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Realm of the Senses

CUBIST, TIPPER, ANON at the Hollywood Athletic Club, June 27

In what felt like an oasis of intelligence along Sunset Boulevard’s high school cruising zone, the Hollywood Athletic Club played host to a staggering array of laptop experimentation. These artists weren’t mixing other DJs’ stuff as at most club nights, but mouse-clicking their way through original compositions. Take Cubist, for instance, a Pax/ELM member also known as RD (his real name), who layered gorgeous-creepy swaths of broken-beat downtempo in a frontiersy, intuitive set that was felt as much as heard.

While the commercialism was unobtrusive, the whole point of the evening was a product plug for 5.1 Surround Sound, in which all the rooms on the second floor of this cavernous, once-glamorous “men’s club” were blasting with digital crispness — a first for a Los Angeles establishment, they say. Enter Dave Tipper, a Wimbledon-bred lad whose excellent new Surrounded disc was the main vehicle for pushing the technology to its limits, a prime example being the vertigo-inducing bass-drops at set’s end. Tipper ranged from organic impressionism to ethereal ghetto-tech (on the suave “No Dice”) that basically had nothing to do with the hi-energy breakbeats he’s known for — he saved that for Joseph’s on Thursday.

If only the night had lived up to its bacchanalian promise. With networkers and scenesters crowding the main corridor, peeps were confined to dancing in the beanbag-strewn central room, where scads of pomo/avant imagery would put your soul on ice if you stared too long. While the vibe was more listening party than blowout, that didn’t stop the baby-faced Anon (rhymes with Savon) from laying down the evening’s most thrilling set. She’s got an IDM rep, but this was a warm, most un-nerdy strain of the style — clicks-’n’-cuts floating like free radicals throughout a psychotropic whirl.

THE YARDBIRDS at House of Blues, June 25

The Yardbirds always were a band of intriguing contradictions: A launching pad for a holy trinity of guitar gods, whose finest originals were co-written by their drummer. Ace instrumentalists, famous for extended live jams, whose flair for sonic experimentation flowered most effectively in the context of two-and-a-half-minute pop singles. Earnest students of the blues, whose radical, high-energy approach to the idiom spawned both the MC5s and the Blues Hammers of the world.

All aspects were present and accounted for at this, the Yardbirds’ first Sunset Strip gig in 35 years. The band — featuring original members Jim McCarty (drums) and Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar), as well as bassist-vocalist John Idan, lead guitarist Gypie Mayo and harmonica player Alan Glen — tore enthusiastically through a 19-song set that touched on everything from their blues-wailin’ early days to tracks from their new Birdland album. If some tempos seemed a bit soggy (“Heart Full of Soul,” “For Your Love”), the old Yardbirds magic was in full effect on searing renditions of “I’m a Man,” “Train Kept A-Rollin’” and “Rack My Mind.” Mayo, formerly of British pub-rock legends Dr. Feelgood, totally held his own with the ghosts of Yardbirds guitarists past; his playing generally combined the best of Clapton and Beck, but he also served up some serious Page-style cosmic slop on the dramatic, set-closing cover of Jake Holmes’ “Dazed and Confused.”

Alas, had it only ended there. Special guests Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Steve Lukather and Steve Vai all plugged in for the encore, a shred-happy “Smokestack Lightning” that must have had Howlin’ Wolf turning in his grave like a rotisserie chicken. The impromptu GIT workshop ground mercifully to a halt after about 20 agonizing minutes, but the elegant spirit of the original Yardbirds had long since flown the coop, taking much of the evening’s audience with it. (Dan Epstein)

SLOWRIDERat Fais Do-Do, June 27

If every night were a CD-release night, the world would be forever beautiful — and crowded. At least that’s the sentiment after Fais Do-Do’s fiesta for Eastside galactic jammers Slowrider. Celebrating the completion of their latest recording, Historias en Revisión, Slowrider’s party attracted so many well-wishers that the faithful stood on tables, stood on Fais Do-Do’s regal couches, even stood on each other, while trying to view the sextet. Most weren’t successful, but even the temporarily blind saw Slowrider’s transformation from locals extraordinaire to time-for-national-exposure potentates.

After an introduction by KPFK’s Travel Tips for Aztlán host Mark Torres and an offer of incense to the gig gods, Slowrider began their cruisin’. Novices to the group might have been confused as to how a band proclaiming “There’s nothing certain in this world/In this world everything ends” during one song provoked such joyous jumping from the audience. The secret is Slowrider’s affinity for genres like funk, cumbia and hip-hop conveyed in a form that disdains structure in favor of improvisation. Thus, Slowrider jammed — oh Lordy, they jammed, traversing through countless chord combos until they discovered The One, upon which they’d then enter a groove that seemed to last months. Duly hypnotized, the masses soon followed MC Olmeca’s every request: Clap your hands! Everybody scream! Now the guys! Now the girls!

Olmeca prowled the stage in his funereal makeup while spouting raps, son-style singing and howls of an indeterminate nature. Ever the conscious artist, the menacing sprite threw political tomes at the too-packed house, and even danced while shaking a “Drop Bush, Not Bombs” sign with the vigor of a Green. By concert’s end, he and lead guitarist Carlos Zepeda crouched on the floor in relaxation, gathering their energies for a finale that might very well still be going on. (Gustavo Arellano)

THE MARS VOLTAat the Henry Fonda Theater, July 1

It takes bold souls to escape dusty El Paso, TX, peddling ambitious prog-punk while looking like underfed Santana roadies. Yet that’s what Cedric Bixler and Omar Rodriguez managed with the lauded At the Drive-In, before bravely cleaving the band at the height of its powers to immerse themselves in the even more ambitious Mars Volta, which beckons bong-rock, free jazz and drum & bass into a continually shape-shifting mélange.

Now L.A.-based, the five-piece live incarnation of M.V. was the most touted ticket in town for weeks, and the teeming Fonda was duly fizzing. As on their oblivious and oblique debut album, De-Loused in the Comatorium, the Mars Volta intro’d with the to-and-fro twinklings of “Son et Lumière” against a throbbing drone, before somersaulting into “Inertiatic ESP”’s galloping, imploring tragedy. In the epic prog tradition, the Mars Volta, on record or stage, are not about set-piece songs, instead embarking upon subtly segued, rolling and roiling peak-and-trough odysseys: breathless, fluttering techno grooves; science-project synth-nerd assaults; oddly syncopated guitar convulsions; and Bixler’s lost-on-the-moors, tremulously effeminate wail hovering wraithlike atop the instrumentation. Respite comes only in acid-washed interludes heady in concept and heavy with anticipation. In spray-on hipsters, size-too-small shirts and celebrated ’fros, the Mars Volta are always the Omar and Cedric show: Bixler’s Elvis-via-Daltrey swagger offset by Rodriguez’s ax-flinging, wind-up-toy zeal.

There’s an aching dearth of art in contemporary rock & roll: bands who channel their entire life experience, that daily bombardment of splendor and cruelty, into sound rather than restricting their influences to mere musical stimuli. The Mars Volta may be among art-rock’s last bastions, and it’s worth weathering their rehearsal-room noodlings to receive fleeting transmissions that transcend just beats, notes and words uttered. (Paul Rogers)

TRACHTENBURG FAMILY SLIDESHOW PLAYERS, BEDROOM WALLSat the Silverlake Lounge, July 2

The Trachtenburg Family’s shtick is simple: They attend estate sales and buy slide albums of the deceased, examining the frames for further meaning, embedded narrative, further possibility in lives foreshortened. Dragging even a corner of the unseen into the light is noble; why shouldn’t a couple’s mountain trip to Japan be immortalized? Isn’t even mentioning it insisting that it mattered?

But the Family’s lighthearted treatment is more demeaning than awestruck, and I’m standing here saying they should be awestruck. Their slaphappy drawl is worse than distasteful in regard to the human condition: immoral, an insult to whatever exists. Thom Gunn, unbowed poet of the AIDS epidemic, carved a fitting rebuttal to this kind of thing: Walker within this circle, pause/ Although they all died of one cause/Remember how their lives were dense/With fine, compacted difference. The difference here is one of respect. Perhaps it’d be forgivable if the Trachtenburg’s intent announced itself as one bereft of significance; however, the strut, the blather, the banter, the blubbered projection of self? Imagine They Might Be Giants as Sonic Youth. This is a band gagged with themselves like a sloppy joe with meat, so sure of their importance that I couldn’t shove a spoonful of their too-thick gruel past my lips — unlike the adoring crowd, sitting as if learning instead of hearing.

Bedroom Walls, on the other hand, continued to push romanticore in flame-red suits and feeling, half Morrissey, half Silver Lake. Bedroom Walls, contrary to their own manifesto, aren’t about drinking peppermint schnapps because it’s the last thing in the house — they’re about drinking it as if it’s the last thing in the house. (Russel Swensen)

LOVE UNLIMITED

Barry White once summed up his personal philosophy this way: “I am, you are, and it is.” You only have to imagine the way those words would’ve rumbled their way right through your internal organs to remember how, when Barry White spoke of what is — you and me/and what could be — the man spoke nothing but the truth: Love conquers all.

Well, the big man has now passed on, and don’t you know the world will be a colder place without his engulfing, vibrating charm. White was born Barry Lee in Galveston, Texas, and raised in Los Angeles, where he started his music career early, playing piano on Jesse Belvin’s “Goodnight My Love” at age 11. (White, the future Sultan of Suave, was precocious in matters of the heart, too — he was a relationship counselor at age 14; in jail at 15 for stealing car tires, he said it was hearing Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now or Never” that made him realize he had to change his ways.) As an East L.A.–based multiple talent in the ‘60s, White cut several sides as a member of the Upfronts, the Atlantics and the Majestics, and went on to become an A&R man, manager and producer for local R&B acts including Felice Taylor, Viola Wills and the Love Unlimited vocal trio. White’s career skyrocketed in 1969 when he founded the 40-piece Love Unlimited Orchestra to accompany himself and the vocal trio, conducting, composing and arranging Love Unlimited’s 1972 “Walkin’ in the Rain With the One I Love,” where his own commanding yet intimate basso first made its pulsating presence felt in the hearts and minds of the sweetheart set. The Orchestra’s aerified/wocka-chocka’d instrumental “Love’s Theme” has been called the very first disco record.

During the ‘70s White further refined his perfect pop equation of velvety melodies, lustrous orchestras and his own seductive croon, notching hits like “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby,” “Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up,” “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” and “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything.” Though the chart toppers dwindled during the ‘80s, a whole slew of commercially successful and consistently satisfying ‘90s albums such as the knockout The Icon Is Love confirmed that White really had long been much more than a kitschy disco novelty act; rather, he was an exceptionally gifted singer, composer, arranger and producer of classic pop tunes. Just as important, Barry White was an authoritative, comforting voice whispering sage tips from the Book of Love right into the ears of ambitious hearts worldwide.

—John Payne


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