Music Picks: Tift Merritt, Clinic, Microscopic Septet
THE BANGLES, THE DOLLYROTS AT THE ROXY
Presented by Daisy Rock Girl Guitars, tonight's benefit for Covenant House California and Nikki Sixx's Running Wild in the Night is titled "Pretty in Punk," which may seem pretty ironic since the bill is headlined by the defiantly poppy Bangles. However, the longtime L.A. quartet used to play on bills with bands like the Descendents and Redd Kross, and singer-guitarist Vicki Peterson's early gem "Want You" has a genuine punk drive and desperation underneath those sumptuously exhilarating harmonies. Some critics might dismiss the Bangles as an '80s oldies band, but their 2003 CD, Doll Revolution, proved that they can still write vital, memorable songs. Former CSI: NY guest stars the Dollyrots have a harder, more overtly punk rock sound that's influenced by the Muffs and has drawn supporters like Joan Jett, who signed them to her Blackheart Records label. The SoCal trio has always had a lot of fizzy, fuzzy energy, but it has only been on recent albums like Because I'm Awesome and 2010's A Little Messed Up that singer Kelly Ogden's songwriting has approached the level of her influences. (Falling James)
TIFT MERRITT AT THE TROUBADOUR
When Tift Merritt first came to national attention with the release of her debut album, Bramble Rose, in 2002, she was marketed as a country singer, but she also revealed flashes of soulful R&B and even a little bit of rock & roll. Although the North Carolina singer-pianist-guitarist traffics in a generally mainstream and safely retro sound, her original songs sometimes are imbued with flashes of literary ambition and a restless wanderlust. Merritt likes to place herself in unfamiliar locales to find inspiration, such as moving to Paris to write the material on her 2008 CD, Another Country. Her fourth studio CD, See You on the Moon (Fantasy Records), is a more downbeat affair than her previous, wider-ranging releases, but there are still some lovely moments scattered among the more sentimental and pedestrian tunes. This duality is reflected in her choice of cover songs. On the one hand, Merritt's savvy enough to reinvent Merry-Go-Round mastermind Emitt Rhodes' obscure "Live Till You Die"; on the other hand, she gets pretty banal on a mawkish remake of Kenny Loggins' mediocre "Danny's Song." Let's hope that in the future she steers away from the middle of the road and comes closer to embodying the spirit of one of her new lyrics: "I've been waiting outside/most of my life/oh like a rare b-side."
WILD FLAG AT SPACELAND
They're already calling it a supergroup: Wild Flag is Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, both formerly of Sleater Kinney, plus Mary Timony from Helium and Rebecca Cole from the Minders, and this is their first tour, and are you wondering what they sound like? Well, so is everyone else. Wild Flag has decided not to provide any music online — any music anywhere, for that matter, be it streaming MySpace tracks, iTunes, even YouTube footage. "We get a lot of inquiries as to when people can hear Wild Flag," they say online. "We've answered this question before, but here it is again: You can hear us on tour first." It's a daring approach, but these women have made their names, careers and legions of fans by defying convention. Of course, it's set the Internet to begging: "Please consider posting audio and/or video of the shows!!!" said one Facebook fan. "I'm so excited for a potential East Coast tour in the spring, and *need* something to tide me over (:>Look at all the buzz you're causing! [We] haven't even heard a note of your music, and we already love the band." So: no instant gratification or internet experts. Instead, it's everyone's first time when Wild Flag plays Spaceland.
Also playing Friday: TUNNG at the Bootleg Theater; WHITMAN and EZRA BUCHLA at Origami Vinyl; COSMONAUTS, BLACK ELEPHANT, DAHGA BLOOM and DEVON WILLIAMS at the Smell; KELIS at Club Nokia; AVI BUFFALO and LORD HURON at the Echoplex; RICHARD THOMPSON, HARRY SHEARER and JUDITH OWEN at UCLA.
THE CRAZY SQUEEZE AT THE REDWOOD BAR & GRILL
Stitches guitarist Johnny Witmer hails from Ohio, where he was schooled by such legendary bands as the Pagans, the Dead Boys and Rocket From the Tombs. Unlike so many punk refugees from colder climates who've ended up basking in the California sun, he actually has a similarly encyclopedic knowledge about the L.A. scene and a refreshing curiosity about SoCal punk history instead of the usual condescension about how we're all plastic poseurs who hang out at Disneyland. His latest project, the Crazy Squeeze, combines all of his wide-ranging influences into one brand-new geography. Singer Frankie Delmane howls tunes like "C'mon and Dance" and "All Lies" with plenty of insolent swagger, while bassist Chris B churns up a boozy punk racket behind him. Drummer Johnny Sleeper also taps out insistent piano lines that add an air of glammy decadence, and Witmer ties everything together with those Johnny Thunders–style sweet-&-sour string bends. They really are crazy, man. (Falling James)
CLINIC AT THE TROUBADOUR
In its 13 years of existence, Liverpudlian foursome Clinic has been remarkably reliable. Every two years, without fail, the band delivers a brand-new slab of spiky and dangerously off-balance post-punk — typically fast and more or less furious. But 2010 brought a change. Unironically titled Bubblegum, the group's sixth album is its easiest yet to love, and rather than barrel through 13 tracks guitars a-blazin', it does indeed invite the listener to sit down and chew things over. That's not to say a song like the dreamy, acoustically driven single "I'm Aware" is a complete departure. Even Clinic classics like "Walking With Thee" displayed an off-kilter brand of beauty — and new ones like "Love Is All Around" are plenty disturbed — but the guys have never slowed it down like this. Whether that bodes well for the live show remains to be seen. (Will they don their surgical masks only to sit down on stools and strum?) But there's only one way to find out ... (Chris Martins)
J. COLE AT THE KEY CLUB
To pluck from the lyrics of Jay-Z, the mastermind who's priming him, J. Cole's "not a businessman — he's a business, man!" The magna cum laude St. John's University graduate and 2010 XXL Freshman seems to have adopted a tried-and-true, old-school approach in this oversaturated new-media world. Instead of flooding the internet with every rap he's ever recorded, the Fayetteville, N.C., native has put out just three mixtapes, the third of which, Friday Night Lights, was released not even a week ago. The strategy's working: As the first artist signed to Jay-Z's label, Roc Nation, his yet-to-drop debut album has the entire (online) gymnasium chanting. Co-opting the New Orleans Saints' co-opted catchphrase, "Who Dat," for the first and only single so far, J. Cole sounds worthy of the hype. Over a slightly menacing beat punctuated with hand claps and overlaid with horns that wobble like a high school marching band's, he raps with the confidence of a first-round draft pick: "The mind state of a winner: When you thinkin' 'bout summertime, I'm thinkin' 'bout the winter/When you thinkin' 'bout breakfast, I'm heatin' up my dinner/I was plottin' this moment back when y'all was ridin' spinnas." Most anticipated rookie rap release of the year? If you build it, they will come. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
YACHT AT MONDRIAN/SKYBAR
Yacht mix mysticism with fashion sense to produce a kind of music that's a little headier than the usual fare from DFA. That they're playing Skybar comes as no surprise, however. Yes, it's a great place to be seen, and it carries with it a subtext amusingly at odds with the disclaimer that precedes their video for "Psychic City (Voodoo City)": "Due to our strong personal convictions, we wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult." These personal convictions remain unrevealed, doubly surprising seeing as Yacht are, first and foremost, a "Band, Belief System, and Business conducted by Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans of Marfa, Texas, and Portland, Oregon." They're also an Experience, clean, danceable audio and even cleaner visual lines converging to remind you that there is in fact a very primal, occult reason for Skybar to exist in the first place: community and ceremony, centered on the symbology of the chalice, aka the martini glass with which you just toasted Yacht. (David Cotner)
Also playing Saturday: PETER KOLOVOS at Dem Passwords; NITE JEWEL and HOLY SHIT at Central Social Aid & Pleasure Club; BOB MOULD at the Bootleg Theater; TOMMY SANTEE KLAWS at HM157; PIZZA! at the Smell; JON BRION at Largo.
MICROSCOPIC SEPTET'S JOEL FORRESTER & PHILLIP JOHNSTON AT CAFÉ METROPOL
The key to really hearing and feeling the late, great Thelonious Monk is getting inside the man's message that his music must be very serious and very crazy all at the same time. Everyone knows about Monk's tendency toward wild harmonic and rhythmic leaps within his pieces; in fact, they bopped so fugging powerfully because you could hear him chewing his way out of the restraints and conventions of the crusty-musty jazz tradition, which he in fact revered. Understanding that "something old + something new" equation is what New York's venerable Microscopic Septet have got down like muscle memory, and now dig their new Friday the 13th: The Micros Play Monk on the ace Cuneiform label, which features this insanely inventive band in wickedly modern interps of Monk's farsightedly skewed visions. The Micros are co-led by composer-arranger-saxophonist Phillip Johnston and composer-arranger-pianist Joel Forrester, who'll perform their spare 'n' spiky duo versions of Monk's masterpieces, as well as other Microscopic faves. Note that this will be an early performance, noon-2 p.m. (John Payne)
DESTROY ALL MOVIES!!! AT CINEFAMILY
This weekend, Cinefamily is presenting "DESTROY ALL MOVIES!!!: The Complete Guide to Punks on Film," a two-day film festival in support of Fantagraphics' new guidebook to almost every punk rock film ever made. While you'll get plenty of Mohawked youths wreaking havoc on film starting Saturday, Sunday's program is a particularly special peek into punk celluloid history. First up at 2 p.m. is the classic concert film Urgh! A Music War, directed by Derek Burbidge and featuring now-legendary punk and new wave bands like X, Oingo Boingo, the Go-Gos, Dead Kennedys, Gary Numan, the Cramps, Devo, Klaus Nomi and others. This screened during Cinefamily's "Post-Punk Junk" series last year — by far the most exciting and tightly curated of the Music Thursdays screenings they've done so far. As a bonus, Cinefamily's also throwing in deleted footage found in the international version of the film. After Urgh! at 4:30, they've got La Brune et Moi and Shellshock Rock, two fantastic and rare films documenting the French and Irish punk scenes. Both also screened at last year's Post-Punk Junk festival, so if you missed out last time, here's your chance to make up for it. The third program of the evening is The Slog Movie with Desperate Teenage Lovedolls, a Dave Markey double feature highlighting West Coast punk, with director and star in person! After party with Part Time Punks at the Echo, where your ticket stub will get you in for free. Cinefamily is the last stop on the "DESTROY ALL MOVIES!!!" book tour, so expect very special guests on Sunday for the grand finale, too. See GO LA. (Lainna Fader)
Also playing Sunday: ZS at the Smell; EISLEY at El Rey; JOHN WESLEY HARDING at McCabe's; THE SATIN PEACHES and WEREWOLVES at Spaceland.
DIRT DRESS, THEM HILLS, ZIG ZAGS, WONDER WHEEL AT SPACELAND
L.A.'s own Dirt Dress offers an off-the-cuff alternative to those who appreciate the retro rock & roll & blues of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club but who can't stand that band's self-important bluster. The members of this band — Noah, Jose and Raymond — probably would ride motorcycles if they could climb out of their druggy haze, but we're not asking them to. Noah's opiate drawl brings to mind Iggy at times (see the MySpace demo "Religion/Drugs") and Mick at others (check out upbeat jangler "Sonic Death" from their Perdido en la Suciedad 2 EP), and the spare backing skronk and fuss are just enough to keep feet stomping and heads bopping. Not that we know anything about their extracurricular activities, but we have a feeling there's a bit of personal truth in the lyric, "For some people, drugs can be the answer." The grungy slowcore downer pop of Nevada City's Them Hills will make for a good pairing. (Chris Martins)
Also playing Monday: GWAR at the Glass House; MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE at House of Blues; SASSAS SOUNDSHOPPE OPEN IMPROV SESSIONS at the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts; DAR WILLIAMS at the Hotel Café.
UNSANE, 400 BLOWS AT SPACELAND
Tonight's lineup is perfect for clearing out the cobwebs in what's left of your brain. New York City scum-rock veterans Unsane crank up an unholy din that's so heavy, loud and sludgy, it's almost cathartically pure and certainly scarifying. Unlike other noisemakers, the trio comes from two different directions at once, embodying the experimentation and art-rock doom and gloom of early Swans and Sonic Youth, as well as Lower East Side peers like the Reverb Motherfuckers and Cop Shoot Cop, while also drawing upon the more elemental influences of extreme punk and heavy metal. If you've ever wondered what a buzz-saw factory might sound like as it sinks into a tar pit during an earthquake, Unsane is your band. 400 Blows might be named after the film by French director François Truffaut, whose work often dabbled in poignant coming-of-age stories, but there's nothing sweet and endearing about the local trio's pummeling attack. This "band apart" (to paraphrase a title by another French New Wave director, Jean-Luc Godard) is more interested in tearing things down via such scabrous rants as "The Average Guy" and "The Beauty of Internal Darkness." Prepare to turn on, tune in and drop off the face of the earth. (Falling James)
BELLERUCHE AT THE BOOTLEG THEATER
It's no secret that soul is back, so rather than simply celebrate the past or lament another throwback trend, let's look at someone who's pushing the sound forward. London's Belleruche have been a KCRW favorite from the beginning, and it's not hard to understand why: The trio's electronic-steeped brand of sultry groove is incredibly easy to engage with. But it also has gravitas, partly owing to the fact that vintage soul isn't the only blast from the past that appears on record. (Check out their recently released 270 Stories.) While Katherine deBoer's vocals glide and vamp, and Ricky Fabulous' bass and guitar work leave little to be desired, the most vital and unexpected ingredient comes from the in-band turntablist. Yes, DJ Modest mans the decks, and he has a touch that brings to mind Kid Koala's additions to Dan the Automator's circa 2000 output (Deltron 3030, Lovage). Turntable Soul Music was the name of the group's 2009 debut, and it's hard to imagine a more apt descriptor. (Chris Martins)
VINCENT GALLO'S RRIICCEE AT EL REY
He courts it, yeah, but Vincent Gallo does seem to invite a bit of reflexive aggro with whatever he does, whether as a movie actor, director of films like Buffalo 66 and The Brown Bunny or model with the moody mug in all those high-fashion spreads. So guess what? He's a musician, too, but an accomplished one, going by the subtle folkie-electronic charms of his solo albums on Warp, When (2001) and Recordings of Music for Film (2002). Way back when, he also collaborated with artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in the New York no-wave combo Gray. Gallo will, of course, get cynical flak for his new musical project, RRIICCEE, wherein he and a rotating cast of players (which tonight will consist of multi-instrumentalists Woody Jackson and VOICEsVOICEs' Nico Turner) attempt spontaneous composition live onstage. Nothing's written or rehearsed, and it's not, says Gallo, to be confused with the endless tedious solo noodling of hairy old jam bands. Gallo has no plans to record and release this music; you've gotta go hear them do it live, if you wanna hear it at all. (John Payne)
Also playing Tuesday: BARRIO TIGER at the Redwood Bar and Grill; KITTEN at the Echo; MIDNIGHT JUGGERNAUTS at the Echoplex.
TAKE, AUSTIN PERALTA, STRANGELOOP AT THE AIRLINER
It can be difficult to keep up with L.A.'s prolific electronic scene, mainly because the quality of the output is so consistently high. But even amidst the year's fantastically strong crop of releases — from Flying Lotus, Baths, Teebs and Lorn — Take's Only Mountain is a peak to be sure. The album is moody but a burner — propulsive but great for headphones, too, as it effortlessly cycles through dubby rhythms, clattering turntable samples, cascades of synthesizer melody, digital effects and rich textures. Austin Peralta is one to look for in 2011. The son of legendary Z-Boy skater and director Stacy Peralta has been composing and performing piano-based jazz since a very young age (Sony Japan released two of his LPs before he was 17), and he has a presumably electronics-oriented album due out on Lotus' Brainfeeder label in the near future. Among the collaborators thereon is Strangeloop, a visuals expert and ace beat manipulator in his own right. (Chris Martins)
BLACK MOUNTAIN, THE BLACK ANGELS AT EL REY THEATRE
Black is beautiful — and who better to impart that particular truism than the psychonauts piloting the Dropout Boogie Tour? Austin psyche merchants the Black Angels, riding high on the success of the "Telephone" single from their Phosphene Dream LP — phosphene, the little sparkle you see when you rub your eyes, should not be confused with phosgene, a suffocating nerve gas smelling of newly mown hay — which marks a break from their longtime association with newly transplanted-to-L.A. label Light in the Attic. Their music still shudders and keens and undulates as mesmerizingly as it ever has: There just comes a point at which you stop rubbing your eyes and begin to dream. Black Mountain, the psychedelic quintet from the Great White North, release their records on the hotly tipped Jagjaguwar label, boasting titles like "Druganaut" and "Bastards of Light." Their latest album, Wilderness Heart, is more of the same: powerfully hazy riffs, high attention to the grimy groove and more turning on, tuning in and dropping out than all the digital television transitions ever made. (David Cotner)
Also playing Wednesday: TALIB KWELI at the Roxy; ATTACK! ATTACK! at House of Blues; MR. GNOME at Silverlake Lounge; AFSHIN & MEHRSHAD at the Palladium.
SHOWTIME AT SKINNY'S LOUNGE
Tired of doing the Funky Chicken? Then you should dance the Funky Turkey, along with the Mashed Potato and any other seasonally appropriate steps, tonight at the dance-music event Showtime. On an evening when even the wildest bars are shuttered in deference to the Thanksgiving holiday, the NoHo hangout Skinny's Lounge keeps things moving with an evening of R&B and neo-soul grooves. So whether you have nowhere else to go or are simply tired of hearing your drunken uncle's old war stories and/or watching the Detroit Lions lose their annual Turkey Day game, Showtime presents a lively mix of funky music and Def Jam–style comedians to free your mind from tryptophan on a night when the rest of Los Angeles seemingly rolls up its sidewalks and goes to bed early — just like a hick small town. (Falling James)
Also playing Thursday: THE DETROIT LIONS at Ford Field.
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