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Rock Picks: Digable Planets, Pigeon John, the Wedding Present, Prima Donna

Teresa Covarrubias, back when she was still a Brat

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18    

 
PRIMA DONNA at the Knitting Factory

Prima Donna singer-guitarist Kevin Preston must have spent a lot of time playing with dolls when he was growing up. His band’s new self-titled debut on Acetate Records includes the songs “Doll Face Baby” and “Stray Doll,” and the word “doll” figures prominently in at least three other tracks on the CD. (Not to mention that Prima Donna borrows heavily from the style of the New York Dolls, although the young Hollywood quintet ultimately sounds more like Mott the Hoople, thanks to Aaron Minton’s “sexy sax” and “killer keys.”) Lyrics are obviously not Preston’s strong suit (when an amoral vixen attempts to seduce the surprisingly timid singer on the S&M romp “Crucify,” he can only protest, “The leather’s so tight/I can’t see clearly”). If anything, Prima Donna’s retro-glam songs would actually seem cleverer without the inclusion of the demystifying lyric sheet, which undercuts the power of the group’s energetic and genuinely anthemic choruses. For all of their clichés and borrowed imagery, “Everything’s Wrong” and “Double Crosser” have rousing hooks that evoke the Dragons and tonight’s headliners, the Joneses — bands who have managed to amplify their Johnny Thunders influences while adding their own sense of seedy majesty. (Falling James)

 
SAVINA YANNATOU at Japanese American National Museum

Athens-born singer Savina Yannatou is a virtuoso in the body of a chameleon. She has made her specialty an extensive range of vocal traditions and languages from the Mediterranean region — folk tunes that she uses as a springboard for daring, exploratory pieces bursting with staggering sheer technique and, more importantly, wild new tonalities. There’s a keen yet brash intelligence in her improvisation-enhanced performances, and never a dry academic feel, in glorious evidence on her latest release, Songs of an Other (ECM), recorded with the instrumental ensemble Primavera en Salonico, in which the old songs of Armenia, Macedonia, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Greece and southern Italy are given fresh and feverish new life via Yannatou and company’s spectacularly adventurous interpretations and transmogrifications. This is a strange kind of beauty that frees the mind as it inflames the soul. 6:30 p.m.; 369 E. First St., Little Tokyo. (213) 625-0414. (John Payne)

 
FOALS, HEALTH at El Rey Theatre

Following the lead of all good things from Oxford — the Jazz Butcher, dictionaries, dress shoes and the shoegazing thereat — Foals present an alchemical admixture of rocks both art and math with their latest, the Dave Sitek–produced CD Antidotes. The scene: musicians with metabolisms of laser beams, limbs held jerkily and tightly to their sides even as they strain to break free of this notion or that. Lead singer Yannis Philippakis is possibly the most entertaining spastic nerfbag since the Wacky Wallwalker, and the Foals sound shoots out almost as angularly as said nerfbag’s hair, his voice riding a razor-thin line between startled yelps of sudden illumination and anguish. HEALTH, on the other knee, offer a slightly more shouty and gravid, tumescent bulge with their vision of pop sensationalism. Buffeted by the winds of their own creativity, their bottomless-pit vocals and deathly drums — coming down fast like the tolling of an incessant bell — ensure that the big gun-down preceding Foals becomes an eminently enlightening experience, like twilight dissolving night and smog. (David Cotner)

 
Also playing Thursday:

VAMPIRE WEEKEND, ABE VIGODA at the Wiltern; RUBEN GUEVARA & THE EASTSIDE LUVERS at Eastside Luv; LENKA, EMILY WELLS, SARA MELSON at Hotel Café; ROCKY DAWUNI, MONEY MARK at Key Club; WAYNE HUSSEY at Knitting Factory; SEAN & SARA WATKINS at Largo; RAW POWER RANGERS, THIRD GRADE TEACHER, INSECT SURFERS at Safari Sam’s.

 

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 19

 
DIGABLE PLANETS, PIGEON JOHN at El Rey Theatre

Thanks to the brainy backpack-rap explosion they did as much as anyone to ignite, Digable Planets’ two studio albums no longer sound as ground-breaking as they once did. But they still sound pretty damn nice: If you haven’t dug into the luxurious soul-funk grooves on 1994’s Blowout Comb lately, do yourself a favor and spin “Dial 7 (Axioms of Creamy Spies)” immediately. After a decade apart, the three Planets reunited in 2005 and have been performing somewhat steadily since; each has kept individually busy, as well. (Peep Ladybug Mecca’s work on this year’s debut by the all-star kiddie-rap collective Dino 5.) According to the group’s MySpace page, they’re at work on a new CD, a sneak peek at which they might provide tonight. Local MC Pigeon John released a great record in 2006 on which he rhymed over a sample of the Pixies’ “Hey.” (Mikael Wood)

 
THE WEDDING PRESENT at the Troubadour

Like so many British musicians before them, the Wedding Present find themselves both repulsed and attracted by the glittery lights and mirages of the United States. They crash headlong onto the shores of wicked America with their latest CD, El Rey (Manifesto), and come back forever changed with such tracks as “Spider-Man on Hollywood” and the mysterious throb of “Santa Ana Winds.” Perhaps much of this fascination is the result of singer David Gedge living in Los Angeles and Seattle in recent years. The production by the ubiquitous Steve Albini is crisp and spacious rather than dense and heavy, but it does add a subtle glow to the austere track “The Trouble With Men.” Gedge’s sense of humor emerges from the mostly somber settings on songs like the wave-swept idyll “The Thing I Like Best About Him Is His Girlfriend,” which eventually builds momentum with his and Christopher McConville’s churning, droning guitars. The album never really breaks free and rocks out completely, but there are some lovely moments, especially bassist Terry de Castro’s languidly beguiling album-closer, “Swingers.” (Falling James)

 

 
CHILDREN OF BODOM, BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME, THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER at the Wiltern

What’s this? Finnish black metal sporting U.S.-style hardcore shout-outs and the odd industrial flourish? Stylistic tics aside, Children of Bodom, with its filigreed guitars and symphonic polish, is every bit the product of bleakest, blackest Scandinavia. Released last April, Blooddrunk is an exhilarating combo of aggression and beauty that will likely top many a year’s-end readers poll. Alexi Laiho’s stage presence, divided between singing and shredding, is all the more riveting for this multitasking feat. And instead of pseudo-Norse mythology, the band’s name refers to the unsolved real-life murder of teens on a camping trip in the ’60s near Helsinki. Cool! Earlier this year, Raleigh, North Carolina, dudes Between the Buried and Me pulled off a nuanced prog-death epic with Colors, which could be the metal sleeper record of ’08. Not only does Michigan quintet the Black Dahlia Murder have the Gothenburg playbook down, they match it riff for finger-cramping riff with a newly blackened slant. (Andrew Lentz)

 
Also playing Friday:

THE BANGLES, BERLIN, THE MOTELS at the Fairplex, Pomona; THE BINGES at Ports O’ Call Village; KASEY CHAMBERS & SHANE NICHOLSON at Amoeba Music, 6 p.m.; WEST INDIAN GIRL at Blue Cafe; MAN MAN, CRYSTAL ANTLERS at the Echoplex; THE GIRLS, WILD WEEKEND at Knitting Factory; GO BETTY GO, SARA MELSON at Mr. T’s Bowl; SAMANTHA RONSON at the Roxy; LOS STRAITJACKETS, LUIS & THE WILD FIRES at Safari Sam’s; QUINTO SOL, DAVID RYAN HARRIS at Temple Bar; RAPHAEL SAADIQ at Hollywood & Highland, 8 p.m.

 

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 20


THE GEARS, TERESA COVARRUBIAS & THE STRANGER KIDS at Self Help Graphics

Like, wow. The return of the Vex club — the crucial early-’80s E.L.A. punk rock zone — is a sweet kick to the head. While it’s presented at Self Help Graphics as a benefit for the beleaguered cultural center (rather than at the original Catholic Youth Organization hall where it all went down 28 years ago), the whole shebang is more about the Chicano punk spirit than a street address. Booked by Joe Vex himself, with the always-killer Gears and the dreamlike return of pop-punk thrillers the Brat’s Teresa Covarrubias, this bill seems almost too good to be true. The Brat were undeniably a punk band, but, with the beatific pipes of Covarrubias, they always sounded as if they were on verge on reaching some new, fertile and uncharted musical territory — one that transcended the era’s roiling, self-destructive clash between new wave, punk and hardcore. All that genre-label bullshit only accelerated punk’s demise, but, with this fascinatin’ development, the potentialities again beckon. Better still, Joe Vex is dead set on keeping it going, with shows that blend both new and old bands. As Gears drummer Dave Drive says, “Everybody’s gonna be there,” so don’t fuck up and miss this one. Starts at 5 p.m. 3802 César E. Chávez Ave., E.L.A. (Jonny Whiteside)

 
Also playing Saturday:

GLADYS KNIGHT, AL GREEN at Greek Theatre (see Music feature); BECK, SPOON, MGMT at Hollywood Bowl; OLIVER FUTURE, COMMON SENSE at Ports O’ Call; GHIDORAH at the Airliner; THROW RAG, MAD MARGE & THE STONECUTTERS at Alex’s Bar; LIZ PAPPADEMAS at Echo Curio; LIAM FINN, VEILS, KÁRIN TATOYAN at the Echoplex; NEVILLE BROTHERS at House of Blues; BARR, HAWNAY TROOF at the Smell; SACCHARINE TRUST, OLLIN, CARNAGE ASADA at American Legion Post 206, Highland Park.

 

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 21

 
LILA DOWNS, OZOMATLI, MICHAEL FRANTI & SPEARHEAD at the Hollywood Bowl

From top to bottom, this evening’s lineup is stacked with nimbly sophisticated musicians who all share the ability to play a dizzying variety of music styles. Michael Franti & Spearhead’s new Anti- Records CD, All Rebel Rockers, which was produced by the legendary duo Sly & Robbie and recorded in Jamaica, is — not surprisingly — heavily steeped in reggae and dub, but the earnest leftist activists are also deft with hip-hop, funk, rock and folk styles. Ozomatli, meanwhile, cook up a percolating gumbo spiced with borderless world-music influences; they seem determined to compose the kind of L.A.-centric anthems that truly define the neighborhoods and cultures overlooked in Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” The real star of the bill, however, might be the ever-charismatic Oaxacan-American chanteuse Lila Downs, whose wide-ranging new 16-song CD, Shake Away (Blue Note), ranges from traditional Mixtec folk to rock, jazz and unclassifiable exotica. She poignantly empathizes with immigrant workers on the dusty blues shuffle “Minimum Wage,” transforms Peter Green’s standard “Black Magic Woman” with a primal heartbeat, and sings two introspective versions (in Spanish and English) of Lucinda Williams’ “I Envy the Wind.” Fantastic and captivating. (Falling James)

 

 

 
Also playing Sunday:

MY MORNING JACKET at Greek Theatre; ESTELLE at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA; GOLDFRAPP at Orpheum Theatre; HOT CHIP at the Wiltern; LOS STRAITJACKETS, MONOLATORS at Ports O’ Call; THE GIRLS, JAIL WEDDINGS at Alex’s Bar; MALDITA VECINDAD at House of Blues; DEL THA FUNKEE HOMOSAPIEN at Key Club; SEKTACORE, UNION 13 at Knitting Factory; JANIS IAN at McCabe’s; THE HEALTH CLUB at Mr. T’s Bowl; CROOKED I at Redwood Bar & Grill.

 

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 22


THE RACONTEURS, THE KILLS at the Greek Theatre

Perhaps to prove that he’s not just some megalomaniacal creative dictator who tells Meg White what to do — forcing her to dress in humiliating shades of barber-shop red-and-white stripes — Jack White shows that he’s a team player in the Raconteurs, splitting mike time with the yearning pop vocals of Brendan Benson and buttressed by the Greenhorne’s damn solid rhythm section, bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler. With so much talent flying all over the place, the Raconteurs ramble seamlessly through a non-specific field of rock genres, and it’s wonderful to see White and Benson daring each other to tumble further over the cliff with their twined harmonies and elaborate guitar solos. “I’m sick of social graces,” Alison Mosshart warns on the Kills’ recent CD, Midnight Boom, where she and co-conspirator Jamie Hince mash together schoolyard chants, punky amputations and electronic fuzz for a gloriously wonderful and strangely hypnotic mélange. Even with all that artful sound and misanthropic fury, Mosshart’s beguiling pop chanson “Black Balloon” is even stranger, with a disarmingly direct prettiness. It could be the sad-beautiful song of the year. Also Tues. (Falling James)

 
FLEET FOXES at El Rey Theatre

These young Seattle dudes play hippie-friendly acid-folk jams full of strummed guitars, tribal drums and creamy harmony vocals — imagine Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young as produced by Animal Collective. Fleet Foxes have been the subject of some furious blog buzz lately, much of it warranted by the heart-tugging tunecraft on their self-titled debut; in gorgeous cuts like “White Winter Hymnal” and “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” singer Robin Pecknold floats perfect little melodies that sound channeled from the beginning of time. Unfortunately, as with many of their indie-roots peers — think Band of Horses or Bon Iver — some of the hype appears to have to do with Fleet Foxes’ return to a time when real men played real instruments, back before rappers ruined everything with their drum machines and their AutoTune. Yawn. Ah, well — baby, bathwater, blah blah blah. Also Tues. (Mikael Wood)

 
Also playing Monday:

HOT CHIP at the Wiltern; CSS, TILLY & THE WALL at the Mayan; DEATH TO ANDERS, ONE TRICK PONY, HAPPY HOLLOWS at the Echo; BILL FRISELL & GREG LEISZ at Largo; THE KRIS SPECIAL, EZRA BUCHLA & LAURA STEENBERGE at Mr. T’s Bowl; MONOLATORS at Pehrspace; PEACHFUZZ at Spaceland; DOES IT OFFEND YOU YEAH at Troubadour.

 

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23

ELECTROCUTE, THE LADY TIGRA, THE BIRD & THE BEE at Spaceland

The sassy local electro-pop outfit Electrocute might be best known for fizzy, fluffy tunes like “Tiger Toy” and “Saturn Rings,” as well as the sleekly sexy and insidiously catchy title track of their recent EP On the Beat, but if there’s one thing that makes lead singer Nicole Morier deadly serious, it’s the sobering possibility that new “feminist” icon Sarah Palin might end up dismembering dead moose on the White House lawn in January. That prospect scares her so much, she’s helping to organize tonight’s Barack Obama fund-raiser. You know something’s wrong with America when even a silly, fun-loving band of dance-mad hedonists like Electrocute feel motivated to take political action. They’ll be joined by the sugary pop confections of Greg Kurstin and Inara George’s the Bird & the Bee; juiced-up and juicy hip-hopper the Lady Tigra; breezy pop combo Willoughby; the voyeuristic dance mob Hard Place; and funky glam weather people the Polyamorous Affair. Get up and dance — you might just save a moose. (Falling James)

 
JOSH ROUSE at Largo at the Coronet

 

Josh Rouse is something like Joe Henry without the flashy producer resumé. Both are Midwestern boys (Rouse born in Nebraska, Henry raised in Michigan) who found themselves constricted as rootsy singer-songwriters. While Henry hightailed off to avant Americana, Rouse’s own musical wanderlust took him to Nashville (where he made, among other discs, the aptly named Nashville). His real breakthrough came with 2003’s 1972, where he opened up — and loosened up — his sound with a dose of laid-back soulful pop. He continued to broaden his stylistic scope with his subsequent moves to Spain and Brooklyn (he now splits time between the two). His recent full lengths, Subtitulo and Country Mouse City Mouse, exude a wonderfully relaxed charm. He gracefully crafts his music with touches of rock, country, R&B, jazz and folk — whatever he thinks his warm, silky songs need. Hopefully, his L.A. set lists will include his irrepressibly funky, irresistibly funny “Hollywood Bass Player.” Also Wed. (Michael Berick)

 
Also playing Tuesday:

THE RACONTEURS, THE KILLS at Greek Theatre; FLEET FOXES at El Rey Theatre; CSS, TILLY & THE WALL at the Mayan; OKKERVIL RIVER, SEA WOLF at Henry Fonda Theater; ETRAN FINATAWA at Amoeba Music, 7 p.m.; AUTOMATIC MUSIC EXPLOSION at Canter’s; THE DUHKS at Hotel Café; LITTLE JACKIE, J DAVEY at the Roxy; CHINO XL, CROOKED I at Safari Sam’s; AMY McDONALD at the Troubadour.

 

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 24


Playing Wednesday:

COLD WAR KIDS at Henry Fonda Theater; BRAZILIAN GIRLS at the Wiltern; THE HIVES, EAGLES OF DEATH METAL, THE WILLOWZ at the Mayan; JOSH ROUSE at Largo; WHY THINGS BURN at Mr. T’s Bowl; DAVE STEWART at the Roxy; DANNY B. HARVEY at Taix; SARA LOV, ELENI MANDELL at Tangier; THE HANGMEN at Viper Room.

 

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 25

 
MISSION OF BURMA at the Echoplex

Tonight’s Mission of Burma set, in which the Boston post-punk band will perform their landmark 1982 album, Vs., in its entirety, presents a bit of an artistic conundrum. The album — which directly influenced Sonic Youth, R.E.M., Nirvana, Moby and even Pearl Jam (among many others) and was just reissued by Matador in a newly remastered “definitive” edition that includes bonus tracks and a DVD with a full concert performance from 1983 — encompasses such straight-ahead punk anthems as “The Ballad of Johnny Burma” and “That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate,” as well as stranger explorations like the wiggly electric-eel guitar riffs of “Trem Two” and the haunting coda spirals of “Dead Pool.” MOB played only a couple of times in Los Angeles during their early-’80s heyday and then took a 19-year break before reuniting in 2002, so any chance to get sucked up again into the swirling, mesmerizing noise vortex of “Secrets” is worth reveling in. But it’s something of a paradox that such a forward-looking band of experimentalists are taking a nostalgic digression now, especially since their two magnificent comeback CDs, ONoffON (2004) and The Obliterati (2006), are equally deserving of the full-length live treatment. On the other hand, perhaps the arbitrary constraints of linear time are irrelevant because Vs. still sounds bracingly fresh today. (Falling James)

 
CHICHA LIBRE, ETRAN FINATAWA at the Japanese American National Museum

Down in Peru, you got two kinds of chicha, your corn liquor and your cumbiadelic music. The rich folks and pointy heads don’t cotton much to either, looking down their snoots at the working stiffs who tie one on with the Incan hooch while getting down to those wavery geetars, organ con queso and tipsy-tumbling timbales. The music first shook its syncretic bootie in the late 1960s on Amazonian oil-field dance floors and soon spread to the urban jungle of Lima, soaking in rock, Latin and indigenous influences as the revelers smiled. But chicha remained unheard by the planetary ear until Barbès Records’ maven Olivier Conan “discovered” the good stuff during a Peruvian jaunt, inspiring an inimitably wonderful compilation, The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbia. The French expat’s NYC-based Chicha Libre released Sonido Amazonico! earlier this year, a goofball-fanatique channeling and reinvention of the chichanista groove. Joining them this evening is Etran Finatawa, the Tuareg/Wodaabe purveyors of the Saharan nomad blues who had Temple Bar in glorious trance several months back. Starts at 6:30 p.m. 369 E. First St., Little Tokyo. Etran Finatawa also at Amoeba Music, Tues., 7 p.m. (Tom Cheyney)

 
TUSSLE, RA RA RIOT at the Echo

One has only to hear the superficial attempts by the many lesser-equipped young Krautrockian bands to re-create the mesmerizing autopilot grooves of Kraftwerk and Neu in order to appreciate Tussle’s state-of-the-art-and-beyond aesthetic. The trio’s new disc, Cream Cuts, on the primo Smalltown Supersound label mixes their funk-laden improvs and dubtronic whirlpools with a newfound harmonic and textural depth and, crucially, a more structured sense of purpose that gives their woolly maelstroms of drums, electronics, bass and more electronics a palpably cinematic effect — though one is welcome to drop a jaw at the rapidly developing power, versatility and un-clichéd imagination of their instrumental chops. But forget all the Krautrock references, because the most exciting thing about this stuff is that it sounds like, well, nothing quite like what has come before. And that’s where it’s at. In a jarringly different realm altogether, Ra Ra Riot will provide the emo-tive rock passion to the 10th power as delivered so unsparingly on their new The Rhumb Line album on Barsuk. (John Payne)

 

 
THE SHONDES at Silverlake Lounge

The Shondes are named after the Yiddish word for “shame,” and it sometimes seems like the coed Brooklyn quartet are not only taking on all of the problems of the modern world but also trying to resolve every past injustice on their new Tony Maimone–produced CD, The Red Sea. Clearly, this is a serious and ambitious band. Louisa Solomon belts out her thoughtfully passionate lyrics with a grand voice that draws on the mannered fierceness of riot-grrl icons like Bikini Kill. At times, her delivery has a heroic intensity. At others, there’s a strident sameness that makes one wish Solomon employed a little more dynamic variety in her vocals or relaxed occasionally and revealed something approaching a sense of humor. Still, Elijah Oberman’s violin balances Solomon’s fire with slithering melodies that give tracks like “At the Water” a stately kind of beauty. And while “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” rips off the name of Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s similarly titled classic, it’s an otherwise unrelated song whose breathtaking dramatics are made even more magical by Ian Brannigan’s hovering sheets of post-punk guitars. (Falling James)

 
Also playing Thursday:

THE RACONTEURS, THE KILLS at Santa Barbara Bowl; THE HIVES, EAGLES OF DEATH METAL, THE WILLOWZ at the Mayan; RICKIE LEE JONES at Cerritos Center; ATMOSPHERE, ABSTRACT RUDE at the Wiltern; JUNO REACTOR at El Rey Theatre; KID ROCK at Gibson Amphitheatre; POP LEVI at Amoeba Music, 7 p.m.; AUTOMATIC MUSIC EXPLOSION at Crane’s; CARLOS GUITARLOS at Eastside Luv; WATKINS FAMILY HOUR, HONEYHONEY at Largo; JON WAHL at Taix; LION OF PANJSHIR, MIA DOI TODD at Tangier.


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