RUFUS WAINWRIGHT AT THE GREEK THEATRE
The last time Rufus Wainwright came to town, the fabulous New Yorker (via Montreal) performed the collected hits of Judy Garland at the Hollywood Bowl. It's that flair for the melodramatic that keeps fans coming back to the tenor singer, guitarist, pianist and gifted orchestral arranger. While virtually every member of his family is associated with the folk movement, both then and now (see father Loudon Wainwright III, mother and aunt Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and sister Martha Wainwright), Rufus took a decidedly more full-bodied approach to music-making from the get-go. Even his 2001 debut, Poses, was packed with ideas, ranging from trip-hop-like experimentation to the kinds of ornate flourishes that would see fruition on his string-laden Want album series. His latest exploits include an original opera (Prima Donna) and a new, surprisingly stripped-down record. The recently released All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu is predominantly a piano-and-voice affair, but it's still got panache, working three adaptations of Shakespeare sonnets into a loose narrative about a "dangerous woman that lives within all of us." (Chris Martins)
SCARS ON BROADWAY AT AVALON
Scars on Broadway is the on-again-off-again solo expression of System of a Down guitarist/songwriter Daron Malakian. While Scars shares System's style-hopping sense of mischief, some lyrical themes (Charlie Manson, drugs, the Armenian genocide) and a drummer (John Dolmayan), left to his own devices Malakian happily sacrifices metal for melody. SOB's eponymous 2008 debut is certainly a rock record, yet for each of its Johnny Rotten sneers there's a Sgt. Pepper smile; for every burly beat, a burbling keyboard. In concert Malakian's voice struggles to command, but on Scars on Broadway's succinct songs he delivers with a convincing snarl ("Serious"), a wry wink ("Chemicals") and a repeated sigh ("3005," "Insane"). Considering System's multiplatinum success, Malakian has little to prove; his canceling an entire Scars tour a couple of years back because his "heart wasn't into it" suggests that, when he does perform, he means it. (Paul Rogers)
CHIEF AT BOOTLEG THEATER
These local cosmic-country dudes have a lovely new debut out called Modern Rituals that wouldn't sound less modern if it were issued on wax cylinder: Jangly, harmony-drenched jams like "In the Valley" and "Nothing's Wrong" suggest a deep desire to return to those simpler days when guys like Neil Young and Gram Parsons captivated herbally enhanced audiences with melodies and lyrics, not flamethrowing bras and awards-show antics. (Irony alert: Bassist Mike Moonves is the son of CBS President Les Moonves, aka David Letterman's boss/nemesis and the man responsible for Survivor.) Thanks to the quality of their melodies (and to a lesser extent their lyrics), Chief's back-to-the-farm nostalgia staves off the coldly reactionary vibe that often spoils this kind of stuff. You get the sense that they don't think simpler is better, necessarily — just that it's simpler. (Mikael Wood)
Also playing Friday: JOHN HIATT & THE COMBO at the Canyon Club; CROWDED HOUSE, LAWRENCE ARABIA at Club Nokia; L.A. GUNS, FASTER PUSSYCAT, JOHN CORABI, INBERST at Galaxy Concert Theatre; THE CHAIN GANG OF 1974 at the Echo; TCHAIKOVSKY SPECTACULAR with fireworks at the Hollywood Bowl; BAD BRAINS at House of Blues Anaheim; DENGUE FEVER at Levitt Pavilion Pasadena; HEPCAT, INCITERS, BASS HARMONY at the Music Box; CHRIS ISAAK at Pechanga Showroom Theatre; CAPTAIN AHAB, KEVIN BLECHDOM at the Smell.
SUNSET JUNCTION STREET FAIR IN SILVER LAKE
If you find yourself wandering down the middle of Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake this weekend, you're bound to stumble across some legendary musical figures. On one corner, you might run into the wickedly funky riffs of '70s hit makers the Ohio Players; on another, you're likely to witness one of rap's mightiest voices, Big Daddy Kane, backed by the estimable soul crew Connie Price & the Keystones. The Sanborn Stage is especially loaded with funky thrills, including San Diego's festive Latin-soul-reggae assassins the B-Side Players and L.A.'s terminally frenetic punk-funk-ska combo Fishbone. The original lineup of the Bad Brains ramps things up further, powering their early hardcore blasts with far more suppleness and musical dexterity than most punk bands. As sonically intense as their metallic hard-rock songs can be, the Brains' reggae interludes are contrastingly languid and lovely, suffused with a sincere spiritual connection to Rastafarian beliefs. (And they're far more than just an oldies act, having returned to action in excellent form with a quintessentially dynamic 2007 comeback album, Build a Nation, produced by the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch.) Although the two-day Sunset Junction Street Fair long ago outgrew its roots as a simple neighborhood festival, it still remains relevant and tends to have a more racially diverse booking policy than most local indie-scene events. Saturday's highlights include visits from Neil Young protégés Everest; electro-funk Texas duo Ghostland Observatory; local synth-rockers Shiny Toy Guns; J. Rocc's homage to Miles Davis; hip-hop empress Medusa; and disco diva Evelyn "Champagne" King. Also Sun. (See Sunday pick for more details.) 3700-4300 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. (Falling James)
ANGUS KHAN, THE BELLRAYS, THE SUPERBEES AT SPACELAND
There's been a bit of carping that this year's Sunset Junction fest seriously skimps on the real rock & roll — you know, the REAL rock & roll. Well, fret not, fiends, 'cause Spaceland's proffering this super-rocking alternative of the three most authentically rocking and indeed rolling rock-rock-rock bands that L.A.'s ever rocked forth fearsomely. The mighty BellRays bring you the ferally ferocious garage and soul revue featuring vocal powerhouse Lisa Kekaula. These Inland Empire vets haven't been seen 'round these parts too much lately (they're arena-level in Europe), so grab this chance to feel 'em right in your face, and do locate a copy of the BellRays' latest, Hard, Sweet and Sticky (Anodyne). Nickel & Dime artist Angus Khan reshapes the universe with towering twin guitars and wicked-witted frontman Dirty D in a ruff 'n' rocktastic ride on the boss hog of ... ROCK. The Superbees trade in Stooges/MC5/Saintstabulous garage & grease shock & roll, catchy/melodic division. Anyone with a Sunset Junction wristband gets in free; tickets for those without are a mere five bucks. (John Payne)
EATS TAPES, C.L.A.W.S. AT SHOW CAVE
If you're already familiar with L.A.'s organic rhythm renegades Lucky Dragons, it may be easiest to imagine a darker version thereof — something that dwells inside warehouses whose insides never see light and that, after dark, become the stuff of underground raves. That's Eats Tapes, the San Francisco–based duo of Marijke Jorritsma and Gregory Zifcak, a pair of electronicists who enlist modified video-game systems, bent drum machines, hardware sequencers, synthesizers and cassette decks to their undoubtedly evil ends. The songs like "Yes You Didn't" and "Face Shredder" straddle the gap between trance thump and experimental skronk, and it's no wonder they've collaborated with Kid 606's Tigerbeat6 label, home to the likes of Kevin Blechdom and Drop the Lime. Fellow Bay Arean C.L.A.W.S. cuts a more subtle swath between those same influences, delivering something more minimal and less prone to unexpected freak-outs. Think Matthew Dear, but made for an Oakland house party. (Chris Martins)
Also playing Saturday: AL GREEN, THE POINTER SISTERS (see Q&A) at the Greek Theatre; BEN SOLLEE at Bootleg Theater; BOSTICH + FUSSIBLE, MR. VALLENATO at California Plaza; USELESS KEYS at Casey's; DESCARGA at El Cid; KAZAI REX, BODY PARTS, RABBITS RUNNING at Echo Curio; LOS CAMINANTES at Gibson Amphitheatre; SARAH JAFFE at Hotel Café; LA SANTA CECILIA at Levitt Pavilion Pasadena; TIGER IN THE NIGHT at Long Beach Terrace Theater; HEPCAT at the Music Box; ROBEDOOR, GENTLE, WOOM, FORMER GHOSTS at the Smell.
SUNSET JUNCTION STREET FAIR IN SILVER LAKE
Day two's highlights at this weekend festival are all over the map sonically, ranging from the dub-soaked pronouncements of Jamaican reggae kingpin Lee "Scratch" Perry to the trippy Americana of the appealingly folksy collective Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. Texas post-punk trio Girl in a Coma, despite a name inspired by a Smiths song, doesn't really sound much like Morrissey, pairing singer Nina Diaz's romantic musings with soaring, euphoric alterna-rock riffs. Mayer Hawthorne & the County are steeped in soul, while local rodeo sweethearts Leslie & the Badgers write great pop songs that are influenced by Dolly Parton yet still sound fresh and immediate. The subtle, contemplative R&B/soul explorations of Meshell Ndegeocello might not seem like the most obvious sound track for a sunny outdoor festival, but the immensely talented singer-bassist also has a freaky side with her gorgeously adventurous remakes of songs by Jimi Hendrix. The day's lineup also includes sets from Australian singer Sam Sparro, Long Beach acid-rockers Crystal Antlers, indie-rockers the Deadly Syndrome, longtime R&B singers the Whispers and many others. (Falling James)
Also playing Sunday: BOATS, ENLOW, MEKA LEKA HI'S, CUM STAIN at Echo Curio; JOHN MAYER at the Hollywood Bowl; THE SPAZMATICS at Key Club; AGENT RIBBONS at Origami Vinyl; CHRISTIAN SCOTT at Levitt Pavilion Pasadena; BEACH BOYS at Pechanga Showroom Theatre; YOUNG THE GIANT, HAIM, KITTEN at the Troubadour.
TWILIGHT SLEEP AT THE SILVERLAKE LOUNGE
The local band Twilight Sleep live up to their name with a shadowy sound that feels fuzzy and foggy, as if one is trapped between the worlds of reality and dreams. Their new EP, Elk, glows with synth-heavy tracks like "Comme Il Faut" and "Broken Record," which combine the atmospheric wash of New Order with singer Tracy Marcellino's yearning lyrics. The self-described "chronic daydreamer" lists "robots, the light sculptures of Olafur Eliasson and airplane cockpits" as her chief influences, and the band's icy soundscapes are spacey yet danceable. Although Marcellino hails from San Francisco, there is something geographically untraceable in her diction and melodies, with the group sometimes sounding more European than Californian. This moody sense of dislocation is what sets Twilight Sleep apart from most local indie rockers. (Falling James)
FOL CHEN AT THE ECHO
When we last tuned in, Highland Park's arcanely artistic Fol Chen had just released remix EP The Holograms (featuring Teen Daze, Primary 1, Hard Mix and FUR) and a wondrous, weird video watchable on YouTube. This had further warped the bizarrely beautiful bounties of their recent album Part II: The New December (Asthmatic Kitty), which itself had segued smoothly from the schizo saga set amid crackedly harmonized and steamily synth-strewn stew they'd begun on 2009's infamous Part One: John Shade, Your Fortune's Made. The latter tells a story too complicated to get into here but brought giant loads of brain-pinching textural/textual play amid several supremely hummable toe-tappers. Fol Chen are very advanced, musically, and they've got a sophisticated humor. For example, last week, audience members came onstage to record live samples for their next album, and soon after, a press release announced, "Fol Chen Replaces Itself With Metal Band, Singers Found on Craigslist!" Meaning that the band will wrap up their August Monday-night residency at the Echo by featuring Viscera, in performance of the music of Fol Chen. Or something like that. (John Payne)
Also playing Monday: ASSS, BESTIAL MOUTHS, TIK/TIK, WHITE LEOPARDS at Echo Curio; BLIND BOY PAXTON, FRANK FAIRFIELD at Redwood Bar & Grill; WHITE ARROWS, RUMSPRINGA at Spaceland; UNKLE MONKEY at the Waterfront.
TANYA MORGAN, U-N-I, AFRO-CLASSIC, AHMAD AT SPACELAND
Tanya Morgan hail from a place called Brooklynati, which, unless you're logically challenged, you've decoded as meaning they split their time between a New York borough and a Midwestern hub city. But "they"? Yes, Tanya Morgan is not actually a woman, but a hip-hop crew rounded out by rappers Donwill and Ilyas, and MC/producer Von Pea. The three met on a message board run by members of the Roots, so it makes sense that their style represents an equal mix of jazzy soulfulness, measured braggadocio and conscious thought. "Hardcore Gentlemen," the title of a Das EFX–styled song from 2009's Brooklynati LP, might serve as an apt descriptor. Though it's probably not a coincidence, the fact that Inglewood duo U-N-I derives its name from a Roots song ("UNIverse at War") is certainly fitting. Rappers Y-O and Thurzday represent a new breed of South L.A. crew that firmly rejects gangster put-ons in favor of fashion, wordplay and vocal swagger. (Chris Martins)
GZA, FREDDIE GIBBS AT THE ECHOPLEX
Gary Grice is his name, better known as GZA, sometimes aka "The Genius": You all know him from his halcyon days with Wu-Tang Clan alongside cousins RZA and Ol' Dirty Bastard. GZA did some of the best stuff on the Clan's first and best album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and that would include the legendary "Clan in da Front." He's been doing sterling work all over the place since then, including a 1995 solo thing called Liquid Swords, produced by RZA, which is widely hailed as the best thing to ever come outta the Wu-Tang world. GZA also did the way-underrated 2005 Grandmasters set with DJ Muggs, and plans to issue a follow-up to his RZA-produced classic Liquid Swords in the next couple of months. Freddie Gibbs is the Gary, Indiana, and L.A.-based rapper (and not-long-ago L.A. Weekly cover dude) who brings an extremely and quite viciously articulate attack to his hard-core reality raps, and does it with a rare and genuinely thrilling charisma. (John Payne)
Also playing Tuesday: FITZ & THE TANTRUMS at Amoeba Music; CHELSEA BOYS, BUFFALO MOON, TAN DOLLAR at Echo Curio; CHRIS ISAAK, MARC BROUSSARD at the Greek Theatre; ALL SHOSTAKOVICH: LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC with LEONARD SLATKIN, SARAH CHANG PLAYS SHOSTAKOVICH at the Hollywood Bowl; THE MAINE, THIS CENTURY at House of Blues; BONOSSUS & THE GNOMEFLY, PALM READER, TARSISY-PHUS, LINGONBERRIES at the Smell.
JIMMY WEBB AT LARGO
Jimmy Webb is rightly celebrated for the string of hits — "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Up, Up & Away," "Galveston," "Wichita Lineman" — he penned for folks like Glen Campbell and the Fifth Dimension in the late 1960s. Although his songs were massively popular, there was a sophistication and eclectic experimentation that made his compositions inescapably catchy and yet capable of evoking profound emotions. A good example is "MacArthur Park," whose surreal lyrics and lengthy, multipart arrangement made it one of the unlikeliest hits of the decade, especially since it was sung-spoken by Richard Harris, an actor and not a singer. And yet, for all of the camp appeal of this beautiful mess of a song, the tune and lyrics were solid enough to have held up even after a series of disparate remakes by performers including Donna Summer, Waylon Jennings, the Queers and the Negro Problem. Of course, Webb is more than just a songwriter, having released his own series of overlooked solo albums and composed musical and film sound tracks. He has a new album, Just Across the River, which features collaborations with Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson, Billy Joel, Lucinda Williams, Glen Campbell and other celebrity fans/friends. (Falling James)
Also playing Wednesday: SIGNALS, THE CLOUD CITY SOUND SYMPHONY at the W.L.A. Bandshell; RYAN BINGHAM & THE DEAD HORSES at Bootleg Theatre; THE HOLD STEADY at Detroit Bar; CITY OF PROGRESS, WHQLES, RANDOM PATTERNS at Echo Curio; NORAH JONES, CORINNE BAILEY RAE at the Greek Theatre; GERSHWIN ACROSS AMERICA: JASON MRAZ, MONICA MANCINI, BEBE WINANS, NANCY WILSON, ST. VINCENT ALL-STAR BIG BAND & STRINGS feat. SHELLY BERG TRIO, GORDON GOODWIN, ARTURO SANDOVAL, TOM SCOTT at Hollywood Bowl; DEBI DERRYBERRY at Levitt Pavilion Pasadena; TOKIMONSTA, 6BL0CC at Low End Theory; VIBRATION INSTITUTE ORCHESTRA at Royal/T in Culver City; JASON FALKNER at Spaceland.
LUCINDA WILLIAMS, J.P., CHRISSIE & THE FAIRGROUND BOYS AT QUEEN MARY EVENTS PARK
The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde is having a fascinating midlife crisis on Fidelity!, the new album by her latest project, J.P., Chrissie & the Fairground Boys. She found herself both falling in love and starting a new band with the Welsh singer J.P. Jones, describing him in song as "my perfect lover/but he's only half my age." Although the romantic union apparently didn't last, Hynde was so smitten with Jones that they've made a sideline out of musically documenting their relationship. Even with a hot new band, the Fairground Boys, Hynde still sounds much like she does with the Pretenders, but with the added thrill of twining her majestic voice with a male partner's. There are some wonderful moments on Fidelity! (whose title references Fidel Castro's Cuba, where much of the album was written), including the charmingly heartfelt title track. J.P., Chrissie & the Fairground Boys make their local debut at the Grammy Museum on Monday with a short set and a Q&A, but tonight they stretch out with a full acoustic set, opening for Lucinda Williams, whose own bittersweet country-rock songs are a simpatico match with Hynde's and Jones' tangled romanticism. (Falling James)
JULIETTE COMMAGERE, PAPER CRANES, LUKE RATHBONE, ESTELLE RASKINA AT THE ECHO
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Juliette Commagere has got to have one of the most bizarre résumés of any musician trying to go it alone in the City of Angels. As far as others people's bands go, she's played with both Maynard James Keenan's Puscifer project and ... wait for it ... the Bird and the Bee. She's contributed to albums by Avenged Sevenfold and ... one more time ... Ry Cooder. She had a so-so indie rock band called Hello Stranger that toured with Kings of Leon — which also resulted in a collaboration with Vieux Farka Touré — and now she's been reborn as a self-styled artsy type. The thing is, we're not complaining, as her upcoming Manimal Vinyl debut, The Procession, is a fascinating and beautiful 10-song platter. Think label mate Bat for Lashes, her friend Obi Best or obvious inspiration Kate Bush. Pop elements collide with washes of synth sounds, percussion both live and electronic, and mild injections of noise. The ends really do justify the means. (Chris Martins)
Y&T AT KEY CLUB
Though hair metal was as much a decadelong fashion faux pas as a musical movement, it was nonetheless the genre's more capable songsmiths who prevailed. Thus NorCal's Y&T, even without the lipstick shtick and dangerous-to-know swagger of many of their peers, shifted 4 million albums of t-top rock under Reagan and had a waiting audience when they reunited in 2001. Already six discs into their career when In Rock We Trust broke them in 1984, Y&T eclipsed any stylistic mustiness with muscular melodies and frontman Dave Meniketti's valiant, vibrato-tipped bellow. Though they're best known for Baywatch-approved bubblegum single "Summertime Girls," their chuggy-riffed rockers ("Black Tiger," "Mean Streak") and ludicrously melodramatic ballads (notably "I Believe in You") are equally escapist. This year's Facemelter aims too hard for a 30-year flashback but, for Y&T at least, that's a chapter worth re-reading. (Paul Rogers)
Also playing Thursday: BLACK MOUNTAIN, LOWER HEAVEN at Bootleg Theater; THE SPAZMATICS at the Canyon Club; FRANK SINATRA JR., LENNY WHITE BAND at Catalina Jazz Club; LYNYRD SKYNYRD at Gibson Amphitheatre; THE HOLD STEADY, JAILL at the Glass House; THE UNION LINE, THE COLOURIST, YELLOW RED SPARKS, MOONSHINE & THE DRUGS at Grove of Anaheim; NICOLE MITCHELL TRIO at the Hammer Museum; THURSDAY CLASSICS: LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC with LEONARD SLATKIN, JAMES GALWAY at the Hollywood Bowl; HAYLEY TAYLOR at Hotel Café; CHUCK MEAD at Levitt Pavilion Pasadena; SPIRIT ANIMAL at Redwood Bar; KENGE KENGE at Skirball Cultural Center; RADARS TO THE SKY, DEATH TO ANDERS, SMOKERS IN LOVE at Spaceland; NEIGHBORHOOD BULLYS at Weber's Place.