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Rock Picks: Grizzly Bear, Michigan and Smiley, Meshell Ndegeocello, Aztlan Underground

Thao With the Get Down Stay Down: Feeling like shit never felt so good.
Alicia J. Rose

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 16

Thao With the Get Down Stay Down, Portland Cello Project at the Echoplex
Thao Nguyen has no problem with the crippling wounds of romance. In fact, if her delightfully razor-sharp imagery is any indication, she revels in the pain — it’s evident in the way she places heartache on a high pedestal and dresses it up in her god-given, instinctual sense of beautifully crafted orchestration. Feeling like shit never felt so good. With the capable, folksy instrumentation and whimsical bounce of her cohorts’ playing (Adam Thompson provides bass, keys and additional guitar, and Willis Thompson, drums and percussion), Nguyen is making a formidable name for herself crafting torch songs for the hipster set. Her new album, Know Better Learn Faster, is less than one week old and careening its fresh style all over blogs, mags and airwaves in the know. Touring with Thao With the Get Down Stay Down is the Portland Cello Project, featuring a revolving roster of classically trained musicians who play — you guessed it — a whole mess of cellos. And they’re versatile players performing either their own original orchestrations, covers or collaborations with the likes of the Dandy Warhols, Horse Feathers, Mirah and, suitably, Nguyen — whose version of “Tallymarks” with the Cello Project makes for a looming battle of the hearts. (Wendy Gilmartin)

 

Ghostface Killah at the Key Club
The new album from Wu-Tang’s most consistently compelling MC is an oddity by even his odd standards: On the formidably titled Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City, the man best known for his Rube Goldberg drug-caper yarns sets his one-of-a-kind mind to the love song, collaborating with a handful of new-jack R&B singers (including John Legend and Estelle) for a collection he recently told The New York Times was intended to channel the “warmer and rougher and dirtylike” vibe of his favorite vintage-soul songs. (“Dirtylike,” at least, poses no problem for Ghostface: “You can put my dick in your mouth and play with my nuts,” he offers generously in “Stapleton Sex,” “But before I bust, babe, I think I’ll come in your butt.”) As any Wu fan knows, this show is liable to go in any number of directions, including some that have nothing at all to do with The Wizard of Poetry. Caveat emptor. (Mikael Wood)

 

Dan Deacon, Nuclear Power Pants at Eagle Rock Center for the Arts
Baltimore’s Wham City Collective is all about the audio/visual onslaught. A generally maximalist art crew based in Baltimore, the many-headed group has long been renowned around its own stomping grounds for throwing the kinds of warehouse parties that leave attendees and venue alike forever changed. But only in the past few years has the Wham experience ventured as far as the West Coast, largely due to the impressive work of the collective’s unofficial figurehead, Dan Deacon. Even when Deacon isn’t touring with a 14-piece ensemble, as he did earlier in the year, he’s famous for creating a full-bore musical experience, usually from the venue floor, and asking the audience to participate in several energy-building games. So what does his music sound like? Brian Eno crossed with a pinball machine? A box of crayons versed in music theory? Something like that. Openers Nuclear Power Pants are Whammers as well, with a known penchant for foam monster suits, heavy rhythms, black lights, electronic squelch and dressing up like librarians. (Chris Martins)

 

Also playing Friday:

FEDERICO AUBELE, DEPEDRO at the Troubadour; THE BANGLES at Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts; KFMDM, ANGEL SPIT at Club Nokia; DAN DEACON, NUCLEAR POWER PANTS at Eagle Rock Center for the Arts; A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS, DARKER MY LOVE, ALL THE SAINTS at the Echo; DAVID GARRETT at El Rey Theatre; MAXWELL, COMMON, CHRISETTE MICHELLE at the Hollywood Bowl; KELLY JOE PHELPS at McCabe’s; KASKADE at the Hollywood Palladium; JAMIE FOXX at Nokia Theatre; AIMEE MANN, FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE at the Wiltern; PAT BENATAR & NEIL GIRALDO at the Canyon; B-SIDE PLAYERS at the Mint; MIKE WATT & HIS SECONDMEN at the Redwood Bar & Grill.

 

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 17

Pi at Room 5
Singer-songwriter Pi’s got this very nice long-player out called Fire Horse Girl, produced with high style and taste by Randy Wine (U2, Aretha Franklin). Very nice? Well, in a way-overcrowded field of singer-songwriters who trendishly seek to evoke the depth and charms of their great forebears from the ’70s, Pi somehow carries it off, and she does it with the most deceptively simple tools: She writes memorable tunes, and she sings them with a satisfying alto sweetness that’s free of “singerly” gimmickery. That simplicity also applies to her lyrical matter, which, like so many others’, addresses the trials and tribulations of love, loss, liberty and life itself; yet on songs like “Santa Ana,” which weaves gingerly finger-plucked acoustic guitar around Pi’s unadorned voice, and especially the chart-topper-in-a-parallel-universe “Brand New Shoes,” with its strolling bounce and sunshiney harmonies, that ’70s vibe gains an addictive new relevance. (John Payne)

 

 

The Gears at Red Balls Rock & Roll Pizza
The Gears were one of the most fun and consistently rocking bands in the early Los Angeles punk scene, but they seldom get the same critical attention as X, the Weirdos and the Germs, in large part because their one album, 1980’s Rockin’ at Ground Zero, was out of print for 20 years. In the past decade, the LP has been reissued on CD several times, but the new deluxe edition on Hep Cat Records is probably the best version, since it comes with several recently discovered demos, as well as a bonus disc, Rare Cuts, that features 22 riotous, long-out-of-print recordings by Gears singer Axxel G. Reese’s mid-’80s bluesy hard-rock band, the D.I.s. (In fact, the somewhat haphazard packaging is geared — so to speak — more toward the D.I.s songs, which include detailed liner notes by L.A. Weekly contributor Jonny Whiteside, rather than the Gears tracks, which are accompanied by Chris Ashford’s rather scant blurb, something that appears to be a hastily and sloppily scribbled afterthought.) Although the Gears are down to two original members — Reese and former Controllers guitarist Kidd Spike (who’s barely mentioned in the latest repackaging) — they still crank out their teenage classics about smoking pot and chasing high school girls with a delirious Ramones-like power. (Falling James)

 

Juliette Lewis, the Ettes at El Rey Theatre
The Ettes were largely overlooked when they were based here a few years ago, but the Nashville trio have moved up considerably in the garage-rock cosmos since then. Their first two albums, Shake the Dust and Look at Life Again Soon, were helmed by White Stripes producer Liam Watson, and their new CD, Do You Want Power (Take Root Records), was produced by Memphis garage-rock kingpin Greg Cartwright (the Reigning Sound, the Oblivians), except for “No Home,” a sludgy and fuzzed-out track produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. What likely attracts such hip figures is the way that charismatic Ettes singer-guitarist Lindsay “Coco” Hames manages to keep her poise, whether she’s chanting a noisy garage-punk raver like “I Can’t Be True” or sighing pretty pop ballads like the roots-folkie acoustic lament “While Your Girl’s Away” and the dreamy piano idyll “Keep Me in Flowers.” Coco’s eternal themes of love and betrayal are punched out in short, hooky bursts that take on more intensity onstage, where drummer Maria “Poni” Silver slashes at her cymbals relentlessly and Jem Cohen pounds his monstrously rumbling bass lines like a punked-up John Entwistle. Headliner Juliette Lewis’ worst problem might be that she tries too hard. For all of the actor-singer’s passion, most of the rock-pop tunes on her recent CD, Terra Incognita, are overwrought and generic, aiming for profundity but often coming off as bombastic and ponderous instead. This “Hard Lovin’ Woman” is much more interesting when she tones it down a little, especially on such relatively subtle and spacy songs as “Romeo” and “Fantasy Bar.” (Falling James)

 

Also playing Saturday:

CHALI 2NA, ACE YALON at the Roxy; HONOR SOCIETY, ESMEE DENTERS, EMILY OSMENT at House of Blues; PATRICK WATSON at Largo at the Coronet; THE POGUES, THE AGGROLITES at Club Nokia; FITZ & THE TANTRUMS at Avalon; REAGAN YOUTH, THE VARUKERS, THE ACCUSED, DOOMSDAY HOUR at Alex’s Bar; HORSE THE BAND, IWRESTLEDABEARONCE at Eagle Rock Center for the Arts; CALABRESE, THE ORDER OF THE FLY, MURDERLAND, NIGHTMARE SYNDROME at the Knitting Factory; BRAND NEW, THE BUILDERS & THE BUTCHERS, MANCHESTER ORCHESTRA at the Hollywood Palladium; THE CHOKE at Redwood Bar & Grill; EVERLAST at the Key Club; JAMIE FOXX at Nokia Theatre; ROGER DALTREY at the Orpheum Theatre; BRANDI CARLILE, KATIE HERZIG at the Wiltern; PAT BENATAR & NEIL GIRALDO at the Canyon; MAD GREGS, TOMMY SANTEE KLAWS, DOOMBIRD at Echo Curio; WAVVES, THE SOFT PACK, GANGLIANS at the Echoplex; JACK TEMPCHIN at the Hotel Cafe; B-SIDE PLAYERS at the Mint.

 

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 18

Aztlan Underground at the Troubadour
Some bands write songs, but Aztlan Underground composes storms. The local post-punk collective’s new self-titled CD is their first album since 2001’s Sub-Verses, and only their third overall, following the 1995 debut, Decolonize. After eight years, they’ve got a lot on their minds, decrying war, social injustices and the destruction of indigenous cultures, through such rabid broadsides as “Smell the Dead” and “9/10/11/12 (Message to the Dominant Culture).” There’s a lot of rage against the machine in Yaotl’s caustic rants and raps, but guitarist Alonzo Beas also shapes some majestically psychedelic passages in epic tracks like “Moztlitta” and “Be God” (where Yaotl declares, “We are the fruits of celestial explosions/We are all God”). Aztlan Underground’s sounds and messages are heavy, with the thunderous rhythm section of bassist Joe Peps and drummer Ignacio “Caxo” Lopez laying down thick shards of punk and hard rock, but their music also draws upon the mystic natural power of “urban tribalism,” with flutes, rattles and other indigenous instrumentation. (Falling James)

 

 

Also playing Sunday:

MONSTERS OF FOLK at the Greek; BUTTHOLE SURFERS, MELVINS at Club Nokia; GOGOL BORDELLO, APOSTLE OF HUSTLE at the Grove of Anaheim; BLACK HEART PROCESSION, THE MUMLERS, VOICES VOICES at the Echoplex; CASXIO at Cinespace; THE VARUKERS at Cobalt Cafe; DEICIDE, MERCILESS, NIGHT TERROR, LETUM ASCENSUS at the Key Club; SKALOWEEN FEAT. LEFT ALONE, VIERNES 13, CHENCHA BERRINCHES, ORANGE, OTHERS at the Knitting Factory; THE GONZALO BERGARA QUARTET at Liquid Kitty; JOHN WESLEY HARDING at McCabe’s.

 

MONDAY, OCTOBER 19

Spiral Stairs, Bob Mould Band at the Troubadour
In February, Scott Kannberg opted out of the coulda-been Pavement reunion in Nashville — the only member absent from the lineup, which is strange because Kannberg was never the big ego at the center of the breakup. (Fear not, the real Pavement reunion is happening in September 2010 in New York, if not sooner at Coachella.) Reunion-busting aside, it’s hard to stay sore at the guy. Remember that Kannberg’s hardworking band, Preston School of Industry, provided a straight-ahead indie antidote to the Brooklyn-centric dance/noise most folks were tripping over in 2004 with their wonderfully well-rounded album, Monsoon. His solo project, Spiral Stairs, does something similar, with its light touch, tight sing-along melodies and effortless, classic hooks. The new album, The Real Feel, is essentially Kannberg going solo with heaping helpings of contributing friends, including the Posies’ Jon Auer and Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew. Hint: You never know who might show up this evening. Bob Mould plays tonight as well, and if his intimate March performance at the Hotel Café is any indication, he’ll be rolling off loads of rollicking, stripped-down numbers from his new album, Life and Times. (Wendy Gilmartin)

 

Neal Morgan, Pit Er Pat, Whqles, Concett9
at Echo CurioNeal Morgan isn’t exactly signed to Drag City, but the Chicago indie giant liked the Portland singer/drummer’s new self-released record so much that it “bought a stack” of To the Breathing World to sell and distribute. In a recent press release, the label cheekily called his music “drum-and-not-bass,” but you could add “not guitar” to that genre hyphenate as well: The only sounds you’ll hear on Breathing World come from Morgan’s furious sticks and his rather soothing voice. Take a song like “Salamanders,” where poetic lyrical abstractions are arranged in taut harmonic layers while drums explode and fade away, cymbals ring and, well . that’s it. Imagine Dirty Projectors’ bent R&B as performed by a drum corps. Or just show up to witness this erstwhile member of Joanna Newsom’s band pull it off live. Thrill Jockey–signed Pit Er Pat plays a darkly ambient, and sometimes dubby, form of Krautrock that pulls what levity it’s got from the vocals of lead Fay Davis-Jeffers. (Chris Martins)

 

Also playing Monday:

LA ROUX, TEARIST at El Rey Theatre; LIGHT FM, HIS ORCHESTRA, THE MEETING PLACES at Spaceland; SNOW PATROL, PLAIN WHITE T’S at the Henry Fonda Theater; GAROTAS SUECAS, AUDACITY, THEE MAKEOUT PARTY, YELLOW ALEX at the Bootleg Theater; CORREATOWN, CHARLIE WADHAMS, DEERHEART, THE HEREAFTER at the Echo; TIFF JIMBER, MARIE DIGBY, MOZELLA, NICOLE SIMON at the Hotel Cafe.

 

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 20

Brother Ali at El Rey Theatre
Big white kid Brother Ali is from Madison, Wisconsin, where he grew up having to take a lotta guff about being an albino. So he did a geographical, moving to Minneapolis and getting involved in the hip-hop scene there, converting to Islam, earning props as one formidable poetry slammer, and basically learning who and what he is — and how to express it. When he released The Undisputed Truth (Rhymesayers) in 2007, the follow-up to his powerful Shadows on the Sun album from 2004, Bro Ali bumped things up several notches, showing a highly motivated man’s gift for finely flowing, articulate raps, mainly serious stuff about inner-city hell, our shameful slave-trading past, the sad smoke of a dying love and the warm embrace of a forgiving god. A masterpiece (let’s say it), his brand-new Us album finds Bro Ali digging even deeper into the illness, tackling drug deaths, crumbling families and a superbly honed slam on homophobia, again to longtime producer Ant’s tasty beats and warming, dubby-licious electro-funk. Humane, cool Brother Ali, he just makes you feel good, about him, about us, about what we can accomplish together. (John Payne)

 

Grizzly Bear at the Palladium
What does the fact that Jay-Z and Beyonce recently caught a Grizzly Bear show in New York — and dug it — mean for the music world in general? Nothing, so just shut up about it. It was weird, okay, like if our best friend just slept with our favorite uncle or something. God help us if the consequence is any sort of unplanned side-project/pregrancy. Grizzly Bear: NPR-friendly baroque pop crossed with Brill Building structures and doo-wop harmonies. Not a funk bass line or breakbeat to be found. They’re seldom dangerous, they look like Ivy Leaguers and make sweet songs sound pretty. Their new album, Veckatimest, is a perfect date record: hip but not downtown hip, practiced and precious but not annoying. It’s nice, truth be told, and there’s nothing wrong with nice. If we’re defensive about it, though, and its edgelessness, maybe it’s because we’re grumpy, and this much beauty sometimes needs to be destroyed. Opening the show will be Baltimore duo Beach House, who, thankfully, survived the Pitchfork curse/backlash that befell many lesser bands handicapped to be Forever Important by the music site. Beach House, who recently signed to Sub Pop, rode that initial wave of bloggy enthusiasm like a champ, and have gradually become one of America’s best bands. Much of that allure is due to vocalist Victoria Legrand, whose husky, polytonal voice suggests Stevie Nicks’ sandpaper dynamics. But as any visit to the Hotel Cafe will tell you, pretty singers are a dime a dozen. Beach House’s songs, written by Legrand (who also sings with Grizzly Bear) and partner Alex Scally, are what matter. They’re solid, smart, touching, honest and, in a world in which stream-of-consciousness gibberish passes for lyrics, wonderfully unoblique. (Randall Roberts)

 

 

Also playing Tuesday:

JIMMY WEBB at Largo at the Coronet; OWL CITY, THE SCENE AESTHETIC, BROOKE WAGGONER at the Troubadour; DARIUS RUCKER, JYSI at Club Nokia; ROB THOMAS, ONE REPUBLIC at Gibson Amphitheatre; THE SUBJECTS, BAD VEINS, COBRA LILIES at the Echo; WHY?, AU, SERENGETI, POLYPHONIC at the Echoplex; ADAM MARSLAND at El Cid; NOAH & THE WHALE, ROBERT FRANCIS at the Roxy.

 

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 21

Michigan and Smiley at the Echoplex
Freewheeling vocal twosome Papa Michigan and General Smiley — reggae’s first male duo — have always been distinguished by their ebullient, conversational exchanges, sunny spirituality, sophisticated rhyming schemes and a use of language that operated at a level high above many of their mike-slinging contemporaries. Their smasheroo debut, “Nice Up the Dance” (chanted on top of Willie Williams’ apocalyptic “Armigideon Time” riddim), smartly showcased all of those attributes, became a staple on sound systems across Jamaica and set the pair on the express line to international stardom. Their notoriety increased further when 1982’s “Diseases” was actually followed by the island’s first polio outbreak. (“Let me set the record straight,” Michigan later said. “I had nothing to do with it ... it was just prophetic.”) Having gracefully maneuvered the shift from the late-’70s hard-roots sound into the manic dance-hall era, Michigan & Smiley still deliver. So, as they sang back in ’79, “Pop it in gear and have no fear — the time to be happy is now.” (Jonny Whiteside)

 

Also playing Wednesday:

GORDON LIGHTFOOT at the Canyon; THE SOUNDS, SHINY TOY GUNS, DESTRUCTO, SEMI PRECIOUS WEAPONS at the Wiltern; THE HEAVY, SWEATERS, SHIRLEY ROLLS at the Echo; THE EMMITT-NERSHI BAND, ASSEMBLY OF DUST, JERRY HANNAN at the Mint.

 

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 22

Meshell Ndegeocello, J*DaVeY at El Rey Theatre
Once an appealingly unlikely figure on the mainstream pop scene — remember her hit cover of Van Morrison’s “Wild Night” with John Mellencamp? — Meshell Ndegeocello has spent the past few years weirding up her stuff to intriguing (if totally uncommercial) effect: You don’t title a record The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel, as Ndegeocello did her jazzy 2005 disc, unless you’re prepared to get a little loose. The singer-bassist’s new one, Devil’s Halo, is slightly more structured than Spirit Music or 2007’s avant-cabaret The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams. In “Lola,” for example, she rides a brisk rock beat by drummer Deantoni Parks that you could reasonably tap your toe to. But it’s still plenty out there. At El Rey Ndegeocello will front a quintet that includes T Bone Burnett’s keyboardist, Keefus Ciancia; reports from the road promise a cover of Prince’s “Dirty Mind.” With local future-soul eccentrics J*DaVeY. (Mikael Wood)

 

Rykarda Parasol at the Viper Room
“Life is short, and life is sad/So let’s carouse, we’ll pretend we’re glad,” Rykarda Parasol croons grandly over the circling “Peter Gunn” guitar riffs and decadently swanky sweep of horns on “A Drinking Song,” from her upcoming album, For Blood and Wine. The “rock noir” chanteuse from San Francisco is all about shadowy atmosphere, but rueful ballads like “Widow in White” possess a melodicism and elegance that’s more affecting than most goth-cabaret dirges. The gigantic introductory chords of “Maggie” slam like Link Wray’s iconic “Rumble,” before melting into a funereal procession that sounds like Siouxsie Sioux fronting the Gun Club — it’s weirdly gorgeous. “Covenant” has an incantational, Patti Smith–style momentum, and “No Sir (Ain’t No Man Gonna)” is defiantly moody. Parasol, who created the “secret location art salon” the Hive and has worked with the Bad Seeds’ Blixa Bargeld, is obviously kind of intense, finding great beauty in great sadness. For her, every day is gloomy Sunday. (Falling James)

 

 

Also playing Thursday:

HOPE SANDOVAL & THE WARM INVENTIONS, DIRT BLUE GENE at the Mayan; MICHAEL SHOWALTER, MICHAEL IAN BLACK at the Orpheum Theatre; LLOYD COLE at the Troubadour; SUPERHUMANOIDS, EZRA REICH, THE ROYALTIES at the Bordello; BELA FLECK, ZAKIR HUSSAIN & EDGAR MEYER at Royce Hall; THE STEVE MILLER BAND at USC (Bovard Auditorium); SWOLLEN MEMBERS, BOOMBOX NINJAS at the Key Club; THOSE DARLINS at Silverlake Lounge; THE SOUNDS, SHINY TOY GUNS, DESTRUCTO, SEMI PRECIOUS WEAPONS at the Wiltern; THE WANDERING MARIONETTES at the Bootleg Theater; THE OH SEES, FRESH & ONLYS, DAN MELCHIOR at the Echo; BEN GIBBARD & JAY FARRAR at Largo at the Coronet.


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