Rock Picks: DJ Quik, Alejandro Escovedo, Ratatat
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 4
Why? at the Echoplex
It’s hard to imagine a better cross-section of this city’s young and restless than a Why? gig. They all turn out in droves: the lovelorn Romeos and diary Don Juans, the scenester kids in American Apparel monochromes, the hip-hop fans with bouncing hands, the vegan folksters, the slick rockers, the mixtape traders and the occasional goth too — and it’s no wonder. When the Oakland crew’s third LP, Alopecia, dropped this March to rave reviews, it was plenty clear that Why? are the sole owners of their sound, a kaleidoscopic fruit roll-up of Pavement shambolics, Dylanesque imagery, Lil Wayne-y warped rap and Arthur Russell experimentalism (and then some). But this ain’t no po-mo car crash. Experienced in person, the winsome Yoni Wolf and his multi-instrumentalist ’mates become modern art-pop masters — as likely to inspire a sing-along as an impromptu poem scribbled on a ticket stub. (Chris Martins)
Also playing Thursday:
THE BAD PLUS at the Catalina Bar & Grill; TOM BROSSEAU at the Smell.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 5
Nada Surf, the Watson Twins at the Troubadour
New York’s jingly-jangly dream-pop stalwarts Nada Surf gleaned their massive cult following the old-fashioned way, by dint of hard work, a bit of good luck and, mainly, a reliably rocking catalogue of puckishly powerful pop songs. While their latest, Lucky (Barsuk), further refines the band’s polished blend of agitated emo yelping, memorably melodic choonage and seesawingly lite-heavy riffrawking, it does so in a way that typically sounds so indie-familiar that the band is in danger of ... well, being mistaken for another band. But it’d be churlish to deny that when they’re spot-on, they do seem to synthesize history’s most potent rock schemes in one big convenient blast. Openers the Watson Twins, Chandra and Leigh, are two beautiful, tall sisters from Louisville, Kentucky, who twine their neo-trad-folk-countryish harmonies in a most darkly evergreen and elegant way; their debut full length, just out, is called Fire Songs, on the esteemed Vanguard label. (Nada Surf also plays Sat. at the Troub, with Inara George.) (John Payne)
The Bad Plus at the Catalina Bar & Grill
Wisconsin trio the Bad Plus understand a thing or two about making jazz in the 21st century, at least the kind that people dig outside of the insular world of Marsalis-ists and traditionalists. To wit: if you want to draw in a new audience, it’s important to redefine what constitutes a “standard.” Yes, “I Loves You, Porgy” and “My Funny Valentine” still matter, but who among the under-50 crowd gets excited when a group interprets them? Over the course of their decade-long career, the Bad Plus have covered everyone from the Aphex Twin (an astounding version of “Flim”) to the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” to Nirvana (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”) to Blondie (“Heart of Glass”). On last year’s Prog, they interpret — get this — Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears. And it’d be one thing if it reeked of novelty, but the threesome are so adept with their instruments (piano, bass, drums) that within a few notes they’ve made the songs their own. Even smarter, the covers serve as a sort of Trojan horse to introduce their own compositions, which, like the incredible “Giant,” ring with an innate familiarity that causes you to wonder whether these, too, are standards. If they’re not now, they soon will be. Also Sat. (Randall Roberts)
Also playing Friday:
Jeremy Jay at Pehrspace; Estelle at the Key Club; Kenna at the Viper Room; Kav at Spaceland.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 6
Ellen Allien, Modeselektor, Matthew Dear at Avalon Hollywood
Attention, ethnomusicologists looking for a thesis to chew on. Someone please figure out why two cities in very different corners of the world have so strongly bonded over the love of rigid but beautiful electronic music, becoming aesthetic neighbors and carrying along a 20-year, across-the-ocean techno conversation. Detroit had the idea first, sure, but in recent times Berlin has expanded on the notion of lockstep four-on-the-floor stomp, the kind with floral, rococo melody lines woven through. The trio gigging at Avalon provide ample evidence: one Detroiter (Matthew Dear) and two Berliners (Ellen Allien and Modeselektor) offer widely varying notions of 21st-century electronic dance music. Dear, who records deep, chaotic instrumental tracks as Audion, in recent years has been singing on his tracks, trying to merge the thump with pop structure (to varying degrees of success). Allien, the founder of the fantastic label BPitch Control, creates epic, heavy tracks with noisy melodies and, usually, massive, transformative hooks. Modeselektor are weirder and prefer a more synthetic, electro-induced sound that is ultra surprising when sandwiched in sets between more minimal tracks. (Randall Roberts)
The Menage a Trois Tour, featuring French Cowboy, Papier Tigre, the Solace Bros. at the Scene
Out there in the hot hot heat of Tucson, Arizona, thrives a mysterious hotbed of musical creativity fed on a regular basis by, for some strange reason, artists from France who invariably improve upon (or at least warp intriguingly) the American roots styles they so obviously adore. For example, French Cowboy, formerly of French superstar band Little Rabbits, which recorded seven albums in Tucson with renowned producer Jim Waters (Sonic Youth, Jon Spencer Explosion). They’ll be offering their atmospheric brand of noirish surfy country. Also on the bill are compatriots Papier Tigre, who offer a very hard-rocking chunk of punky rock-disco angularity straight outta Nantes, France. Tucson’s own Solace Bros. bring the baritone guitar, keys and drums to deliver a tension-filled and musically deep punk squawk, replete with some unusually well-imagined melodies and chordal quirks amid their fuzzily fascinating wall of noise. All three bands have new stuff out on the excellent Havalina Records label, which you ought to seek out, ’cause c’est fantastique! (John Payne)
DJ Quik at the Key Club
It’s hard to find a more well-connected musician than DJ Quik. The Compton rapper has worked with 2Pac, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Janet Jackson, Talib Kweli, Whitney Houston, Adina Howard, E-40, Jay-Z, Kurupt, Ludacris, Xzibit, Chingy and a whole bunch more. With equal skills on the mic and behind the scenes, it’s easy to hear why. As an emcee, Quik commands attention with gritty rhymes and a smooth flow. His first two records, 1991’s Quik is the Name and 1992’s Way 2 Fonky, showed the world that the CPT wasn’t a one-trick pony ridden by N.W.A. But it’s his clean production techniques that separate the man born David Blake from other rhyme slingers. Quik’s most recent album, 2005’s Trauma, sounds as nice as a cool pillow on a warm summer day and features the rapper’s uncanny ability of making the slickest-sounding bass and drums in hip-hop. Compton should be proud. (Ryan Ritchie)
Also playing Saturday:
Nine Inch Nails with Deerhunter at the Forum; The Twilight Sleep at Spaceland; Bic Runga at Largo at the Coronet.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 7
Death Vessel at Spaceland
Sub Pop’s latest blog-buzz beneficiary shares more than a goth-leaning name with one of the label’s earlier hype magnets: Like Sam Beam of Iron and Wine, Death Vessel’s Joel Thibodeau, from Rhode Island, crafts remarkably intimate folk-pop ballads that pull from any number of backwoods roots-music traditions; also like Beam, he utilizes a rotating cast of musicians happy to throw in their lot with a guy whose delicate nature belies a firm artistic sensibility. Most appraisals of Nothing Is Precious Enough for Us, Death Vessel’s new Sub Pop disc, have focused on Thibodeau’s unique singing voice, which is certainly fair, as dude sounds uncannily like a lady. But don’t let the freak-flag factor distract you from Thibodeau’s songwriting, which (again like Beam’s) plumbs gnarly realities with tenderness and grace. (Mikael Wood)
Witchcraft, Warlocks, TK Webb & the Visions, Graveyard at the Echoplex
Recorded “100 percent Pro Tools- and digital-free” and using only ’70s vintage amps and studio gear, The Alchemist (Rise Above) is Swedish hard rockers Witchcraft’s latest release, their third and not coincidentally most wicked ragnarok of classic Euro-rock hard stuff. Rising above the doomy sludge of their initial output, the band now looks to a more melodicized (a la Deep Purple, say) framework for their extended psyche-boogie excursions, the result of which is a nice big load of hummable dark-drone ditties with monster riffs that seem even more head-lurching because of their memorability. Fock dude, these guys can really play, seriously, so savor the detailed approach they take in pushing the metal forward. Swedish brethren behemoths Graveyard and the brilliant brutality of Brooklyn’s psycho-blues henchman TK Webb and his Visions unit further solidifies the fun and frolic, as does L.A.’s own Warlocks, laying on choice slabs from their upcoming Heavy Deavy Skull Lover album (Tee Pee). (John Payne)
Also playing Sunday:
The Bird and the Bee and guests at Tangier.
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 8
Amos Lee, Lucy Wainwright Roche at the Music Box at the Henry Fonda Theater
Philadelphia-based Amos Lee plays a loose-limbed brand of folk-soul that, given its tasteful acoustic vibe and his alignment with Norah Jones’ crew, I’ve been expecting to soften into coffeeshop mush for three albums now. Yet thanks to his velvet-sandpaper vocals and his habit of singing about family strife and the trouble with exporting democracy, Lee’s stuff has remained sharp almost despite itself. His latest, June’s typically solid Last Days at the Lodge, features contributions from a cast of music-biz heavyweights, including producer Don Was, keyboardist Spooner Oldham and bassist Pino Palladino; instructive song titles are “Truth,” “Better Days” and “Jails and Bombs.” Tonight, don’t let Lee get away without playing “Sweet Pea,” a charming little shuffle seemingly modeled after “Sh-Boom (Life Could Be a Dream),” and “Careless,” a gorgeous love song with an unexpected third party. With Lucy Wainwright Roche, half-sister of Rufus and Martha. (Mikael Wood)
Also playing Monday:
Death to Anders at the Echo.
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 9
Jennifer O’Connor at Spaceland
Whether or not Jennifer O’Connor achieves her acclaim today or two decades hence must be left to history, but one way or another her songs will get their due. O’Connor, originally from Atlanta but now in NYC, makes them as sturdy and utilitarian as a coffee table. Her Over the Mountain, Across the Valley ... from 2006 was an overlooked gem that contained at least one timeless classic, “Today,” and many surprising others. Her new Here With Me (Matador) is equally efficient; the singer/songwriter crafts love songs that recall the softer tracks on Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, or Lucinda Williams minus the Louisiana twang, or, perhaps most instructive, the Shins. No, these songs will never land on radio (too honest), but they’re tailor-made for a winning slot on a movie or TV soundtrack. Cut to a woman giving the stink-eye to a friend at a holiday mixer, as O’Connor’s “Xmas Party” fades in: “And not everyone was pretty/not everyone was thin/I think you’re pretty ugly/For turning into one of them.” Opening for Damien Jurado. (Randall Roberts)
Alejandro Escovedo at the Troubadour
Tonight’s show is a makeup date after Alejandro Escovedo had to postpone a gig at this club back in late July because of health issues. Following a serious bout with Hepatitis-C a few years ago, he’s nonetheless risen triumphantly and phoenix-like with his latest album, Real Animal, where he takes on the tragedy of his former Chelsea Hotel neighbors Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungeon through an urgently frantic and sordidly surreal eyewitness account. It’s never clear if Sid really killed Nancy, but the song lingers as a disturbing and compulsively fascinating piece of street journalism long after the CD ends. Escovedo contrasts that slice of darkness with the overtly pretty ballad “Swallows of San Juan,” where Susan Voelz’s violins rush in dreamily like the namesake birds. He also takes a look back at his gloriously misspent punk rock youth in songs that reference his early bands the Nuns and Rank & File, but these tracks aren’t sentimentally nostalgic as much as they are launching points for strange new ways of defying expectations. (Falling James)
Also playing Tuesday:
Ratatat at the Music Box at the Henry Fonda Theatre; Balkan Beat Box and DeLeon at the El Rey; Mogwai, Fuck Buttons at the Wiltern.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 10
Ratatat at the Music Box at the Henry Fonda Theatre
The mighty and thunderous Ratatat machine has shifted gears slightly, and the duo’s past electric warrior-style blast of monster guitars and heavy, synthesized rhythms has taken a back seat to a more sophisticated and intricate sound. What this means is: less roar, more curl-up-to-you-like-a-pussycat, which, when listening to their three albums on shuffle, becomes the perfect soundtrack for your interstellar overdrive journey into exotic worlds and future dimensions. It’s music for both a hipster, rooftop pool party or dinner with mom. Expect to see a sparse live setup, but hear a richly layered sound sprinkled with world flare, an arsenal of strings and pianos, and a bunch of other nifty instrumental doodads that might or might not have real names. There’s a real delicacy to all those angular sounds, sinuous lines, beefed-up loops and brainiac electronics. Laptops make pretty sounds. Guitars brightly sing. Beats make feet move. Ratatat makes heart go pitter-patter. Also Tues. (Kat Jetson)
Also playing Wednesday:
Squeeze at the Orpheum; Built to Spill, Quasiat the Troubadour; Nels Cline, Jon Brion at Largo at the Coronet.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 11
Built to Spill, Quasi at the Troubadour
Hey, Built to Spill will be doing their 1997 Perfect From Now On album in its entirety in these special nights at the Troub. We must report that these L.A. shows are sold out, though. For those of you thinking about trying to get tix or maybe sneak in, keep in mind that Boise, Montana’s best have never made a better album, not nothing that ever topped the guitaristically glorious epicness of those eight Perfect tracks, which to this day still beam a righteous radiance that makes us feel pure and beautiful, and increasingly brings a tiny tear to the eye (nostalgia, don’t you know). Reportedly the band is just now peaking as a live proposition, too, so this should be an entirely awesome spectacle to witness — heartwarming, at very least. Then Quasi (former BTS man Sam Coomes and Sleater-Kinney’s Janet Weiss, now joined by bassist Joanna Bolme), is not just still around, but currently doing some of their strongest work, as evidenced by the turbulent and somewhat indefinable charms of their last one, When the Going Gets Dark (Touch and Go) Also Wed. (John Payne)
Also playing Thursday:
Toadies at The Roxy; Tim Finn at the El Rey.
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