Rock Picks: Aretha Franklin, Lucinda Williams, Deerhunter
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 20
Kaiju Big Battel, Busdriver at the Mayan
Women will cry! Men will laugh! For . . . it seems to be alive! Not one but two Kaiju Big Battels are coming to town, live monster-mayhem spectacles bringing to thrilling life the very real threat of the evil brains from the outer galaxy who have come to destroy planet Earth and probably steal our jobs. The Kaiju Commissioner will be doing his best to save the entire world before it explodes in a flame of terrible color! Unfortunately, we are currently being threatened by an active roster of more than 50 monsters, including Kung-Fu Chicken Noodle, Dusto Bunny, Call-Me-Kevin and the notorious square-headed mad scientist known as Dr. Cube. Referee Jingi will ensure evenhandedness in the ring, even when the monster has 10 of ’em, while Davio Salbino is an urban-renewal expert who reconstructs the crumbled cityscapes between Battels; your host for the events is MC Louden Noxious. Mind-warping speed-rapper Busdriver opens the proceedings. (John Payne)
Rodney Crowell, Joe Henry, Jenny Scheinman at Largo at the Coronet
Houston native Rodney Crowell may be Nashville’s consummate “outsider insider,” achieving success in the Music Row mainstream while also maintaining his artistic integrity. In the mid-1970s, he arrived in L.A. to be Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band guitarist and song source. He moved on to Nashville, where he shepherded his then-wife Rosanne Cash’s career and penned hits for country stars like Crystal Gayle and the Oak Ridge Boys and scoring solo successes too. Although his star dimmed slightly during the mid-’90s, Crowell regained his creative footing in 2001 with his stirring, semi-autobiographical The Houston Kid. He has put out four more profoundly powerful discs (including this year’s Sex and Gasoline) that transcend country conventions. Crowell’s current work, fitting somewhere between Nick Lowe’s sagely contemplation and Steve Earle’s angry rants, delves into personal and political issues with a fierce clarity that’s tempered by a folksy humor. Sex producer Joe Henry, another talented hyphenate, will sit in with him tonight and in-demand violinist Jenny Scheinman (who authored her own fine Americana-style disc this year) will open, as well as play in Crowell’s band. (Michael Berick)
The Sounds at Hollywood Palladium
Boasting a blonde beauty, slight lads in leather duds, spunky words, punky guitars and squelchy new-wave synths, the Sounds have the perfect pop-band formula pretty much covered. So, while headlining the freshly spruced-up Palladium is none too shabby, it’s surprising that these ’80s-obsessed Swedes aren’t stuffing enormo-domes by now. Truth to tell, they’re just one genuinely great song away from high-street ubiquity, their two albums to date (2002’s Living in America and 2006’s Dying to Say This to You) being consistent Blondie/Cars/Missing Persons post-punk pleasures but lacking that involuntary hum-inducing hit (though the shameless organic/electronic celebration of “Queen of Apology” comes close). Onstage, the hard-touring Sounds are all about the panda eyes, impossible cheekbones and leggy ambition of front gal Maja Ivarsson, whose rawk Björk inflections and déjà vu Debbie Harry aura make her black-clad bandmates’ spirited instrumental efforts worthwhile. At best, the Sounds are a band on the cusp of utter greatness; at worst, they’re a guilty-pleasure, skinny-tied sonic flashback. Either way, we win. (Paul Rogers)
Also playing Thursday:
WIL-DOG ABERS Y SU BANDA JUVENIL at Eastside Luv; TERRA NAOMI at the Hotel Café; WARREN G at the Key Club; MONTE NEGRO, PILAR DIAZ, BEATMO at the Roxy; SLANK at Sam’s at the Regent; WEST INDIAN GIRL, POOLABOMB, POLYAMOROUS AFFAIR at Spaceland; NELLIE McKAY at Music Recital Hall, Cal Poly Pomona.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 21
Aretha Franklin at House of Blues
How long has it been since you settled down and really listened to some of Aretha Franklin’s classic mid-’60s Atlantic records? Doesn’t much matter if it was last week, last year or last century, because those damn discs — with their perfectly arranged and executed accompaniment and Franklin’s incomparable vocals — will snake through your brain, travel deep into your guts, and jolt you with such an electrifying charge that the nail polish will peel up and flake right off your toenails (don’t paint ’em? Why the hell not?). No one else comes close to Franklin’s depth of gospel-informed intensity, subtle phrasing, undeniable involvement, and the ability to conjure bales of emotional immediacy within a single syllable. Her perfected brand of soul vocals is so nigh on impossible to replicate that the subsequent generations who spout of her influence, in truth, work a shallow, grotesque caricature of Franklin’s ideally realized model. Go now, because before long all you’re gonna have is a shrieking abyss populated — at either distasteful extreme — by the jive-ass likes of Beyoncé and Amy Winehouse. Don’t argue — the difference is considerable. Also Sat. (Jonny Whiteside)
Rodriguez at the Echo
The odyssey of the mono-monikered Rodriguez (first name Sixto) is one of those intriguing tales of the music racket. The son of Mexican immigrants, he was born and raised in Detroit. Emerging as a young adult in 1960s Motor City, he sponged up the gestalt of turmoil and spat out brilliant songs in blunt language about dope dealers (“Sugar Man”) and urban rot (“Inner City Blues”) and even an empathetic-but-stern dress-down of Janis Joplin before she self-evaporated (“Like Janis”). His classic 1970 debut album, Cold Fact, is packed with these powerful mini-novelas, Rodriguez’s subtle Latin rhythms, stark and soulful voice, and baroque post-Pepper production. It’s a stunning work, equally so because it didn’t catch on (except in South Africa — but that’s another story). Light in the Attic Records reissued Cold Fact this year, giving rock critics apoplexy. Who the hell is this guy, and why haven’t we heard him before? Despite rumors of his demise, both he and his mojo are still workin’, and tonight’s show comes highly recommended. (Michael Simmons)
Lucinda Williams at the Wiltern
Lucinda Williams doesn’t break any new ground with her latest CD, Little Honey (Lost Highway), but, then again, she doesn’t really have to. Her formula — country-tinged ballads, Stones-y rockers, a little bit of salty blues — was firmly established many years ago, so it’s just a question of fine-tuning her classic sound. She rocks it up convincingly on tracks like “Honey Bee” and the rockabilly-laced “Well Well Well” and sounds righteously ebullient amid the twisting and bending electric guitars of “Real Love,” before settling down into the bluesy contemplation of “Tears of Joy.” Speaking of tears, Williams weeps again on “Jailhouse Tears,” a corny piece of insincere fluff that’s further marred by too-ubiquitous guest star Elvis Costello’s clumsy, pinched vocals. And, while you have to admire her attempt to tackle “It’s a Long Way to the Top,” her version is surprisingly limp — despite the inspired gospel backup vocals — and it simply doesn’t rock as hard as previous remakes by the Celibate Rifles and many others, much less AC/DC’s bagpipe-pulverizing original. Also, you’d hope that a lyricist who can pen such succinctly poetic lines as “Your lovely eyes, they close like petals” would avoid dull clichés like “It’s raining cats and dogs,” but it just goes to show that even the certifiably great Lucinda Williams isn’t perfect. (Falling James)
Bex Marshall at Genghis Cohen
The British blues guitarist Bex Marshall makes her local debut tonight to promote her recent CD, Kitchen Table (House of Mercy). A former croupier, she’s good with her hands, dealing out rootsy original tunes flecked with bluegrass plucking and honeyed slide-guitar washes. Her raspy wailing apes Bonnie Raitt’s style, although her interpretation of the blues veers more toward easy-listening hacks like Fleetwood Mac and Counting Crows rather than fiery originators such as John Lee Hooker and Koko Taylor. Similarly, Marshall’s competent ax work has more of Mark Knopfler’s feathery touch than, say, B.B. King’s sting, but her songs are still enjoyable, even as you wish there was a little more blood and guts and dirt in her roots digging. Her secondhand lyrics are fairly unremarkable, and the singer might look into the wonders of spellcheck the next time she dares to print out a lyric sheet, if only to avoid the dozens of embarrassing grammar and spelling mistakes that litter her amateurish CD booklet, as well as her MySpace page, where she claims fealty to such previously unknown artists as “Lynard Skinnard, Chrissie Hind, John Coltraine, Jimmy Hendrix and Tennasse Ernie Ford.” (Falling James)
Also playing Friday:
ANN SAVOY & HER SLEEPLESS KNIGHTS at Getty Center; MEDESKI MARTIN & WOOD at El Rey Theatre; DOS at Redballs Rock & Roll Pizza; JAPANTHER, UNDERGROUND RAILROAD TO CANDYLAND at the Smell; FREE MORAL AGENTS, BUSDRIVER, DAEDELUS at Ground Zero Performance Cafe, USC, 7 p.m.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 22
Of Montreal at the Hollywood Palladium
There are plenty of folks who not only forgive Of Montreal’s (but made in Athens, Georgia) overindulgence but love it, and especially their rock-star-struggling-with-sanity front man, Kevin Barnes. His creativity is less a calculated way at front-loading indie-pop with as many references as possible as it is pure manic honesty that spits out eight forms of dopeness at the same time. That’s what makes their latest, Skeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl) even better — yes, better — than Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? Barnes says he’s crammed three Prince eras into one disc (“St. Exquisite’s Confessions,” revealing the Curtis Mayfield side of Sign o’ the Times), and you get the definitive “Owwa!”s, but I would just as soon parallel his output to the many faces of David Bowie: from the token frock of The Man Who Sold the World to the schizophrenic alter ego of Ziggy Stardust (our hero comes back as Georgie Fruit for a second time like Aladdin Sane), to the blue-eyed soul of Young Americans and, finally, the strung-out creeps of Scary Monsters. (Daniel Siwek)
O’Death at Spaceland
If Tim Burton ever directed a remake of Deliverance, he might want to consider O’Death for the soundtrack. As if their name doesn’t conjure up backwoods macabre enough, the band’s maniacal take on mountain music certainly does. Curiously, the O’Death boys hail not from the Ozarks but Brooklyn. Yet they quite convincingly careen like rural dervishes through thrash-grass and heavy-metal hillbilly on their aptly titled new album, Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin. Greg Jamie sounds possessed by evil spirits as he sings these fever dreams tunes about blood, sin and death. Bob Pycior’s fierce fiddle work often reveals a wild Gypsy flavor, while drummer David Rogers-Berry brings a punk fervor to his playing. Amid all of their crazed Americana, the band also can deliver “Angeline,” a relatively sedate (for them) tune that would fit nicely into an Old Crow Medicine Show set. Still, all their raucous, moonshine-fueled music suggests that their live show will be one barn-burning hoedown. With Le Switch and Death to Anders. (Michael Berick)
Also playing Saturday:
K.D. LANG, DUSTIN O’HALLORAN at Long Beach Terrace Theater; IN FLAMES, ALL THAT REMAINS, GOJIRA, 36 CRAZYFISTS at Club Nokia; JOE BUCK YOURSELF, CAPTAIN SEAN WHEELER, STAB CITY at Alex’s Bar; ARETHA FRANKLIN at House of Blues; RHETT MILLER at Largo; THE GEARS, MIKE WATT & THE SECONDMEN, CHIP KINMAN & PCH, CARNAGE ASADA at Mr. T’s Bowl; KINGSIZEMAYBE, PAT TODD & THE RANKOUTSIDERS at Taix; CROM at Steve Allen Theater.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 23
Ferdinand at Spaceland
One of this city’s cleverest pop songwriters is finally returning to live action after many years of apparent hibernation. Singer-guitarist Greg Franco fronted the indie-rock band Ferdinand in the previous century, releasing Demoted to Greeter, a fine assortment of witty, underrated songs, in 2000 before dropping out of public view. It turns out he was spending much of that time in New Zealand, collaborating with members of the legendary Kiwi combo the Clean on a solo album, Southpawwest (Powertool Records), that was released under the name Greg Franco & the Wandering Bear. Southpawwest is a happy marriage, blending the best of both hemispheres, with Franco’s intelligent lyrics swept along breezily by David Kilgour’s distinctively swirling, faintly psychedelic guitar chirps — it’s like the great lost Clean album, and well worth searching for. The suddenly prolific Mr. Franco has also reconfigured Ferdinand with his old bassist, Laura Smith, and her partner in Third Grade Teacher, the inventive guitarist David Guerrero, for another brand-new release, Memorial Interchange, which encompasses sarcastic, Kinks-like folk (“Not Pissed Not Hurt”), exotically dreamy pop (“Frame”), sparkling jangle (“Sad Eyes From Van Nuys”) and vintage melodrama (a hazy version of Gene Pitney’s “Half the Laughter, Twice the Tears”). With Double Naught Spy Car, Boll Weevil, Patria Jacobs. (Falling James)
Also playing Sunday:
WILD WEEKEND at Alex’s Bar; DONNA THE BUFFALO, DEAD ROCK WEST at House of Blues; CHARLIE WADHAMS at Tangier; YEASAYER at the Troubadour.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 24
The Monolators at Pehrspace
The coed quartet the Monolators close out their monthlong residency at Pehrspace with tunes from their new album, Don’t Dance. Actually, their big stand (billed as “The Archaeology of the Monolators”) is more ambitious than a mere record-release celebration, as the group plan to “perform their entire recorded catalog” during their residency. They draw upon the garage-rock simplicity of Buddy Holly and the easygoing goofiness of the Modern Lovers, while singer-guitarist Eli Chartkoff’s unusual yowling evokes the Subsonics’ Clay Reed. He kicks off the new CD with “I Must Be Dreaming” by singing an infectiously hooky melody refrain while riding atop his drummer-wife Mary Chartkoff’s rolling waves of tom-tom thunder. It’s a glowing pop gem, full of cooing harmonies and driven by a punky attack. Don’t Dance is arguably the band’s best album, with catchier tunes and more fully realized songwriting, especially “I Heard Her Calling From Another Room,” and “Hearts Going Steady,” which sweetens Eli’s yelping with grand piano and sitar flourishes. One surprise is that, apart from some backup vocals, Mary doesn’t sing much on Don’t Dance, a mini-tragedy that one hopes will be rectified next time around. (Falling James)
Also playing Monday:
THE DECEMBERISTS at the Wiltern (see Hoopla); RHETT MILLER at Brixton South Bay; WEAVE, EDWARD SHARPE & THE MAGNETIC ZEROS, CROOKED COWBOY at the Echo; JAKE LA BOTZ, JOE BUCK YOURSELF, CAPTAIN SEAN WHEELER at the Redwood Bar & Grill; SHWAYZE, CISCO ADLER at the Roxy; WESTERN STATES MOTEL, MARCHING BAND, VOYEURS, TIGERS CAN BITE YOU at Spaceland.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 25
Deerhunter at El Rey Theatre
On the face of it, Atlanta’s Deerhunter are another bunch of smart kids who’ve decided to be an arty band that kinda rocks or thumps funkily, and in so doing have thrown the usual avant-garage essentials into their punky electronicized mess. At least, that’s the way things sounded on their 2007 disc, Cryptograms (Kranky). For whatever reason, though, they’ve segued into something so plain beautiful on their recent Microcastle (Kranky), an assortment of vocal and instrumental tracks loosely aligned texturally with the old shoegazer school, recorded as a four-piece consisting of Bradford Cox, Lockett Pundt, Joshua Fauver and Moses Archuleta, with guest Cole Alexander of the Black Lips. There’s some kind of magic encoded within these well-constructed new tracks, and it’s interesting — while intensely atmospheric, none of the songs on initial listen sounds radically unique, yet by the album’s end all reverberate like tunes you’ve loved your entire life. (John Payne)
Also playing Tuesday:
THE HOLD STEADY, DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS at the Wiltern; COLDPLAY at the Honda Center; AUSTRALIAN PINK FLOYD SHOW at Gibson Amphitheatre; THE ROSEBUDS at the Echoplex; MIKE ANDREWS at the Hotel Café; BEN KENNEY at House of Blues; MIKE STINSON, DAVE GLEASON at Redwood Bar & Grill; FANCY SPACE PEOPLE, TERP 2 IT at Hyperion Tavern.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 26
Ben Vaughn at Cinema Bar
Musician-producer Ben Vaughn, who first made noise with his infamous Rambler ’65, an album recorded entirely in his car, has a pop fetish that twists and turns with quicksilver agility. Whether he’s feeling a yen for tribal au go-go retro rock or lush, intricately arranged Mancini-Montovani–style easy-listening instrumentals, the unpredictable cat manages to pull it all off with a combination of deft instinct, creative flair and an abiding respect for the form itself. That acrobatic flexibility has taken him far, as producer of discs by banging little combos ranging from pop-geeks Ween to Nashville instro brawlers Los Straitjackets and certifiable legends like rockabilly prophet Charlie Feathers and soul-man extraordinaire Arthur Alexander. Clearly, Vaughn has an estimable head for American weirdness of all sorts, and when he and his fast-moving Desert Classic band set up tonight, prospects for an earful of kaleidoscopic musical kicks are a sure bet. (Jonny Whiteside)
Nas at Club Nokia
There may be a black president, but don’t think that has softened up Nas: “Just when n*****s ’bout to see they cut/Global warming ’bout to burn us up,” the apocalyptic MC spits on “We’re Not Alone” from the new “untitled” disc (formerly known as you-know-what before Nas decided the epithet would eclipse the content). Public beefs with clowns would seem beneath the Queensbridge native, but dude was born to scrap, even as the new disc’s deconstruction of the N word put semiotics profs to shame. Despite past production work from Dr. Dre, Timbaland, Kanye and other heavyweights, the beats/samples in the Nas-mos have historically been more archivally interesting than hooky. That still stands, except maybe for the sinister synths on the Polow Da Don–produced first single, “Hero.” The keyboards in general throughout “untitled” give it a kickback-yet-brainy ’70s-fusion vibe, save for the distinctly Stax-sounding “You Can’t Stop Us Now.” Nas isn’t sugar-coating shit though, as “Testify” earnestly asks, “You buy my songs, but will you ride with me?” We’ll soon find out. (Andrew Lentz)
John Wicks & the Records, Matthew Sweet at El Rey Theatre
You might remember the British band the Records, who released one of the best and brightest power-pop songs of the late ’70s, “Starry Eyes,” a breakup anthem whose bitter lyrics were disguised by an exhilaratingly exuberant hook, which was wrapped up further in a thick wreath of super-jangly guitars and busy bass lines. Leader John Wicks has carried on with the band name and released a series of under-recognized albums since that breathtaking debut, culminating in 2007’s Rotate. Although billed as an anthology, the album includes new songs as well as reinventions of some of his old favorites. What distinguishes Wicks’ work, both then and now, is the supremely tasteful, melodically surging guitars that tear through yearningly romantic tunes like “That Girl Is Emily.” He’s mastered the rare craft of writing delicately wistful pop songs that actually rock. There’s a gorgeous majesty to the way the guitars ring out and then crumble on the title track, as Wicks croons with a hint of Roger McGuinn’s quaver, and the CD concludes with an interesting reduction of the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out.” The Records open for modern-pop auteur Matthew Sweet, who emerged from the Athens, Georgia, scene in the mid-’80s. Sweet’s new CD, Sunshine Lies, sees him branching out with a newfound Iggy Pop snarl on tracks like “Flying” and “Room to Rock.” (Falling James)
Also playing Wednesday:
FLYING TOURBILLON ORCHESTRA at the Echo; GILLI MOON at Genghis Cohen; MY BRIGHTEST DIAMOND, CLARE & THE REASONS, LOUISE GOFFIN at the Hotel Café; MARC FORD at the Mint; EVANGENITALS at Mr. T’s Bowl; STAB CITY, PAGING BETO at Redwood Bar & Grill; GUNS ’N BOMBS at the Roxy; GREEN JELLO at the Viper Room.
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