Music Picks: Breakestra, Slang Chickens, the Muffs, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson
KRISTIAN HOFFMAN AT STEVE ALLEN THEATER
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ÓLAFUR ARNALDS AT THE ECHOPLEX
Based on the mellow solo albums Ólafur Arnalds has released during the past four years, you'd never guess that he used to play drums in punk and metal bands like Celestine and Fighting Shit. The Icelandic keyboardist composes gentle, exceedingly delicate instrumental passages on his most recent album, last year's And They Have Escaped the Weight of Darkness. On such languorous tracks as "Kjurrt" and "Undan Hulu," beautiful slivers of violin well up over his spare crumbles of piano like fading sunlight reflecting from glacial ice. The tempos also are glacial, as if Arnalds were writing a soundtrack to accompany long winter nights in the Arctic Circle. The slow, sentimental melodies veer a bit too close to soothing new age ear wash at times, but in his better moments Arnalds creates poignantly sad soundscapes that evoke the solemnity of the album's ponderous title. Think of his music as the instrumental equivalent to the Swell Season's laid-back lullabies. (Falling James)
MIGUEL ATWOOD-FERGUSON ORCHESTRA AT NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
Miguel Atwood-Ferguson's résumé doesn't look like it belongs to a classically trained violinist. He's played with Outkast on Nickelodeon, with Christina Aguilera on MTV and with Kirk Franklin on BET. He backed surprise sensation Susan Boyle on America's Got Talent and has been a studio musician for Dr. Dre. Then again, his résumé also includes work with jazz icons Wayne Shorter and widely respected flutist Hubert Laws. Listen to Ferguson's music and you'll hear subtle nuances that could have been gained only from such vast and varied musical tastes. Weaving hip-hop and pop just as nimbly as jazz into his classical compositions, the multi-instrumentalist produces avant-garde arrangements that are at turns warm and lush, or suddenly sparse and spacey. No surprise, then, that last July he directed artists Bilal, Aloe Blacc and Flying Lotus in a staging that included a tribute to the mother of late, great Detroit producer J Dilla. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
TENNIS WITH LORD HURON AT THE ECHO
Tennis is husband-and-wife duo Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, and if they aren't your new favorite band yet, they should be. Their newly released first full-length, Cape Dory, is named after the manufacturer of their boat and was written during a months-long sailing trip along the Eastern Seaboard. Appropriately, the songs record their experiences at sea with lyrics about travel, adventure, exploration and relaxation. "Marathon," the B-side of a self-titled 7-inch, went over particularly well with tastemakers at such sites as Stereogum and Gorilla vs. Bear over the summer. Their album repeats those tracks and adds seven more. Moore and Riley mix beachy melodies and sirenlike vocals — think '60s girl group meets the Primitives with a little Don Ho for good measure. The result is a sound as sweet as cotton candy, befitting an afternoon bobbing along in wistful contemplation with a cocktail in one hand and a ukulele in the other. Pretend for a moment it's July (not too hard in L.A.) and bathe in saccharine, summery doo-wahs as your cares drift away. (Kristina Benson)
GIANT DRAG, HAR MAR SUPERSTAR AT THE SATELLITE
Without a doubt one of the stranger residencies CFKAS (i.e., the Club Formerly Known as Spaceland) has hosted — minus a month of Melvins, of course — this one features a would-be pop icon who bears a striking resemblance to porn star Ron Jeremy and an odd supergroup hailing from the Midwest. The former, of course, is L.A.'s own Har Mar Superstar, who celebrates his birthday on this opening night. That means that in addition to the usual spectacle — him stripping to his leopard-print skivvies and humping various objects and people — he should be belting out his Top 40–aiming, electro-tinged sex jams with extra aplomb. He also will be joining Marijuana Deathsquads, the Minneapolis eight-piece populated by members of indie-revered nü-R&B group Gayngs [Ed.'s note: Purveyors of one of the best records of 2010 — highly recommended], weirdo hardcore outfit Building Better Bombs, abrasive Rhymesayers rapper P.O.S. and defunct '90s cult blues-punk band Cows. Expect multiple drum kits, improvised electronics and a whole lot of lovely noise. (Chris Martins)
CIRCE LINK AT TAIX
Salvation comes in all forms, and on Circe Link's latest album, California Kid, it arrives in the guise of the sassy, country-rocking opening track. "Save me from salvation," the local singer declares defiantly, turning a typical cry for help into something more delightfully surprising, as her guitarist-partner Christian Nesmith (son of the Monkees' Michael) buries her pleas in a wash of woozy slide guitar. Link may traffic in familiar pop, rock and country music settings — she comes off like a sweeter-voiced Bonnie Raitt — but she's too slyly subversive to settle for the usual mainstream songwriting clichés. She could be describing her own music when she writes, "Mysterious and grand unknowable and fathomless/Yet common like the green of this fruited thicket." The versatile singer is working simultaneously on two separate jazz and neo-folk projects, as well as a rock musical with Nesmith. Tonight, Link strums a low-key acoustic set. (Falling James)
Also playing Friday: STREET EATERS, FORGETTERS at Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock; PAGEANTS, HONEY LOVING CELLS at Lot 1 Café; GRACE POTTER AND THE NOCTURNALS at El Rey; 400 BLOWS at Bootleg.
KID INFINITY 3-D LIVE AT THE ALEXANDRIA HOTEL
This Saturday's Kid Infinity 3-D Live show will stretch the possibilities of live visual experiences at downtown's historic Alexandria Hotel, with support from locals the 87 Stick Up Kids and Captain Ahab. If you missed out on Kid Infinity's sold-out premiere at the Smell last summer, you've been granted one more chance to check out L.A.'s favorite electro/hip-hop duo's experimental interactive stereoscopic 3-D production. Kid Infinity will again utilize innovative technology intended for the high-tech arena show of a slightly larger act: Michael Jackson. Jackson commissioned Visitech, the California company that developed the technology, to build a 90-foot-by-30-foot 3-D LED wall for his "This Is It" tour. Put on your 3-D glasses and see vocalist-programmer Ryan Pardeiro and DJ-programmer Nathan Huber perform in front of a massive $20,000 screen with mesmerizing futuristic and pulsating animations that spin and stack and fly straight into the audience, all meticulously synched to music. If you skipped their Smell show, don't miss out again: You're guaranteed to see a live show unlike anything you've ever seen before. (Lainna Fader)
THE FORGETTERS, STREET EATERS, DANGERS AT THE ECHO
They say you can't keep a good man down, and that idiom certainly rings true regarding the career of Brooklyn punk poet Blake Schwarzenbach. When his revered proto-emo band Jawbreaker fell apart (via fistfight, no less), the singer-guitarist bounced back within a year, forming Jets to Brazil in 1997. That was another great postgrunge act that left a couple of classic albums in its wake before, yup, splitting up. 2008 saw the emergence of Schwarzenbach's punkest project yet, the incredibly short-lived Thorns of Life. The Forgetters actually ratchets it up a notch, featuring Schwarzenbach's deeply voiced agitprop-inspired lyrics over a propulsive rhythm section consisting of former Against Me! drummer Kevin Mahon and bassist Caroline Paquita (Bitchin'). No word on a full-length yet, but the band is sure to play current road favorites "Too Small to Fail" and "Vampire Lessons." Oakland garage-punk pair Street Eaters should be the perfect warm-up, as songs like "Frigid Digits" and "Useless Eyes" display a similar respect for the often dueling arts of pop melodicism and punk-rock grind. Dangers, as one might expect, is a far harsher proposition, powered by the ear-splitting scream of singer Al Brown. (Chris Martins)
A TRIBUTE TO THE NERVES AT ORIGAMI VINYL
The Nerves were one of L.A.'s finest late-'70s power trios, but during the height of the punk explosion they were largely overlooked until the members found success in other bands. Singer-bassist Peter Case garnered more attention and airplay with his next band, the Plimsouls, and continues to draw critical praise for his series of rootsy, folkie solo albums. Drummer Paul Collins went on to the Beat (not to be confused with the English Beat), while guitarist Jack Lee received belated credit for penning "Hanging on the Telephone," a Nerves gem that was later remade into a hit by Blondie. But the three were really at their best when they were combining their superpowers as the Nerves, crafting a series of memorable tunes, which have been recently revisited on the new tribute compilation Under the Covers, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Paul Collins, Peter Case and Jack Lee. Such unlikely performers as Davila 666, Grass Widow, Le Face and even Hunx & His Punx [Ed.'s note: Keep your eye out for their LP this spring. Ramones + doo-wop for a new crop of punx. Highly recommended] put their own brazen twists on such neglected classics as "Walking Out on Love" and "Paper Dolls." Tonight's free, early evening show (starting at 5 p.m.) is a great chance to get reacquainted with some of L.A.'s lost musical treasures. (Falling James)
METH LEPPARD AT BLVD CAFÉ
Like the Taliban, underground metalheads prefer their menfolk bearded. Unlike the Taliban (as far as we know), off-radar rockers also often dig the fuck out of heavy, organic shit like Black Sabbath, early Metallica, Crowbar and C.O.C. So it is with Meth Leppard; six (mostly) burly blokes from Cali's Central Coast with names like Max Penetration, Fatkid and Val Holla. Mercifully, ML appear to spend as much time practicing as punning and throw down convincingly reckless dueling-guitar rawk that seamlessly straddles subgenres and is way more accomplished than their understated presentation and comic moniker suggest. Their wild-eyed utterings shun the locked-on licks, precision bombast and pristine production of much contemporary metal and are all-around more fuzzy and frank (probably both by design and due to lack of recording funds). Meth Leppard sound like they rehearse and/or live in a condemned building, tour in a '76 Suburban and have at least one member on probation at any given time. And that's all right with us. (Paul Rogers)
MICHAEL FEINSTEIN AT WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL
This sometimes-local vocal-pop crooner can do his thing in any number of settings: We've seen him perform in front of a full orchestra, as well as with a small jazz combo at the New York cabaret he owns. Perhaps the most interesting thing about his recent PBS documentary, Michael Feinstein's American Songbook, was watching the guy parachute into a city and work out a complete concert in a matter of hours. For his Disney Concert Hall debut, part of the L.A. Phil's "Songbook" series, Feinstein will appear backed by a six-piece outfit under the musical direction of pianist (and longtime Disney vocal coach) Sam Kriger. Expect plenty of well-worn standards, including "Fly Me to the Moon," the title track from the singer's most recent studio disc, but don't be surprised if he throws in some Off-Broadway rarities, too. Servicey factoid: Drivers of Acura vehicles park free tonight [!]. (Mikael Wood)
THE MUFFS, JOHN WICKS & THE RECORDS AT THE SATELLITE
Much like the Nerves tribute earlier this evening at Origami Vinyl (see above), tonight's bill is a pop fan's dream come true. John Wicks & the Records are best known for the late-1970s power-pop anthem "Starry Eyes," in which a bitter put-down lyric is neatly disguised by incandescently jangling Rickenbacker riffs. What's less known about Wicks, however, is that he continues to craft intelligent, melodic songs, especially on his 2007 career-spanning opus, Rotate. The Muffs were this city's most beguiling pop-punk combo in the 1990s, especially in contrast to the lugubrious grunge groaners then dominating the local scene. Singer-guitarist Kim Shattuck's compact, punchy melodies and Ray Davies–style evisceration of romantic rivals have only grown more appealing over time. Even though the trio is still locally based, the Muffs haven't played their hometown very often in recent years, making this double bill a very special event. (Falling James)
Also playing Saturday: RELIGIOUS GIRLS at the Smell; THE AUTUMN DEFENSE at the Troubadour.
CAT POWER AT THE MUSIC BOX
The charismatic enigma wrapped in a spacey riddle known as Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, has finally emerged as a confident, relaxed performer fully in command of her considerable musical chops. Recent appearances have revealed a new Cat Power on a fascinating ride deep into the art of pure vocal technique, with that distinctively breathy instrument on a complex, soulful slow burn through her favored rock/gospel/blues/R&B amalgam. Tonight, backed by her explosive quartet composed of the Blues Explosion's Judah Bauer on guitar, the Dirty Three's Jim White on drums, Gregg Foreman on organ and guitar and Erik Paparazzi on bass, Marshall will span a range of choice items from her catalog, most likely including jewels from her last and finest, The Greatest, plus several intriguing covers (Eartha Kitt en español, Nico, Rolling Stones). But the emphasis will be on the first new material she's come up with since 2006, and it is, you'll be glad to hear, ever haunting, both direct and nebulous, head-turningly subtle and, when the impulse hits, very, very noisy. (John Payne)
THE SOFT MOON, VIOLET TREMORS AT THE ECHO
The bleak, relatively simple tunes of the Soft Moon belie the depth inherent in the music of San Francisco's Luis Vasquez. His project's eponymous 2010 debut for the Captured Tracks imprint plays like the soundtrack to a distant, dystopian future where post-punk and the various strains thereof are the only musical notions the populace has ever heard. This isn't to say the Soft Moon's sound is limited — rather, that Vasquez and his occasional collaborators are able to make something rather vivid and panoramic out of what should be a very small palette. Most of his tracks are instrumentals (with telling names like "Sewer Sickness" and "Into the Depths"), and those that use vocals treat them only as another texture, bopping along with the subtle rhythms, effects-laden guitars and burbling bass notes. It's ultimately both lush and spare, off-kilter and wholly enticing. L.A.'s Violet Tremors experiments with a minimal, vaguely futuristic sort of new wave, synthesizer-rich soundscape concocted by members Jessica White and Lorene Simpson. The two met while working at a sex shop in Houston, and there's certainly a pulse to their music that warrants a little heavy breathing. (Chris Martins)
Also playing Sunday: NO GIRLS ALLOWED RECORDS NIGHT at the Smell.
SLANG CHICKENS, PAPA, MINI MANSIONS, RACHEL FANNAN, DJ KEITH MORRIS, ORIGAMI DJs AT THE ECHO
This may be one of the Echo's most fraternal residencies, not in terms of the crowd that'll be in attendance (sorry, bros), but in that the singers in the two headlining bands are actual siblings. L.A.'s Slang Chickens take inspiration from sources as disparate as Neil Young and X, but they make it work, churning out a twangy brand of song that sometimes thrashes and sometimes pokes along like a horse-drawn wagon. Their late-2009 self-titled album is a must-own for fans of fresh-faced, divinely talented bands sussing their way through a many-faceted sound. Frontman Evan Weiss is the brother of his counterpart in New York's Papa, Darren Weiss. That band takes an entirely different tack, instead carving out anthemic, seemingly Arcade Fire–inspired tracks like "Won't Take Long" and Springsteeny blue-collar epics like "You Live in My House." The latter also is the name of Papa's debut EP, which came out last April. Local act Mini Mansions perform as well, specializing in a freewheeling psychedelic pop that can't help but feel distinctly California: Oddly enough, the singer is Queens of the Stone Age bassist Michael Shuman. (Chris Martins)
Also playing Monday: JENNY O, EVEREST, THE BELLE BRIGADE at Bootleg Theater; RED CORTEZ at the Satellite; ROBATANISTS at Silverlake Lounge; MARK DRESSER TRIO at REDCAT.
THE FINNISH METAL TOUR: FINNTROLL, ENSIFERUM, ROTTEN SOUND, BARREN EARTH AT KEY CLUB
Finntroll are among the most bizarre bastardizations of the heavy metal genre to date. Yes, they're Finns and, yes, they sometimes doll up as trolls. But their mongrel music makes all that seem pretty predictable: an unlikely bedding-down of the black metal more usually associated with their Norwegian neighbors, symphonic death metal and a frantic two-beats-to-the-bar, 200-plus-beats-per-minute Finnish folk music called humppa. The headbanger's Gogol Bordello, Finntroll effectively meld earthy Old World echoes to contemporary post-Venom extreme metal on last year's Nifelvind album, their sixth, and then further surprise with palpable pop instincts and a carnivalesque sense of communal joy. The resulting Tolkien rock initially sounds sarcastic, but audiences from Kiev to Costa Rica are taking Finntroll very, very seriously. Also Ensiferum's "heroic folk metal," Rotten Sound's veteran vitriolic grindcore and the (relatively) tuneful death rattle of Barren Earth from Scandinavia to the Sunset Strip. (Paul Rogers)
Also playing Tuesday: CRADLE OF FILTH at Club Nokia; SEASONS, MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY, HALLMARK at Silverlake Lounge; JOSEPH ARTHUR at Bootleg Theater; TINA DICO at Troubadour.
GRAM RABBIT AT THE BORDELLO
Desert dwellers Gram Rabbit are coming all the way out from Joshua Tree to play every Wednesday in February at the Bordello — par-taay! End result: There will be merrymaking and lots of it. Led by enthusiastic and charismatic vocalist Jesika von Rabbit and talented multi-instrumentalist Todd Rutherford, Gram Rabbit have impressed critics with their ability to blend high-energy dance beats, edgy guitar riffs and R&B-inspired vocals. Way back in 2004, with the aptly titled Music to Start a Cult To, they turned heads from Los Angeles to London. Their most recent release, Miracles & Metaphors, shows they still got it. The record is a little Daft Punk, a little bit Pink Floyd (seriously! Pink Floyd!), a little bit Beefheart and all party. We dare you not to dance to tracks like "Time of Our Lives" or bob along to tunes like "Destinies Alive." Jesika von Rabbit reportedly lives by the motto "Less talk, more rock" — you'll see it in action. (Kristina Benson)
Also playing Wednesday: MEAT BEAT MANIFESTO, NOT BREATHING at El Rey; MONA, VANAPRASTA, POLLS at the Echo; LOW END THEORY WITH SALVA AND SAMIYAM at the Airliner; FRIENDLY FIRES, SUPERHUMANOIDS at the Roxy.
KENDRICK LAMAR AT KEY CLUB
By his own admission, Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar doesn't make black or white music; he makes everyday-life music. Born just a year before seminal West Coast rap group N.W.A's album Straight Outta Compton burst onto the national stage with lyrical guns blazing, Lamar brings many of the same eyewitness accounts as N.W.A but in a decidedly different manner. His frustration occasionally gets the better of him, though. Over a gentle sample of the Roots' "A Piece of Light," his intensity mounts so feverishly in "The Heart Pt. 2" that he's literally spitting out words. Yet no matter how beaten he might feel, he gets up again and again, practicing what he's preaching to his "mad city." And unlike Dr. Dre (who's taken the young rapper under his wing and reportedly put him on his long-awaited album Detox), who's claimed he doesn't smoke weed, Lamar really doesn't — though he won't deny a contact high. Nor does he sacrifice having fun. The lighthearted boast "I Do This" quickly became a low-key L.A. anthem last year. His live performance is what sealed our allegiance. Rare is the rapper who is lyrically gifted, has a machine gun for a tongue and throws his heart, along with his sweat, on the stage. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
ATOMIC TOM AT BOOTLEG THEATER
Data-obsessed dating site okcupid recently demonstrated that its female members whose photos divide opinion — lots of 1 and 5 ratings with little in between — receive more amorous approaches than those who consistently score 3s and 4s. The same could apply to bands, which often fare better eliciting extreme reactions than by being forever dubbed simply "good." The challenge for the undeniably worthy Atomic Tom is to find an X-factor that might make magic of their solid song craft, deft instrumentation and Luke Smith's goth-lite pipes. For AT, arena rock is a state of mind: Last year's literally homemade The Moment debut still sounds massive. They revisit the '80s via artists of that era (U2, Billy Idol) and the contemporary bands that owe them (Snow Patrol, the Killers): ultrasincere verses, mushroom-cloud choruses, deceptively dancey beats and intriguing tones. Factor in good looks, sharp haircuts and a cultured techno/organic blend, and Atomic Tom are doing everything right — if only they'd just do something a little wrong. (Paul Rogers)
BREAKESTRA AT THE ECHO
The brainchild funk orchestra of "Music Man" Miles Tackett carries on with its worthy, self-appointed mission to fly the SoulJazz flag in L.A. Those Debbie Downers who like to complain that these scenes only happen in underground clubs in London or Tokyo should turn off their vintage turntables and get themselves to the Echo. With Simple Citizens. (Gustavo Turner)
Also playing Thursday: ELI "PAPERBOY" REED at the Troubadour; KODO at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
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