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Rock Picks: Amanda Palmer, Metallica, War Tapes

Von Iva ride the ponies.
Haley Shelmadine

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.

 

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 12

Von Iva at the Echo

“You can’t control me,” Von Iva diva Jillian Iva confides on “Birds of Prey,” from the San Francisco trio’s new EP, Girls on Film. And it’s true, no one can corral the exhibitionist singer, especially when she’s crawling around onstage or perching precariously in steep high heels atop Kelly Harris’ bass drum. Jillian’s already become something of a gay icon for fans of all genders, and Von Iva should gain some mainstream attention when they perform as Zooey Deschanel’s backup band in the upcoming Jim Carrey film Yes Man. The trio’s shimmering electro-pop is firmly based on funky, sleek disco rhythms, reintroducing jaded hipsters to that carnally cathartic activity known as dancing. Becky Kupersmith pumps out evocative sheets of sound with her keyboards, giving these dance workouts an eerily post-punk sheen and even a hint of Joy Division melancholy. The nonstop dance action occasionally pauses for spacy ballads like “Emerald Eyes,” where Jillian wails soulfully into the vortex of Kupersmith’s churchy organ swells. (Falling James)

J.D. Souther at McCabe’s

J.D. Souther might not have achieved Eagles/Linda Ronstadt–style superstar status or become a Hall of Famer like Chris Hillman and Richie Furay, but he ranks among the important players in Southern California’s ’70s country-rock and singer-songwriter scenes. His résumé highlights include co-writing several huge Eagles hits (including “Best of My Love” and “Heartache Tonight”) and writing for, singing with and producing Ronstadt during her heyday. He also was part of the would-be supergroup Souther Hillman Furay Band and scored a solo hit with “You’re Only Lonely” in 1979. After pursuing acting (mostly notably a stint on Thirtysomething), Souther decamped to Nashville. Earlier this year, he released his first album in nearly 25 years, If the World Was You. Showing no rustiness, Souther displays a sagely touch, smoothly blending pop, jazz, country, soul and Latin rock on lovely ballads (“In My Arms Tonight”), observational tales (the rousing “House of Pride”) and personal epics (the 13-minute closer, “The Secret Handshake of Fate”). These shows mark his welcome L.A. return. With April Smith. Also at Largo, Tues. (Michael Berick)

Also playing Friday:

MIKE NESS at El Rey Theatre; LEON RUSSELL at Brixton South Bay; BLACK FAG at 14 Below; LOS LOBOS, THE BLASTERS at House of Blues; JON BRION at Largo; CHARLIE HUNTER TRIO at the Mint; ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA at the Roxy (see Music feature); THE DICKIES, M.I.A, PLAIN WRAP, DECRY at Sam’s at the Regent; BABYLAND at the Smell; RADARS TO THE SKY at Spaceland; PHANTOM PLANET, THE LIKE at the Troubadour; URINALS, THE THINGZ at Buccaneer Lounge.

 

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 13

The Dagons at American Legion Post 206

For several years, we’ve tried to describe the Dagons, but it’s like trying to put smoke back into a bottle. Guitarist Karie Jacobson and drummer-sitarist Drew Kowalski are a bass-free duo, but they aren’t engaged in any fishy roots-rock-revival silliness or faux-bluesy White Stripes imitations. Instead, they whip up strangely exotic, heavily dreamy moods that can range from the churning Stooges-style riffery of “It Flies Out” to the art-rock of “In Gingham,” which sounds like the clanging chains/cymbals of the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs” falling into a bottomless elevator shaft of onrushing Sonic Youth guitars. Stranger still are such experimental soundscapes as “Urdoguzes,” where Kowalski draws upon his Hungarian roots to layer Jacobson’s ghostly fairy-tale vocals in a psychedelic haze of backwards sound effects. And yet, for all of their rampant trippiness, the Dagons have their straightforward side, punking it up on uptempo bursts like “How to Get Through Glass” and “Planchettes Half-Apes,” and slowing things down on such perfectly pretty ballads as “On This Bed Forever.” 227 N. Avenue 55, Highland Park. (Falling James)

 

Also playing Saturday:

MIKE NESS, MIKE STINSON at El Rey Theatre; STEVIE WONDER at Nokia Theatre; THE STITCHES, THE CROWD, THE HITCHHIKERS at Alex’s Bar; COCO MONTOYA & ERIC SARDINAS at Brixton South Bay; DAVE MASON at the Canyon; DEADLY SYNDROME, HAPPY HOLLOWS, PITY PARTY at the Echoplex; SWEET & TENDER HOOLIGANS, FANGS ON FUR at House of Blues; CHARLIE HUNTER TRIO at the Mint; ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA at the Roxy; JAKE LA BOTZ, SPEEDBUGGY at Sam’s at the Regent; 18th DYE, DEVON WILLIAMS at Spaceland.

 

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 14

Sothis, Abysmal Dawn, Exmortus at the Knitting Factory

The look, sound and label of symphonic black-metallers Sothis are so Norwegian, you’d never know they were Angelenos. The polished slab of bombastic evil that is De Opresso Liber will have you sharpening your battle ax by the second chorus of “Of Night and Silence,” but Sothis are no corpse-paint-wearing poseurs: They’ve got the chops to back their intimidating song architecture. Abysmal Dawn possess ingredients by now familiar to any fan of classic early-’90s American death metal: Cookie Monster vocals, blast sections and hella technicality. On Programmed to Consume, these dudes, also local, manage enough unexpected bits — random time-signature changes, flourishes of melody, puffs of atmosphere — to make it their own (not an easy thing in this same-y genre). Give it up for Exmortus, a quartet of Whittier thrash fiends working a consistently head-nodding shred with fretboard runs that sound plain exhausting when they aren’t exhilarating. With Rise, and those pioneers of Aztec blackness, Mictlantecuhtli. (Andrew Lentz)

Also playing Sunday:

JOHN WAITE at Brixton South Bay; THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM, THE ALKALINE TRIO at Key Club; SANDRA TSING LOH at Largo; KELLY JOE PHELPS at McCabe’s; EVANGENITALS at Redwood Bar & Grill; THE BINGES at King King.

 

MONDAY, DECEMBER 15

Roni Stoneman at the Echoplex

While Roni Stoneman — for good or ill — is best remembered for her 18-year stint on the television corn-fest Hee Haw, the banjo-slinging veteran also carries the wise blood of Ernest “Pop” Stoneman, the revered patriarch of one of country music’s most crucial clans. Pop was a sensation on wax at the very dawn of recorded hillbilly, scored a slew of big sellers and, with Victor’s Ralph Peer, also had a direct hand in overseeing the first sessions by Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. Sure, Roni is of second-generation issue, but she made her professional start at Pop’s knee, performing with Pop Stoneman & His Little Pebbles, and her distinctive Scruggs-infused wizardry with the banjo ranks second to none. Significantly, Roni’s a pioneer in her own right, as the first female picker ever to cut a bluegrass instrumental (for the 1956 Folkways American Banjo Scruggs Style album). Her visit here tonight is a most welcome kick in the head, as it’s all too rare that Southern California has the honor to host such a certifiable country-music monster. Act accordingly. (Jonny Whiteside)

Cheap Trick at House of Blues

Cheap Trick have really put us through the emotional wringer this year. Back in June, we were positively ecstatic about the Rockford band’s unexpectedly wonderful reprise of their Sgt. Pepper’s tribute at the Hollywood Bowl. Usually, such homages are lifeless, dehydrated caricatures of the genuine article, but Cheap Trick pulled off the not-so-cheap trick of successfully re-creating the classic Beatles album while simultaneously infusing it with their own style, with Bun E. Carlos energetically laying down Ringo Starr’s drum rolls, while bassist Tom Petersson’s sublimely intuitive bottom end firmly anchored the sometimes-shaky attempts at rock-&-roll rhythms by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. But by September, we were dismayed to see that the still creatively thriving Tricksters were already back on the oldies circuit, where they were reduced to opening for terminally mediocre acts like Journey. The problem with such retro-tilting gigs is that Cheap Trick tend to play down to their aging audience’s expectations, forgoing such vital, exciting recent songs as “Sorry Boy” (from their severely underrated and aptly titled 2003 CD, Special One) and “Oh Claire” (from the generally strong 2006 CD Rockford) in favor of formulaic piffle like the bombastic, factory-assembled power ballad “The Flame.” (While singer Robin Zander can make practically any cliché sound meaningful, we’d much rather that he use his awesome set of lungs for good instead of evil, perhaps on one of the band’s own, sincerely passionate ballads like “Ghost Town.”) Since they’re headlining this time around, at this two-night stand, let’s hope they dig deeper into their big bag of rarities or, better still, rediscover their own recent classics instead of merely rehashing the ancient hits. Also Tues. (Falling James)

 

Also playing Monday:

TEST YOUR REFLEX, KEN OAK BAND, SIMON LYNGE, YOU ME & IOWA, KRISTY HANSON at the Hotel Café; JAKE LA BOTZ at Redwood Bar & Grill; THE MOVIES, NICO STAI at Spaceland; THE JONESES, PRIMA DONNA at the Viper Room.

 

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 16

Amanda Palmer at Henry Fonda Theater

We’re still bummed that the theatrical cabaret-punk duo the Dresden Dolls are on an extended hiatus, but it’s not like the band’s lead singer/songwriter/pianist/performance artist/madwoman Amanda Palmer has been quiet lately. Earlier this year, she released her first solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer? (Roadrunner), a breathtaking assortment of passionate, piano-pumped songs that features contributions from an unlikely group of disparate musical guest stars, including Dead Kennedys guitarist East Bay Ray, former Rasputina cellist Zoe Keating (who opens with her own set tonight) and mainstream pop merchant Ben Folds, who also produced the CD. While the Dresden Dolls occasionally expanded their minimalist piano-drums attack with additional instrumentation in the studio, Palmer is able to take more chances and lavish her complicated-but-catchy tunes with grander arrangements on her solo album. There’s a newfound rubbery groove and electronic-pop forcefulness to such songs as “Guitar Hero,” while the swanky, horns-fueled “Leeds United” and “Oasis” bounce with a deceptively giddy poppiness. Meanwhile, the momentous piano ballad “The Point of It All” evokes convulsively emotional Dresden Dolls anthems like “Truce.” (Falling James)

War Tapes at Spaceland

Of all the local fruit fallen close to Interpol’s tree (and therefore Joy Division’s roots), War Tapes most warm the formula with flesh-and-blood vulnerability, organic instrumentation, and the sheer lust-to-be-a-pop-star of front boy Neil Popkin. Shunning the studied deadpan melodrama and neon nightclub innuendos of She Wants Revenge, they explore more introverted, openly lonely utterances and charm our (drainpipe) pants off when Popkin’s tortured baritone converses with his bassist-sister Becca’s distracted injections. War Tapes know how to play the game — matching faux-military New Romantic garb; angular 24 Hour Party People haircuts; of-the-moment shimmering/shuddering guitars and imploring choruses — yet they retain a family-affair air (drummer Billy Mohler is Becca’s hubby) that keeps musical matters, however stylized, this side of pretentious. For all of War Tapes’ live experience (they’ve opened for Smashing Pumpkins, the Bravery and Tiger Army), it’s still easy to imagine Popkin perfecting his dictatorial onstage gesticulations in front of the bedroom mirror while spinning Turn on the Bright Lights for the thousandth time. And that’s bloody brilliant, that is. (Paul Rogers)

Mercury Rev at El Rey Theatre

These veteran New York psychedelicists have made enough fine records — check out their best, 1993’s Boces, as well as 1998’s Deserter’s Songs, which made them huge critical faves in England — to justify looking past the occasional clunker. That’s a good thing, since the just-released Snowflake Midnight — a largely tuneless mishmash of treacly piano plinks and singer Jonathan Donahue’s helium-high vocals laid over limp electronic grooves — is a clunker (unless you’re of the opinion that what Deserter’s really needed was a remix by Moby). There’s no doubting that you’ll hear plenty from the new album tonight; if you’re lucky, they won’t skip “Butterfly’s Wings,” which at least manages some forward momentum. Crummy material or not, though, Mercury Rev are still worth catching live for the way they conjure entire galaxies of sound onstage: Everybody in Indieland seems dedicated to laser-show atmospherics these days, but these guys were tripping out way before doing so was an obligation. (Mikael Wood)

Also playing Tuesday:

JIM BIANCO, IAN BALL at the Hotel Café; CHEAP TRICK at House of Blues; J.D. SOUTHER, APRIL SMITH, LUCY WAINWRIGHT ROCHE at Largo; THE RANDIES at Mr. T’s Bowl; MIKE STINSON at Redwood Bar & Grill; THE SWORD, YEAR LONG DISASTER at the Viper Room; ANNA OXYGEN, DEVON WILLIAMS at Hyperion Taver; EULOGIES, SARA LOV at Space 15 Twenty, 6 p.m.

 

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 17

Metallica, The Sword at the Forum

It’s not just that Metallica’s latest, Death Magnetic, makes St. Anger look like St. Hugging It Out, but, for the first time in more than 20 years (before And Justice For All), the band have an angst that is more visceral than negotiated. If you didn’t hear the years of living and learning in songs like the “Broken, Beat & Scarred,” you’d think that this was the same band that just ransacked their way to the cover of Metal Hammer magazine. Out is producer Bob Rock and in is Rick Rubin, who applied his back-to-old-school discipline to achieve a lean-and-mean 10-song tongue lashing that is as true to Metallica’s definitive sound as it is to their original love of NWOBHM. Don’t spend too much time tailgating in the heavy-metal parking lot, because you can’t miss The Sword. These guys look/sound like the dirtbags who stumbled out of a smoky stoner van when I first saw Metallica open for Ozzy at Nassau Coliseum in 1986. Glam-metal Ozzy could have been mistaken for Aunt Pearl at my bar mitzvah that summer, but these kids yelling for “Metallica!” were still scary. Also Thurs. (Daniel Siwek)

 

Also playing Wednesday:

BIG BAD VOODOO DADDY at Cerritos Center; JAIL WEDDINGS, THE GROWLERS at the Echo; GILLI MOON, ZOE SCOTT, AMY RAASCH, CHRIS VALENTI at the Mint.

 

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 18

Juliette Commagère at the Troubadour

Lately I’ve been so knocked out hearing these great and gorgeous pop tunes created and performed by the lovely Juliette Commagère. You might know her as the Keytar-slinging, charismatic front woman for the adventurous indie-rock band Hello Stranger, which she formed with drummer Joaquin Cooder; or you might have heard her singing and playing on recent endeavors by Avenged Sevenfold and Puscifer. That varied batch of interests hints as to the unclichéd gifts of the multitalented Commagère, which are given a fuller flowering on her new solo album, Queens Die Proudly (Aeronaut Records). A vividly orchestrated pop-art project veering from the wistful and elegiac to the epic and otherwordly, Queens is like a No. 1 chart-topper from another dimension, where remarkably memorable songs are given evocative musical twists via her classically designed song structures and sensual ’70s synth stylings. On her recent cross-country residency stints, Commagère has assembled local orchestras (via Craigslist!) of strings and horns, which brings a radiant gleam to her superb material. (John Payne)

Also playing Thursday:

METALLICA, THE SWORD at the Forum; SARAH BRIGHTMAN at Nokia Theatre; EMILY WELLS, ARDEN KAYWIN at the Hotel Café; OZOMATLI & CHALI 2NA at House of Blues; SEAN & SARA WATKINS at Largo; VIKKI LEE & THE PINECONES, ALBERT LEE, GLEN GLENN at Sam’s at the Regent; THE MORMONS, THE HEALTH CLUB at the Smell; PATRIA JACOBS at Taix.

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