Rock Picks

FRIDAY, September 15

{mosimage}Etta James at the Canyon

R&B/soul powerhouse Etta James is remarkable not only for her prodigious talent but also for her nonstop, five-decade-plus musical campaign, a momentous longevity that has been marked by near-ceaseless performing and recording. And what records they’ve been: From her boisterous, lusty rhythm & blues to finely manicured dainties of passion and agony to deeply communicative jazz readings of pop standards, she has consistently demonstrated a focus, clarity and expressive power that only gets deeper (check out her current CD, All the Way, where she takes on everything from Prince’s “Purple Rain” to James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World). If you haven’t seen her for awhile, do so now — she’s in fighting trim, off that damned stool and working the bandstand with admirable vigor. (Jonny Whiteside)

Tortoise at the Troubadour

It’s not easy to keep audiences guessing, but Chicago quintet Tortoise have a knack for doing just that. Equal parts jazz, electronica and rock, their music follows no predictable patterns. If a melody should become apparent, it quickly disintegrates into scattered bleeps and sporadic percussion. For the past 12 years, Tortoise have created what’s been dubbed “post-rock” for indie kids and cerebral types — they’re musicians’ musicians. If this sounds dull, it ain’t. Tortoise’s live shows brim with energy and improvisation, moving from funky to melancholy with the flick of a Moog synthesizer. Tonight, you might expect a set derived from the band’s most recent release, A Lazarus Taxon (Thrill Jockey), a collection of singles, B-sides and remixes from 1995–2001. But with Tortoise, you just never know. (Laura Ferreiro)

Blackblack, Kraig Grady & Cat Lamb, Hello Astronaut Goodby Television, Polar Goldie Cats at the Smell

Always the fount of fantastic sonic vitamins and minerals, the Smell comes on strong with a satchel of four radically different elements tonight: the black kryptonite of Blackblack, whose singsong pop hebephrenia comes courtesy of sisters Diva (bass, vocals) and Lola Dompe (drums) and guitarist Clark Schädelkopf; the jewel kryptonite dreamscapes of violist Cat Lamb and longtime ethnomusicological stalwart Kraig Grady’s retuned Meta Slendro harmonium tickling. Also: the unpredictable red kryptonite of Hello Astronaut Goodby Television, a sextet veering wildly from passionate pop to thrashy, echoing and bizarre vistas across which no two performances are alike; and the gold kryptonite of Polar Goldie Cats that ages clueless fogies and removes their power of scoff with an angular rock assault via songs due out in November on their upcoming album, Feral Phantasms (Up Records). (David Cotner)

SATURDAY, September 16

Pan Sonic, Airwolf, Damion Romero, DJ Zhao at ADM Project

In electronic music, the distance between idea and impact is often way longer than a donkey dick; not so with Pan Sonic. These sensitive/sensual Finns really take you places you g effect that can be comforting, revelatory, even shocking. Minimalists, yeah, Pan Sonic dig their Suicide and their dub, but they also build visual environments, projecting concise screen images or partying down with armored cars and trains. A brain bath. Also: tech-dance thump from Berlin’s Airwolf, high-concept mechanical abstraction from L.A.’s Damion Romero and turntable freakery from DJ Zhao. 6015 Santa Monica Blvd., Second Floor, Hlywd.; 9 p.m.; $15. (323) 467-7967. Also with Airwolf at Cherry & Martin Gallery, 12611 Venice Blvd.; Thurs., Sept. 21, 8 p.m.; $15. (310) 398-7404. (Greg Burk)

The Rolling Blackouts, Tsk Tsk at the Scene

The Rolling Blackouts’ “Add Vice” 45 (released in 2002 on Kapow Records) is probably the best single of this young millennium. It’s explosive and volatile with a Phil Spector–like production capturing the Blackout’s early-MC5–influenced energy, and nothing from anyone else has topped it yet. Everything the Blackouts have done subsequently is almost irrelevant (which can be attributed to the tepid production and so-so material found on their last full-length, 2004’s Black Is Beautiful). Nevertheless, high hopes abound for these guys, a bit like Mark Fidrych repeating that mythical 19-9 rookie season he had in ’76. Also on the bill is the never-disappointing live act of Tsk Tsk, who couple the wonderful ineptitude of David Thomas’ singing with a White Light/White Heat wall of noise. Simply put: Tsk Tsk don’t mess around. (Ryan Leach)

SUNDAY, September 17

Kinky, Agent Orange, John Doe, Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs, The Diffs, Josie Cotton, The Spores at Bergamot Station

Here’s some hot fun in (what’s left of) the summertime: The inaugural Summer Strummer Festival expands and contracts with an interesting collision of old-school punk-pop performers and newer indie-rock bands, although the event’s “good music, good people, good times” credo apparently doesn’t extend to anything smacking of “rap, hip-hop and metal.” (Don’t tell the promoters, but the glittery dance rock of Monterrey, Mexico’s Kinky, who were just announced as the fest’s surprise headliners, is heavily laced with hip-hop.) Still, there should be some thrilling moments (despite a last-minute cancellation by Concrete Blonde chanteuse/madwoman Johnette Napolitano), ranging from the Spores’ ethereal dance-psychedelia to the Diffs’ swarming ’77-style punk rock obliterations. Josie Cotton’s moody-blue new tunes like “Beautiful but Deadly” are much more intriguing than her ’80s new-wave hits, John Doe explores his reflective side apart from the frantic desperation of X, and Sid & Susie (a.k.a. Matthew Sweet and the Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs) embellish their remakes of ’60s pop with loving charm. This quintessentially SoCal lineup is highlighted by the quintessential SoCal band, Agent Orange, who fuse pop melodicism, surf-rock dazzle and raw punk power — the perfect end to an endless summer. The festival starts at noon. (213) 480-3232. (Falling James)

Tommy James & the Shondells, Eric Burdon & the Animals, The Grass Roots at the Greek Theater

As Satchel Paige, Bob Dylan and the recently reunited ’60s garage-rock combo the Remains used to say, “Don’t look back,” but nostalgia can be compulsively alluring, especially with a strong “K-Earth Legends” lineup like this. Tiffany and Billy Idol might have watered down “I Think We’re Alone Now” and “Mony Mony,” respectively (if not respectfully) — whereas Joan Jett successfully amped up her hazy-dreamy version of “Crimson & Clover” — but there’s nothing like hearing the man himself, Tommy James, crooning these and a zillion other catchy classics like “Draggin’ the Line.” Eric Burdon, who still belts it out with that powerfully soulful pair of lungs, has survived many Animals lineups but is always worth a listen, whether he’s drawing from his early-’60s blues-rock bag or exploring the rambling story-songs of his psychedelic period. Perhaps he’ll even break out some tunes from his recent blues odyssey, Soul of a Man. Another midnight confession: The Grass Roots’ “Midnight Confession” and “Let’s Live for Today” are more than just guilty pleasures; they’re magical touchstones of our collective gloriously misspent youth. (Falling James)

MONDAY, September 18

Ray LaMontagne at the Troubadour

Though his role as America’s premier raspy-voiced crooner is now being challenged by this year’s American Idol champ, Taylor Hicks, bearded lumberjack impersonator Ray LaMontagne makes a strong return on Till the Sun Burns Black, the just-released follow-up to Trouble, the 2004 debut that took LaMontagne from a job in a Maine shoe factory to sudden roots-music celebrity. Till the Sun isn’t as instantly appealing as Trouble, which sometimes felt like a 40-minute distillation of Van Morrison’s 40-year career; the new material is slower and quieter and more dependent upon complicated, string-enhanced arrangements than the debut’s stripped-down strummers. But dig into the disc, and LaMontagne’s gift for gorgeous folk-soul verities reveals itself. Tonight, expect that knack to appear immediately. (Mikael Wood)

Favourite Sons, Sea Wolf at Spaceland

The multinational coalition Favourite Sons trade in what the Waterboys’ Mike Scott would call “The Big Music,” a grand, anthemic sound that soars on emotion and muscular musicianship. Singer-songwriter Ken Griffin fronted ’90s Irish shoegazers Rollerskate Skinny, while his cohorts paid their dues in Philly psychedelics Aspera before crashing together in New York City during 2004. Rabid blogerati have already anointed them serious contenders for the Next Big Thing of 2006 for songs like the hard-charging “Hang on Girl,” eagerly spewing superlatives all over their debut, Down Beside Your Beauty, possibly the most genuinely earnest record ever released on the Vice label. Recalling Doves channeling Ocean Rain–era Echo & the Bunnymen fronted by a civilized Iggy Pop, their refined sincerity is a welcome relief. Promising L.A. atmospheric folkies Sea Wolf share the bill. (Scott T. Sterling)

WEDNESDAY, September 20

Ratatat at the Troubadour

Ratatat’s vocal-free suites of organ jams are something we’ve needed for a very long time. You’ve maybe heard “Wildcat” on KCRW. It has scary puma growls sprinkled into what could be a G8 Summit of Hammond B3s, Farfisas and other retro keyboards. On this Brooklyn duo’s not-presumptuously-titled second release, Classics (partially recorded in Björk’s house), there is a preponderance of tracks with dandy verse-chorus-verse structures that — thanks to Mike Stroud and Evan Mast’s ability to pile on motifs in selective, smart ways — kick into unexpected directions, to say nothing of sampled insect chatter, drum-machine patter and a funky bass line or two. It’s an embarrassment of riches couched in relatively quiet pop songs. With the Envelopes and Panther. (Andrew Lentz)

THURSDAY, September 21

Phoenix, La Rocca at the Wiltern

Phoenix come from France, that great collector of culture from afar. Phoenix, that is to say, are French but make state-of-the-art Anglo-American pop music, for the most part better than the English and Americans from whom they dig. Their upbeat, craving-inducing new album, It’s Never Been Like That (Virgin), is chockablock with super-excellent, tight songcraft that doesn’t skimp on the requisite hooky stuff, where the heart-tugging comes via pretty chords that are also subtly complex and the production is forthright and sunny. While there are no huge surprises within a country mile, upon repeated listening the album feels like a classic, given a screw-tightening, a lube job and a wash & wax. Vroom vroom . . . Also, L.A.’s way-gritty jangly Beatle-y La Rocca perform tracks from their ace new CD, The Truth, on Dangerbird. (John Payne)

Andrew Bird, Cass McCombs at the Henry Fonda Theater

A former part-time Squirrel Nut Zipper, Chicago-based Andrew Bird makes beguiling avant-folk records centered on his violin playing, his whistling, and the sort of surreal storytelling you’d expect from someone who’s spent a considerable amount of time alone on a farm in rural Illinois (which Bird has done). Last year’s The Mysterious Production of Eggs is his most recent album, and probably his best; fans of Sufjan Stevens’ tuneful, bookish material will find much to admire about it. Live, Bird utilizes a digital delay pedal to re-create the album’s delicately intricate sound; he’ll also be accompanied tonight by multi-instrumentalist Martin Dosh, a member of the Anticon indie-rap collective. Opener Cass McCombs plays a more rough-and-tumble indie-folk; like Bird, he sports a sense of humor, but McCombs buries his beneath layers of old-soul weariness. (Mikael Wood)

Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton at the Viper Room

Anyone who’s suffered through Mick Jagger’s solo albums might wonder why the lead singers of well-known bands would need a separate solo career to express themselves, but Emily Haines makes a convincing case for such a duality on her new CD, Knives Don’t Have Your Back (Last Gang). Haines is best known as the front woman of Metric and is also part of the Toronto music collective Broken Social Scene, but the spare, piano-drenched songs on Knives, such as the haunting “Crowd Surf Off a Cliff,” are more intimate than her previous rockist alter egos, evoking John Lennon’s ballads on the White Album. In “The Maid Needs a Maid,” a clever subversion of fellow Canadian Neil Young’s “A Man Needs a Maid,” she tells a lover, “Your mouth should be working for me, for free . . . You could be a good wife to me/I would love to pay for you.” At first blush, “Doctor Blind” appears to be the latest in Haines’ line of medically themed songs, but her somber delivery, backed by a hazy wash of strings, is more subdued than the rabble-rousing frustration of Metric’s “Monster Hospital” — it’s quietly chilling. Tonight, backed by her Soft Skeleton (bassist Paul Dillon and Sparklehorse drummer Scott Minor), she performs two sets, at 8:30 & 10 p.m. (Falling James)

More Stuff!

FRI., 9/15: AFI, Long Beach Arena; ANAVAN, TEENAGE TALKING CARS, THE NEW MOTHER F*CKERS, CREEKBIRD, the Echo; CROSS CANADIAN RAGWEED, HoB; DEMOB, Allen Theater (South Gate); KLEVELAND, the Scene; STARFLYER 59, Spaceland; VAST, Knitting Factory; Y&T, Vine St. Lounge


SUN., 9/17: CYNDI LAUPER, the Canyon; JESSE HARRIS, SASHA DOBSON, the Hotel Café; KELLY JOE PHELPS, McCabe’s; KLEVELAND at Molly Malone’s; L.A. GUNS, Key Club; MAXFEMME, Spaceland; GEISHA GIRLS, DIE PRINCESS DIE (late show), the Echo; TONY GILKYSON, RESTAURANT et al. (5 p.m. showtime), the Echo

MON., 9/18: USA IS A MONSTER, Mountain Bar; DAEDELUS, Temple Bar; SHARP EASE, BLOW UP BLOW, the Echo



THURS., 9/21: AIRWOLF, PAN SONIC, Cherry & Martin Gallery; VIDEO GAMES LIVE (BT, Dweezil Zappa, et al.), Hollywood Bowl; PLANET DRUM, Avalon; CHRIS TRAPPER, Genghis Cohen; ILL LIT, the Mint; RESTAURANT, Harvelle’s; SPINDRIFT, GRAM RABBIT, MADDREHORNS, the Echo; IAN BALL & BEN OTTWELL, the Hotel Café


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