Music Picks: Coldplay, Estelle, Joss Stone, Lana Del Rey
Eleanor Friedberger's recent solo album, Last Summer (which, indeed, came out last summer), is all over the map lyrically, as the former leader of Fiery Furnaces finds herself stuck in South Pasadena but wishing she were in Topanga ("Inn of the Seventh Ray"), wandering through a dreamtime Brooklyn ("Scenes From Bensonhurst") and funky corners of New York ("Roosevelt Island"), before achieving a kind of candied-pop nirvana ("Heaven"). Musically, the breezy, jangling arrangements of "My Mistakes" and "Early Earthquake" belie the sly intelligence and emotional heft hidden within Friedberger's romantic pop valentines. —Falling James
We can be thankful we had Etta James for so long and we can say thanks we still have Gizzelle, the rhythm-n-blooz girl who's less a torch singer than a flamethrower. Her new album, Rhythm & Soul (on criminally undersung L.A. indie Wild), is an inferno in 16 parts; as lucky track 13 warns: "Scorched! Burned! Hot! MAD!" She's got voice and presence lifted from rowdier times — juke joints, buckets of blood, ribbon mics, stand-up bass — across this collection of semistandards ("I'd Rather Go Blind" ... miss you, Etta) and cult classics (a spot-on Big Mama Thornton's "Pretty Good Love," a just-as-heartbreaking version of Baby Washington's "Leave Me Alone"), and surprises, too, like Elvis' "Crawfish" song from his movie King Creole, resurrected with vigor and menace absent from the original. As old-school as R&B can get. —Chris Ziegler
As perhaps the best and most well-known saxophonist consistently active on both coasts, Ben Wendel has parlayed his association with the Grammy-nominated band Kneebody into a prolific, multifaceted career. He's written film scores for John Krasinski (who can do much more than mug for the camera in The Office), conducted a re-creation of Charlie Parker's legendary album Bird With Strings at Lincoln Center and made his own solo projects, including his latest offering, Frame. Wendel's second album is characteristically immaculate. With virtuoso performances throughout, and underscored by a pensive and brave emotionality, it points to a man in transition to new territory. With Kneebody mates Adam Benjamin (keys), Nate Wood (drums), Thelonious Monk Piano Competition winner Tigran Hamasyan, Larry Koonse (guitar) and Dave Robaire (bass). Also Sat. —Gary Fukushima
THE SOFT MOON, LIGHT ASYLUM at Natural History Museum; TWIN SISTER, AVA LUNA, TALKDEMONIC at the Echo; OPEN HANDS at the Baked Potato; ETHAN GOLD at the Satellite; RUFUS & MARTHA WAINWRIGHT at Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown Palace.
Alice Smith, Storm Large
THE HOTEL CAFÉ
The aptly named Storm Large is so much larger than life, she can barely fit within the tight confines of this li'l music pick. The Portland, Ore., diva caused a stir when she was a contestant on Rock Star: Supernova, and for much of the past year she filled in as Pink Martini's lead singer while China Forbes recovered from vocal-cord surgery. But Large is better known for her lounge-style mash-ups of classic-rock schlock and writing comically racy original ditties, such as the anthem where she cheerfully brags that her vagina is "Eight Miles Wide." On top of all that, she has a new autobiography, Crazy Enough, which is also the title of an album and stage show. Meanwhile, the madly talented NYC songwriter Alice Smith has been living in Santa Monica recently, working on the very-long-awaited follow-up to her brilliant 2006 debut, For Lovers, Dreamers & Me. Smith's forceful piano pop is layered with inventive arrangements, incisive lyrics and those soul-piercing vocals. —Falling James
Felix da Housecat
Getting his start as a teenage DJ in the midst of Chicago's late-1980s house scene, Felix da Housecat didn't hit his stride until 2001, when he released Kittenz and the Glitz. With a perfect blend of synthpop melodies and house-style beats, he and his friends created the template for the prevailing nightclub sound of the past decade. While subsequent releases didn't reach the acclaim of that album, Felix da Housecat kept his aesthetic intact, focusing on strong, frequently witty songs with a four-on-the-floor pulse. In the DJ booth, though, he focuses more on straightforward techno and house tracks, light on vocals, heavy on the dance beat. Not only will he keep you on the floor but you'll also get a bit of insight into the inspiration behind his own jams. —Liz Ohanesian
Jeremy Jay, Sea Lions, Dead Angle, Some Days
A very fine batch of our head-scratchingly varied SoCal "pop" stars, far and wide though they might roam: Through the years, Jeremy Jay has created many albums and EPs on which he's slowly refined the subtle art of heartbreaking rock-lite done with both a wink and an apparently sincere desire to get people's toes a-tapping. His recent Dreamy Diary is alt-pop goodness that reveals hummable rock ditties and silky ballads. (His poetically cryptic lyrics don't give him an edge, exactly, because Jeremy Jay sings with such unaffected zeal.) Also Oxnard's surf-garage-soaked Sea Lions, real caffeinated pop-rock from L.A.'s Dead Angle, and "punk dub pop" from local lads Some Days. —John Payne
VHS OR BETA at the Roxy; STEVE WATTS, NAIVE MELODIES at Troubadour; AUGUST BURNS RED at House of Blues; MOE, KELLER WILLIAMS at Club Nokia; CUREATION at Los Globos; CRAZY SQUEEZE at Redwood Bar & Grill.
Seth MacFarlane & the Ron Jones Influence Orchestra
CATALINA BAR & GRILL
Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane is a man of multiple voices, talents and interests. A few years back he saw an opportunity to use his self-described "Ferrari" of a studio band, which provides music for his animated series, to back him onstage in echoing the Rat Pack days of Frank Sinatra. MacFarlane's vocal efforts are good enough to have garnered him a 2011 Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album, and the sessions creating it were described by superstar drummer Peter Erskine as "the best I've ever worked on." Much like the Rat Pack's, MacFarlane's live shows are laced with humor and conversation, and he and the band even use some of Sinatra's original scores in creating music. —Tom Meek
INDIAN JEWELRY, JEWELS OF THE NILE at the Echo; PROTECT ME, MAGICK ORCHIDS at the Smell.
These aptly named deathcore heavyweights are a distinctly streetwise face of the genre, shunning fantastic or gory imagery in favor of ugly, grainy storytelling. While both the band's vocalists are equally unintelligible, their conversation of contrasts — one truly Cookie Monster guttural, the other higher and more frantically possessed — keeps Goliath clear of the monotony that has characterized so many ostensibly similar acts. Though ominous, chuggy and heavy as fuck, this local sextet seldom wallows, coming across more as genuine instigators than mere negative ranters. Between sludgy passages of riffs, Goliath's rivet-gun blast-beats should morph even shuddering wallflowers into flailing pit bosses. —Paul Rogers
The Mae Shi, Laco$te, Jesse Miller
The Mae Shi have been missed. In the early aughts, the ebullient art-punks were a staple of L.A.'s all-ages music mecca the Smell, and when they released their bright 2008 LP HLLLYH, the group seemed poised to inherit the good rep of similarly minded acts like Deerhoof and Q And Not U. The band eventually imploded, but the original members are reuniting for this intimate show. Expect a contentious mix of Casio beats and shredded guitars, and to shout along to unsung classics like "Run to Your Grave." Also appearing are local disco noiseniks Laco$te, whose singer Xenia Shin coos postapocalyptic come-ons over dark dance beats and glitch-riddled effects. Hosting the night is funny man Andrew Hyland in the trailer-trashy guise of Jesse Miller, a self-proclaimed Hollywood mogul who divines his insights from a Monster Energy drink. —Chris Martins
INCAN ABRAHAM, HANDS, CUCKOO CHAOS, GUY BLAKESLEE at Bootleg Bar; BIJON WATSON at Seven Grand.
Lana Del Rey
Don't hate Lana Del Rey because she's beautiful. The American singer formerly known as Lizzy Grant may seem to have it all — she has drop-dead good looks, just appeared on Saturday Night Live and is about to release a lavishly lush breakthrough major-label album, Born to Die — but it's as if the fates want to punish her for all of her recent fortune. The album's title reveals that there's a lot more going on with Del Rey than simple, escapist mainstream pop, and a river of sadness runs inexorably through tragic-romantic tunes like "Video Games" and "Blue Jeans." The Lake Placid, N.Y., native exudes plenty of natural star power, but haters like Juliette Lewis (of all people) already are dissing Del Rey for not commanding the stage with enough authority in early live appearances. We suspect they'll be eating their words, and eating from her hands, long before the year is over. —Falling James
DIM MAK STUDIOS
In early September, Perez Hilton discovered the video for Iggy Azalea's song "Pu$$y." The visuals, which feature the 21-year-old native Australian and friends suggestively slurping ice cream as a little boy smacks the hindquarters of a toy horse, caused almost as much controversy as the bombshell blonde rapping about being "wetter than the Amazon." Although in person Iggy is bubbly and nothing like the fiercely sexual (and sometimes problematic) pinup in her videos, expect a demeanor intent on domination tonight — having just signed to Interscope, this performance is her first major L.A. outing. —Rebecca Haithcoat
Com Truise, Teengirl Fantasy
While savvy showgoers are wise to give a wide berth to anyone sporting such an obnoxious name, New Jersey electronic producer Com Truise eschews such cheese in his actual music. His 2011 LP debut, Galactic Melt, actually offers a subtle reinvention of '80s memes, reducing synthesizer funk and electro-pop to a thick and glistening concentrate, which he then spreads over a foundation of modern bass and moody atmosphere. The result is both dreamy and buoyant, an uplifting haze done well by such song titles as "Ether Drift" and "Flightwave." Ohio duo Teengirl Fantasy trade in a more forward version of the same thing, where deep house rhythms do the heavy lifting. Their 2010 release, 7AM, drew comparisons to chillwavers like Neon Indian and experimentalists such as Panda Bear, but tracks like the soul-sampling "Cheaters" are more grounded than either. —Chris Martins
Sketchy Black Dog
Winner of the 2004 Thelonious Monk Jazz Composers Competition, pianist Misha Piatigorsky chose a path different from his contemporaries', forming an original group that deconstructs popular music and reassembles it into a jazz/classical hybrid that recalls the listener to the original tune, sometimes just barely. Partnered with drummer Chris Wabich, the pair adds a string quartet in treatments of songs by the Doors, David Bowie, the Beatles and, in deference to the group's (Black Dog) name, Led Zeppelin, among many others. Vibrato co-owner Eden Alpert's fondness for the band makes the classy club a regular tour stop, and the venue's piano, stage and acoustics are well-suited for the group's sometimes wild forays off rock history's beaten path. Sketchy Black Dog also appear Wednesday at downtown's Blue Whale, site of their 2011 live DVD recording. —Tom Meek
BLACK CRYSTAL WOLF KIDS, BIKOS at the Echo; JOSHUA BELL at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Icelandic composer-musician–sound artist Jóhann Jóhannsson proffers a stately brand of not-rock that merges electronics and symphonic orchestrations channeled through the last 50 years' history of minimalism and other new-music conceptions. He's made several recordings for the likes of the Touch, Mille Plateaux and Mego labels, and scored a number of films, the latest of which is his somber, spine-tingling, brass band/pipe organ/electronics score for experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison's The Miners' Hymns (available via the Fat Cat imprint). Tonight, Jóhannsson is joined by the Formalist Quartet for a retrospective of his varied works; he also performs the Miners' Hymns score live on KCRW's "Morning Becomes Eclectic" on Tues., Feb. 7, at 11:15 a.m. —John Payne
Listening to Coldplay isn't far removed from staking a permanent residence on the couch of that psychiatrist who won't shut up about a glorious light at tunnel's end. The U.K. band's newest, more narrative-based effort, Mylo Xyloto, isn't necessarily worlds cheerier than past efforts — dudes have always had a flair for the sugary side of life — but Chris Martin and his bombastic pals are still noticeably riding a crest of giddiness. For Coldplay, spreading the gospel of optimism, exemplified by this iHeartRadio charity performance benefiting local youth organizations, is quite fitting. Their new swirly-pop symphonies (listen for standouts "Paradise" and "Hurts Like Heaven") may not make that mountain of debt disappear, but they surely will make life's bitter pills a bit easier to swallow. —Dan Hyman
THEE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA at Troubadour; LAURA GIBSON, BREATHE OWL BREATHE at the Echo; MACHINE GUN KELLY at Key Club; XIBALBA at Cobalt Café.
This English pop-soul lass is finally set to release the follow-up to her 2008 U.S. debut, Shine. Perhaps to remind folks of her existence before All of Me arrives Feb. 28, Estelle is on the road this month headlining the latest edition of BET's Music Matters Tour. (Curiously, last year's trek was headlined by a Brit, too: Marshia Ambrosius, formerly of Floetry.) None of the advance singles Estelle has released so far attains the lovely effervescence of "American Boy," her will.i.am-produced breakthrough; then again, hardly anyone else's have, either. Also on the bill: songwriters-turned-performers Stacy Barthe and Luke James, as well as Elle Varner, an L.A. native who says she was signed to J Records after being discovered checking coats at a club in New York. —Mikael Wood
Joss Stone & Dave Stewart
Joss Stone and Dave Stewart have been thick as thieves lately: Last year he produced her fifth studio disc, LP1, then recruited her to join SuperHeavy, the supremely goofy world-beat supergroup they share with Mick Jagger, Damian Marley and A.R. Rahman. Now the U.K. retro-soul star and the former Eurythmic are out doing shows on what they're referring to as the More Love Tour; more (or perhaps less) precisely, it's a "music adventure like never before seen," according to Stewart's website, with special guests and everything. Whatever shape the gig takes tonight, expect lots and lots of singing: Compared to her earlier records, LP1 felt like a showcase for Stone's big-lunged vocals rather than her taste in old-fashioned R&B acts. —Mikael Wood
WHISKY A GO GO
When Enuff Z'Nuff's eponymous debut hit in 1989, the stars seemed perfectly aligned. For beneath the Illinois outfit's then MTV–requisite androgynous attire, DayGlo videos and masturbatory guitars beat a heart of near perfect, slightly psychedelic pop (notably in harmony-stacked singles "New Thing" and "Fly High Michelle"), which shamed most of its pouting peers. But in truth, the album offered a hell of a lot just a little too late: Grunge had damned all things poodle-haired and overproduced, and the major record labels dutifully threw promising babies like EZN out with the bathwater. Yet the band has endured through numerous lineup changes (and two members' deaths), maintaining international cult status based on its sheer songwriting prowess. With Enuff's main men (singer Donnie Vie and bassist Chip Z'Nuff) reunited, expect hypermelodic heyday flashbacks. —Paul Rogers
ROBERTA FLACK at Segerstrom Center; MARK LANEGAN BAND, LEGENDARY DUO at the Echoplex; CLASS ACTRESS at the Echo; RUMSPRINGA, KIEV at Bootleg Bar; LOUIE CRUZ BELTRAN at Vitello's.
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