No Ashes Left
|Photo by Wild Don Lewis|
DAVID BOWIE, THE POLYPHONIC SPREE
at the Greek Theater, April 22
The cultlike Texan troupe the Polyphonic Sprees cascades of Beach Boysvs.Wicker Man rapture are well-suited to this balmy setting, and the two dozen robed ones gleefully gather converts tonight. Itll take an inspired producer to capture P.S.s spirit on disc, but live theyre a singular phenomenon whose borderline mass hysteria restores musics therapeutic and communal essence.
The epitome of graceful aging, a blond, beaming David Bowie is casually in control, trim in black jeans and butlers jacket against a marbled stage set and big screens. Bowie lends the stomping opener, Rebel Rebel, a clipped caress recalling Bryan Ferry, then leads his lean six-piece band through a carefully paced set of hits, oddities and dips into last years patchy Reality collection. Part of Bowies enduring allure is an aura at once ordinary-bloke and otherworldly, his self-deprecating spoken segues and distracted demeanor linking moments of gasp-inducing vocal prowess and menace-tinged melody. At his best Ashes to Ashess desolate transmissions, Quicksands wistful wondering, Under Pressures pleading bridge and Morse-code bass line Bowie levitates us to an elegant and dramatic plane distant from our everyday existence, while exploring the self-doubt and alienation that haunt our earthly passage.
at the Wiltern, April 23
Morrisseys You Are the Quarry (the monster spawns in May) took up most of this second of five Wiltern nights. And though we wouldve gone vegetarian cold turkey for even one more Smiths tune, weve taken a quick liking to his latest record, especially the softly strummed, flute-adorned Im Not Sorry, the new hooligan First of the Gang To Die, and the hook-laden encore, Irish Blood, English Heart, during which the traditional tossing of the Morrissey shirt took place. (But oh to have caught the strategically placed flower that grew from his crotch.)
The whole band looked like a Dior Homme ad come to life. But the real fun of a Morrissey gig is the fashion frenzy in front of the stage. So props to that one rather angular, watch-where-you-point-that pompadour blocking many a short girls view. The obligatory set-list gripe: Why did our night have to be denied The Headmaster Ritual? We were ready to do the military two-step, man, but you didnt lead the troops. Well always stretch out and wait for Everyday Is Like Sunday. Theres nothing like a pair of extended hands in front of a back-combed head of pomade beckoning Armageddon. (Siran Babayan)
SYSTEM OF A DOWN
at the Greek Theater, April 24
Here are the true sons and heirs of L.A. rock, and the -ians/yans ending their surnames have nothing to do with it. Tonight, however, System of a Down reminded us of why and how they got to that Greek stage on the backs of ancestors who died and suffered during the Armenian Genocide. This benefit show raised nearly $100,000 for various human-rights organizations including the Armenian National Committee of America, as well as awareness about the slaughter of 1.5 million people by the Turkish government thats gone unacknowledged for nearly 90 years. Sermonizing, though, was forgone for the sake of playing what seemed like Systems entire discography, from P.L.U.C.K. (off their eponymous debut) to Chic n Stu (off 2002s Steal This Album!).
Guitarist Daron Malakian dug a mighty hole through Soil, easily his best work from that first album, and when singer Serj Tankian asked, Dont you/Realize/That evil/Lives in the motherfuckin skin?, so did we. Shoot, the whole House of Pies down the hill mustve heard the chorus of I-E-A-I-A-I-O, which, for three minutes, made the night sound like a 6,000-strong powpow. It all culminated in Malakians take on Sardarabad, a sort of unofficial Armenian national anthem one of those hand-over-heart moments we hope becomes a tradition every time, everywhere. (Siran Babayan)
at the Wilshire Theater, April 17
When Warren Haynes, playing with the Allman Brothers Band in 1996, flashed that he outsang Gregg Allman, outguitared Richard Betts and outwrote both, it was natural that he would take bassist Allen Woody along and saddle up his own Govt Mule. The big bellower still plows some rows with the Allmans, but those who thirst for fresh blues rock thats heavier than Heidegger and harder than a presidents head have crowned the Mule beast of choice since 1997.
Though Govt Mule is incapable of sub-excellence, a number of factors rendered this sold-out event less than ideal. One: It was the bands 1,001st show, the 1,000th having been a marathon blowout in Frisco the previous eve, so weariness was a consideration. Two: The Mule can drag when their special guests dont cut the jam, tonights examples being simplistic, amorphous hauls with Ben Harper (lap steel), Hook Herrera (harmonica) and former Black Crowe Marc Ford (guitar). Three: Lanky Andy Hess (another ex-Crowe), tabbed as the permanent replacement for the late Woody, is a solid boomer but not a muleskinner.
Still, greatness triumphed. Haynes voice poured out the sufferin soul on Banks of the Deep End a crowd-stroking marriage of Ohio and Hotel California and milked a miraculous range of tonal shadings from his Gibson palette, with the Firebird an especially unearthly howlmaker. Drummer Matt Abts flogged the butt of the beat with clean, deep power. And Danny Louis densely distilled keyboards really spiked the punch. By the time they slammed into the chopped-chicken riff and speedball jam of Mule, their hair was on fire, there was wiggling in the aisles, and the bars were drunk dry. (Greg Burk)
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