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Music Picks: BB King and Buddy Guy, Silversun Pickups, Hard Summer, W.A.C.O.

Whispertown 2000
PHOTO BY AUTUMN DE WILDE.

FRIDAY/AUGUST/6

LUDACRIS AT THE WILTERN
Lo and behold the new Ludacris, the Atlanta rapper-actor and now (sort of) feminist who declares that his most recent set, Battle of the Sexes (Def Jam), was intended to empower "the ladies." And indeed the album does occasionally cede front stage to a few bold and beautiful vocalists of "the female persuasion," including his longtime protégée Shawnna, plus strong shouts from up-and-coming supastars Monica and Eve. While, predictably, L and his buds do grab the reins and take over once again, the man can be commended for having such nobly progressive thoughts — and he even kinda chides Tiger Woods on the bonus track "Sexting." Whatever: Ludacris has loomed so long and so large in rap — and Battle is his third No. 1 on the Billboard charts — that it's entirely possible that nobody gives a damn what he's saying, but most everybody loves the way it sounds. (John Payne)

SILVERSUN PICKUPS AT THE GREEK THEATRE
While Silversun Pickups remain under Smashing Pumpkins' anguished sonic shadow (alternately twee/tortured guitars, quiet-bit/loud-bit dynamics, those nervy vocals), the sheer quality of their gorgeously unsettling second album, last year's Swoon, trumps any lingering sense of déjà vu. Swoon's bigger-budget strings 'n' things were little surprise after the success of SSPU's 2006 debut, Carnavas, but its leap in song craft and relative self-identity was shocking (though opener "There's No Secrets This Year" is stubbornly, almost comically, Corganesque). Semiwhispered verses, an orchestral sense of significance and ominous here-and-gone guitars lend "The Royal We" an elegant big-city menace, while "Catch & Release" becomes an exasperated, lustfully repeatable lullaby. There's something reassuringly classic about a local band simply making strong records, working hard on the road and then returning to headline a venue of the Greek's starlit grandeur. With the Henry Clay People and Against Me! (Paul Rogers)

Also playing Friday: GIN BLOSSOMS at Canyon Club; KENNY BURRELL QUINTET at Catalina Jazz Club; LIMELIGHT at Galaxy Concert Theatre; RENT feat. WAYNE BRADY, VANESSA HUDGENS et al. at the Hollywood Bowl; THE PHARCYDE at Key Club; BONGA + VODOU DRUMS at Levitt Pavilion Pasadena; JENNI RIVERA at Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE; STYX at Pacific Amphitheatre; CHUCK DUKOWSKI SEXTET, THE SHRINE, INSECTS VS. ROBOTS, DAHGA BLOOM at the Smell; EVAN VOYTAS, THE COOLING TIME, ALL WRONG AND THE PLANS CHANGE at Spaceland; WE ARE SCIENTISTS, REWARDS at the Troubadour.

 

SATURDAY/AUGUST/7

LOST IN THE TREES AT MCCABE'S
This young North Carolina–based outfit recently signed with L.A.'s Anti- label, which next week will release a newly reworked version of Lost in the Trees' 2008 debut, All Alone in an Empty House. Full of dramatic string arrangements and folky acoustic guitar, Empty House belongs to the same indie-classical trendlet as Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest, St. Vincent's Actor and Illinois-era Sufjan Stevens. Lost in the Trees mastermind Ari Picker's tender sad-guy croon is sure to excite people who simply melt when Stevens sings about almost touching someone's blouse in the living room at Michael's house. Given the hushed, homey vibe of McCabe's guitar-lined show space, this Saturday-night gig will probably make for an ideal spot to see these kids. But it's not your only chance: They're also scheduled to play Spaceland on Monday, Amoeba Music on Tuesday and the Hotel Café on Thursday. (Mikael Wood)

WHISPERTOWN 2000 AT ECHO CURIO
Whispertown 2000 live up to the first half of their name with gentle folk-pop reveries that, indeed, evoke "Old Times," as leader Morgan Nagler sang on their 2008 album, Swim. That down-home vibe continues on their new EP, Done With Love, where Nagler's rootsy melodies are sweetened with Vanesa Corbala's harmonies. The local quartet aren't breaking any new ground, but Nagler's songs are so tunefully endearing that it's easy to see why they've attracted the support of members of Rilo Kiley, who helped them get their start, as well as Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, who signed them to Acony Records. "I'm not trying to move fast/but I can't stay slow," Nagler sings, even as brothers Tod Adrian Wisenbaker and Casey Wisenbaker keep things moving at a restful and easygoing pace. (Falling James)

HARD SUMMER AT L.A. STATE HISTORIC PARK
Last year's Hard Summer Music Festival prefigured the raver madness that would follow in its wake: Nearly 18,000 kids descended on the Forum in Inglewood and, after some gate-crashing, the event was shut down before it could get off the ground. It was a prelude to June's Electric Daisy Carnival, the 160,000-fan event that saw its share of rowdiness and antirave controversy. As Hard act Digitalism sings on "Pogo," "There's something in the air," and that something wears neon Ray-Bans and checkered Vans. There's a whole new generation of dance-music fans, and the wave seems to be peaking this summer. Hard offers more artistic quality than the megaraves' hand-raising trance populists (dub punks Major Lazer, electroclash pioneer Tiga, psychedelic house icon Green Velvet). That doesn't mean, however, that Hard won't have the same off-the-charts youthful energy. Try to keep up. (Dennis Romero)

 

Also playing Saturday: KENNY BURRELL QUINTET at Catalina Jazz Club; THE DAN BAND at Club Nokia; ARIEL PINK'S HAUNTED GRAFFITI, PURO INSTINCT (FORMERLY PEARL HARBOR), MAGIC KIDS at Detroit Bar; HOT BISCUIT at El Cid; ALFREDO ROLANDO ORTIZ at Ford Amphitheatre; HELLO SEAHORSE! at the Glass House; RINGO STARR & HIS ALL STARR BAND at the Greek Theatre: RENT feat. WAYNE BRADY, VANESSA HUDGENS et al. at the Hollywood Bowl; JOAN ARMATRADING at Long Beach Terrace Theatre; JENNI RIVERA at Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE; LAZHY, PROTECTME, BACK TO THE FUTURE THE RIDE at the Smell; THE DONNAS at the Troubadour.

 

SUNDAY/AUGUST/8

POWER OF THE RIFF FESTIVAL AT THE ECHO AND ECHOPLEX
Never has the promise of an entire day filled with absolute gloom and utter despair sounded so damn enticing. The Power of the Riff Festival is a free, all-ages affair that promises to deliver 12 hours of hard, heavy, doom-y music. Naturally the event is put on by L.A.'s own Southern Lord Records, the label founded by Sunn O))) guitarist Greg Anderson. His older band, the quintessential late-'90s stoner-metal band Goatsnake, will be one of the headliners, riding high on a set of supersweet deluxe vinyl reissues that includes 1999's Sabbath-inspired Vol. 1. The label will be hosting a pop-up shop at the event, naturally, and so will the likewise thrash-loving Tee Pee Records, and Vacation Vinyl, the Silver Lake record store co-owned by Southern Lord's (friendly) cross-town rivals at Hydra Head Records. The other big name on the bill is the deliciously sludgy and quite legendary Corrosion of Conformity III, alongside Nashville hardcore pioneers From Ashes Rise, Iceburn spinoff Eagle Twin, and L.A.'s own blues bashers Night Horse. (Chris Martins)

W.A.C.O. AT THE ECHO
Singer-pianist Steve Gregoropoulos has always been a little bit ahead of the curve. Back in the mid-'80s, when he fronted the Boston band the Wild Stares, he continually pushed the group into more adventurously atonal and, eventually, heavily electronic experiments, even as presumed alterna-rock rivals like the Dream Syndicate were indulging in safe-as-milk Eagles regurgitations. When the rest of the underground eventually caught up to him, and electronica became commonplace in the rock scene, Gregoropoulos stubbornly unplugged the Wild Stares (who'd relocated to L.A. in the early '90s) and reconfigured the group as the Wildstares Acoustic Chamber Orchestra (W.A.C.O.). While symphonic-style rock bands are commonplace these days, W.A.C.O. was a startling shock in the supposedly hip Silver Lake scene because Gregoropoulos didn't use strings and cellos for lush ornamentation. Instead, he paired his wickedly subversive lyrics (such as the cinematic revisionism of "Take Your Gun to the Movies") with ambitiously artful string arrangements that were more edgy than prettified. There was never a band quite like W.A.C.O. — then or now — and tonight at Part Time Punks they make a rare return to the stage, with Gregoropoulos promising to reprise the original arrangements from W.A.C.O.'s brilliant, if overlooked, early albums Darling Clementine and Sylvania. (Falling James)

Also playing Sunday: LISA LOEB, ALICE WALLACE at Coach House; LOS ANGELES JEWISH SYMPHONY at Ford Amphitheatre; MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER, HONEYMOON at Grove of Anaheim; RENT feat. WAYNE BRADY, VANESSA HUDGENS et al. at the Hollywood Bowl; MAGNOLIA MEMOIR at Levitt Pavilion Pasadena; BLONDIE, GOREVETTE at Pacific Amphitheatre; JOHN WIESE, CORE OF THE COALMAN, MINCEMEAT OF TENSPEED, HIGH CASTLE, KIT at the Smell; YOUNG THE GIANT, THE UNION LINE, GROUP LOVE at the Troubadour; CABO VERDE CRETCHEU at the Waterfront.

 

MONDAY/AUGUST/9

WHITE ARROWS, LOST IN THE TREES, WAIT. THINK. FAST., TOMORROW'S TULIPS, VANAPRASTA AT SPACELAND
Current residency holder White Arrows is a fine proposition taken all on its own. With ties to local indie-psych legends Dios (Malos), the band specializes in a sometimes blues-informed brand of out-there pop, but this sextet is its own beast, swirling bits of electronic dance and clean Strokesy garage rock into the mix. Even so, the presence of Chapel Hill's Lost in the Trees (see Saturday) sweetens the deal immeasurably. Also playing: local cinematic post-punkers Wait. Think. Fast., hippie-folksters Vanaprasta and Costa Mesa sand-gazers Tomorrow's Tulips. (Chris Martins)

Also playing Monday: FOL CHEN at the Echo; DEVIN SARNO, BOBB BRUNO, KANDYCE AND THE KILLDOZER, HOWARDAMB at Echo Curio; UNKLE MONKEY at the Waterfront.

 

TUESDAY/AUGUST/10

BRAHMS AND SMETANA AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL
The L.A. Phil with guest conductor Bramwell Tovey and pianist Stephen Hough tackle Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 and Smetana's The Moldau and The Bartered Bride Overture; Three Dances. Tovey, music director of the Vancouver Symphony, acts as principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, and offers particular expertise in operatic, choral, British and contemporary repertoire. A prize-winning composer, he also happens to be an excellent jazz pianist. Hough is the highly regarded pianist-composer-journalist and MacArthur Fellowship recipient (2001) who records prodigiously, has been nominated for several Grammys and is quite eager and unafraid to take on behemoth works such as tonight's Brahms piano concerto or Czech composer Smetana's "nature and nationalism" tone poem, The Moldau. (John Payne)

 

Also playing Tuesday: TOTAL ABUSE, RATS EYES, SEMEN SUNDAE, SPIDER FEVER at the Smell; THE RICHARD GLASER JAZZ BAND at Waterfront.

 

WEDNESDAY/AUGUST/11

LADY GAGA AT STAPLES CENTER
If it's true that "Alejandro" represents Lady Gaga's superobvious bid at her own "La Isla Bonita" — and there's no doubting that it does — then consider this: Where Madonna took four years to go from her first big hit to her Latin-crossover jam, Gaga's only taken two. That's a remarkably speedy ascent, even when you take into account how completely the Internet has overhauled the worldwide star-making process. Judging by reports from the road, Gaga's current arena show — the Monster Ball, as she calls it — suits a diva of her proportions, with backup dancers, numerous costume changes, a flamethrowing piano and what Rolling Stone described as "a fountain of blood." Oh, and a new song, too, in the form of "You and I," which sounds like it was inspired by the singer's duet with Elton John at this year's Grammy Awards. New York's trash-glammy Semi Precious Weapons open. Also Thurs. (Mikael Wood)

FRAZEY FORD AT THE HOTEL CAFÉ
Frazey Ford moves beyond the rustic Americana style of her band the Be Good Tanyas to summon up a newfound soulfulness on her debut solo CD, Obadiah (Nettwerk). The Canadian singer claims to be influenced by Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack, and new tunes like "Bird of Paradise" have a nicely mellow retro-soul feel. The musical backing is polite instead of fiery, but Ford's tremulous vocals give the sleepy songs some real personality. Her lonely quaver imbues Bob Dylan's oft-covered "One More Cup of Coffee" with an eerie quality, and it's that weirdly enchanting singing style that sets Ford apart from most folkies. The catchiest original track is "Firecracker," whose clucking banjo line recalls the roots-country rambles of the Be Good Tanyas. (Falling James)

ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO & THE SENSITIVE BOYS AT EL REY THEATRE
The Austin singer-guitarist Alejandro Escovedo straddles two seemingly opposing worlds of rock & roll. On the one hand, he's been managed for the past two years by industry heavyweight Jon Landau, and mainstream rockers like Bruce Springsteen and Mott the Hoople's Ian Hunter supply guest vocals on his latest album, Street Songs of Love, his first on the major label Fantasy Records. On the other hand, Escovedo's roots are firmly planted in punk rock — he got his start in San Francisco in the late 1970s with the proto-punk oddballs the Nuns — and, even as he's evolved into a respected Americana songwriter, he's had his biggest impact in the underground scene. The two worlds collide on Street Songs, which was produced by Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T. Rex, Morrissey), who also helmed Escovedo's previous CD, Real Animal. While he's capable of penning gorgeous ballads, the best tunes on the past two albums are those that draw directly from his primal punk past, such as Real Animal's cautionary Sid Vicious ode, "Chelsea Hotel '78," and the new CD's seedily glittery "Tender Heart." The more middle-of-the-road tracks are certainly well crafted — especially thanks to lead guitarist David Pulkingham's soulfully snarling licks — but Escovedo is too good of a performer to be settling for so much Springsteen-style banality. Still, with such a deep and rich back-catalog, he and the Sensitive Boys should have plenty of ammunition in reserve for tonight's show. (Falling James)

EMPIRE OF THE SUN AT THE MUSIC BOX
While most artistic reinventions leave fans scratching their heads or pointing the finger, the transformation undergone by Empire of the Sun's Luke Steele makes perfect sense. In another life, Steele was the Dylan-voiced singer of Perth folk-pop weirdos the Sleepy Jackson. That band's second and, for the time being, last album, Personality, found Steele refining his mad eclecticism into Brian Wilson–worthy grandiosity, with his voice layered 30-fold atop orchestral, synth-embellished rock. Is it any surprise, then, that his next move was to team with a dance producer (Pnau's Nick Littlemore) and trade in the acoustic guitar for the headdress of a pop deity? And we mean "headdress" quite literally, given the bizarre dome-piece Steele has been wearing onstage and in interviews, which looks like it was made for a Thai princess's coronation ceremony. But again, there's a certain logic here. The duo's debut album, Walking on a Dream, is filled with the kinds of worldly genreless hits that MGMT used to trade in, and their live show is an elemental extravaganza built around the universal theme of (what else?) solar worship. Also Thurs., Fri. (Chris Martins)

 

BB KING, BUDDY GUY AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL
The blues are certifiably American music's single most critical style, and this showdown between BB King and Buddy Guy — two of the idiom's most visionary elders — should generate high-tension voltage enough to galvanize even the squarest of Bowl season-ticket holders. These cats may have aged, but don't think that's sapped a pair of formidable egos. While each played vastly influential roles in developing and popularizing the blues, the differences in their respective approach, execution and aesthetic are damn-near adversarial. King, who rose from Beale Street anonymity over 60 years ago to achieve unparalleled international renown, brings his trademark stinging, spare, jazz-informed sound, a marked and dynamic contrast to the Louisiana-born, Chicago-toughened Guy's exquisitely tore-down roughneck funk. Pitting Buddy's naked rampage against BB's elegant restraint qualifies as nothing less than an exhilarating tutorial in modern blues style, one perhaps best characterized as a clash supreme. (Jonny Whiteside)

Also playing Wednesday: THE JOY FORMIDABLE at the Bootleg Theater; PIZZA!, EVAN VOYTAS, OXALIS at the Bandshell; JOHN PIZZARELLI & JESSICA MOLASKY at Catalina Jazz Club; RUSH at Gibson Amphitheatre; CHOO CHOO SOUL at Levitt Pavilion Pasadena; JOAN JETT & THE BLACKHEARTS, CHERIE CURRIE at Pacific Amphitheatre.

 

THURSDAY/AUGUST/12

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, EAGLES OF DEATH METAL AT CLUB NOKIA
The evening's choice event that does not involve an overrated pop diva with a thing for grotesque outfits is, without a doubt, Josh Homme's benefit concert for Eagles of Death Metal bassist Brian O'Connor, recently diagnosed with cancer and currently undergoing treatment right here in L.A. Net proceeds from the tickets, which should not be easy to find at this point, will go to a fund for O'Connor's medical bills and living expenses endorsed by renowned musicians' charity Sweet Relief. (Gustavo Turner)

MY MORNING JACKET, AVI BUFFALO AT THE GREEK THEATRE
Of late, My Morning Jacket singer Jim James has been devoting the majority of his time to projects sporting his inexplicable Yim Yames moniker, so it's a bit of a relief to find him once again at the helm of the exceptional band that first put the maned Louisvillian on our collective radar. That's not to say his EP of George Harrison covers or the work he's done in the indie-Americana supergroup Monsters of Folk have been anything but exemplary, but the down-home, barefoot, blazing Southern blues of MMJ has been sorely missed, most of all on the stage. Presenting a wall of hair, guitars and exposed toes, these raw roots players shred, howl, jam and croon their way through stellar sets that tighten up the genre just enough to avoid the pitfalls of bona fide jam bands, even as they allow their songs some room to stretch. Long Beach youngins Avi Buffalo are on a similar path with their psychedelic new self-titled Sub Pop LP, and the titular frontman (frontchild?) is a real beast on the guitar. (Chris Martins)

COHEED AND CAMBRIA, PORCUPINE TREE AT THE WILTERN
In a frantically orgasmic two days for local prog lovers, genre graybeards Rush grace Gibson Amphitheatre on Wednesday and two of its descendants pair at the Wiltern tonight. Though Coheed and Cambria have yet to top their defiantly ambitious 2003 breakthrough, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 — a concept album of angular twin-guitars and love-'em-or-hate-'em upper-register vocals set in an imagined universe — newbie Year of the Black Rainbow offers welcome, cinematic accessibility. Their touring with perpetual cult band Porcupine Tree suggests a step away from Gen Y oddball territory toward older-audience longevity. Relentlessly muso Brits Porcupine Tree, formed in 1987, are one of those earnest, slow-burning album acts that aren't supposed to exist anymore. Marrying pompously precise bombast with pristine acoustic passages, the Porcs can be a grinningly guilty pleasure or cringe-y, change-it! cheeseballs, depending on your mood. (Paul Rogers)

HOT CLUB OF COWTOWN AT CITY HALL COURTYARD IN CULVER CITY
Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies and Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys combined the au courant hot jazz with the fiddle music of their Southwestern upbringings and invented Western Swing in the early 20th century. Similar influences and instincts led to something called rock & roll a couple of decades later, yet Western Swing remains a classic American dance music that never sounds dated. Asleep at the Wheel revived it 40 years back (and are still swinging full-speed ahead) and the Hot Club of Cowtown are damn fine 21st-century practitioners. Fiddler and smooth singer Elana James and Djangoesque guitarist Whit Smith met through a 1996 Village Voice ad seeking compatible pickers and realized their blend was a match — the kind that starts a fire. Add one upright bassist (currently Jake Erwin) and they had themselves a combustible trio that nailed Bob Wills' tunes ("Ida Red"), Hoagy Carmichael ("Stardust") and original compositions. Tonight's show is free as part of the Culver City Summer Concert Series. (Michael Simmons)

 

BUDOS BAND AT LEVITT PAVILION PASADENA
Budos Band do record for Daptone, so they often get lumped with the "soul revival" crowd, the house that Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson built and that is providing a nice retirement fund for Sharon Jones. Budos Band are very, very different though. They describe themselves as "Instrumental Staten Island Afro-Soul" and their influences are jazz, deep funk, Mulatu, etc. Also, they are pretty brilliant in a low-key way, without a lot of the pseudospiritual (or actual spiritual) trappings and the stonerism of a lot of their peers with similar collections. Their new record, The Budos Band III, has not left the L.A. Weeklymusic-headquarters sound system since it arrived. Great work music, vibes music, ambient music — whatever you wanna call it, it's worth getting. (Gustavo Turner)

Also playing Thursday: SOUL FUNK'S MOTOWN REVUE at Levitt Pavilion Pasadena; JIM MESSINA at Canyon Club; JOHN PIZZARELLI & JESSICA MOLASKY at Catalina Jazz Club; TOKYO POLICE CLUB, FREELANCE WHALES at El Rey Theatre; BENNIE MAUPIN ENSEMBLE at the Hammer Museum; THURSDAY CLASSICS: LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC WITH BRAMWELL TOVEY, EMANUEL AX at the Hollywood Bowl; EMPIRE OF THE SUN at the Music Box; LA EXCELENCIA at Skirball Cultural Center; LADY GAGA at Staples Center.

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