Music Picks: Los Lobos, Lord Huron, Calculator, Exmortus
The Pontiac Brothers
When guitarist Ward Dotson left the Gun Club after the release of the album Miami in 1982, he moved in a completely different direction. Although his next project was called the Phillip Blues, they weren't really a blues band and had little in common with the Gun Club's hellhound-on-my-trail rootsiness, sounding more like Neil Young fronting the early Who, with Dotson's vocals ranging from vulnerably yearning to cynically world-weary. His ensuing group, the Pontiac Brothers, was less obscure but just as stubbornly removed from alt-rock hipness in the '80s. Former Middle Class drummer Matt Simon climbed out from behind his kit and played Mick Jagger to Dotson's Keith Richards, and the Orange County band cooked up tough, smart Stones-style rockers like "Almost Human" and "Whole Damn World" on such early albums as Fiesta en la Biblioteca and Doll Hut, an homage to their favorite Anaheim bar. After reuniting at the Frontier Records anniversary show last year, the Pontiacs tonight play another rare, out-of-the-blue gig in the L.B.C. —Falling James
Cooked up in Rancho Cucamonga (though now NoHo-based), Tha Boogie is that rarest of beat-based beasts: accomplished studio lizards who put on a vivacious live show. These three Raphael Saadiq protégés scroll through influences — Andre 3000, Arctic Monkeys, No Doubt, Missy Elliot — that appear diverse yet share common themes of melody and mischief. Built not just for the dance floor, but equally the lounge or late-night headphones, Tha Boogie are both new wave and old school: Female member Korus' tremulous R&B croon converses with the gospel-tinted timbre and Outkast-y rhyming of her male cohorts. Truly audio/visual, Tha Boogie's cartoonish, theatrical concerts add layers of humanity and connection to their music that no studio could ever capture. —Paul Rogers
Los Lobos, Los Lonely Boys
It's never a bad idea to check in on Los Lobos, the long-running L.A. outfit that last year released their strongest album in more than a decade, Tin Can Trust. Written and recorded in a no-frills Lincoln Heights studio, the record exudes the lived-in vibe you'd expect from guys who've been playing together for more than 30 years. But it's also streaked with the kind of sonic experimentation Los Lobos pursued during their mid-'90s partnership with producers Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake. (How long has it been since you've dug out the Latin Playboys records they made together? Probably too long.) At the Greek the band will be joined by Texas-based Los Lonely Boys, another Chicano rock act with a less developed taste for adventure. —Mikael Wood
The cello might be most often associated with orchestras and stuffy chamber-music ensembles, but in Melora Creager's hands, the bassy stringed instrument becomes a magic divining rod that ignites all manner of deliriously inventive flights of fancy. Recent Rasputina albums like Sister Kinderhook and Oh Perilous World are crammed with tangled riffs and knotty cello interplay, while Creager's demented lyrics place historical figures like Mary Todd Lincoln and Clara Barrus in fantastic shaggy-dog fables that, for all of their rampant surrealism, ultimately make some resonant statements about modern warfare and U.S. imperialism. Creager is the one constant member in the ever-evolving Rasputina collective; even as the group's arrangements shift from dense to minimal, she maintains a sense of playful subversion with her colorful, atemporal costumes and whimsically dark melodies. —Falling James
Jessi Darlin has a problem on Those Darlins' second album, Screws Get Loose. "I just want to be your brother/You just want to be my boyfriend," she sings. "I just want to run and play in the dirt with you/You just want to stick it in." Her plea for brotherly affection, wrapped up in a winsome arrangement of indie-rock clutter and buoyant harmonies, is a catchy love song — even if it's not really a love song. The new album is punchier and more power pop than the coed Tennessee band's early lo-fi roots rambles, but the sense of homespun intimacy remains. There's still a gather-around-the-campfire camaraderie that makes Those Darlins so quintessentially ... darling. —Falling James
MICHAEL FEINSTEIN at Hollywood Bowl; BLAKE SHELTON at Pacific Amphitheatre; THE SPITS, BLEACHED at Blue Star; JON BRION at Largo; BOMBINO MOCTAR at MacArthur Park; SHOGHAKEN ENSEMBLE at California Plaza; THE FEATURES at Satellite.
Michigan-bred, Los Angeles-based songwriter Lord Huron (né Ben Schneider) concocts a dreamy melange of Calypso harmonies, Afro-Cuban beats and weathered indie-folk rhythms, evoking the feel of a place that's at once familiar and indeterminate. Having released just two EPs, 2010's Mighty and Into the Sun, there's little else known about Lord Huron, save for the band that accompanies his live shows. But that definite shroud of mystery only complements the ethereal, otherworldly feel of songs like "The Stranger" and "When Will I See You Again." It's a sound that feels like an endless sundown, and it couldn't be better suited for the Getty Center's summer evening haze. —Andrea Domanick
@THE GLASS HOUSE (Pomona)
Hard-core Linkin Park fans may remember this local singer-songwriter from her cameo on "Where'd You Go," the moody 2006 single by Mike Shinoda's hip-hop project Fort Minor. In those days she went by Holly Brook, the name under which she released an equally moody full-length that pretty much sank without a trace. Over the past year or so, though, she's found much more success as Skylar Grey, writing and singing hooks on hits like Diddy-Dirty Money's "Coming Home" and "I Need a Doctor" by Dr. Dre; she also co-authored Eminem's "Love the Way You Lie" with producer Alex Da Kid, who helmed Grey's upcoming debut and will release it through his Interscope imprint later this year. She plays here ahead of her appearance next month at Lollapalooza. —Mikael Wood
These Whittier widdlers transcend the congested and overly technical post-thrash metal scene by treating dexterity as a tool of songwriting and performance rather than a substitute for them. Though brutal and blur-fingered, they have a solid sense of craft reminiscent of the punkier side of the new wave of British heavy metal. And for all their hesher hairiness, spray-on jeans and pointy guitars, Exmortus summon a vitality and stylistic irreverence (dipping into black and death metal as they see fit) that could comfortably put them on metalcore bills. Four dedicated and capable young blokes sharing similar sonic and emotional goals can make a frightening force — all the more so when capped with the perpetually disgusted (yet remarkably intelligible) vomit vocals of the aptly named Conan. —Paul Rogers
Yuck, Unknown Mortal Orchestra
England's Yuck have faced no shortage of competition this year in their mission to re-create the sound of mid-'90s indie rock. But few of their peers have come up with tunes as catchy as those on Yuck's self-titled debut, which came out in February on Fat Possum (a home to several other '90s revivalists, not to mention Dinosaur Jr. themselves); the just-released single "Milkshake" is more melodic still, a shimmering approximation of Teenage Fanclub's jangle-fuzz classic Bandwagonesque. The band hits L.A. this weekend at the close of a North American tour that began at the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago. Openers (and label mates) Unknown Mortal Orchestra, from Portland, Ore., love fuzz, too, but no more than they dig dusty old rap beats. Also Sun. at the Satellite. —Mikael Wood
@NOS EVENTS CENTER (San Bernardino)
The open-air NOS Events Center in San Bernardino has hosted several daylong parties in recent years, but nothing compares to Insomniac's multigenre Audiotistic Festival, a massive, one-night affair megapacked with beats and bass so killer that you'll want to make the 60-mile trek out from L.A. This year's dance party talent includes Diplo, Crystal Castles, Major Lazer, Flux Pavilion, the Cool Kids, Lil B, Daedelus, Arrabmuzik and Thee Mike B, among others, spread across Treble Frequency, Bass Frequency, the Boombox and Speaker Temple stages. A more intimate affair than the stadium-sized Electric Daisy Carnival, Audiotistic Fest is the perfect way to keep the summertime party going with some musical madness. —Lainna Fader
KID ROCK, SHERYL CROW at Verizon Wireless; CELEBRITY SKIN ACOUSTIC at Moonlight Graham; THE GEARS, SYMBOL 6, RF7 at Blue Star; CYP2 with METRONOMY at Echoplex; DANTE VS ZOMBIES at Space 15 Twenty; PETER FRAMPTON at Greek Theatre; THOMAS DYBDAHL at Satellite; ZOE at Nokia Theatre.
Further proof that At the Drive-In's unfinished business is still being rummaged through in basements and garages everywhere, local college kids Calculator offer an earnest and — for all their choreographed racket — oddly wholesome take on brainy posthardcore. Beats bustle, prone to sudden shifts of intent. Twinkly lost-transmission guitars beam in uninvited and indignant as puce-faced vocals rant on like some (unusually eloquent) street-corner spare-changer. True to their name, Calculator come on a little mathy, but they can swing and bob, too: For every doubled-over squawk or pogo-friendly passage there are detours of eyes-clenched, arpeggiated contemplation and nodding, knowing escape. This is civilized suburban screamo that you can take home for the holidays. —Paul Rogers
GRASS WIDOW at the Echo; RUTHANN FRIEDMAN at Echoplex.
Active Child is harpist Pat Grossi, a former choir singer who grew up listening to rap and now makes gorgeous synth-pop. Grand, soaring soundscapes with haunting synths and crisp drum-machine samples lay the groundwork for Grossi's exquisite angelic vocals, which recall Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and Antony of Antony and the Johnsons. Early last year he released a limited edition of cassettes on Mirror Universe Tape and then headed to SXSW, where he doubled the number of shows he's played under the Active Child moniker. Upon his return home to L.A., Filter put out his first EP, and his proper full-length debut, You Are All I See, will be out Aug. 23 via Vagrant. Tonight is the first night of Active Child's long-overdue Echo residency; he's joined by Therapies Son and Letting Up Despite Great Faults. —Lainna Fader
Local sibling duo Belle Brigade (Ethan and Barbara Gruska) come from a long line of L.A. musicians: Their father is noted songwriter Jay Gruska and their grandfather is John Williams, the Oscar-winning conductor and composer who wrote the scores to Jaws, Star Wars, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and countless other classics. It wasn't until Barbara had returned from touring the world drumming with the Bird & the Bee, Jenny Lewis and Benji Hughes that she and Ethan decided to get together and form the Belle Brigade. On their Reprise debut, they wade through half a century of Southern California pop grounded in the Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles. Fress off a national tour with k.d. lang, the Belle Brigade are next up in the Grammy Museum's "Homegrown" series. —Lainna Fader
Princeton, Maps & Atlases
Princeton's twin brothers Jesse and Matt Kivel and pals named their band not after the prestigious university but for the Santa Monica street they once lived on — They were testing us. An artfully tuneful band who seem to wonder what-all they can cram into the pop song form without losing its winsome charms, Princeton have deftly woven clever cribs of classic British, French and Brazilian pop and Stax-y soul sonorities, even refashioning the "concept" album of art-rock's fruity past to plow and fertilize heretofore unthinkable musical fields. The results are always surprising: Check their oddly black-humored recent single "To the Alps"/"The Electrician" for some untypical beauty. On roughly similar turf, though with a more American-acoustic reference palette, come Chicago's mathy players Maps & Atlases. —John Payne
STONE DARLING at the Satellite; ROBERT FRANCIS at Bootleg Theater.
The Naked and Famous
There must be something about growing up in Australasia that instills a pogo-ing optimism in its people. Like their Australian neighbors Architecture in Helsinki, New Zealand's the Naked and Famous produce giddy 'n' fearless pop that's the perfect soundtrack for summer adventuring. These youngbloods have been longtime sweethearts of tastemakers like the BBC and KCRW, and with good reason. Their 2010 debut, Passive Me, Aggressive You, is more than a study in reliving childlike joy: Gauzy harmonies and tinges of industrial production evoke meditative contemplation as much as they do the urge to jump on trampolines. Expect a heavy dose of reverb and volume at their live show. —Andrea Domanick
A lot of music we thought was utter garbage back in the day has come into a new light with the passage of time. That's because (A) it's comforting to live in the past — obviously the present and future are too damn scary, and (B) what we thought we knew about music was really ignorant anyway, right? English progressive-rock icons Yes and American saccharine-pop kings Styx are on the same bill, and perhaps one highlight will be the howls of derision each "side" will hurl against the other as it proclaims the vast superiority of its chosen nostalgia provider. Yes are still capable of enormous cinematic power as a live unit, especially when they stick to the grand epics like Close to the Edge. —John Payne
THE CALICOS at Silverlake Lounge; DREDG at the Glass House; ALLAH LAS at the Echo; WOODS, FRESH AND ONLYS, WHITE FENCE at Echoplex; YUJA WANG PLAYS RACHMANINOFF, TCHAIKOVSKY at Hollywood Bowl.
@HARD ROCK CAFÉ
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COLDPLAY at UCLA Tennis Center; LYKKE LI at Greek Theatre; RED OAK DUO at Blue Whale; SCATTERED TREES at the Satellite.
Considering that they put out no fewer than three albums last year, it comes as a surprise to find that in 2011 Weezer haven't released anything yet. (The alt-rock vets appear on an upcoming Muppets tribute disc, covering "The Rainbow Connection" with help from Hayley Williams of Paramore. It's as weird as you'd hope.) Even so, they've been busy: Last week Weezer played a pair of joint New York–area shows in which they alternated songs with the Flaming Lips, and before that they unveiled the Weezer Cruise, which you can take in January from Miami to Cozumel. No word on what we should expect from this headlining set at the OC Fair. Wackiness of some form, though, is bound to ensue. —Mikael Wood
JOHN HIATT at the Troubadour; BEIRUT at Greek Theatre; LENI STERN TRIO at Blue Whale; JOANA CARNEIRO CONDUCTS NIELSEN, LINDBERG at Hollywood Bowl; JESSE MALIN at Key Club. Rasputina: See Friday.
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