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One Band, Under God

Photo by Jason Amos

LIFT TO EXPERIENCE at the Silver Lake Lounge, June 29, and at the Derby, June 30

Talk about cojones: These boys opened with "Kashmir." Is there really anything to add? Okay, here: A guitar-bass-drums trio from Denton, Texas, going onstage at 7:15 p.m. on a Saturday night; that stage being in a small, hole-in-the-hood Silver Lake bar not particularly suited to magnificence; playing to a hundred or so folks -- some club regulars, some bar regulars, some AA-meeting-next-door spillover, some just curious, almost none familiar with the band. Think about it a sec: choosing to cover Led Zeppelin, the most popular rock & roll band of all time -- and not just any song by that band, but "Kashmir," for crissakes, easily Zep's most massive, exotic track -- and not just cover it in the middle of the set, or as an encore, but as an opener, as something you're gonna have to try and follow.

And it's a genius move. If you're a (relatively) young band playing to an unfamiliar, alien (and jaded L.A.) audience, opening your set with "Kashmir" certainly gets attention. And if you can seam it into an instrumental cover of one of your own songs -- as LtE did the first night, seguing into "Just Was Told" -- you're showing a staggering amount of confidence and ambition. Then again, it's not likely you'd have a problem getting a response in the first place, looking how you do: that is, with a horned bull skull stage center, a Texas flag draped over the bass amp; Josh (The Bear) Browning -- a bass throbber of burly frame, serious beardage and eyes-closed concentration; Andy Young, a drummer with the build of the sturdiest steak house either side of the Rio Grande, leaning forward on the stool Keith Moon­like, switching between mallets, drumsticks and handclaps, cymbals in perpetual perpendicularity; and Josh T. Pearson, a gangly, scraggly-haired guitarist-vocalist in biker Nudiewear and bracelets, wearing a cowboy hat ringed by thorns.

And then there's your music, introduced periodically as being from your album, which is about the final battle between Good and Evil that will occur in the Promised Land, which, you remind us, is actually Texas. Cue guffaw track from the local agnostics, followed by open-mouthed, slow-headbanging awe, as they realize you artist-mystics mean it in the deepest way. The rhythm is muscular, spacious, dynamic; the guitar is meditative, gossamer drone parted by noise mass and riff shapes; and the vocals, when they finally come, are uniquely full and rich -- triumphant yet resigned -- sung in a beautiful voice of steady comfort.

When you open that Saturday-night show at that little bar on Sunset, you're standing below a neon sign that says "Salvation." You can't lose. By the time you finish Sunday night's Derby show with an epic rendition of your debut, double-disc concept album's 10-minute-plus apoclimactic closer "Into the Storm," you've made a missionary-zealot pout of everyone. After all, you are the most exciting, fully formed art-rock band to bow since Sigur Rós.

You're the kind of band that can follow Zeppelin.

PUFFY AMI YUMI, IRVING, THE BLOKES
at Spaceland, July 5


Puffy Ami Yumi
Photo by Gergory Bojorquez

The most resilient rocker in Hollywood, Ken Andrews hasn't had much luck since he broke up his underrated original band, Failure. And if his post-Failure synth-popsters On never lived up to their promise, Andrews got quickly back in the saddle with the Blokes, peddling deceptively straight-ahead grunge-groove that the early arrivals at Spaceland dug -- even if they didn't know it yet.

With their grainy, paisley-tinged power-pop and Strokes-like shag cuts, Irving got tonight's crowd -- an incongruous mix of Japanese tourists and hipsters with yellow fever -- loose of limb and game for all things retro. The band's strum-a-lumma vibe was pitch-perfect, but Irving proved capable of ratcheting up the fare to Sgt. Pepper levels, as they did with "El Cid," a winsome bit of whimsy from their forthcoming LP.

Correcting their Western image problem one gig at a time, Puffy Ami Yumi wasted no time dispelling the myths that they are 1) a Japanese version of the Spice Girls; 2) that they are some unintentionally hilarious Pink Lady & Jeff­style novelty act. Co­front woman Yumi Yoshimura charmed our sox off by reading a handwritten note in broken English and hastily adding, "We . . . hope . . . you . . . like . . . this." While "huge in Japan" doesn't mean much on this side of the Pacific, Puffy's high-octane blast of dumb-rock superfun has no problem translating. By singing nearly the entire set in their native tongue, they not only shatter the notion that English is the language of rock & roll, they're recycling American pop idioms and selling 'em right back to our kitsch-worshipping asses in the process. And with all the devil-horn flashing going on between the band and the crowd, you have to wonder who's making fun of whom. (Andrew Lentz)

 

THE GOLDEN BATS, THE SUPER BEES, BAD APPLES at the Dragonfly, July 5

It was a night of facial tics. Bad Apples' lead singer had control of an Elvis/Sid sneer that he could push nearly into his nostril while the band played basic garage rock and he performed frantic "Is he really that drunk or just fakin' it?" physical antics. Songs like "Do You Want To Party" and a cover of Mellencamp's "R.O.C.K. in the USA" gave them a "we've just turned 15 and this is our first beer" rock feel.

Tonight was a record-release party for the Golden Bats and "Bottom Feeders" from that album rocked with spare guitar riffs and a very cool lyric: "I always wanted to be down with the bottom feeders because they understand me." Bats guitarist/singer Arye has thick, perfectly shaped eyebrows that illustrate a point with the preciseness of a neurosurgeon; he swung out on his Les Paul, playing a rock that was smooth and technically clean, while his voice often lilted into something reminiscent of a young Elvis Costello. Lura on bass sported a punky Cruella de Vil­inspired coif and started out bell-clear on backing vocals, then went a little muddy. She effortlessly and with great posture pick-pulsed her steady bass lines in fabulous glitter heels and a sneer or two, perhaps inspired by Bad Apples. (Was it catching?) Meanwhile, exceptional drummer Markie put richness and fullness in his sound without being over the top -- and he's a total babe to boot!

The Super Bees have a group case of puckering, pouty lips; they were tight, romping-stomping and heavily '60s-fortified, filling the night with a moody rocking sound that stuck with all the little bees as they hummed back home to their hives. (Pollyanne Hornbeck)

MOMUS, RROLAND, SUPER MADRIGAL BROTHERS,
THE GONGS, PHIILIIP
at Spaceland, July 6

What's better than Momus all to yourself? That's easy: The American Patchwork Records Tour, featuring the cracked visions of all four bands on Momus' label topped off by the randy Glaswegian himself. Of course, you could also have called tonight "The Return of Baroque Analog," starting with Rroland's doodlings on, yep, a Roland SH3A analog mono synthesizer. Super Madrigal Brothers' twinkling blippity-bleep was at times banal, but you gotta love any band that can bridge the 500-year gap between courtly Renaissance dances and synth-pop.

The Gongs -- a ragtag crew of Ohioans that formed less than a year ago -- were discovered by Momus when he stumbled onto a free concert at Oberlin College. Having been compared to "the lapidary alpine glockenspiel of Webern's Five Pieces for Orchestra" but perhaps closer to Harry Partch doing gamelan, the Gongs' orgy of crisscrossing twang on homemade instruments (from the just-released Rob Reich) fully satisfied the room's collective craving for bumpkin troubadours from outer space.

But it wasn't until Euro-trash gadfly Phiiliip showed up that things got truly bent. Like a Larry Clark model with rabies strutting across the Dior runway, Phiiliip (real name Philip Guichard) pulled off a seductive blend of electro-clash melodies and drum-machine aggro from the long-awaited Pet Cancer. While his new book, The Fevered Sea, is soon to be published by the Black Ice Press, the precocious 20-year-old American musician-writer-artist was contributing to The Village Voice while still in his teens. Not surprisingly, he currently resides in Berlin, where so many musical freaks seem to be incubating these days. Oh, and Phiil, loved the one-sleeved vinyl-bleed jacket . . .

After the evening's parade of curios, there was a palpable need for the highbrow toilet humor of Momus, and the pirate-patched ectomorph drew a throng that befit Spaceland on Saturday night. As long as he was telling us everything we didn't want to know about his penis and the ambiguous pleasure of coming into a girl's mouth, Momus pushed all the right buttons, until a riff on John Ashcroft got a glancing boo. He even graced us with a rejected Pizza Hut commercial he'd composed back in the day, then graciously thanked past shags in "Everyone I Have Ever Slept With." One of his more libidinous devotees uttered sotto voce, "If only I were so lucky." (Andrew Lentz)

400 BLOWS
at Bar Sinister, July 6

 

What the fuck is this? In the Transylvanian courtyard of this goth bastion, up jump three blokes in matching black military shirts: gargantuan guitar, tiny drum kit, convulsing front man and no bass. 400 Blows cater to no one: They lay mongrel, punk-spiked indy-metal on the slab and let us love it or leave it, vocalist Skot making no secret of his bemusement at the unlikely surroundings. After a close call with an uncooperative PA, they spew up the rotating, hypnotic sludge of opener "Premature Burial." It's eons before the vocals enter, and when they do they're an unintelligible, sneering rasp, part John Lydon, part -- amid an unwelcome wash of reverb -- Bauhaus.

"Bull That Killed the Matador"'s unifying bombast -- like most things dark, dense and distorted -- owes much to Sabbath; it's "Iron Man"­inspired blasts and breaths juxtaposed against ever-shifting self-flagellating rhythms. Nothing stays still for long in 400 Blows' harsh world, the unpredictable perversions of groove and pace the improbable common ground between death metal and emo-core. Skot squirms through the single-string, bee-in-a-bottle bridge of "The Gods Are Laughing at Us," resembling Kelsey Grammer's disowned, disturbed offspring on his first day at the academy. In a perpetual half-crouch, he wields his mic stand horizontally, Daltrey/ Mercury-style, but more as a punctuating weapon than a mere baton to be twirled.

Though out of place -- Bar Sinister is awash with misfits, but not this breed of misfit -- 400 Blows enthrall all assembled for much of their brief assault. The sheer unapologetic enthusiasm, zero-attention-span song structures and waves of bomber-drone guitar crack even the masks of the assembled Manson-spawn, and converts are many by the time the spitting nursery-rhyme verses of "The Bards Must Drink and Junket" close the set. Disconcerting though they are, without those black shirts 400 Blows could be the guy in the next cubicle at your office; in a club where looking outlandish is the norm, the truly fascinating freaks are all onstage tonight. (Paul Rogers)

THE CRANBERRIES
at the Greek Theater, July 5

Sometimes it's when a band's past its commercial prime, yet still a functioning creative unit, that -- with the benefit of experience and back catalog -- it produces its most liberated live performances. Depeche Mode's Exciter tour last year made the point, and now here come the Cranberries: A decade since their ubiquitous hit "Linger," the Irish quartet are delivering their post-Smiths Celtic pop with understated mastery and unfettered joy.

Bravely beginning with a trio of cuts from last fall's largely ignored Wake Up and Smell the Coffee album, the Cranberries' concert incarnation (augmented with second guitar and keys) clearly can buff up even insipid material. This band was always about elfin vocalist Delores O'Riordan, and it's her show from the moment she appears in fake-fur jacket and masquerade mask, traversing the stage with the oddly mechanical motions of a malfunctioning kung fu droid. But it's that transfixing voice -- by turns spring-water pure and from-the-throat raw -- that elicits gasps from an all-but-full Greek Theater. While that voice is an addictive instrument on disc, the studio has never fully captured the desperate, last-sound-on-Earth wail that rolls out across the hills tonight.

The insistent menace of '94 politico-single "Zombie" gets the venue to its feet, and a night of mutual respect is under way. The Cranberries adroitly marry the familiar and not-so, indulging in enough crowd pleasing to keep the new material palatable. Fully appreciating less-is-more, the band's instrumentalists stand back and let O'Riordan's pipes and presence take the reins, and together they're effortlessly in control: Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way" crescendoes into a frantic "Salvation," before they're begged back for encores culminating in the inevitable "Linger." Though a woman of few words, O'Riordan has an affinity with the audience rooted in her singular, lost-in-the-moment bearing -- never mailing it in, never patronizing. In an increasingly one-album business, where gigs are like blind dates, tonight is a reunion of lost loves. (Paul Rogers)

SURVIVAL RESEARCH LABORATORIES at PORT Gallery, July 6

Survival Research Laboratories appeared tonight in Los Angeles for the first time (not counting the 1989 studio taping for ABC's Incredible Sunday) since their 1985 action at LACE, Extremely Cruel Practices: A Series of Events Designed To Instruct Those Interested in Policies That Correct or Punish. They and their suicidal, fratricidal robots manifest outside of the PORT Gallery, a space propitiously situated across from the Bodice 'n Knit. Smoke billows forth as people trickle in, eventually creating a crowd of more than 300 in the erstwhile business thoroughfare. The sound consists mostly of a high-pitched whine. People clamber onto all available elevated vantage points, even as flames voluminously envelop one of the machines. This is the arena of the spectacle, but it's a spectacle that needs to be seen at the outskirts -- one very big drawback. A small piñata and several photos of monsters and other beings in biological distress hang above the staging area amid the tension and the torsion.

 

The occasional loud boom sets off car alarms, and smoke rises to meet jetliners on their departure from LAX. Gunshots here, gunshots there. A robotic backhoe labors in tandem with a cannon to knock the photos off the lines onto which they've been affixed. Jets of flame immolate the piñata, which is filled with fireworks, and the Toys R Us mascot head is completely alight now -- great gouts of smoke belching forth as it drowns in a lake of fire. Bits of ash settle on the audience, the skull of Baby Geoffrey peels open, the Fire Department arrives, and there is much grinding and throwing of projectiles, the nature of which is not disclosed. No fewer than six different kinds of fumes and smoke can be smelled -- happy dry cleaner! Toward the end the sound becomes almost too much -- a wide perimeter of people with ears held close pulses outward to escape.

A Survival Research Laboratories action is a process of adjustment, of eyes to bright light, of ears to loud sound, and of modern humans to a culture that has every opportunity to be cold, sterile and remote. (David Cotner)


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