Music Picks: Balkan Beat Box, Cake, Ted Leo, Vanessa Paradis
GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR AT MUSIC BOX
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BUN B AT THE ROXY
The Lone Star State has a history of producing gangsters who blaze trails and don't care if anyone follows — George W. Bush, citizen border patrols, UGK. Unlike the first two, however, the duo UGK ("Underground Kingz") ultimately convinced the country of the truth of their ways. Formed around the same time Compton was crackling, hard-core rappers Bun B and the late Pimp C covered much of the same territory N.W.A did. Despite, or maybe due to, controversial lyrics on their major-label debut, Too Hard to Swallow, the duo remained below the radar for the better half of the 1990s. But after appearing on Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin' " and Three 6 Mafia's ode to the Houston-originated cough syrup cocktail, "Sipping on Some Syrup," UGK properly blew up, even garnering a Grammy nomination. Bun B saw his solo career take off in 2005, with all three of his albums receiving positive reviews; the last, Trill O.G., was the first album in five years to get a 5 Mic rating from The Source. Ever keeping to the UGK-coined standard, "trill" (true + real), lately Bun B has been keeping company with a new underground king, Freddie Gibbs [See Wednesday], appearing on the gangsta rapper's aptly titled single, "Oil Money." Don't mess with Texas. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
MARNIE STERN, TERA MELOSAT THE ECHO
Tera Melos is a wondrously strange trio from Sacramento, whose complex math-rock rambles are distinguished by unusual sonic juxtapositions and flurries of wacked-out guitar squiggles on their third album, Patagonian Rats. Bassist Nathan Latona and drummer John Clardy shift tempos from free-jazz noise to psychedelic dreaminess, as guitarist-programmer-vocalist Nick Reinhart unreels elaborate, intricate whorls of notes. Early songs like the eight-minute epic "40 Rods to the Hog's Head" alternate between dense prog-rock tangles and more open-ended passages that float away into space. Tera Melos is well matched with headliner Marnie Stern, who, like Reinhart, also employs finger-tapping trickery to conjure febrile riffs from her ax. Far more than just a flashy guitarist, the New York singer combines art-rock melodies and banshee wailing with bizarre, cryptic lyrics on her recent self-titled album on Kill Rock Stars. Producer Zach Hill (who also drums with Hella) anchors frantically busy tracks like "For Ash" and "Female Guitar Players Are the New Black" with a heavy sound that still finds room for shards of Stern's subversive wit and playfulness. And check out her crazy version of the theme from Hawaii Five-0, which is the weirdest remake of that TV jingle since Radio Birdman recast the melody as "Aloha Steve & Danno" back in the late 1970s. (Falling James)
CAKE AT THE TROUBADOUR
You've likely heard that Cake's new Showroom of Compassion scored a No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200 last month with then–record low sales of 44,000 copies. (Two weeks later, Philadelphia soul-folkie Amos Lee bumped Cake's benchmark, topping the chart by moving 40,000 copies of his Mission Bell.) What you might not have heard is what Showroom of Compassion sounds like. Wee're here to tell you that it sounds exactly like the Sacramento band's previous five studio discs, with frontman John McCrea's deadpan vocals laid over goofy white-funk grooves perked up by Vince DiFiore's fake-mariachi trumpet lines. (If these guys hadn't used the title Prolonging the Magic in 1998, they could have safely utilized it here.) That's no knock, by the way — more bands could do with Cake's strong sense of self. And, hey, shit's paying off at a moment of widespread record-biz instability: Tonight they play the first gig of a sold-out four-night stand. Also Sat., Sun. and Mon. (Mikael Wood)
VANESSA PARADIS AT THE ORPHEUM THEATRE
Vanessa Paradis might be best known in this country as the paramour of Johnny Depp, but the French singer-model-actor has had a long musical career, starting with her 1987 European hit "Joe le Taxi," which was released when she was still a precocious teenager. She's since acted in numerous films alongside such icons of French cinema as Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jeanne Moreau. Championed by none other than Serge Gainsbourg, she coos sweetly charming pop songs in both French and English, and her recent 20-track Best Of compilation features most of her career highlights, including her early work with Lenny Kravitz and such brightly perky songs as "Be My Baby" (not to be confused with the Ronettes classic). Paradis is similarly delightful on her new live DVD, Une Nuit à Versailles, reveling in romanticized evocations of "Chet Baker" and "Marilyn & John." Despite her popularity overseas, she's only now making her live debut in North America. (Falling James)
TROY WALKER at Viva Cantina
Legendary cult phenom Troy Walker may be in his mid-70s, but the little weirdo can still out-sing and out-entertain just about everybody else in the business. The androgynous dynamo first began flipping wigs at the Crescendo Club in the early 1960s, routinely pulling SRO crowds that included Elvis Presley, Phil Spector and Ethel Merman, and was soon collaborating with the likes of Timi Yuro, Brian and Dennis Wilson, Jerry Cole and Leon Russell. By the 1970s, Walker, with his flowing tresses, unbelievably tight pants and dangerously high heels, was a fixture at C&W shrine the Palomino, winning over the stone redneck crowd with supernatural ease. A showstopping wild thing who mixes biting satire, gorgeous balladry, outrageous self-deprecating humor ("Look at me. I'm just a wrinkle — in heat!") and a second-to-none repertoire of freewheeling pop, country, soul and rock & roll numbers, Walker remains an unpredictable, artistically genuine, one-of-a-kind thriller. Life-changing. (Jonny Whiteside)
Also playing Friday: OMAR AND THE STRINGPOPPERS at Weber's; OLD LUMPS, MOSES CAMPBELL, SMITHFIELD BARGAIN at Remain Curious; TWIN (Winnipeg, Canada), EVA KLASSEN, BIG BLACK, DELTA, TINYLITTLE at the Smell; ELUVEITIE at Glass House; MIKE VIOLA at Bootleg Theater.
TED LEO AT SKYBAR AT MONDRIAN HOTEL
Every generation needs its populist punk-rock poet, and for the indie rockers, Ted Leo is it. The man has a proclivity for Public Enemy T-shirts, a dry wit and an overall vibe that makes him the musical son of Elvis Costello and Fugazi. This Northeastern force of nature has helmed no fewer than six bands, and none has failed to impress. Of course, it's his Pharmacists that have earned him the most acclaim, and with good reason. Though Leo has switched up the lineup frequently over the years, he has always populated the group with players who shred with a sense of economy, and who are as adept at rocking out as they are at slowing it down for a folksy moment. That's never been so true as on the band's lauded 2010 album, The Brutalist Bricks, which happens to be the Pharmacists' sixth. Leo's latest batch of songs offers a snarling set of modern-day morals inspired by the busted economy and an always imperfect political system. He'll be performing 'em solo here, and also at Eagle Rock's Center for the Arts the following night. (Chris Martins)
Also playing Saturday: DAVE EMORY, JON KESKITALIO, ETHAN HIGBEE at Dem Passwords; NARWHAL PARTY, PETER PANTS, TES ELATIONS, PULSE OUT at the Smell; MAGIC BULLETS at Origami Vinyl; CHROMEO at Fox Theater.
DUBLAB LABRAT MATINEE AT CINEFAMILY AT THE SILENT MOVIE THEATRE
Who are these Labrats, anyway? They're the faithful crew that make the music and madness behind one of web radio's longest-running and most influential "stations": Dublab.com. Founder/main man Frosty has expanded his operations to related, culturally radical activities, like these nights of super-obscure music videos, vintage avant animation, comedy clips and all manner of audiovisual artistry and effluvia. Sunday's offerings include a specially prepared intro film by Dugan O'Neal. After the films, y'all are invited to hang around the back patio for a party featuring a live set by a kustom-selected band, plus Labrat DJs spinning tracks featured in classic and not-so-classic film scores. Labrats have included Ale, Carlos Nino, Daedelus, Kutmah, Nobody, Ras G, Teebs and The Gaslamp Killer. Is it all ages? Yes! (John Payne)
BOBBY BROWN, NIKKOLEAT KEY CLUB
Bobby Brown may have had a seemingly overnight rise to fame as a member of the prototypical R&B boy band New Edition, but his public and professional life has been a trial by fire since, so consider this local one-off show an assertion of "dues paid." A series of drug-related arrests and his ongoing troubles with ex-wife Whitney Houston frequently took the focus away from the man's work over the past couple of decades, but 2011 is shaping up to be a banner year for Brown. Last year, he and two other New Edition originals, Johnny Gill and Ralph Tresvant, hit the road as Heads of State, selling out around the world. Word is a new record from the larger group is on the way soon, and Brown's own fifth solo endeavor, The Masterpiece, his first in 14 years, is due out this spring. Word is production is coming from New Jack Swing innovators like Babyface, Teddy Riley (Guy, Blackstreet) and the inseparable duo of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (Boyz II Men, Janet Jackson). Presumably, Brown will use this date to debut some new material, as well as to play a few classics. It's his prerogative, of course. (Chris Martins)
Also playing Sunday: MAN...OR ASTROMAN? at the Echo; STAB CITY; HELLER KELLER, VIETNAMBLA, BIRD MAD GIRL at the Smell; BATTLEMASTER at Blvd. Cafe.
GANG OF FOUR AT THE MUSIC BOX
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RED CORTEZ AT THE SATELLITE
Whether as Spaceland or, now, the Satellite, a monthlong Monday residency at this low-slung Silver Lake stalwart is a badge of honor to local indie bands — recognition of a following that extends well beyond first-name terms and a repertoire that transcends simply the same set played four times. Having filled frequent support slots at similar repeat engagements over the past couple of years, while touring with everyone from Morrissey to the Airborne Toxic Event, Red Cortez more than meet the criteria for the former, and as if to underline the latter they'll be releasing a free EP to coincide with each of these Satellite transmissions (albeit of mostly demo recordings, apparently). The foursome's dressed-down demeanor belies their onstage zeal, with singer-guitarist-keysman Harley Prechtel-Cortez, in particular, emoting every nuance of their all-embracing, soulful blues-punk with wry, arena-ready belief. Sure, the guy likes himself, but that comes with the territory, and the strength of his melodies — which feed off rather than succumb to RC's nervy fervor — forgives the histrionics. However anthemic they get (and we're talking War-like U2 sing-along-ability at times), Red Cortez remain sufficiently organic and stylistically liberated to keep us coming back well beyond this February four-peat. (Paul Rogers)
Also playing Monday: DIRTBIKE PUPPET THEATRE, MEAGAN BOYD'S PUPPET FUNERAL, COBRA LILLIES, HEROES OF POPULAR WARS, CORNDAWG at Pehrspace.
VIVIAN GIRLS, CATWALK, COLD SHOWERS AT THE SMELL
Perhaps it has something to do with the Runaways' cinematic resurgence last year, but indie rock's obsession with hard-rocking garage punkettes continues unabated into the new year. And as long as the Brooklyn-based Vivian Girls are in the game, this is a very, very good thing. Though the band was only formed in 2007, Vivian Girls have become a breeding ground for like-minded projects. Members have gone on to join or form Best Coast, Dum Dum Girls, La Sera, Babies and Frankie Rose & the Outs (to name a few), but the original act has hardly been skeletonized or diluted by that. Rather, they released a critically lauded, lo-fi fan favorite in 2009, Everything Goes Wrong, and are gearing up for their third album this spring, fittingly titled Share the Joy. Opening are Cold Showers — a new outfit featuring at least one former member of L.A.'s own femme-punk clearinghouse, Mika Miko — and Catwalk, another jangly, retro, Wall of Sound–inspired act, albeit fronted by a fella from Oxnard. All three are worth seeing. (Chris Martins).
Also playing Tuesday: VERSUS at the Echo; DEATH ANGEL at Key Club.
JOHN WATERS' "THIS FILTHY WORLD GOES HOLLYWOOD" AT ROYCE HALL
Director John Waters is about as lovable as deviants come these days. Nearly 30 years ago, he captured pal Divine scarfing down dog shit on film in Pink Flamingos. Today he strides triumphantly onto the stage at UCLA's Royce Hall to deliver a bigger, bolder and bawdier version of his acclaimed vaudeville-cum-standup act released on DVD in 2006 as This Filthy World. As he says himself: "This filthy world — it's a beautiful place, isn't it?" Any film freak already has (or should already have) a wet spot in his or her heart for Waters, who's oozed deeper into the mainstream each year. But Waters — like R. Crumb — is an artist who knows music, too. He put the Dead Boys' punk frontman Stiv Bators, R&B belter Ruth Brown and, of course, Iggy Pop in front of the camera and filled his soundtracks with songs by unsung legends like Andre Williams, Ike Turner and Link Wray. Especially in the early days, his films were as vital a portal into the musical underworld as any Cramps record or Creem magazine. Enjoy the opening set by Elvis Perkins, too. His bent Buddy Holly–meets–Jeff Mangum pop would fit nicely over one of Waters' closing-credit crawls. (Chris Ziegler)
CHOCOLATE GENIUS AT BOOTLEG THEATER
At some point, something went terribly right for Mark Anthony Thompson, the singer/composer/multi-instrumentalist who midway through a semisuccessful solo career recast himself as Chocolate Genius Inc. and hasn't looked back. A supremely gifted singer and songwriter boasting an almost absurdly varied plate of influences and stylistic approaches, CG is at core something of a provocateur, as his pushy name makes clear — the better, it seems, to dislocate you, and more likely himself. His latest, Swansongs, is, like his earlier Black Music, Godmusic and Black Yankee Rock sets, another post-post bag of tunes whose aim seems primarily to smear the lines of what we think we know about the possibilities and obligations of an African-American man with a mouth and a guitar. His live bands, often featuring the hellacious skrawk of guitar god Marc Ribot, are notoriously explosive, and Mr. Genius himself is a supple strummer and velvety crooner. You might request "Bossman Pissed in My Lemonade." (John Payne)
FREDDIE GIBBS & THE PARK, FREE THE ROBOTS AT THE TROUBADOUR
Freddie Gibbs has been hailed as the second coming of Tupac Shakur. He's been signed and dropped by Interscope, then re-signed to the budding Deacon imprint. He's released a song called "National Anthem (Fuck the World)," which lays out his beef with the industry and various other "playa-haters" with the flair and contempt of a veteran. Yet, he still hasn't dropped a proper debut album. As previously implied, this hasn't been for lack of trying. The Gary, Ind.–born Gibbs is as motivated as they come, and when his label refused to back him, he responded by releasing two free mixtapes of his music. These — in particular, The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs — earned the man a name for portraying social struggle in a realistic but respectful light, via a gangsta delivery that consistently takes no prisoners. It does, however, earn some high-profile followers, as the Black Keys' Dan Auerbachm the Cool Kids' Chuck Inglish and legendary Southern rapper Bun B; the latter joined Gibbs for a song on last year's Str8 Killa EP. Word is a full-length is coming out this year dubbed Baby-Faced Killa. He appears here backed by live funk-soul players the Park. (Chris Martins)
BALKAN BEAT BOX AT THE CONGA ROOM
Led by former Gogol Bordello drummer Tamir Muskat, Balkan Beat Box have much of the frenetically festive approach of the notorious New York Gypsy punks, blurring old-world traditionalism with an intensely aggressive attack. Unlike Gogol Bordello, however, the Balkans also branch out with a more dance-heavy electronic style on their recent album Blue Eyed Black Boy. As the title suggests, Balkan Beat Box's sound is a contradictory mélange of disparate cultures and rhythms. Firewater saxophonist Ori Kaplan may draw upon jazz and klezmer, but once his merry melodies are pumped up by Muskat's drumming and singer Tomer Yosef's percussion, the end result is something that's curiously fresh. Reggae, funk, dub and Latin rhythms collide on tracks like "Marcha de la Vida," with Kaplan's horns crowing proudly like a rooster over the bubbling brew. (Falling James)
Also playing Wednesday: LINKIN PARK, THE PRODIGY at Staples Center; SPAIN, ARRICA ROSE & THE ...'S at the Silverlake Lounge.
ERYKAH BADU'S BIRTHDAY PARTY at House of Blues
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Also playing Thursday: SEBADOH, QUASI at the Troubadour; TELEKINESIS, LOVE LANGUAGE, ONE TRICK PONY at the Echo; FREESTYLE FELLOWSHIP, SHAPESHIFTERS, SOLE & THE SKYRIDER BAND; BLUE SKY BLACK DEATH, ASTRONAUTALIS at Fake Four Fest at the Echoplex; DUBBUMBA, GIBBONS AND THE SLUTS, EMMA AND THE GHOSTS, PEK PEK at the Smell.
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