MUSIC PICKS: Ruben Guevara, Buika, Bill Frisell's Beautiful Dreamers
MAVIS STAPLES, BILLY BRAGG AT ROYCE HALL
Some families sing together casually when they're at home or driving on a road trip, but Mavis Staples' musical heritage is just a little bit deeper and richer than that. With the Staple Singers — led by her late father, Roebuck "Pops" Staples, and joined by her sisters Yvonne, Pervis and Cleotha — Staples was the lead voice on such memorable '70s R&B hits as the yearning "I'll Take You There" and the sublime admonition "Respect Yourself." But unlike so many of her peers from that era, Staples has reinvented herself in recent years as a still-evolving, creatively thriving solo artist. Although she has released excellent albums under her own name over the past four decades, Staples is enjoying a critically lauded resurgence that began with the 2004 release of Have a Little Faith. Her latest CD, You Are Not Alone (Anti- Records), is an inspiring collection of bluesy laments and gospel exhortations, including a remake of her father's classic spiritual ode "Don't Knock" (memorably covered a few years ago by the Detroit Cobras). Tonight, she appears with the aptly named British folkie Billy Bragg, whose earnest left-wing protest anthems attempt to marry the populism of Woody Guthrie with the idealism of the Clash's Joe Strummer, although the result tends to come off as smug and overly contrived, especially in comparison to Staples' down-home authenticity. (Falling James)
RYUICHI SAKAMOTO AT EL REY
The accomplishments of Tokyo composer Ryuichi Sakamoto are enough to fill a book. Forget the fact that he's one of the original members of the endlessly influential electro-pop group Yellow Magic Orchestra: The man's past 42 years have been busy enough. As a writer, arranger and performer, Sakamoto has released countless albums, continuing to innovate year after year, combining classical piano with forward-thinking synth work, ambient electronic textures and, quite often, voice. Iggy Pop and Bootsy Collins appeared on his 1991 East-meets-West mélange, Neo Geo. Only a year before that, Brian Wilson and Robbie Robertson dropped by for the album Beauty. And in 1987, he and David Byrne won an Oscar for their score to The Last Emperor. In 1999 — despite releasing no fewer than nine albums, scores and live sets that year — he debuted his magnum opus, a multimedia opera called LIFE, featuring contributions from Salman Rushdie and the Dalai Lama. More recently he's been designing ringtones for Nokia and experimenting with Reichian New Music, free-form jazz and solo elegies for the ivories. (Chris Martins)
Also playing Friday: YOUNG HUNTING, SURFWITCH at Origami Vinyl; DR. DOG at the Wiltern; YELLE, HAWNAY TROOF at the Echoplex; TRANS AM at Spaceland; HELMET at Key Club; DJAVAN at Club Nokia; JOHNNY FLYNN at Hotel Cafe; SCREAM FESTIVAL: NOISEFOLD at REDCAT; MATTHEW DEAR at Vanguard; ALAN JACKSON at Nokia Theatre; COLD WAR KIDS at Glass House; RAVENS MORELAND at the Redwood.
FLORENCE AND THE MACHINEAT THE WILTERN
Though Florence and the Machine caused scratched heads stateside when they performed on this year's MTV Video Music Awards, back in their native Blighty they're a full-on sensation whose debut album, Lungs, has been a chart fixture for 16 months. But maybe we should speak in the singular, because FATM is effectively astonishing London blues/rock crooner Florence Welch and a technically rotating (if in fact fairly consistent) cast of collaborating musicians. Epic and eccentric yet heartily human, Lungs is a stylistic candy shop (thanks, in part, to its trio of producers) made one by Welch's paranormal pipes — the acrobatic kin of Grace Slick, Siouxsie Sioux and Kate Bush. In concert, the rangy redhead and her minimalist band eat up acres of emotional ground and can be intimate, panoramic and sleekly celebratory — sometimes within the same song. Also Sun. and Mon. (Paul Rogers)
THE HEAVY, WALLPAPER AT EL REY
They sample Screamin' Jay Hawkins without shame, aren't afraid to thrash out the blues, and are led by a man who can shout like James Brown and growl like Chris Cornell (circa Soundgarden, of course). They are England's the Heavy, and they are aptly named. The band's 2009 album, The House That Dirt Built, has been a slow grower, but single "How You Like Me Now?" is nearing ubiquity thanks to some key TV placements, subsequent radio fervor and, of course, the song's undeniable stomp — a red-hot mix of horn blurts, thick bass, crashing drums and searing vocals. Oddly enough, the Heavy are signed to U.K. electronic label Ninja Tune, but that only speaks to their visceral impact and their commitment to exploring the farthest reaches of their sound. Be sure to arrive in time for Wallpaper, the Oakland-based electro-funk duo whose live show is a raucous, highly propulsive and often hilarious (in a good way) three-ring circus of groove. (Chris Martins)
THE GROOVY REDNECKS AT REDWOOD BAR & GRILL
Can a redneck really be groovy? While the juxtaposition of seemingly opposing words evokes Merle Haggard's ornery ditty "Okie From Muskogee," longtime local country-rock combo the Groovy Rednecks somehow make a beautiful mess of their cultural contradictions with plenty of boozy charm. Lead singer Tex Troester and his gang proudly declare that they make "country music for people who don't like country music," in part by pumping things up with good ole Southern rock power. Drinking (and all of its repercussions) is a recurring theme on such woeful anthems as "Tijuana Jail" and albums like Loud Mouth Drunks and the almost poetically titled Wishful Drinkin'. What keeps the L.A. quintet from coming across as a mere joke, however, is the frenetic and fiery musicianship of guitarist Bob Ricketts and former Blood on the Saddle bassist Ron Botelho. (Falling James)
TOO $HORT AT THE KEY CLUB
Of course Too $hort would merge again into the mainstream lane on an E-40/50 Cent track that immediately had to be censored for radio. Why? The original title of the single is the rapper's self-professed "favorite word," bitch. (Pronunciation for the uninitiated: bee-itch, hurled like a curveball.) Even though Short Dog's career highs have been anthems like "Freaky Tales" and "Blow the Whistle," which feature prominently in strip clubs and clubs that encourage girls to act like strippers, he's also a member of that generation of rappers who threw in a warning tale or two with his raunch. "The Ghetto" and "Gettin' It" surely played no small part in landing the Oakland MC on VH1's Hip-Hop Honoree roster. In 2006, a guest spot on Kelis' mack-missus theme song "Bossy" allowed him to shout his favorite word and still gain high approval ratings from all the next-wave hip-hop feminists who'd decided to reclaim the epithet. If that dirty drawl of his weren't so luring, they might buck at his latest effort. As it is, though, they'll just bounce. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
Also playing Saturday: JOHNNY FLYNN at Hotel Cafe; KEVIN GREENSPAN, TUJUNGA, NICOLE KIDMAN, COUP PIGEONS at the Smell.
L.A. WEEKLY PRESENTS L.A. 101 AT GIBSON AMPHITHEATRE
Both Massive Attack and Thievery Corporation are duos fleshed out with as-needed revolving doors of guest musicians. For them this approach offers flexibility, efficiency and constantly refreshed creative stimulation; for us it means an attention-holding variety of voices, versions and never-the-same-twice touring incarnations. Massive Attack's cinematic, sample-strewn stitching of soul, dub and hip-hop reshaped dance music in the '90s. Even if this year's Heligoland, their fifth album, is more evolution than revolution, it remains (with help from Hope Sandoval, TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe and Elbow's Guy Garvey) a beautifully ominous opus. Thievery Corporation are the arch (and perhaps only) exponents of oxymoronic "protest lounge," lyrically wringing the necks of the greedy in velvet gloves of globally inflected ambient electronica on their most recent full-length, 2008's Radio Retaliation. With bold beats and a veritable United Nations of collaborators, the album laments the world's evils — and goes great with a late-night latte. Come early for local tipped-for-the-toppers Red Cortez, Saint Motel and Voxhaul Broadcast on the outdoor CityWalk stage. (Paul Rogers)
XENAKIS: ORESTEIA AT CALARTS
The late composer and architect Iannis Xenakis' strange and powerful Oresteia is based on the plays by Aeschylus revolving around the Trojan War, Agamemnon's murder by his wife, Clytemnestra, and the cycle of vengeance ensnaring their son, Orestes. Xenakis' ambitious ballet-on-steroids is a hair-raising superspectacle whose pounding rhythms and churchy/modernist vocal melodies are aided at CalArts by a 13-piece ensemble of wind instruments, brass and amplified solo cello, CalArts faculty baritone soloist Paul Berkolds and conductor Mark Menzies. Thankfully, hordes of dancers will enact the story, which gets pretty complicated, and there'll be men's, women's and children's choruses roaming CalArts' grounds, with audience members adding to the noise with their own slew of percussion. Performed at CalArts' new Wild Beast music pavilion, this free show is one of a series of Xenakis events at venues throughout L.A. planned for November 2010 through February 2011, including the opening of MOCA Pacific Design Center's exhibition "Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary." (John Payne)
FRONTIER RECORDS' 30TH ANNIVERSARY AT THE ECHOPLEX
Of all the influential late-'70s SoCal punk labels (Slash, Dangerhouse, What Records), only Frontier Records has managed to remain vital over the ensuing decades. The imprint first came to attention with crucial releases by early punk and hardcore bands like T.S.O.L., Suicidal Tendencies and the Adolescents, but eventually expanded its frontiers (so to speak) outward to encompass goth pioneers Christian Death and mid-'80s Paisley Underground outfits like the Three O'Clock, Thin White Rope and Redd Kross and such harder rockers as Naked Prey and the Pontiac Brothers. While this massive anniversary show includes some ringers who weren't actually on the label (including the savage E.L.A. sonic reducers the Stains, art-punk-spazz-jazz misfits the Deadbeats and legendary S.F. radicals the Avengers), the lineup features many of Frontier Records' most iconic acts, such as ongoing O.C. punk brats the Adolescents and their former lead guitarist Rikk Agnew (who also played with the early incarnation of Christian Death). Guitarist Ward Dotson, who conjured those memorably eerie slide-guitar runs on the classic first two Gun Club albums, reunites his Stones-y '80s group the Pontiac Brothers, and the Flyboys reprise their sparkling blend of pop, punk, new wave and surf one more time. Even more thrilling, Middle Class — who literally invented the hardcore genre with their landmark "Out of Vogue" single before stubbornly pursuing a less popular, funky post-punk Gang of Four style — perform for the first time in 30 (!) years. Don't dare miss even a minute of this historic, all-ages, Part Time Punks–sponsored assemblage, which commences at the decidedly un-punk hour of 4 p.m. (Falling James)
LEDISI AT EL REY
Like any good gospel-soul singer, Ledisi's traveled a long road. Originally from New Orleans, she moved to Oakland, studied piano at UC Berkeley and, in 1995 formed a jazzy soul outfit that failed to garner any major-label attention. Pulling herself up by her bootstraps, she released her first album on her own label in 2000, but it wasn't until seven years later, when she signed with Verve and dropped the prophetically titled Lost and Found, that a mass congregation started paying attention. The album, which reveals the kind of calm confidence only a tested-and-tried woman can convey, earned her two Grammy nominations, including the feared Best New Artist nod. Fortunately, the curse of that recognition doesn't seem to have touched Ledisi, whose latest album, Turn Me Loose, has only served to increase her reach. The plaintive altar call "Goin' Thru Changes" continues the saga of Lost and Found's "In the Morning," but bet the collection-plate money on the exuberant "Higher Than This" as being more indicative of her state of mind these days. Produced by R&B heavy hitters Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, it's the victory shout of a woman who finally has seen the mountain peak. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
COMBICHRIST AT THE MUSIC BOX
Sunday the newly remodeled Music Box will be invaded by a bunch of filthy men and their even filthier music. Combichrist has been a favorite in the Industrial scene essentially since its inception in 2003. Like the sound track to a boot camp in hell, they serve up dizzying electronic foundations, pounding duel percussion and intensely violent lyrical themes. Your mom would definitely take this CD away if she found it (or if kids these days had any idea what a CD is). The Combis are back in America after traipsing around Europe's biggest venues with Rammstein, supposedly with a few new tricks up their sleeves since their last L.A. appearance (a surprise show at Das Bunker). Expect some new tracks as well from the September release, Making Monsters, and, of course, fan favorites like "This Shit Will Fuck You Up" and "Shut Up and Swallow." With Aesthetic Perfection, God Module and iVardenphere as support, the bill is stacked like Raquel Welch. (Diamond Bodine-Fischer)
Also playing Sunday: FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE at El Rey; BEAR IN HEAVEN, LOWER DENS, SUN AIRWAY at the Troubadour; PVT at Spaceland.
BILL FRISELL'S BEAUTiFUL DREAMERS AT LARGO
Bill Frisell never seems to go too long without putting together some new project, and tonight the veteran jazz guitarist brings his latest outfit to Largo to showcase the recently released Beautiful Dreamers, his first effort for the Savoy Jazz label. Backed by drummer Rudy Royston and violist Eyvind Kang (possibly the only person alive who's worked with both the Decemberists and Sunn O)))), Frisell pairs rootsy originals like "Sweetie" and the spooky "Baby Cry" with covers of such wide-ranging gems as Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer" and "Goin' Out of My Head," the mid-'60s Little Anthony & the Imperials hit. There's also one lovely number, "Better Than a Machine," dedicated to the late Vic Chesnutt. Expect the same material — with some considerable departures — tonight. (Mikael Wood)
A PERFECT CIRCLE AT AVALON
Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan's sleekly art-rocking side project went on hiatus following the release of 2004's Emotive, but now A Perfect Circle is revving back to life with a West Coast tour that's scheduled to stop at Avalon for three nights. At each show the band — which currently includes Keenan, guitarists Billy Howerdel and James Iha, bassist Matt McJunkins and drummer Josh Freese — will perform one of its three studio discs in its entirety: first 2000's Mer de Noms, then 2003's Thirteenth Step, then Emotive, the last of which consisted of covers of politically minded tunes like John Lennon's "Imagine" and "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye. (The album was released on Election Day.) Keenan recently told Rolling Stone that he and Howerdel are writing fresh material as well, so a sneak peek at some work in progress seems like a safe bet here. Also Tues. and Wed. (Mikael Wood)
Also playing Monday: BLACK APPLES at the Echo; FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE at El Rey; TAMAR KAPRELIAN at Hotel Cafe; STREET SWEEPER SOCIAL CLUB at the Roxy.
SIMONE WHITE AT LARGO
While nostalgic 30-somethings know Damon Albarn as the (former?) frontman of Blur, and nü-ravers and children known him as the mastermind of those wacky Gorillaz, discerning record nerds (regardless of how they feel about Britpop and the postmodern Archies) owe him a huge debt of gratitude as the co-founder of Honest Jons Records, a fantastically eclectic label that showed him to be a man of both wealth and taste. (Rule of thumb: If it's on Honest Jons, get it — you'll like it.) Among all the excellent Moondog and international compilations, Honest Jons occasionally releases the odd contemporary album, including the last two by singer Simone White. White's voice is a delicate instrument, more traditional-sounding than Joanna Newsom's but with a similar ability to interpret lyrics with deceptive and revealing ease. The arrangements she favors on record are of the organic, earthy variety, like vintage Lanois (check out "Worm Was Wood" as a taster). She was supposed to play McCabe's a few months ago with Mia Doi Todd but had to cancel. We're glad she's back. With Sean Hayes. (Gustavo Turner)
Also playing Tuesday: A PERFECT CIRCLE at Avalon; NITZER EBB at the Echoplex; DELOREAN, LEMONADE, SUPERHUMANOIDS at the Troubadour; DAVID DONDERO, THE MOANERS, STAR ANNA & THE LAUGHING DOGS at Spaceland; LEOPOLD AND HIS FICTION at Silverlake Lounge; BLACK WIDOWS at the Redwood; BRANDON FLOWERS at Fox Theater Pomona; POLANSKI SHORT FILMS WITH LIVE SCORE BY SZAZA at Cinefamily at the Silent Theatre.
PAPERCRANES AT BORDELLO
The '80s were a great time for people named Rain; if only Rain Phoenix could start a band with Rain Pryor and Rainn Wilson. While you're waiting for that particular epic supergroup, Phoenix's band Papercranes enters the second week of its Wednesday residency at Bordello. Formed in 2003 as a natural progression from her previous band, Aleka's Attic — founded with her late brother, River, who was lead singer — Papercranes' latest effort is a forthcoming nine-song Manimal record, Let's Make Babies in the Woods, an album infused with darkness unseen in most folk music making the rounds today. It's definitely a welcome departure from the singer-songwriterly twaddle of Papercranes' initial offerings; folk music was never meant to be a hammock knit with guitar strings. They're entering territories of doomed love and wearying loss — a direction that is at last substantive. In this, Papercranes finds its strength. Also performing: The Moor, the Child. (David Cotner)
BARDO AT SILVERLAKE LOUNGE
If Chelsea Handler fronted a band, this might be it. Bardo creates skinny-tied, sassy and sometimes funny power pop wherein sheer quality and Leslie King's slinky timbre trump any originality shortfall. Their poison is turn-of-the-'80s, guitar-based new wave: the Pretenders (a lot), the Knack, Blondie — even an odd nod to Toni Basil's "Mickey" (on their flagship "L.A. Is in My DNA" ditty). Their songs are urgent exercises in efficiency, with King's spunky 'n' punky vocals also capable of being barfly wounded ("Run"), vulnerable/yearning ("You Like Me a Lot") and incongruously Alanis Morissette–ish ("Free to Go"). Teetering at that rare cusp of experience and exuberance, Bardo performs with the honed technique of longtime lovers and the hair-tossing abandon of a one-night stand. (Paul Rogers)
Also playing Wednesday: A PERFECT CIRCLE at Avalon; CANDY CLAWS, CHAIN GANG OF 1974 at Bootleg Theater; KRADDY, DNAEBEATS, HERU at Low End Theory.
BUIKA, LILA DOWNS AT DISNEY Concert HALL
Singer Lila Downs is a bit of an anthropologist, blending trad Mexican folk sounds with more modern strains melted down with blues, jazz, klezmer even. In her intriguing forays into the native Mesoamerican music and language of the Mixtec, Zapotec, Maya and Nahuatl cultures, her voice is a supple and soaring thing — she likes to throw in a bit of beat-poet rap, too, plus she chirps like a bird and hisses like a snake. She's supported by her longtime La Misteriosa band, which includes her husband/collaborator, Paul Cohen. The gasp-inducing Buika is a Spanish-born singer, to put it mildly, of smoky tone, burnished grain and wildly athletic vocal prowess. She excels in a wide range of traditional coplas (torch songs) and other jazz, Gypsy rumba, ranchera and Afro-Cuban-tinged songs of heartbreak and despair — and a woman's will to keep on keepin' on. (John Payne)
RUBÉN GUEVARA AT EASTSIDE LUV
Rubén Funkahuátl Guevara's musical career is so extensive, it's impossible to boil it all down into one short paragraph. What's more, his long and varied backstory is so stellar, it reads almost like the plot of a surreal movie. He's perhaps most widely recognized for his collaborations with Frank Zappa, bringing to life and making real what had previously been Zappa's fictional doo-wop parody Ruben & the Jets. But the Boyle Heights native's roots extend all the way back to 1965, when he appeared with Bo Diddley and Tina Turner on the pop television show Shindig. In the '70s, he reinvented himself as a Chicano activist, fronting the influential band Con Safos and working as a promoter to champion Latin-punk groups like the Plugz and the Brat and such rock en español comers as Tijuana No. Guevara's own music has moved restlessly from his early days as a blues, R&B and doo-wop stylist into stranger, freakier explorations that draw upon jazz, funk and his extensive spoken-word experience (he was once married to the great Angeleno poet Kate Braverman). This magic medicine man is back after too long of an absence with a new album, The Tao of Funkahuátl, which draws upon all of his varied personas, from the funky downtown grooves of the title track and the spoken-word insights of "La Virgencita de Boyle Heights" to the cool blue introspection of "The Eyes of God." (Falling James)
NOSAJ THING, TORO Y MOI, JOGGER AT EL REY
The simultaneous, blog-heralded 2009 rise of both the "chillwave" genre and L.A.'s distinctive electronic scene said a lot about where music was heading. Though one was an outcropping of the indie/psychedelic rock scene and the other found its genesis within hip-hop beat production, both were almost exclusively inhabited by solo bedroom producers, and both came steeped in gooey synthesizer notes, canned drums and rich, ambient-inspired textures. It makes sense, then, that only a year later, the leading lights of those separate scenes should meet up and tour the country together. South Pasadena resident Nosaj Thing has just released a remix set culling material from last year's astoundingly good debut, Drift. That album was a game-changer for instrumental electronic music, on par with work from Aphex Twin and Burial, but warmer and driven by rap bounce. Toro Y Moi, meanwhile, wowed fans and critics alike with this year's Causers of This, a subtle combination of warped-tape warble, '80s percussion styles and dreamy vocals. (Chris Martins)
K-CI AND JOJO AT CLUB NOKIA
Brothers Cedric and Joel Hailey have been through a number of reinventions over the years. When they first took the names K-Ci and JoJo, they and the rest of Jodeci were Pentecostalists looking to break into the burgeoning R&B market. As contemporaries of Boyz II Men, the group was hardly alone, but a young Sean Combs helped them establish an identity all their own: the rough-and-rugged hypersexual bad boys of New Jack Swing. Of course, when K-Ci and JoJo broke off as a duo with 1998's Love Always, their biggest hit was a touching ballad about fatherhood called "All My Life." Their subsequent singles stuck to this format, ultimately dooming the pair to a catalog that, in hindsight, is far more adult contemporary than adult subject matter. That didn't, however, stop K-Ci from fondling himself in front of an all-ages crowd at KIIS-FM's Jingle Ball 2000. Ten years later, it's anyone's guess who'll be taking the stage on Thursday night, but a heaping helping of nostalgia is guaranteed. (Chris Martins)
DEAN WAREHAM PLAYS GALAXIE 500 AT THE TROUBADOUR
Sorry, Dean: Team Damon & Naomi 4eva. (Gustavo Turner)
Also playing Thursday: THE SOFT PACK, KURT VILE at the Echoplex; TENNIS at the Echo; KT TUNSTALL at the Music Box; GAMELAN CUDAMANI at Royce Hall.
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