Rock Picks: AC/DC, Dressy Bessy, Meshell Ndegeocello
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 5
The Atomic Sherpas at Taix
The Atomic Sherpas do some of the heaviest musical lifting in town, and yet you don’t have to pay half a month’s rent to see them at some impersonal enormodome or stand in line waiting in vain at a trendy, hipper-than-thou Hollywood hot spot. Most of the time, they’re laying it down for free — that’s right, free — at such low-key joints as Taix. It’s not like you’re getting them on the cheap because they’re still learning to play or figuring out their musical potential — these guys come fully assembled. The Sherpas are equally at ease rambling through the intricacies of James Brown’s “Ain’t It Funky Now” and jazzing it up on a supertight version of George Benson’s “Clockwise,” both from their live album Blowin’ It at Ya (YakTone). Bandleader/saxist/flautist Vince Meghrouni also composes his own dizzyingly dazzling, madcap instrumental opuses, such as “Sprechenzie Bebop,” giving guitarists Carey Fosse and Matt Lake a firm base to launch their spiraling solos, while drummer Matt Sessa attempts to nail down the ever-expanding edges of this full-force hurricane with scattershot agility. (Falling James)
Joshua Kerr benefit at House of Blues
Joshua Kerr is a hard-working local musician who had just landed a sweet gig playing bass for Andrew Stockdale’s revamped Wolfmother, but, on the way home from the studio, he was knocked off his bike by a hit-&-runner and left for dead in front of Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The story doesn’t get any more macabre, but guess what? For the uninsured, a badly broken elbow can hurt like a bitch (aside from the painful complications, there’s that tune of $26,000, which keeps on chirping around his head). That’s where the Bangkok Five, a handful of other caring bands and, hopefully, you come in. Even though it’s for charity, this is one prix fixe that doesn’t skimp on quality. The Bangkok Five, for instance, are a premium-label (Sony/Red), alt-rock-meets-garage-rock band who have toured the world and whose charismatic front man, Frost (with his devout flock of “Kokettes”), has been known to upstage the likes of the Cult’s Ian Astbury. And offering more exotic fare is Kaura, whose guitarist Ben Rojas helped put the event together. (Daniel Siwek)
The Submarines at the Echoplex
If you missed the Submarines earlier this fall at the downtown Detour festival, here’s a chance to catch the husband-&-wife duo in a more intimate venue. The real-life story of the ups and downs of Blake Hazard and John Dragonetti’s romantic relationship reads almost like the lyrics to a love song: They used to go out with each other earlier in the decade, broke up, separately wrote some breakup tunes, and when they ran into each other in the recording studio in the process of tracking those songs realized that they were still in love. Everyone loves a good love story, and perhaps there’s a certain irony that their music became increasingly popular after they got back together as the Submarines. How could they ever break up again, with the world breathlessly awaiting their latest musical update? “Here am I with all of the pleasures of the first world laid out before me,” coos Hazard (the great-granddaughter of F. Scott Fitzgerald) on the jaunty pop march of “You, Me and the Bourgeoisie,” from their recent CD, Honeysuckle Weeks. None of this would matter, of course, if she and Dragonetti weren’t making such thoughtfully charming music, which ranges from the ethereal dreaminess of “1940” to “The Wake Up Song,” where Dragonetti evokes Chairman Mao in describing their relationship. (Falling James)
Also playing Friday:
ROGER McGUINN at Smothers Theatre, Pepperdine University; MIKE NESS at El Rey Theatre; JONATHAN RICHMAN at Ventura Theatre; THE DONNAS at Brixton South Bay; BETH HART, GIRL IN A COMA, PRIMA DONNA at the Knitting Factory; RELENTLESS7 at the Mint; CORREATOWN, THAILAND at Mr. T’s Bowl; LADYFINGERS, BONEBRAKE SYNCOPATORS at Redwood Bar & Grill; DON CARLOS at Saint Rocke; JUDITH OWEN & HARRY SHEARER, JULIA FORDHAM, JULIANNA RAYE, STEVE POLTZ at Steve Allen Theater.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 6
Dressy Bessy at Spaceland
A few years ago, the Denver band Dressy Bessy released an inescapably catchy gem of a song called “Electrified,” from the album of the same name. In the quick spaces between its fuzzy stop-&-start guitars, Tammy Ealom sang enigmatically abstract lyrics about evolution and relationships (or something), coming off a little bit like a caffeinated-bubblegum version of Kim Deal. Of course, the Breeders singer never wore mod ’60s miniskirts, Day-Glo tights and go-go boots, whereas Ealom’s playful sense of fashion and love of bold colors saturate Dressy Bessy’s groovy new CD, Holler and Stomp (Transdreamer). Ealom’s arty cut-&-paste lyrics are just as pleasingly disconnected on the quartet’s new poppy-punk anthems, such as the hot-pink valentine “Do You Whisper?,” where she cheerfully ignores some guy’s advice that she “stop acting pretty.” Guitarist John Hill, who also plays with the Apples in Stereo, adorns kicky tunes like “In Your Headphones” and “Sindy Says” with effectively loopy little licks. Dressy Bessy are silly but smart, as when Ealom chants, “You want a simple type of girl, a simply happy girl . . . It must be obvious I cannot be yours.” (Falling James)
AC/DC at the Forum
There’s nothing more iconic than the crushing sound of Malcolm Young’s massive slabs of staccato riffs, as his brother Angus Young uncorks pent-up, squealing guitar ejaculations that spurt wildly all over the place like champagne erupting from a shaken bottle. It’s been far too long since these awesome Aussies hit these shores — their Stiff Upper Lip album was released way back in 2000. Luckily, their new CD, Black Ice, is a stronger set of songs, thanks in no small part to early era drummer Phil Rudd, who rejoined (and revitalized) AC/DC in 1994. He lays down some non-flashy but reliably pulverizing rhythmic judgments on smokin’ tracks like “Big Jack” and “Rock N’ Roll Train.” Brian Johnson’s throat-ravaging howls are as scabrously scarifying as ever, although he doesn’t have the late Bon Scott’s gift for writing stupidly brilliant, sexually punning lyrics. You’d think that the new “War Machine” might have something to say about Iraq or Afghanistan (pro or con), but it’s an apolitical jumble of nonsensical clichés. Meanwhile, the dirty, sidewinding slide guitars of “Stormy May Day” serve to remind that, underneath all of the volume and distortion, AC/DC are ultimately more bluesy than heavy metal. Also Mon. (Falling James)
Also playing Saturday:
AIMEE MANN, NELLIE McKAY, GRANT-LEE PHILLIPS at the Wiltern; SLIGHTLY STOOPID, BAD BRAINS at Hollywood Palladium; CHRIS BROWN, KATY PERRY, ESTELLE at Honda Center; DEKE DICKERSON at the Bordello; THE MONOLATORS at Pehrspace; SIMON STOKES, DOGWEED at Taix; OVER THE RHINE at the Troubadour; RHOADS TO OZ at the Whisky; JUDITH OWEN & HARRY SHEARER, JULIA FORDHAM at Steve Allen Theater; BLUE JUNGLE, CRYSTELLES, MAD LOVERS at American Legion Post 206, Highland Park; THE LIKE, WHISPERTOWN 2000 at Fourth & Main sts., dwntwn., 6 p.m.; WOVEN, NINJA ACADEMY at Hangar 1018.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 7
Little Joy, Dead Trees at the Troubadour
The Strokes’ Fabrizio Moretti, feeling restless, formed this little supergroup Little Joy, named after that infamous dive bar you’ve heard about; along for the ride are the drummer-guitarist’s Brazilian pal Rodrigo Amarante and sultry deadpannist Binki Shapiro, who provide the vocals, chimes and visual focus. So what do they sound like? None dare refer to them as mere pop lightweights, because, while this breezy, puffy pop takes its cues from shuffling bossa nova, pre-reggae Jamaican tones and the more non-threatening of ’70s AM pop-chart effluvia, it’s the vaguely melancholy side of the mellow-mode Velvets, which seems like the meat of the matter. Meanwhile, Dead Trees’ King of Rosa on Milan Records is a prime slab of the best that indie rock has to offer, in all its unaffected guitar-rocking power and, yes, sincerity. The songs are superbly crafted, evoking eras going back to the Civil War (they’re reminiscent of the Band that way) and choogling their way back and through a glorious synthesis of ’60s outlaw rock & roll. (John Payne)
Monsters of Shamisen, Shamalamacord at Sozenji Buddhist Temple
Three years ago, I ran in to a Santa Monica nightclub, intent on catching the Fishtank Ensemble, the spectacular internationally born, California-based Gypsy-flavored virtuosos. On my way to the stage, I literally tripped over two young freaks sitting on the floor, both plucking exotic three-stringed instruments. I was bewildered yet bewitched by the intensely twangy, beguiling sound. “What’s that?” I asked. “It’s a shamisen,” said one freak, who turned out to be Kevin Kmetz — the other being Mike Penny, both Fishtankers. Kmetz and Penny have teamed up with Masahiro Nitta, who, some say, is the best shamisen player in the world, as Monsters of the indigenous Japanese ax. Also on this afternoon’s bill of big fun is Shamalamacord, featuring Penny and Aaron “Duckmandu” Seeman, another Fishtanker who, as the premier punk accordionist, is known for uncanny renditions of Dead Kennedys songs. These slightly twisted fellas all possess the noble ability to push the Earth’s music to new sonic realms and, by implication, push Earthlings themselves. 3020 W. Beverly Blvd., Montebello; 4 p.m. (323) 724-6866, www.sozenji.org. (Michael Simmons)
Also playing Sunday:
THE HENRY CLAY PEOPLE, THE MONOLATORS at Alex’s Bar; BIBLICAL PROOF OF UFOs at Relax Bar; CAPTAIN AHAB, HOP-FROG KOLLECTIV at the Smell; MIKE WATT & THE SECONDMEN, SIN 34, HORNY TOAD at Air Conditioned Lounge, 5 p.m.; DAEDELUS at Silent Movie Theatre.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 8
Meshell Ndegeocello, The Coup at House of Blues
There’s no real use describing the music Meshell Ndegeocello makes: Since emerging a decade and a half ago with Plantation Lullabies, the New York–based singer/multi-instrumentalist has released folk records, jazz records, soul records and rap records; the only creative fealty she knows is her rigorous devotion to a multifaceted muse. Fronting a five-piece band including drummer Deantoni Parks (who’s recently played with the Mars Volta, among other acts), Ndegeocello will perform selections from her latest, 2007’s avant-R&B The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams, and she’ll preview material from a forthcoming album called All-American Fight Songs for Love and Wartime; according to a press release, the new disc consists of “largely pub-inspired ballads.” Oakland-based agit-rap openers the Coup haven’t released a new CD since 2006’s Pick a Bigger Weapon (their debut for Epitaph), but you can bet that recent world events have inspired them to cook up something fresh. (Mikael Wood)
Also playing Monday:
AC/DC at the Forum; XU XU FANG, WINTER FLOWERS at the Echo; JAKE LA BOTZ at Redwood Bar & Grill; THE MOVIES, RADEMACHER, SARAH NEGAHDARI at Spaceland.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 9
The Nightwatchman, Boots Riley at El Rey Theatre
Because he’s got plenty of impassioned things to say about truth, justice and the (un)American way, it’s no bummer to hear Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello do his bare-bones acoustic-folk act as the Nightwatchman. (Well, no more of a bummer than hearing about misery and corruption always is.) Still, dude is probably one of the five unique guitarists in current rock music — limiting his arsenal seems an awful lot like a waste of resources. Fortunately, Morello expands his sonic palette a bit on The Fabled City, this fall’s follow-up to his 2007 Nightwatchman debut, One Man Revolution; showgoers desperate for Rage’s hard-swinging funk-metal should request the new album’s “Whatever It Takes.” Fans of opener Boots Riley’s like-minded hip-hop duo the Coup probably have plans to catch the band’s gig with Meshell Ndegeocello Monday at House of Blues; tonight, the MC performs Coup tunes, accompanied by acoustic guitarist Carl Restivo of Perry Farrell’s Satellite Party. (Mikael Wood)
Also playing Tuesday:
KANYE WEST, T.I., BUSTA RHYMES at Gibson Amphitheatre; CHICAGO BLUES REUNION, INDIGENOUS, LADY DOTTIE & THE DIAMONDS at House of Blues; AGNOSTIC FRONT, LEE VING at Key Club, 7 p.m.; MIKE STINSON, DAVE GLEASON at Redwood Bar & Grill; THE MONOLATORS at Spaceland; K.D. LANG, MANDY MOORE at the Troubadour.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 10
Ruben Guevara at Eastside Luv
Any examination of Los Angeles’ Chicano rock & roll scene leads to Ruben Guevara — not simply for the reason that the cat was there at its very dawn but also because he has played a crucial role in its evolution. He began his musical life as a doo-wop rocker with the Apollo Brothers, playing at the legendary El Monte Stadium, then steamed through the ’60s as a powerhouse soul balladeer with a regular spot on the network-TV show Shindig. His career took a significant twist after he picked up Frank Zappa’s parody platter Cruising With Ruben & the Jets, which resulted in a congenial confrontation — where the singer explained that Zappa’s caprice mirrored almost exactly his own life — and Guevara ended up fronting the band. But Guevara’s passion for, and involvement with, Chicano and Mexican culture led him into more contemplative territory (where he created his alter ego Funkahuátl, “the Aztec god of funk”). A complex and compelling figure, Guevara promises that tonight will “refunkafy and stir-fry your feet, heart and soul.” Since he’ll be joined by all-star members of Thee Midniters and Oingo Boingo and special guest John Densmore, it’s clearly a case of truth in advertising. (Jonny Whiteside)
Kassin + 2 at the Hotel Café
The uniquely sensual charms (head + feet + heart) of the music that these Brazilian guys do individually and collectively on their albums on the Luaka Bop label (see Futurismo, Sincerely Hot and Music Typewriter) is arguably the real future of Brazilian music, a truly progressive approach to molding the classic heartbeat rhythms and heart-wrenching melodies of historical sambas and exploiting the pure musical intelligence inherent in the style. While a lushly sexy bossa vibe pervades everything this trio does (albeit sometimes in subverted, sneaky ways), their experiments with rocking, psychedelicizing and generally modernizing the form make for a consistently fascinating — exhilarating, actually — trip into the potentially vast realms of great Brazilian music. (John Payne)
Also playing Wednesday:
THE PRETENDERS, CSS, BLOC PARTY, BLACK KIDS at Club Nokia; SULLY ERNA at Henry Fonda Theater; LEDISI at El Rey Theatre; HIGH ON FIRE at the Knitting Factory; MARGARET CHO, MICHTO PELO at Largo; ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA at the Roxy; OBSTACLE CORPSE, HUMAN HANDS at the Smell; POP LEVI at Spaceland; HEAVY D at the Viper Room.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 11
Murs at El Rey Theatre
Nicholas “Murs” Carter titled his latest solo album Murs for President, which would be a righteous slogan in almost any other election year. However, the freethinking, free-rapping former member of Living Legends had much tougher competition in November than the usual white-establishment figureheads who inspire such protest candidacies. But Murs is certainly more socially farsighted, historically aware and grounded than, say, your average governor from Alaska, and his lyrics go far beyond typical narcissistic, gang-glorifying rap. “You do what you can to make it out the trap/and that right there is the origin of rap,” he announces on the new CD’s philosophical centerpiece, “The Science,” which works both as a succinct history lesson and as an individual statement of purpose and determination. “It wasn’t always played on every radio station/It was us making the best out of a bad situation . . . We took turntables and start flipping it/Stole electricity from the streetlights.” He’s not always as high-minded, whether he’s confessing to lustful distractions (“Road Is My Religion”) or trying to chill out and avoid road rage (“Sooo Comfortable”). Romantic disappointment hits him hard on the archly titled “Break Up (The OJ Song),” which is countered by the uplifting immediacy of “Time Is Now,” where Murs exchanges verses with guest star Snoop Dogg. (Falling James)
Also playing Thursday:
CSS, NATALIE PORTMAN’S SHAVED HEAD at the Echoplex; MIRANDA LEE RICHARDS at the Hotel Café; PO’ GIRL at the Mint; ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA at the Roxy; NEW ROME QUARTET, SWORDS OF FATIMA at Taix.
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