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Music Picks: Batusis, Interpol, Minus the Bear

Azure Ray

FRIDAY/OCTOBER/22

MINUS THE BEAR AT THE WILTERN

Who knew math rock could be sexy? When Seattle's Minus the Bear emerged in 2001, it was almost as a corollary to Dismemberment Plan's back-to-back classics Emergency & I (1999) and Change (2001). Playful and proficient, the quintet burned through an impressive debut, Highly Refined Pirates, that despite its goofy song titles ("Monkey!!! Knife!!! Fight!!!") dealt in some serious post-punk riddims, angular shredding and emotive wail. The next few years found the band refining and tightening its sometimes ethereal sprawl. Things stayed quirky but got less experimental on 2005's Menos el Oso, and more melodic still with 2007's Planet of Ice, but then came this year's Omni, the band's first for Dangerbird. Something of a relaunch, the album finds Minus the Bear breaking out the synthesizers, digging into some thicker, feel-good grooves and, well, getting a bit randy. To wit, the first words uttered by Jake Snider are, "Turn off the lights." "My Time" could almost be a Chromeo song, but it's MtB, so it's a lot more interesting. (Chris Martins)

AZURE RAY AT THE TROUBADOUR

It wasn't until Azure Ray broke up in 2004 that it really sank in just how unique the musical collaborations of Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor really were. The Omaha duo purveyed a gently sleepy, mellow brand of folk-pop that may not have seemed flashy in comparison to the louder, brassier bands of the early 2000s, but there was also a sly intelligence to their songs that elevated them beyond other alterna-folkies. Taylor and Fink went on to separate but productive solo careers, but there's an undeniable magic that occurs when they blend their voices and melodies together. After a brief reunion in 2008, they've joined forces again on their new CD, Drawing Down the Moon (Saddle Creek Records), where they slow down the pulse of the modern world with sweetly romantic, timeless idylls like "Don't Leave My Mind," which linger softly in the memory with an aftertaste and smell that evoke the first rain of the season. (Falling James)

JAIL WEDDINGS AT BOOTLEG THEATER

There's a way, way, way over-the-top passion ("unbridled," as the rock critics would say) about Jail Weddings, that 10-person community of souls under the stewardship and throbbing warble of singer Gabriel Hart. The band's buoyantly bombastic teen-trauma anthems run roughshod over that long-forgotten '60s sound where Roy Orbison wailed like he was hurting so bad he was, well, just about ready to die! (Then there was Scott Walker's after-the-fact kind of hurt, where he sang as if straitjacketed in a padded cell.) Jail Weddings' brand-new Love Is Lawless (White Noise/Tru-Vow) is like that, to the 10th power — just such a big, fine mess of weepy, quavering, hiccupy hurtin' hurt, plowed through with a way-tough punk-rock theatricality and welcome good humor. (John Payne)

TAJ MAHAL, VIEUX FARKA TOURÉ AT ROYCE HALL

Although Taj Mahal was born in Harlem, he has a deep, longtime connection to the city of Los Angeles. He first came out West in 1964, settling in Santa Monica, where he formed the ahead-of-its-time multiracial combo the Rising Sons with a then-unknown Ry Cooder. Taj Mahal was a mainstay at the legendary club the Ash Grove, developing a unique music style that combined traditional American blues and folk music with more experimental strains of African roots influences. While in L.A. in the late '60s, the former gentleman farmer palled around and collaborated with the Rolling Stones, becoming adept at both full-band workouts and stripped-down acoustic blues, which are distinguished by his unusual fingerpicking on guitar. Now this iconic figure, named after one of the world's architectural landmarks, returns home to the similarly grand and classic old shack Royce Hall. Making the night even more special is an opening set by the Malian singer-guitarist Vieux Farka Touré, whose multilayered music draws upon the impressive legacy of his father, Ali Farka Touré, but also is infused with newfound strains of polyrhythmic African grooves and nimbly spun fever-dream enchantments. (Falling James)

RECOIL AT EL REY

Alan Wilder joined Depeche Mode in 1982, replacing keyboard boffin Vince Clarke as the resident mad genius/sonic manipulator. Responsible for some of the more experimental (and just plain odd — oboe?) arrangements for the synth-pop giants, Wilder soon developed a sideline gig as Recoil, a depository for his more abstract ideas and compositions. Wilder focused on Recoil after leaving the Mode in 1995, and has just released a career retrospective of his stranger project. Those who think Depeche Mode jumped the shark when Wilder left, or those without a sweet tooth for the obviously anthemic, are in for a treat. (Gustavo Turner)

Also playing Friday: MARK SULTAN, KELLEY STOLTZ, MY PET SADDLE at Spaceland; OWEN PALLETT, LITTLE SCREAM at the Echoplex; CALIFORNIA E.A.R. UNIT at REDCAT; CONJURE ONE, ARCHITECT, SONOLO at El Rey; DUTOIT CONDUCTS ROMEO AND JULIET at Disney Hall; ELECTRIC SIX at the Key Club; VINCE GILL at Club Nokia.

 

 

SATURDAY/OCTOBER/23

SUFJAN STEVENS AT THE WILTERN

Baroque-pop indie icon Sufjan Stevens spent the last few years seemingly attempting to drive the droves away. After wrapping up a series of beloved albums in 2005, he released a five-CD box set of Christmas originals, disappeared for three years, then returned with 2009's The BQE, a hard-to-love tribute to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway that took the form of: a) a live show with symphonic backing and hula-hoop girls; b) a short film using images of New York City shot by Stevens; c) a CD of the sound track to the show; and d) a stereoscopic View-Master reel. In the same year, the Osso string quartet remade and released his 2001 electronic album, Free Your Rabbit, note for difficult note. But whatever fans he lost chasing his unusual muse, Soof's winning 'em back with new one The Age of Adz, a grand and personal album that trades in a little orchestration for tasteful blips and bloops. Welcome him back. (Chris Martins)

INTERPOL AT THE GREEK THEATRE

In an interview earlier this year, Interpol frontman Paul Banks broke down for me the straightforward reasoning behind the group's decision to sign to Capitol Records: "We're a band that's interested in gaining popularity," he said, "and the rumor at the time was that if you were a band poised at the threshold of some next level, a major label was a good vehicle to hop into to get there." Well, 2007's underrated Our Love to Admire didn't quite realize that goal, which is how we find the group back at its old home of Matador for its new, self-titled disc. But the major-label dalliance does appear to have bolstered Interpol's confidence in a weird way. Rather than seek out a kind of post-indie radio readiness, the new songs offer arty textures and winding melodies that seem unconcerned with seducing anyone who hasn't already been seduced. Though he took part in the writing and recording of Interpol, fashion-plate bassist Carlos D left the band before the album's release; former Slint dude David Pajo is on tour in his place. (Mikael Wood)

WHITE SHIT, DEMORALIZE, DUDE MIRROR AT THE SMELL

White Shit, the latest offering from Dean Spunt's Post Present Medium label, boasts a lineup both heavy and metal, harkening to a bygone era when life was good and dog shit was, well, white. It includes Andy Coronado of Wrangler Brutes and Jared Warren and Coady Willis of Big Business and the Melvins (apparently there's also someone called "Tits" in the band — a Venn diagram with the words "Melvins," "tits" and "demoralize" was bound to come into your life today). Straight outta Compton, Demoralize dispel the simplistic notion that there's only one kind of music in the city, with their youthful, straight-ahead take on metal taking their future squarely by the balls and making the most of it during this, likely their most shining moment to date. Dude Mirror, "the best 'worst band' you'll ever hear," mixes rock standards with originals like "Meat for Fruit," parlaying well-mixed zany vocals into a sound that's heavy yet lighthearted. (David Cotner)

SHAKIRA AT STAPLES CENTER

Don't be surprised if the ever-shimmying Shakira is one day president of her native Colombia. Far-fetched, perhaps (though no more so than her sometime collaborator Wyclef Jean ever ruling Haiti), but there really is much more to this Barranquilla beauty — a heavyweight philanthropist and partner of a serious political player — than midriff-missing outfits and home-wrecking belly-dancing. Though she plunders multiple genres (including pop Latino, folk, rock and R&B lite), sings in both Spanish and English, and often creates by committee (new album Sale el Sol credits more than a dozen writers and multiple guest performers), Shakira's ticklishly tremulous, apparently organically Auto-Tuned timbre — an odd offspring of Cher and Ofra Haza — ensures a more-ish through-line. Despite some transparent trend chasing (notably 2008's "She Wolf" electro-flop), there's a head-tossing joie de vivre in Shakira's performances that should permeate even the sterile Staples Center. (Paul Rogers)

Also playing Saturday: RUSSIAN CIRCLES at Spaceland; OCTOPUS PROJECT, STARFUCKER, PHYSICAL FORMS, STRENGTH at the Echoplex; DUTOIT CONDUCTS ROMEO AND JULIET at Disney Hall; JIGSAW SCENE at Akbar; AZURE RAY at Glass House.

 

SUNDAY/OCTOBER/24

BATUSIS AT THE VIPER ROOM

In the punk world, Sylvain Sylvain and Cheetah Chrome need no introduction, but here goes anyway for those of you who just arrived on this planet. Sylvain, of course, is one of the founding members of the New York Dolls (you know, the band that started it all), and while he's often overshadowed by Dolls singer David Johansen and the late Johnny Thunders, he's also that band's flamboyantly goofy bedrock, penning the immortal glam-pop classic "Trash" and counterbalancing Johansen's occasional pretentiousness. Chrome is no less of an important figure, if only for his participation in the crucial mid-1970s Cleveland punk pioneers Rocket From the Tombs, not to mention his savage riffery with those sonic reducers Stiv Bators and the Dead Boys. Although Sylvain has blown through town several times this decade with the reincarnated Dolls, Chrome almost never appears on this coast, which makes the West Hollywood debut of their new band Batusis a mandatory event for those who crave real, undiluted punk & roll. Their new self-titled four-song EP on Smog Veil Records is cranked up with fiery collisions of their trademark, no-nonsense guitar heroics, but there's also an unexpected garage-rock reinvention of Davie Allan & the Arrows' sinister biker-rock instrumental classic "Blues Theme." (Falling James)

 

BOBBY BROWN, RALPH TRESVANT, JOHNNY GILL AT GIBSON AMPHITHEATRE

Musically speaking, all things come back around, and at this exact moment in time, early-'80s babies are rallying around the cause of resurrecting New Jack Swing–era R&B. We (the author included) were quite young when the first Bobby Brown single hit the airwaves, and even younger (OK, unborn) when New Edition originally formed, but it's arguable that the movement really crested around 1991, following the breakthrough success of N.E. member Michael Bivins' stable of artists, collectively known as the East Coast Family: Boyz II Men, ABC, BBD. Bell Biv DeVoe did, in fact, include three N.E. alums, while the others continued solo careers: Brown, of course; Johnny Gill (whom we'd venture to dub the New Jack Michael McDonald for his 1990 ballad "Rub You the Right Way"); and Ralph Tresvant, who never saw the same level of success. Now, as the sounds of that era creep their way none-too-subtly into the burgeoning chillwave movement, three "Heads of State" (as they've taken to calling themselves) are hitting the road with support from contemporaries Guy and After 7. (Chris Martins)

SHANBEHZADEH ENSEMBLE AT THE TROUBADOUR

The Shanbehzadeh Ensemble performs a subtly modernized fusion of traditional and trancelike musics from the southern Iranian province of Boushehr, in the Persian Gulf region. The group is composed of father Saeid Shanbehzadeh on neyanban (Iranian bagpipe) and neydjofti (double flute); son Naghib, who plays a ferociously nimble tombak (hand drum) and zarbetempo (percussion); and Habib Meftah Boushehri on dammam (dual-faced percussion), zarbetempo and flute. The Shanbehzadeh Ensemble's hypnotic, explosive (to say the least) sound — one of the lesser-known styles among the rich Persian music tradition — is accompanied by dancers who become the physical embodiment of the wild complexities of tone and rhythm the musicians play. A very rare event, in an unusual setting. (John Payne)

Also playing Sunday: SUFJAN STEVENS at the Wiltern, COREY FELDMAN & TRUTH MOVEMENT at House of Blues; SASSAS/SOUNDHOPE OPEN IMPROV at Eagle Rock Center for the Arts; DUTOIT CONDUCTS ROMEO AND JULIET at Disney Hall; GOLD MOTEL at the Echo; SAMANTHA RONSON at On the Rox; JOAN OSBORNE at the Roxy.

 

MONDAY/OCTOBER/25

UNKLE AT EL REY

UNKLE is British electronic music in one of its more expansive forms, to understate it a bit. The band is not a band as such, more the brainchild of founder James Lavelle, whose recent Where Did the Night Fall (Surrender All) has again called in an interesting assortment of collaborators/juxtaposers, including former Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan, Clayhill's Gavin Clark and the Black Angels. The result is one of the most sonically inspired albums of the year, a dark and complex wall of sound whose sweeping vistas and thick textures are given different stylistic contexts (e.g., psychedelic rock, minimal house) in which to reveal their mysteries. Much of the album has undergone the remix treatment for an EP called The Answer, which includes a collaboration with hip-hop raver Lupe Fiasco and an exceptionally heavy remix by original UNKLE member Tim Goldsworthy. (John Payne)

Also playing Monday: CHRISSIE HYNDE, JP AND THE FAIRGROUND BOYS at House of Blues; RADARS TO THE SKY at Spaceland.

 

TUESDAY/OCTOBER/26

THE PARTING GIFTS AT THE ECHO

When the Ettes started out as an obscure garage-rock band in Los Angeles (before relocating back East a few years ago), they mainly wrote their own songs, with the notable exception of a fannish tendency to champion and cover songs by the slightly less obscure (but crucially influential) garage auteur Greg Cartwright. Imagine how delighted Ettes singer-guitarist Coco Hames was when it turned out that Cartwright not only approved of their remakes but wanted to work with them. The pair's scattered collaborations have led to a wonderful new side project, the Parting Gifts, which combines the endearing pop allure of Hames' kittenish singing with Cartwright's rootsy raw power and world-weary howling. Their debut album, Strychnine Dandelion (on Larry Hardy's venerable label In the Red Records), is enlivened further by participation from fellow Ettes Poni Silver and Jem Cohen and the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, who's seemingly at the center of every righteously rocking garage-blues album coming out of the Midwest these days. The Gifts' Strychnine is laced with garage, pop, blues and even traces of down-home country, all of it lovingly rendered in catchy, original two-minute pop nuggets. Also at Spaceland, Wed. (Falling James)

 

MURDER BALLADS NIGHT AT THE ECHOPLEX

Harry Smith, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Nick Cave (with an occasional Kylie Minogue), Elvis himself, drunk Scotsmen, heartbroken Irishmen, Harvard folklorists, Appalachian moonshiners, and the heart of country, blues, folk: There's a thread that goes through all that and you don't have to be Greil Marcus to trace it to dark corners in the stickier places of the American — and universal — dream. Relentless neo-traditionalist cheerleader (also L.A. Record executive editor and L.A. Weekly contributor) Daiana Feuer is behind this grassroots affair highlighting the creepy romance of the murder ballads (the O.G. emo?). Leave your Stetson at home, though — shit might go down. (Gustavo Turner)

Also playing Tuesday: THRONES at Spaceland; SEABEAR, GRANDCHILDREN at the Troubadour; LIGHTS, JEREMY FISHER at El Rey; CHRISTIAN ZACHARIAS at Disney Hall; GIANT DRAG at the Bootleg.

 

WEDNESDAY/OCTOBER/27

GORILLAZ AT THE GIBSON AMPHITHEATRE

In 1998, while most of us were still checking our e-mail at cyber cafés and still trusting MTV was about music, former Blur frontman Damon Albarn and friend/cartoonist Jamie Hewlett cooked up the idea to form a virtual band of comic book characters as a means of commenting on the increasing vapidity of the "Music TeleVision" channel. Over a decade later, their hip-hop/pop-rock/electro-funk mash-up cartoonish Frankenstein monster — Gorillaz, of course — has collaborated with folks flesh-and-blood bands would kill for, like surviving members of the Clash, MF Doom, Mos Def, etc. De La Soul got the gang a Grammy for the tangy, toe-tapping "Feel Good Inc." in 2006. The legendary hip-hop trio, a natural partner for the Gorillaz due to their playful innovation both lyrically and in their videos, is said to be joining them for the L.A. date of current world tour Escape to Plastic Beach. The set list supposedly switches up every night, so expect the guest-appearance roster to do so as well. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

Also playing Wednesday: THE NERVOUS WRECKORDS at Bordello; VV BROWN at the Echo; BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE at the Palladium; THE PARTING GIFTS at Spaceland; MY DRY WET MESS, ONRA, THAVIUS BECK (LOW END THEORY) at the Airliner; PLAYING FOR CHANGE at the Wilshire Ebell.

 

THURSDAY/OCTOBER/28

ALL HALLOWS EVE AT SPACELAND

What goes better with Halloween than black effing metal? OK, Pixy Stix and candy apples — touché — but it really all comes down to deciding which of the five senses you want to pummel this year. Why not give your taste buds a rest, toss on something spooky and march down to Spaceland, where your ears will be rewarded with far more treats than tricks. Tee Pee Records, the host of this All Hallows Eve two-nighter, is based in New York City, but the source of its considerable alt-metal might dwells primarily on the West Coast. And aside from the thrashy San Franciscans Black Cobra, this doubleheader features all L.A.-area bands: psychedelic doomsters Ancestors, the slow-grinding Black Math Horseman featuring elegantly ethereal vocals from Sera Timms, jangly sludge hippies Lantvrn (this wraps up night one), outsize stoner freaks Big Business, the blooze-tinged Night Horse, hard-core punkers the Fucking Wrath and Hendrix-Sabbath love child the Shrine. Skip the shock, go for the rock. (Chris Martins)

BRING ME THE HORIZON AT FOX THEATER, POMONA

When it's done right, metalcore — that surly collision of hardcore's savage thrust and metal's studied technicality — channels adolescent anger, insecurity and erupting hormones like no other genre. Brit arch-exponents Bring Me the Horizon deliver the requisite vomity vocals, chortling guitars and kick-drum salvos that could make entire cities surrender (plus de rigueur neck tats and beyond-Bieber bouffants) with a calculated abandon that should scare the fuck out of anyone born before 1990. Though third album There Is a Hell Believe Me I've Seen It. There Is a Heaven Let's Keep It a Secret, released earlier this month, embraces ever-improving instrumental chops and an orchestral, almost Wagnerian pomposity, BMTH remain at heart punk, primal and utterly wounded. If you think the Ramones, Guns N' Roses or even Metallica sound pissed off, you have never heard this. (Paul Rogers)

BILAL/J*DAVEY/QUADRON AT THE ECHOPLEX

Neo-soul's crazy-talented crew, including Erykah Badu, D'Angelo, Lauren Hill, Maxwell and Jill Scott, balked at the term for their "new" genre, claiming it implied not only a divorce from the music Marvin, Donny and Stevie made, but also that soul music had at some point ended. Neo-soul became a bad word, but when it was yanked away, those under its umbrella were suddenly caught in the rain (or on adult contemporary radio) and left to fend for themselves individually. Bilal got lost out there. He released the critically commended 1st Born Second in 2001, but only the single "Soul Sista," a song that sounds as sexily ruffled as your bedsheets after a post-Champagne-soaked Sunday-brunch romp, saw any success. His second album, Love for Sale, was shelved indefinitely by Interscope after it leaked online in its entirety. Now signed to much better fitting Plug Research, last month Bilal dropped Airtight's Revenge, a side-eyed reference to the botched Love for Sale release. With Kiss-n-Grind hosting, the tomcattin' Ms. Jack Davey of every-funky-thing-but-the-kitchen-sink duo J*Davey, and the heady hypnotism of the best thing to arrive on the soul scene in the past year, Denmark duo Quadron, this ain't a neo-soul night. It's a classic "Let's Get It On" night. (Rebecca Haithcoat)

 

Also playing Thursday: BUILT TO SPILL, REVOLT REVOLT, FINN RIGGINS at El Rey; FOXY SHAZAM, FREE ENERGY, HOLLERADO at the Troubadour; ALFRED BRENDEL at REDCAT; SPINDRIFT at the Redwood Bar & Grill; JAIL WEDDINGS at Alex's Bar; KATE NASH at Glass House; CORINNE BAILEY RAY at Avalon.

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