WILD BEASTS, LONE WOLF AT EL REY THEATRE
Leeds band Wild Beasts offers something quite rare: a psychologically intricate party rave that seems to question the point of its own elation — but keeps smiling on in the face of disaster. The wild ones' recent Two Dancers (Domino) is by turns shimmeringly elegant, euphoric, curious, mildly experimental, thrillingly ambiguous in intent and sound, and a study in classic form, but not quite. It constantly keeps you guessing as to what it's all about, even as you do the Muppet stomp to its gently pumping rhythms. The strangely asexual (or pansexual, or whatever) effect of singer Hayden Thorpe's falsetto juxtaposed against videos of the band as monks wandering 'round the woods, or framed inside of frames inside of zooming frames, sets a certain tone, one that feels right for the times. And they're clever, they know how to play with words: "Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants" is the name of one of their tunes, as is "We Still Got the Taste Dancin' on Our Tongues." Right! (John Payne)
NATALIE MERCHANT AT THE ORPHEUM THEATRE
Natalie Merchant manages to make what would seem to be a stuffy premise — putting melodies to the classic words of dead poets — into the most sonically adventurous project of her career. Known more as a singer and lyricist, she proves to be uncanny at conjuring the perfect and surprisingly eclectic musical settings for these old poems, on her new double CD, Leave Your Sleep (Nonesuch). Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Land of Nod" is transformed into an appropriately dreamy orchestral idyll, while Arthur Macy's "The Peppery Man" becomes a foreboding blues dirge, and William Brighty Rands' "Topsyturvey-World" works wonderfully with a loping reggae rhythm. Joined by Medeski Martin & Wood, "It Makes a Change" is as close as the former 10,000 Maniacs singer has ever come to pure '60s girl-group bubblegum, while Robert Graves' "Vain and Careless" is contrastingly spare and somber, with a low welling of lute and viola. Inspired by a series of conversations between Merchant and her young daughter, Leave Your Sleep is ostensibly a children's CD, and there are certainly some overtly playful and silly moments, such as the groovy, fast-talking jive of Jack Prelutsky's "Bleezer's Ice-Cream." Overall, though, the album is anything but cute or condescending, with ethereal, mournfully moving soundscapes like Lydia Huntley Sigourney's "Indian Names." When Merchant and an acoustic trio debuted these songs in April at the Aratani Theatre, she was a charming host and eagle-eyed teacher, firmly reining in her unruliest fans while giving witty, informative slide-show introductions about these mostly British and American poets. Tonight she'll be backed by an eight-piece band. (Falling James)
Also playing Friday: GREAT WHITE at the Canyon; JOHN PIZZARELLI & JESSICA MOLASKY at Catalina; THE RISING, HOLLYWOOD U2 at Club Nokia; DADA at Coach House; WAVVES, THE GROWLERS, CRYSTAL ANTLERS, ABE VIGODA, COMADRE, THE GLASSES at the Glass House; HARRY CONNICK JR. & HIS BIG BAND with THE LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC at the Hollywood Bowl; DAVE ALVIN, CINDY CASHDOLLAR at McCabe's; EMPIRE OF THE SUN at the Music Box; "WEIRD AL" YANKOVIC at Pacific Amphitheatre; BILLY IDOL with STEVE STEVENS at Pechanga Showroom Theatre; PIZZA!, AUNT DRACULA, ATOLE, LACO$TE at the Smell; THESE UNITED STATES, OR THE WHALE, ELECTRIC OWLS at Spaceland; ATERCIOPELADOS at the Troubadour; RUSH at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater.
RASPUTINA, LARKIN GRIMM AT THE TROUBADOUR
Even as Rasputina's lineups change over the years, leader Melora Creager never stops cobbling together magically surreal songs, which mix together history and politics with fantastic, fairy-tale-like imagery. The Brooklyn cello-drums trio twist everything further on their latest CD, Sister Kinderhook, with febrile, carnivalesque art-rock melodies and dense, psychedelic arrangements. The lurching, classical-style cellos of "Holocaust of Giants" are crowned with busy, manic glitter-rock harmonies, as Creager desperately tries to evoke a lost tribe of giants. What might seem whimsical and fanciful at first, however, often turns out to be awesome and scarifying once the cellos knit together their worried riffs. For this tour, Creager — who first came to wide attention in the '90s, when she toured with Nirvana — is backed by cellist Daniel DeJesus and drummer Catie D'Amica. Rasputina's intense psychic architecture should make for an interesting contrast with the bent art-folk of Larkin Grimm, whose 2008 CD, Parplar (Young God Records), creaks and coos with eerie acoustic plucking under fragile vocals. (Falling James)
SEU JORGE & ALMAZ AT CLUB NOKIA
A visit from the deep-voiced samba subverter Seu Jorge is always welcome, especially considering he's got a bang-up band to back him this time around. Jorge and his Brasileño psych-rock three-piece, Almaz, just released a self-titled debut on international funk archivist imprint Now-Again Records, the label run by Stones Throw DJ and label manager Egon. It's a good fit, considering the album is hardly your standard man-with-guitar fare. It's actually a collection of covers — mostly classic samba pieces by legends like Tim Maia, Jorge Ben and Nelson Cavaquinho, which Almaz turns into almost apocalyptic meditations on the death and rebirth of historic musical movements. Odder are the other songs cribbed from the likes of Kraftwerk ("The Model") and Michael Jackson ("Rock With You"). On record, these versions fall flat, but they should be infinitely more enticing performed live, where a band as adept as this one clearly is can overcome the confines of the studio. (Chris Martins)
BUDWEISER SUPERFEST AT GIBSON AMPHITHEATRE
This R&B road show has been off the road since 1999, but Budweiser Superfest is back this year with what might be the strongest soul-music bill you'll see all summer. North Carolina–based Anthony Hamilton does an impressively D'Angelo-ish slow-burn thing, but throws in a dash of laid-back country twang that's led to left-field collabs with Josh Turner and John Rich. Tonight expect a sampling from the three excellent studio discs he's released over the past seven years, though don't be surprised if he skips "Cool," the lead single from 2008's The Point of It All — it features a Miller Genuine Draft shout-out from guest MC David Banner. Kem, from Detroit, goes in a smooth-jazzier direction that, along with dude's bald head, might remind you of the lesser work of Seal. New Jersey's street-but-sweet Jaheim released the very solid Another Round earlier this year. And Raheem DeVaughn is ambitious enough for all four of these guys; his latest is called The Love & War MasterPeace. With Abraham McDonald and Hal Linton. (Mikael Wood)
HERCULES & THE LOVE AFFAIR AT THE ECHOPLEX
Andy Butler and his Merry Disco Pranksters descend on Echo Park with their always effective update on the sounds of Casablanca (the label, not the movie). Their record is many a DJ's go-to for that elusive instant indie-dance-floor filler, and their notoriously decadent live show should pack a few surprises. Pity Derek Jarman didn't get to work with them. Recommended. (Gustavo Turner)
Also playing Saturday: JOHN PIZZARELLI & JESSICA MOLASKY at Catalina Jazz Club; JOHN HEARTS JACKIE, THE CLOUDS, CHILDREN OF THE KAI, ALYSSYNDRA & THE DAYMAKERS at Echo Curio; LOS LONELY BOYS, TIERRA, EL CHICANO at the Greek Theatre; HARRY CONNICK JR. & HIS BIG BAND with THE LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC at the Hollywood Bowl; BILLY IDOL at the Hollywood Palladium; EMPIRE OF THE SUN at the Music Box; CHARANGA CAKEWALK at Levitt Pavilion Pasadena; GOD'S IMAGE CHOIR at Long Beach Terrace Theatre; "WEIRD AL" YANKOVIC at Pacific Amphitheatre; PUFFY AREOLAS, ZIG ZAGS, KILL KILL KILL, EXPLODING FLOWERS at Spaceland; THE BAND OF HEATHENS at the Viper Room.
LEVON HELM, JENNY LEWIS AT THE GREEK THEATRE
Levon Helm is enjoying an unexpected late-career resurgence, following the 2007 release of Dirt Farmer, his first album in a quarter century. The longtime resident of Woodstock is fondly remembered, of course, as the drummer of the Band and the lead vocalist on two of the group's biggest hits, "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." Helm takes up where he left off on Dirt Farmer with his new CD, Electric Dirt, a set of easy-going blues-folk-country rambles where his craggily stolid vocals rub up against old-timey fiddles and guitars. Even as his songs are rooted in venerable tradition, Helm remains in the here and now, and it's to his credit that — unlike so many classic rockers from the '60s — he has the wisdom to reach out across the generational divide and tour with someone as young and hip as Jenny Lewis. The Rilo Kiley leader and former child actor has been on a long, strange trip of her own, evolving from a straightforward alterna-country singer into a glam-pop diva. Keep an eye out for her latest project, Jenny & Johnny, a collaboration with songwriter Johnathan Rice. (Falling James)
FREE FOR ALL FEST AT THE ECHO AND THE ECHOPLEX
Have you been suckered into paying $80-plus for a night out at a show put on by a big-time concert promoter, with their mysteriously termed "convenience" fees? Well, consider doing something semiradical by throwing your support behind the Free for All Fest, presented by indie-roots-music blog When You Awake. Free for All aims to ease the cost of a night out — and get the bands themselves a bigger, fairer slice of the pie — with a pay-what-you-want, ticketless music and arts experience. And, just as important, this is an all-ages event, meaning that for once the experience can be shared with people who'll likely benefit the most from it. A big bonus: This event has been curated with intelligence and taste, as Akron/Family, Langhorne Slim, Frank Fairfield and Dustbowl Revival will be joined by a dozen or more up-and- comers including sterling punkabillyists Don Juan y los Blancos and the moody blue Dreamcatcher. There'll be food trucks on-site, an art studio and crafts area and lots more fun stuff to do, see, hear and experience. Starts at 4 p.m., goes till midnight; see freeforallfestival.com for all the deets. (John Payne)
Also playing Sunday: JOHN PIZZARELLI & JESSICA MOLASKY at Catalina Jazz Club; JIM MESSINA at the Coach House; BRIAN MCKNIGHT, R N R feat. RICK BRAUN & RICHARD ELLIOT, PATRICE RUSHEN & FRIENDS, MTL EXPRESS, SPENCER DAY at the Hollywood Bowl; BAND OF HEATHENS at Hotel Café; VIJAY IYER at Levitt Pavilion Pasadena; TOM CAUFIELD & THE CALLING at Molly Malone's; ZZ TOP at Pacific Amphitheatre; PRIMUS, WOLFMOTHER at Santa Barbara Bowl; THE SPITS, PERSONAL & THE PIZZAS, SIAB CITY, THE ANOMALYS at Spaceland; YOUNG THE GIANT, VOXHAUL BROADCAST, MISSISSIPPI MAN at the Troubadour; CABO VERDE CRETCHEU at the Waterfront.
ALICE RUSSELL, THE RUBY FRIEDMAN ORCHESTRA AT THE BOOTLEG THEATER
Thrills and chills: Alice Russell, the great retro-soul singer from Brighton, England, pays a visit to purvey her superfunky gospel-revival kinda thing. She is a singer's singer, you might say, with control down to the last little quaver, never overdone or slipping into saccharine, with a beautiful, rich, husky tone and style that's hers and hers alone, and which she's contributed to collabs with the heady likes of Roy Ayers, the Roots, Lonnie Liston Smith, De La Soul and the Quantic Soul Orchestra. Now just check her version of "Lights Went Out," recorded for a Giles Peterson BBC session on YouTube, and seek out her Pot of Gold album (Six Degrees) immediately. Also L.A.'s own dynamic diva Ruby Friedman and her band. (John Payne)
NNEKA AT THE TROUBADOUR
With Lauryn Hill increasingly being mentioned in the past tense, there's certainly a yawning niche for young Nneka. Like Hill, this German-Nigerian soulstress likes to rap (and, in concert, ramble), but seems to connect with so many more folks when she sings. Her desperately tremulous verse performances on single "Heartbeat" and soccer World Cup tribute "Viva Africa" forgive those songs' rather dumbed-down choruses. Having grown up in the oil-rich yet mysteriously dirt-poor Niger Delta, Nneka has plenty to say about capitalism and corruption, but her politics — macro and micro — is delivered in a Trojan horse timbre more soothing than scolding. Her debut U.S. full-length, this year's Concrete Jungle, is effectively a "best of" her two international albums to date and offers a welcome crash course in Nneka's potentially world-beating celebration of hip-hop, Afro-pop, reggae and forward-facing soul. (Paul Rogers)
Also playing Monday: PAT HULL, TIN CAN NOTES, BOYZ SKULE at Echo Curio; FOL CHEN, CROCODILES, LIGHT POLLUTION at the Echo; ABE VIGODA, MASTERS & JOHNSON, NAOMI PUNK, DUNES at the Smell; WHITE ARROWS at Spaceland; UNKLE MONKEY at the Waterfront.
EARTHLESS, DEAD MEADOW AT FORD AMPHITHEATRE
Hip-hop and punk rock have long been the expected sound track to the ollies, nose-grinds and various aerials committed to tape by skateboarding's elite guard, so when shoe company Emerica decides to debut its brand-new feature-length skate film, Stay Gold, out under the stars with live accompaniment by a couple of stoner-metal bands, well, consider the trucks mold broken. Dead Meadow got its start in D.C. influenced by Jimi Hendrix and J.R.R. Tolkien, then smartly moved to the land where kush is king. The trio's droney psychedelic compositions fold Eastern modal music into a sludgy purple batter of big riffs and spacey vocals, and their records veer toward the conceptual, with the latest, Three Kings, actually acting as the score for a band-produced feature-length film. San Diego's Earthless doesn't have any prior experience with syncing audio to visuals that we know of, but this instrumental outfit has long been crafting epic-length heavy rock with an unusually cinematic flair. (Chris Martins)
BRANDON FLOWERS AT THE TROUBADOUR
As the Killers' three studio albums have demonstrated, Brandon Flowers is not a man who likes to limit himself: From the lean new-wave revivalism of Hot Fuss to the Springsteen-scaled Americana of Sam's Town to the astral disco-rock of Day & Age, Flowers' Las Vegas–based foursome have already covered more stylistic turf than most bands do over their entire careers. So it doesn't come as much of a surprise to hear that for his upcoming solo debut, Flamingo (due September 14), Flowers recruited not one, not two, but three of music's highest-profile producers — Stuart Price, Daniel Lanois and Brendan O'Brien — to help him capture his vision. Lead single "Crossfire" suggests that vision is less synthed-up than it was on Day & Age, but with Flowers you never know. Get a sneak peek at this ground-softening small-room gig tonight. (Mikael Wood)
IDA & MICHAEL HURLEY AT LARGO
An evening of top-shelf eccentric folk featuring New York weirdies Ida and the revered elder of left-field tunesmithery, living legend (and heartwarming album-cover illustrator) Michael Hurley. Get some humble wisdom from a guy who's seen it all and lived to sing it, the still-thriving link between Leadbelly and Devendra Banhart. (Gustavo Turner)
Also playing Tuesday: DARKER MY LOVE, WOUNDED LION at the Bootleg Theater; DUNES, NAOMI PUNK, MASTERS & JOHNSON at Echo Curio; COTTON JONES, THE PARSON RED HEADS at the Echo; LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC with PIETARI INKINEN, LEON FLEISHER at the Hollywood Bowl; OTEP, THE BIRTHDAY MASSACRE, BENEATH THE SKY, THE AGONIST at Key Club; ADAM H. STEPHENS (of Two Gallants), PAPA, THE HOLLOYS at Spaceland; THE RICHARD GLASER JAZZ BAND at the Waterfront.
CHILDISH GAMBINO AT THE BOOTLEG THEATER
Despite his mixtape series' titular claim that he is Just a Rapper, Childish Gambino is much more than that. Look no further than a key lyric from the 26-year-old's braggadocious track "Let Me Dope You," which reads as follows: "When I wrote for 30 Rock/I was only 25." No, that's not a veiled crack reference. In fact, Gambino is best known as actor/comedian Donald Glover, who currently plays Troy Barnes on the scrappy NBC sitcom Community. But his rap persona, he frequently insists, is no act, even if his style seems cribbed from a certain contemporary referenced directly on "I Be on That" in this line: "Weezy F. is in jail/I keep his seat warm, nigga." So he bites Lil Wayne. The thing is, Gambino does it very, very well, and even if all his emceeing simply amounted to copycatting, he'd do a clever job of it, weaving wry humor into every couplet, which justifies the hype. (Chris Martins)
RODRIGO Y GABRIELA AT THE GREEK THEATRE
Rodrigo Sánchez and Gabriela Quintero dislike it when critics describe their music as flamenco, but there is nonetheless a certain amount of traditional Spanish passion and dynamics in their dazzling acoustic-guitar interplay. At the same time, the duo from Mexico City are probably influenced more by Metallica than they are by classical guitarists. Sánchez and Quintero used to be in a metal band called Tierra Ácida, and — after unplugging themselves and getting discovered by Damien Rice while busking on the streets of Dublin — they've become an international phenomenon with their frenetic interpretations of songs by Led Zeppelin and other hard rockers. While Sánchez draws most of the attention as the flashy lead soloist, Quintero is also an impressive guitarist, handing down rhythmic punctuation and banging on her ax for percussive emphasis. (Falling James)
Also playing Wednesday: MOON PEARL, BROTHERS LANDAU at the Bandshell; ADELINE & THE PHILLISTINES, RAD CLOUDS, OLD TOY TRAINS at Echo Curio; THE NEVILLE BROTHERS, PRESERVATION HALL & TREY MCINTYRE PROJECT, DIRTY DOZEN BRASS BAND at the Hollywood Bowl; ROCNOCEROUS at Levitt Pavilion Pasadena; STAR ANNA & THE LAUGHING DOGS at Spaceland.
JOGGER, MATTHEWDAVID, SUN ARAW AT THE ECHO
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Los Angeles has become an exceptional city for experimental pop, and newcomers to the scene couldn't ask for a better starter course than this killer three-headed bill. Headlining is Jogger, a duo recently signed to the Magical Properties label, run by longtime L.A. beat producer Daedelus. But their style isn't the standard electronic fare, as evidenced by their bizarrely astounding live remake of Laurie Anderson's "Superman." While Jonathan Larroquette tweaks digital percussives on an array of machines, Amir Yaghmai first sings into the body of his violin, then plays the stringed thing like it was a guitar. Their debut album, This Great Pressure, relies upon a lot of acoustic instruments, occasionally resembles death metal and most often takes the form of highly listenable, highly original bedroom pop. Matthewdavid, meanwhile, is a master of textural soundscapes fashioned from found sounds and sampled sources, positioning himself as one of the most unique voices in L.A.'s already impressive beat-scene family. Last and certainly not least is Sun Araw, an Eagle Rock–based guitar whizz whose work is as funky as it is acid-drenched. (Chris Martins)
AUGUSTIN HADELICH AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL
The L.A. Phil with associate conductor Lionel Bringuier bring the beauty and the brawn with a return visit by Italian-German violin virtuoso Augustin Hadelich. Bringuier, from Nice, France, who's currently also music director of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León, is a celebrated young conductor who won the 49th Besançon Young Conductors Competition in 2005, and has led the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, the New York Phil, the Cleveland Orchestra and many others. Hadelich is a simply phenomenal power and presence on the violin who won the 2006 Gold Medal at the International Violin Competition, among numerous other prizes, and whose 2009 Flying Solo album of devilishly difficult Bartók and Paganini pieces (on Avie) must be heard to be believed — and even then you won't quite believe it. Tonight's bill of fare: Carnival Overture by Dvoák; Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto; Brahms' Symphony No. 1. (John Payne)
Also playing Thursday: JOHN HIATT & THE COMBO at the Coach House; ALEC K. REDFEARN, GABRIEL SULLIVAN, TARAF DE TUCSON, ORION RIGEL DOMMISSE at Echo Curio; INDUSTRIAL JAZZ GROUP at the Hammer Museum; MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP at Key Club; STAR ANNA & THE LAUGHING DOGS at Levitt Pavilion Pasadena; WALLPAPER, THE CHAIN GANG OF 1974 at Pershing Square; JEWS ON VINYL REVUE at Skirball Cultural Center; WOVEN BONES, ANIMAL STYLE, CATWALK, THE MEEK at Spaceland.