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Myth Spell

Photo by Wild Don Lewis
SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM

at the Echo, February 19

Fantasy metal tiny and fat, then suddenly dying and reborn a thousand years old. Blacked-out teeth. Instruments built from scratch. Hardcore road dogs living a real adventure everywhere they go.

Nils Frykdahl, looking like Maria Callas combined with late-period Worf, is a master of storytelling. The band shares in the singing duties, but he’s the central character. Carla Kihlstedt is a dreamgirl; her violin seems like a portal sometimes. Having heard her in many bands (including my own) and many settings, I think of her as one of a small gang of musicians who can render me completely speechless. The rain came through a hole in the ceiling and fell steadily onto her as she rocked out like a madman. Dan Rathbun (ex–Idiot Flesh) is the mastermind behind the sonic assembly, a dealer in low frequencies. The part where he used the big longbow instrument made out of a branch, which he plays by stepping on a high-hat pedal — well, that was the highlight. Sleepytime’s music, which is damn complicated at times, is held together effortlessly even with two new members: hard-hitting drummer Matthais Bossi (ex–Skeleton Key) and multi-instrumentalist Michael Mellender.

The show began with little bird’s-nest sounds wrapping the happy, packed audience in a signature Sleepytime spell. At first the gurgles and grunts of the 200-pound J.Lo-on-crack next to me seemed to be all part of the dream. But as the show progressed, her boyfriend began talking about who in the band might be a faggot, and with her burp-laughing, “Ew!!! Fags? Gross!,” I kinda lost the thread. I wanted to stick pencils in their eyes.

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum played four new songs and a ton of old ones. Dark, dark communications. Operatic enchantment. Sound as warning. The Earth as machine. Demise and daydreams. Discomfiture in the urban environment. Super fun. A mythical night.




JILL SCOTT, RAPHAEL SAADIQ

at Universal Amphitheater, February 14


In harsh and bitter times, it’s hard to celebrate the happiness of someone who’s rich, famous and getting fucked so good that she gets out of bed to fry chicken wings in gratitude. But the ecstatically married — and testifying — Jill Scott, earthy goddess of food and sex, exudes a joy that’s contagious, flavored with familial warmth and down-home graciousness. The singer-songwriter’s Valentine’s Day concert delivered everything that’s come to be expected: healing sermons, show-stopping powerhouse vocals, intimate (even raunchy) between-song banter, and lots of audience participation, with a band — especially her horn section and percussionist — that steadily amped up the energy level. Evenly mixing tunes from her two studio albums, she brought new, wholly unexpected vulnerability to the climax of her brawling-in-the-streets classic “Gettin’ in the Way,” she absolutely rocked on a funky, house-overhauled version of “Golden,” and turned “Bedda at Home” into a New Orleans–flavored, hand-clapping throwdown. But for all Scott’s spoken-word and theater roots, the show’s pacing often dragged (especially during ballads), it was about three or four songs too long, and that twirling-stomping modern dancer was just wack.

The opener, Raphael Saadiq, seemed hamstrung and slightly tense from the moment he took the stage, but he was fly in his dapper ’40s gear. Though he performed a few songs from his latest album, Ray Ray, his set was wisely weighted toward the hits — his own, those of his former group, Tony! Toni! Toné!, and others he’s had a hand in writing: “Kissing You,” “It Never Rains in Southern California,” “Anniversary” and an encore of “Get Involved.” His band was tight, and he worked the stage with workmanlike professionalism, dashing about and striking cool-brutha poses the whole while. But the role of warm-up guy was clearly a constricted setup for a man who’s fashioned himself into nouveau R&B royalty.

—Ernest Hardy



MATES OF STATE, AQUEDUCT, SMOOSH

at the Knitting Factory, February 19


If Hello Kitty lived in L.A., she definitely would have made this sold-out scene. (Think I saw the Little Twin Stars getting carded at the bar, though . . . ) It was the cutest concert in town: children in the audience; children onstage; girls, gimmicks and harmonies; hardly any guitars. (Jack Black says keyboards don’t rock, but oh how they do roll!)

Although Mates of State headlined, openers Smoosh pre-emptively stole the show. Two sisters from Seattle, ages 10 and 12, Smoosh play lovely, lyrical indiepop using a keyboard and drums. Yes, their youth is compelling, as is their androgynous resemblance to early Hanson, but these are real musicians with an important message of freedom, honesty and radness for all — their one rap song, radly titled “Rad,” features the winning chorus, “Uh huh uh huh yo! I’m rad!” (Note to the dudes screaming at them between songs: You are creepy.) Indie vet Eric Erlandson was overheard commenting, “There’s hope for the future.”

Heartbroken clowns Aqueduct represent the ultimate supergeek smackdown, led by a chubby guy in a plaid shirt on keyboards, no less. With nostalgia-tripping songs about girls and listening to Guns N’ Roses on the radio — and a cover of the Geto Boys’ “Damn It Feels Good To Be a Gangsta” — you wanted them to morph suddenly into 1990-era Ween. They didn’t, but their finale, an earnest cover of “Don’t Stop Believing,” felt all right.

Mates of State, a husband-wife drums-keys duo from S.F., got the most impassioned crowd response, which made this fan feel like a jerk for checking the clock after an hour of joyous piano pop. Confession: I’d come to hear my personal Song of the Year, an anthem to heroic love called “Drop and Anchor” — which they didn’t play. S’okay; I got Smooshed, and that’s what counts.

—Kate Sullivan



LOS TIGRES DEL NORTE

at Universal Amphitheater, February 11

The rain couldn’t stop the loyal fans in the cocked Tejanas (cowboy hats). With the tiger sound effects and tiger images on the video screen, we knew this would be a heavy night of puro Sinaloa.

In shiny embroidered black outfits, the Tiger quintet — the Hernández brothers and their cousin Oscar — quickly roused the crowd, as front man Jorge attacked his accordion (one of six laid out on the stage) for “Contrabando y Traición,” the song that started the whole narco-corrido sound. Brother Hernán, the one with the white skunk stripe in his hair, plucked his tricolor bass on the norteño “Rosita de Olivo,” which also featured boisterous sax from brother Eduardo. Although the brothers sing many boleros románticas, the staple of their sound is the polka-rooted norteño, which tells true tales like “Pacas de a Kilo” — a song about Sinaloa drug smuggling, peppered with machine-gun sound effects.

A woman walked up to guitarist Luis, the youngest member, and handed him a piece of paper; he handed it to Jorge, who read out the request for “También las Mujeres Pueden.” It’s a tradition, and that’s how Los Tigres played most of their 30-plus-year discography, including “Jefe de Jefes,” “Pedro y Pablo,” “De Paisano a Paisano,” “La Puerta Negra” and “La Sorpresa” (from the new Directo al Corazón, dropping March 29). “That’s why we’re here, to sing your songs,” Jorge told the crowd. Not only did Los Tigres pose for every single cell-phone camera, Jorge even sang all of “La Camioneta Gris” into a fan’s cell. The peaks: the crowd favorite “La Puerta Negra,” and 1973’s “La Banda del Carro Rojo,” which brought back memories of this writer’s arrival from Mexico. The night ended with “La Jaula de Oro,” a classic tale of an immigrant trapped in a golden cage. It seemed to touch many — a young white couple even walked up to Jorge and shook his hand.

—Ben Quiñones


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