) Doomtree figurehead P.O.S. is headlining, and he's a beast both on the microphone and on the drums. In fact, he plays guitar and keys, too, but not in the way that, say, L.A. Reid might. Simply put, he shreds, and often gainfully mixes elements of punk into his beat soup, which is sprinkled with political-yet-personal lyrical observations. 2) Member Dessa will grace the stage with heart on sleeve, and a jazz-inflected mix of sing-song and spoken word. 3) Sims, also in attendance, has a gritty, wordy and thoroughly moody style. 4) And Mike Mictlan, a native Angeleno who has relocated to the Midwest, has a distinctly L.A. flow — tough and percussive. (Chris Martins)
Also playing Saturday: TRAPS at Origami Vinyl; ANDREW MCINTOSH AND ANDREW THOLL at the Hammer Museum; EMEL SAYIN at UCLA; TENSNAKE at El Cid; PEPPER at Club Nokia; LEGAL WEAPON, THE BRAT, THEE UNDERTAKERS at the Redwood; JANIVA MAGNESS at McCabe's.
JUNIP, SHARON VAN ETTENAT THE MUSIC BOX
José González has made a name for himself over the last few years as a purveyor of extraordinarily unfussy folk music; his typically spare rendition of the Knife's "Heartbeats" turned heads after it was featured in a commercial for Sony. Before he was a solo dude, though, González served as frontman of Sweden's Junip, which, thanks to the singer-guitarist's success (among other factors), just got around to releasing its debut full-length, Fields. Fans of González's stuff won't be shocked by Junip's precise, orderly art-rock jams, most of which evince a similar fascination with rhythm and tone. Wear comfortable shoes tonight and you're likely to find yourself lulled into a kind of meditative state. With Sharon Van Etten, a Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter whose soul-infused Americana suggests Cat Power fronting Wilco. (Mikael Wood)
MASAKI BATOH, WHITE MAGIC AT SPACELAND
Masaki Batoh and his legendary Ghost trade on an advanced form of the psychedelic experience, a folk-space-prog-jazz ritual theater that Batoh and his loose-knit clan began conjuring on a commune in their native Japan more than 20 years ago. Alone on a stage, perhaps just strumming and chanting, the mystical Batoh evokes a strange and profound and doomy air atop an old-earthly-cosmic music, which he's prone to orchestrate with bleating-lyrical loft-jazz-'74-type horns, sawing double basses, clattering Takemitsu percussion, Celtic harps, flutes, tin whistles, tablas and 'trons. His free-flowing forms and progressive structures often tip their hats to the Floydy side of prog, but there's something far deeper going on here. Another disorienting view: the welcome return to action by Brooklyn's shadowy indie folk duo White Magic, featuring singer-guitarist-pianist Mira Billotte and guitarist Doug Shaw. (John Payne)
WAYNE KRAMER, TOM MORELLO, PAULA NELSON & THE GUILTY PLEASURESAT HOUSE OF BLUES
Tonight's Winds of Change art auction and concert benefit the Catalyst Foundation, which provides services to homeless people afflicted with HIV/AIDS. As often occurs at such events, the lineup assembles stylistically disparate performers who wouldn't otherwise be found in the same room, much less together on the same stage. Former MC5 firebrand and ace guitarist Brother Wayne Kramer leads the charge, which is altogether fitting, seeing as how he's recovered from substance-abuse issues and prison time to become a stalwart and sympathetic advocate for those who are less fortunate. He'll likely be paired with Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who can still be an awesome and inventive force on his ax despite a distressing tendency to come off as preachy with his heavy-handed attempts to save the world from itself. The Austin singer Paula Nelson might be best known as Willie Nelson's daughter, but she and her Guilty Pleasures purvey a soulfully rocking brand of country that's a thousand miles (literally and metaphorically) from the glitzy hollowness of the Nashville pop factory, especially on spectral ballads like "Baby Blue." The bill is augmented by Gilby Clarke, Tripdavon, John Andrew Parks & Robert Carradine and Tripwire. (Falling James)
PACHA MASSIVE, BANDA DE TURISTAS AT THE ECHO
An early-evening matinee of mind-bending potential, between the provocative mixture of Latin heat, dub and dance-hall rhythms and a glistening veneer of kickback-techno atmospherics (which NYC's sensations Pacha Massive are cherished for) and the boundlessly appealing psych-pop-big beat confections of fast-rising Argentine guitar slingers Banda de Turistas (their thoroughly fab debut disc, Magical Radiophonic Heart, has earned Latin Grammy noms for both Best Rock Album and Best Alternative Song). The show also doubles as a fifth-anniversary celebration for the bands' label, North Hollywood's Nacional Records, whose idiosyncratic roster of Latin visionaries has grown to an impressive collection of both long-established, arena-level stars (Los Fabuloso Cadillacs, Aterciopelados) and offbeat underground oddballs like Mexican Institute of Sound and the Pinker Tones. Should be one hell of a shindig (6-9 p.m.). (Jonny Whiteside)
PROCOL HARUM AT THE ORPHEUM
Kind of the ideal venue for a group of '60s Brit poppers who parlayed one-hit-wonder status into a credible career as lite symphonic rockers in the '70s. Best use of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (and possibly of any pop song in any movie) ever: as a sound track to Nick Nolte's lust for Rosanna Arquette in the Scorsese segment of New York Stories. Check it out. (Gustavo Turner)
Also playing Sunday: BEST COAST at the Troubadour; BUTCHY FUEGO, SEX WORKER, PSYCHIC REALITY, DIVA DOMPE at The Smell; FISTFUL OF MERCY, ALAIN JOHANNES at Hollywood Forever; MARGOT AND THE NUCLEAR SO & SO'S at the Echoplex.
BLACK APPLES, LA FONT AT THE ECHO
There was a time when the up-and-coming Black Apples weren't Los Angeles residents — dark days spent in Colorado, when their expertly delivered garage rock and proto-psych fell upon ears that were definitely deaf and probably a bit icy. Though their chosen medium's innovators hailed from cold climes — Black Apples pay a lot of loving homage to London's Pretty Things — Stateside psychedelia has always sounded best sunbaked, and these guys have flourished since hitting the (best) coast. Last year's eponymous EP is chock-full of splashy cymbals, shouty vocals, upbeat rhythms and grimy, sometimes surf-tinged guitar. For this second night of the band's Echo residency, Black Apples will be paired with LA Font, who occasionally dabble in the traditionally trippy but tend to veer closer to the distorted shambolic jangle of Pavement than the reverb-drenched excursions of 13th Floor Elevators. They've got a new album out, American Leagues, which focuses on the struggles of blue-collar city life. (Chris Martins)
Also playing Monday: EL TEN ELEVEN at Origami Vinyl.
GWAR, THE CASUALTIES, INFERNAEON AT HOUSE OF BLUES
With House of Blues' Sunset Strip location poised to close within the next year or so, it's a bit of a shame that this isn't the farewell gig. Were the inimitable GWAR allowed to officially see the venue off, there's a good chance front-demon Oderus Urungus would've taken the opportunity to demolish a wall or two with his massive, slime-spewing phallus. Of course, he and the other intergalactic monster barbarians that populate the band will do just about everything but. Their recent appearance at the Bonnaroo festival left the grounds' central fountain dyed blood-red, and their stage show is a legendary mix of punishing thrash metal, sci-fi video presentations and gore-soaked costumery and effects. The experience is loud and messy and completely offensive (at recent shows, they've portrayed Michael Jackson having a three-way with a space infant and Urungus himself), but you truly haven't lived until you've survived a GWAR concert. Wear white. (Chris Martins)
BLONDE REDHEAD, PANTHA DU PRINCE AT THE MUSIC BOX
You've seen their photograph: two handsome identical twin brothers, Amedeo and Simone Pace from Italy, framing a beautiful young woman from Kyoto, Kazu Makino. That's Amedeo on guitar or bass and vocals; Simone is the drummer, a very hard-rocking and idiosyncratic one (he plays keyboards, too); Makino plays slanted, wrenchingly dramatized guitar shards and sings in a breathy, not-so-guileless sigh — or screeeeeeeeeams. But their sound keeps evolving, growing sleek, even, a cinematic-romantic impulse that wrenches a formerly lonely and alienating sound into genuinely touching realms, opening up like some kind of dark flower overflowing with a strangely sweet nectar — a dam has burst, exploding with new tone colors, new unidentifiable emotions. Their new album, Penny Sparkle (4AD), is, if possible, even more heartbreaking than their 2004 masterpiece, Misery Is a Butterfly. With techno-shoegaze psychedelia, courtesy German electronic musician-producer Pantha Du Prince. (John Payne)
LEGENDARY PINK DOTS AT THE ECHOPLEX
When Dave Henderson wrote about Legendary Pink Dots in his seminal 1983 article "Wild Planet" for British rock weekly Sounds, he called them a "unique London-based outfit who mix experimental music with a touch of psychedelia — and almost everything else you can imagine — to produce an ultimately unique sound." Since then they've decamped to Holland, but, aside from constant changes in personnel, that is essentially what they've always been: singular. One of the standouts from the early days of cassette culture, the band — founding member and left-field singer-songwriter Edward Ka-Spel, along with co-founder and synth/electronics player Phil "The Silverman" Knight, guitarist Erik Drost and sound sculptor Raymond Steeg — has distilled Ka-Spel's obsessions with towers, dolls, premonitions and the number 834 into something deeply personal, weird and shot through with loss, longing and fleeting discomfiture. Bonus Southland factoid: The Pink Dots also have a recurring fascination with our beaches: Their 1988 LP, Any Day Now, features one of their finest songs, "Laguna Beach," and tomorrow they're playing in Hermosa Beach! (David Cotner)
GREG DULLI, CARINA ROUNDAT THE TROUBADOUR
Former Afghan Whigs leader Greg Dulli has been preoccupied in recent years with his current band, the Twilight Singers, as well as the Gutter Twins, an ongoing project with Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan. Although he got his start in the late '80s, he's only just now getting around to touring under his own name, with this series of solo shows, which will draw upon material from all of his various groups. Regardless of the setting, Dulli's moody songs are fueled by an introspective passion that's contrasted by the euphoric power of soaring alterna-rock guitars and the saving grace of lyrical wit and intelligence. British singer Carina Round also has had a diverse career in the past decade, moving from the delicate folk-pop tunes of her early days to heavier and artier experimentation on more recent albums, like Slow Motion Addict. She's always changing and in constant, not-so-slow motion, having stretched out even further with new collaborations with Tool's Maynard James Keenan and Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan. (Falling James)
Also playing Tuesday: THE THERMALS, THE NIGHT MARCHERS, WHITE FANG at El Rey; GEORGE CRUMB PROGRAM at Disney Concert Hall; NILE at Key Club; POMEGRANATES, OH NO OH MY at the Bootleg Theater; IDLEWILD at the Echo.
THE GHOST OF A SABER TOOTH TIGER AT LARGO
Singer Sean Lennon seemingly can't go anywhere without the ever-present ghost of his famous father, John, and the strong presence of his mother, Yoko Ono, looming over him. It's somewhat remarkable that he hasn't turned into a celebrity waste case or a bitter prodigal son, but he's managed to carve out his own identity nonetheless. His latest project, the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, is an endearing folk-pop collaboration with his girlfriend, model Charlotte Kemp Muhl. Without trying to outdo his dad or become freakier than his mom, Lennon has created an idyllic space where the ambitions are small-scale and the end result is quietly mesmerizing. He strums dreamy pop songs such as "Jardin du Luxembourg" as Muhl coos with close, intimate harmonies. Ultimately, the appeal of a track like "Rainbows in Gasoline" lies not in Lennon's family history but in the way he and Muhl find subtle joys in the titular imagery, fleshed out only by a soft bubbling of keyboards and bedroom voices. (Falling James)
LEONARD DILLON AT THE ECHOPLEX
Jamaican rocksteady spearhead Leonard Dillon ranks as one of reggae's critical stylists, an artist present at the music's first dawning, when he and a handful of others began the alchemical melding of calypso with American rhythm & blues ("a matter of slowin' up some of the instruments, and speedin' up some," as Dillon describes it). As leader of fabled vocal group the Ethiopians, he also infused the sound with several crucial elements, singing in natural dialect when most early '60s Jamaican vocalists uniformly mimicked English-style phrasing. Dillon also added some of the earliest "conscious" lyrics, articulating the grim day-to-day reality of poverty and oppression rather than sticking to fizzy romance and dance numbers. The good news is that Dillon is still in tremendous condition (he positively slayed all comers at his last visit) and with the bonus screening of new documentary Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae, it would appear that those Dub Club cats have whipped up another irresistible and near-historic groove-fest. (Jonny Whiteside)
AMANDA JO WILLIAMS AT THE REDWOOD BAR & GRILL
Georgia-born singer Amanda Jo Williams is one of the leading lights in L.A.'s freak-folk underground, twisting up her simple tunes with spacy touches. Sometimes her little-girl vocals can come off as contrived as another, unrelated singer with the same last name, Victoria Williams. Both performers have a fatal tendency to dip into an easy cutesiness while attempting to evoke a mythically timeless Americana. At such moments, one wishes that Amanda Jo Williams would reveal some real blood and vulnerability, rather than hiding behind facile imagery about animals in the woods. On the other hand, she does manage to create a spell with little more than a softly clucking acoustic guitar underneath her tremulous singing on tracks like "Soul in Songs." Williams is even more fascinating on "Ohio" (not the Neil Young song), where her whimsy is wrapped up neatly in dusty, old-time violins, with lyrics that move beyond the sugary and into something palpably stranger, tangled up in the tree branches of a dark, mysterious forest. (Falling James)
Also playing Wednesday: PAPERCRANES, SISTER CRAYON, ROCKET, FRANKEL at Bordello; ROBYN, MALUCA, NATALIA KILLS at Club Nokia; DANIEL FRANCIS DOYLE, BIG WHUP at The Smell; MARK MALLMAN at Silverlake Lounge; IDLEWILD at the Echo.
USHER AT STAPLES CENTER
You gotta give it to Usher. Even as he transitioned from adorable baby-faced preteen star to "Oh, baby, look at those abs," he cashed in on his image as eternally scorned lover. Some preternatural goddess or another has been making him lose his mind since he was 16. But now in his 30s, the loads of dirty laundry he aired from those failed relationships seem to have steadied that mind enough to focus on more mature matters. So what if Usher's a little young — and a lot hot — to be slinking about like a stalker, and soliciting sex in dicey underground clubs, as in the video for "Lil Freak"? So what if he's a little old to be churning out cheesy, techno-tinged club joints like "OMG"? Part of being a grown-up (musician) is making sacrifices (for your desired fan base). Of course, when those radio-ready cuts are international hits, and you can out-dance your 16-year-old protégé, Justin Bieber, we're still not feeling sorry. Trey Songz, who's picked up where R. Kelly left off, and L.A.'s own Miguel, whose track "All I Want Is You" was one of the sexiest songs of the summer, open. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
DUSTIN WONG AT THE SMELL
Armed with an electric guitar, a couple small Fender amps and a well-stocked bank of delay pedals, former Ecstatic Sunshine axman Dustin Wong creates worlds within worlds, within other, newer worlds. His recent double disc, Infinite Love (Thrill Jockey), is a mesmerizing, indeed hair-raising affair that finds Wong taking his cues from the late avant-folk guitarist John Fahey, painting with what amounts to a million or more melodic motifs, layered, distorted, looped and octave-divided. The pieces start simply, and grow, and grow exponentially again and again, until he's achieved an orchestra of guitar sonics that impress because they're not a mess — there's a real architecture in the way Wong constructs his works. Like some of Steve Reich's pieces, Wong's clashing tone sculptures conjure memories and pictures in the listener's head, where rural American vistas establish plausible links to medieval English court music or the reveries of North Indian ragas. Fascinating, exhilarating stuff. (John Payne)
TYGERS OF WRATH AT SILVERLAKE LOUNGE
If you think prog rock's apparently permanent revival is limited to established epic-mongers like the Mars Volta, Tool and Porcupine Tree, be warned that this hardy genre is still germinating in garages worldwide. Witness the Inland Empire's Tygers of Wrath, an earnest and energized alchemy of At the Drive-In's post-punk adventure and Mahavishnu Orchestra's caftan concertos that are both Warped Tour and time warp. The anime-inspired "Berserk," from TOW's new-ish Murdrum seven-songer, tautly encapsulates the trio's M.O.: tumbling odd-time verses with suitably "rescue me" vocals surrendering to a battering-ram hook and, almost inevitably (because this is prog, after all), a bridge of deliriously masturbatory guitar/drums and fluttering-eyelid psychedelia. On Tygers' periodic L.A. excursions, sharing stages with Hollywood haircut bands and Silver Lake blog snobs, their fearsomely authentic aura is truly a flower from the desert. (Paul Rogers)
Also playing Thursday: E-40, TONI MONROE, PAKKAFELLA at Key Club; FREELANCE WHALES, MINIATURE TIGERS at the Troubadour; KATHERINE JENKINS at the Wiltern.
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