Rock Picks: GZA, the Ettes, A.A. Bondy, Mose Allison
GZA at the Echoplex
As the members of the Wu-Tang Clan enter their 40s, that old line about old(er) dogs and new tricks seems less and less relevant. Take GZA, who got his start rapping at Brooklyn block parties in the mid-’80s. The crucial Wu Clansman released a bona fide classic in 1995, Liquid Swords, and followed it up with a series of solid albums and guest spots that consistently qualified his title within the crew as “The Genius,” a lyricist whose every couplet displays a serious mastery of street smarts and poetic device — exactly the kind of thing that makes for great crossover appeal. GZA has been smart enough not to change up his winning style, but he’s also proved his savvy in reaching out to his more rock-oriented fans — hipsters, specifically — not only performing Liquid Swords from beginning to end at Pitchfork’s 2007 festival, but collaborating with garage punks Black Lips last year. But the Genius in Echo Park? That’s both a surprise and a New Year’s gift. (Chris Martins)
JESCA HOOP AT THE HOTEL CAFÉ
Jesca Hoop’s 2007 full-length debut, Kismet, was a fairly astonishing achievement for a singer-guitarist who, at the time, was best known for being a former nanny to Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan’s children. Her songs were simply magical, with dense, arty imagery and heartbreakingly lovely melodies, and they were delivered with unusually sophisticated arrangements and dazzling vocal interplay. The former Angeleno now lives in Manchester, England, but she returns tonight for a solo set of tunes from her upcoming CD, Hunting My Dress. Even without the backing of a full band, Hoop nimbly plucks unusual chord progressions while seamlessly belting out her wonderful, “intelligent, tactile” vocals. At her local shows last year, she and her sympathetically intuitive backup singer Nicole Eva Emery previewed songs from Hunting My Dress, setting sail with an intricate weave of febrile harmonies. Their fluttering vocals on “Whispering Light” evoked Kate Bush, while the more austere maternal ode “Angel Mom” was quietly moving. Stranger still were songs like “Four Dreams,” where Hoop broke things down with elaborately funky art-blues riffs as she and Emery cooed merrily with madcap cuckoo-clock rejoinders. (Falling James)
Also playing Friday:
ABE VIGODA, ALPS OF NEW SOUTH WALES, DUNES at the Echo Curio; EVAN, CHRISTOPHER WRAY, CORY PHILLIPS at the Dakota Music Lounge; STATE RADIO at the Henry Fonda Theater; STEVE MORSE BAND, SARAH SPENCER & ANGELFIRE at the Canyon; PSYCHIC POWERS, EVAN VOYTAS at the Echo; RICHARD SHINDELL, ANTJE DUVEKOT at McCabe’s; IVAN NEVILLE’S DUMPSTAPHUNK, REBIRTH BRASS BAND, DJ QUICKIE MART at the Roxy; NIGHT HORSE, DUSTED ANGEL, NORMANDIE at Spaceland.
A.A. Bondy at the Echo
Last couple of years, ex-Verbena tunesmith August Arthur Bondy has been out there fine-tuning a head-turning brand of American roots–type stuff. The follow-up to his wildly praised American Hearts album (re-released by Fat Possum in 2008), his recent When the Devil’s Loose (Fat Possum), has received similar critical nods for its warm, bluesy charms. The new album’s got a timelessness to it. Bondy pulls you in with tersely plaintive yarns of hard luck in the big, bad world, the predictability of loneliness and the faint promise of redemption. A truckful of subtle harmonic shifts colors his reverbed-piano-and-loose-funk-acoustic-guitar songs, and are a shrewd, shaded accompaniment to his understated voice. Bondy’s got intriguing new ways of telling dusty old tales. (Early show, 6 p.m. start time.) (John Payne)
Mamak Khadem at the Getty Center
The Getty Center opens its 13th season of music and dance with a performance by Persian vocalist Mamak Khadem. A classically trained singer of enormous range and nuance, the L.A.-based Khadem (formerly of the excellent Persian-contemporary band Axiom of Choice) brings innovation to a trance-inducing hybrid style that takes inspiration and formal cues from the “ecstatic” roots of Persian melodies and poems while incorporating a broad spectrum of traditional and modern vocal styles rooted throughout the Middle East, North Africa and India. This is evocative, imagination-spiking music, an opportunity to breathe the perfumed air of another time and place — a better one — right here in Los Angeles. Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (John Payne)
Papa, Slang Chickens at Bootleg Theater
Straight outta mellow, laid-back and dumb L.A. — only to be coldly chewed up in the remorseless reality machine called NYC — Papa have found a way to reconcile their inborn melodious eclecticism with a face-punching wham-bam that only slightly suggests the old, old punk rock it’ll invariably be lumped in with. (But that’d be the boundary-smashing punk art of Wire/PiL as opposed to the doctrinaire leather jackets ’n’ spiky hair of the Clash or whoever .) Anyway, Papa’ve got a few tracks where they’re exploring some freshly hummable kinds of noise, and their live set is reportedly a total sandblast. Then Slang Chickens are all over the place, and it doesn’t suck: Arty, countrified, hard-edged and pretty, musically, they seem to delight in dashing expectations with their banjo-and-lap-steel–laced rock & roll. Interesting new album out on the righteously named Psychedelic Judaism label. (John Payne)
JESSE SYKES AT McCABE’s
The Seattle singer Jesse Sykes’ gently lulling folk-country tunes are layered with clouds of moody atmosphere and suffused with an electric, radiantly glowing sparkle by her longtime backup band, the Sweet Hereafter. Over the course of three albums produced by Tucker Martine (Bill Frisell, the Decemberists, Mudhoney) — most recently, 2007’s Like, Love, Lust and the Open Halls of the Soul (Barsuk Records) — she and her gang conjure languorous, morbidly enchanting spells with such aptly evocative titles as “The Dreaming Dead” and “Spectral Beings.” However, on this short West Coast tour, Sykes will be accompanied only by her Sweet Hereafter collaborator (and former Whiskeytown guitarist) Phil Wandscher. Although Sykes says that the band’s upcoming release will be a “full-on rock album,” she and Wandscher are likely to strip the songs down to their bare essentials at these intimate, relatively rare shows as a duo. They also might perform selections from a recent limited-edition EP with their contributions to the soundtrack for the Seattle Shakespeare Company’s version of The Tempest, which even features a few vocal turns from Wandscher. (Falling James)
Also playing Saturday:
HOUSE OF HOUSE, SSION, GODDOLLARS at El Cid; ASOBI SEKSU, COBY BROWN, YELLOW RED SPARKS, OTHERS at the Hotel Cafe; LEO NOCENTELLI, STANTON MOORE, BILL “BUDDA” DICKENS, OTHERS at the Mint; MAZE, KENNY G at the Nokia Theater; BEHEMOTH, SEPTICFLESH, LIGHTNING SWORDS OF DEATH at House of Blue; MILES MOSELY, DANCE HALL PIMPS at Boardner’s; GUTTERMOUTH, VOODOO GLOW SKULLS, MAJORITY LOST, OTHERS at the Canyon; FOOT FOOT, THE FINCHES, ASH REITER, LOYAL SONS & DAUGHTERS at the Echo Curio; MIKE WATT & HIS SECOND MEN at the Redwood Bar; MERRY CHRISTMAS, LES BLANKS, ROMAN CANDLES at L’Keg Gallery; HOCKEY, ASA RANSOM, EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS at Spaceland.
Mose Allison at Largo
This piano-tinkling quirk-jazz hero is the latest in a string of roots-music legends to sign up with L.A.’s Anti- Records for a stab at some renewed twilight-years glory; see also recent releases by Mavis Staples, Porter Wagoner and Bettye LaVette, the last of which was produced, like Allison’s Anti- debut, by local old-school revivalist Joe Henry. With its tidy chamber-blues arrangements and its bemused ruminations on faith and the casual cruelties of age, the fruit of Allison and Henry’s collab, The Way of the World (due out March 23), reminds me quite a bit of Randy Newman’s 2008 Harps and Angels — and not just because one of the album’s highlights is “Everybody Thinks You’re an Angel,” a quietly outraged small-combo shuffle penned by Allison’s country-songwriter daughter Amy. World is the singer-pianist’s first new studio disc since the late ’90s, so hopefully he’ll be in the mood to provide a preview at these two solo gigs, both part of the Jazz Bakery’s Movable Feast series. Also Sat. (Mikael Wood)
Also playing Sunday:
CASTANETS, TIGER SAW, ALPS OF NEW SOUTH WALES, OTHERS at the Bootleg Theater; YUMMY FUR, NEVEREVER at the Echo; REPEATER, DEEP SLEEP OPSM, SCATTERED LIKE BIRDS at the Dakota Music Lounge; DOLPHINS INTO THE FUTURE, ORPHAN FAIRYTALE, SPENCER CLARKE at L’Keg Gallery; ADAM FRANKLIN at Spaceland.
THE KRIS SPECIAL AT SPACELAND
Tonight’s free show is indeed special for the Kris Special, as the local duo of singer-guitarist Anne Pointer and drummer Nick Schutz are each celebrating their birthdays. There’s kind of a schizophrenic duality with the Kris Special. One band purveys sleepy, peaceful country-folk idylls like “I Sleep Alone Sometimes” (from their excellent 2008 CD, Alone Feels Like a Hotel Room) and the Wilco cover “Was I in Your Dreams?” (from the tribute comp I’m the Fan Who Loves You, Volume 2). Such hazy, windswept reveries come off like Mazzy Star or perhaps a more downbeat Leslie & the Badgers, as Pointer confesses her darkest fears against a backdrop of lonely pedal-steel guitar. The other band churns out rootsy punk rock ravers like “Shadow Smart” and “Little Red Song,” which rattle along rusty railroad tracks like X or the early Gun Club. Despite their opposing styles, both sides of the Kris Special are equally fascinating. Pointer and Schutz are working on a new live album, and they go on early tonight, opening a bill that includes hard-rocking headliners Year Long Disaster. (Falling James)
Also playing Monday:
OREN LAVIE, SLANG CHICKENS, DIOS, THE WEBB SISTERS at the Hotel Cafe; THE NORTHSTAR SESSION, POPULATION GAME, SHADES OF DAY at the Bootleg Theater; THE FRENCH SEMESTER, MOVING PICTURE SHOW, LIGHT FM, DOWNTOWN-UNION at the Echo; KNIGHT RIDER, PENNY SLEDGE, THE SYMBOLICK JEWS, THE DEEPSEA GOES at Pehrspace; THE STEELWELLS, AUSHUA, WAKE UP LUCID, THE MONTHLIES at the Silverlake Lounge.
The Ettes at Steve Allen Theater
What would Steve Allen have thought about the Ettes? The stodgy late comedian was kind of a snob when it came to rock & roll, going out of his way to make such guests as Elvis Presley not feel at home when they visited his television variety program The Steve Allen Show in the late 1950s. For all of the Ettes’ charming blend of Billy Childish–style garage rock and femme-fronted, Oblivians-influenced punk, it’s likely that Allen would have still looked down his nose at them. However, the Ettes have a long connection to Steve Allen Theater booker Amit Itelman, who plays guest harmonica on the Nashville trio’s recent CD, Do You Want Power. Itelman’s enlisted them to perform tonight, following a screening of the Grindhouse “psychedelic classic” film An American Hippie in Israel. Such kitschy cult-film distractions aside, the real thrill is the Ettes’ music, as singer Coco Hames expands on the promise of her early records with a fuller range of expression of Do You Want Power, which was produced by the Oblivians’ Greg Cartwright (along with one track recorded by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach). Driven by bassist Jem Cohen’s rumbling power-trio bass lines, songs like “I’ll Be Your Lover (But I Can’t Be Your Baby)” have much more hard-rock force, and there are newfound touches, such as the T. Rex–style backup harmonies that frost “Modern Game.” Also at the Echo, Wed. (Falling James)
Also playing Tuesday:
WHITE DENIM, BRAZOS at the Troubadour; ANEESAH & DEVON, BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN, APOLLO RUN at the Mint; UTADA, DJ MIKE RIZZO at House of Blues; THE KARABAL NIGHTLIFE, WHERE ASTRONAUTS GO TO HIDE at the Silverlake Lounge; THE HOT RATS at Spaceland; NATIONS AFIRE, THE SUMMER OBSESSION, SIMON COLLINS at the Viper Room.
Daniel Merriweather at the Troubadour
Love & War, this young Australian singer’s major-label debut, has been out since last summer in England, where it bowed at No. 2 on the U.K. album charts and has since been certified platinum. An American release was supposed to arrive several months ago but was held up for whatever reason; now the nifty little retro-soul record is set to hit stores here February 23 with a U.S.-only bonus track co-written by local folkie Harper Simon and featuring Sean Lennon on Clavinet. Those aren’t the only bold-faced names on Love & War: Mark Ronson produced the bulk of the album, Miike Snow singer Andrew Wyatt did some vocal arrangements and played some piano (alongside R&B regular James Poyser), the Daptone Horns show up several times, and Beck’s dad, David Campbell, wrote the ’60s-scented string charts. Not surprisingly, all those cooks make it hard on occasion to hear Merriweather in his own kitchen. Perhaps tonight he’ll seize the opportunity to shine. (Mikael Wood)
Also playing Wednesday:
HAR MAR SUPERSTAR, NEON TREES, LITTLE RED RADIO at Spaceland; HELEN 55, AGAINST ALL WILL, ANNIE AUTOMATIC, UN:ARMED, DWH, SHUVEL at the Roxy; THE ETTES, THE BLOOD ARM, HEAVY YOUNG HEATHENS at the Echo; RESIDUAL ECHOES, EL CHON, SAN FRANCISCO WATER COOLER, THE ALLAH-LA’S at the Echo Curio.
The Hot Rats, Lemon Sun at the Troubadour
Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey are best known as one half of the Oxford rock band Supergrass, but their new project, the Hot Rats, shouldn’t come as a surprise to those with even a passing knowledge thereof. Over the course of 15 years and six albums, Supergrass has made its name by way of artful homage — blending the bluesy inclinations of the Stones, the garage fuzz of T. Rex, the glam of Bowie and the punky urgency of the Buzzcocks into one enormously palatable throwback stew. The Hot Rats, named after a 1969 Zappa album, cuts out the excess ingredients and goes straight for the meat: cover songs. Gaz and Danny’s repertoire includes everything from the Kinks to Sex Pistols to the Velvets to the Beatles. But lest you assume it’s all pre-’80s nostalgia, the Hot Rats plays the Beasties as well. The duo has also recorded an album’s worth of material with A-list producer Nigel Godrich. Also Tues. at Spaceland. (Chris Martins)
Also playing Thursday:
THE WATKINS FAMILY HOUR, BEN LEE at Largo at the Coronet; MUSIC GO MUSIC, WOUNDED LION at the Echo; THE LAST 55S, COWGIRLS & INDIANS at the Bootleg Theater; NINA STOREY, JOE FIRSTMAN, THE HEREAFTER, LUCE, ERIN MCLAUGHLIN at the Hotel Cafe.
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