|Photo by Wild Don Lewis|
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 hes 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 (exIdiot 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. Sleepytimes music, which is damn complicated at times, is held together effortlessly even with two new members: hard-hitting drummer Matthais Bossi (exSkeleton Key) and multi-instrumentalist Michael Mellender.
The show began with little birds-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, its hard to celebrate the happiness of someone whos 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 thats contagious, flavored with familial warmth and down-home graciousness. The singer-songwriters Valentines Day concert delivered everything thats 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 Orleansflavored, hand-clapping throwdown. But for all Scotts spoken-word and theater roots, the shows 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 hes 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 whos fashioned himself into nouveau R&B royalty.
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 dont 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! Im rad! (Note to the dudes screaming at them between songs: You are creepy.) Indie vet Eric Erlandson was overheard commenting, Theres 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 didnt, but their finale, an earnest cover of Dont 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: Id come to hear my personal Song of the Year, an anthem to heroic love called Drop and Anchor which they didnt play. Sokay; I got Smooshed, and thats what counts.
LOS TIGRES DEL NORTE
at Universal Amphitheater, February 11
The rain couldnt 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. Its a tradition, and thats 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). Thats why were 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 fans cell. The peaks: the crowd favorite La Puerta Negra, and 1973s La Banda del Carro Rojo, which brought back memories of this writers 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.