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Rock Picks: Iron & Wine, Mika Miko, the Vaselines, Extra Golden

FRIDAY, MAY 8

IRON & WINE AT HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY

Sam Beam, former math teacher, beard-rock innovator, soft harmonizer with an edge, sings in a half-whisper, fills his songs to the brim with many competing acoustical flourishes and writes mysterious, meandering lyrics that wander from idea to idea without much regard for literal messaging (“Love was a father’s flag/and sung like a shank/In a cake on our leather boots” — wha?). It’s a beautiful approach, one that draws from the least annoying aspects of the jam-band scene — love for pure, clean sonics and search for joy in improvisation — to create something that suggests classic Paul McCartney, Elliott Smith, Brian Wilson (harmonies) and Topanga-era Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. This show should be amazing: It’s outside at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which will add a layer of context when Beam sings, in “Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car” (from his most recent full-length, The Shepherd’s Dog), “I was still a beggar shaking out my stolen coat/Among the angry cemetery leaves.” All he has to do is replace “leaves” with “palm fronds” and we’re right there with him. (Randall Roberts)

 

CARRIE RODRIGUEZ AT GRAND ANNEX

Early in her career, Carrie Rodriguez was content to play second fiddle while playing fiddle for such folks as Alejandro Escovedo and, especially, legendary songwriter Chip Taylor (“Wild Thing”), who more or less discovered her in Austin back in 2001. After a long series of tours and collaborations with Taylor, she finally broke out on her own with her 2006 solo debut, Seven Angels on a Bicycle, which featured the luridly sexy blues-rocker “’50s French Movie.” “The possibilities endless/You could render me helpless,” she confessed, as if waking up after being knocked out, while seductively sidewinding riffs wrapped themselves tightly around her: “What kind of part is this?/When do we get to kiss?/When do I take my clothes off/What kind of movie is this?” She followed up with another excellent CD, She Ain’t Me, where her rootsy songs were enlivened by her eloquently fiery violin. Rodriguez builds on that momentum with her new live album, Live in Louisville, which was recorded on a 2007 tour, when she opened for Lucinda Williams. Whether she’s unlocking her heart on glassy ballads like “Big Kiss,” heading up into the country on “I Don’t Want to Play House Anymore” or sawing her fiddle in half on such frantic roots-rockers as “Never Gonna Be Your Bride,” she’s always captivating, and completely at home as the star of the show. Also at McCabe’s, Sun. (Falling James)

 

LESLIE & THE BADGERS AT THE UNKNOWN THEATRE

Leslie & the Badgers are quietly turning into one of the city’s best quiet bands. There’s a gently glowing country-rock intimacy to the songs from their self-titled 2007 debut CD and 2008 iTunes EP, Greetings From Leslie & the Badgers, but they’re not some corny, cornpone revival outfit. Instead, tunes like “Old Timers” and “Air Force One” have intelligently heartfelt, evocative lyrics and are adorned with dreamy embellishments, such as Glenn Oyabe’s lap-steel guitar, which playfully quotes Santo & Johnny’s classic instrumental “Sleep Walk.” Singer-guitarist Leslie Stevens coos with a Neko Case–style passion on the relatively epic six-minute idyll “Black Rose Window,” where she declares, “Now the road is what takes you to brand-new places/and I’m taking myself and the radio station.” Such countrified ballads place them roughly in the same universe as fellow locals the Whispertown 2000, but the Badgers also reveal a jazzy side on “The Torture,” and they rock convincingly on uptempo barn-burners like “That’d Be Fine.” They’re about to release a new album, Roomful of Smoke, and head out on a national tour in June, so catch ’em now before they return as conquering heroes. Also at the Silverlake Lounge, Wed., May 20. (Falling James)

 

SATURDAY, MAY 9

MIKA MIKO AT THE SMELL

Like the Urinals and Minutemen before them, Mika Miko are miniaturists, crafting compact one- to two-minute bursts of punkness as concise as a haiku but which offer a door into Proustian contemplation. An entire volume could be written about “Turkey Sandwich,” the better-be classic from We Be Xuxa, Mika Miko’s new 12-song full-length. The gem starts with roughly the same riff as the Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks,” but abruptly moves down the guitar neck where the Scotsmen moved up, getting low as singer Jenna Thornhill declares to either a preacher or a teacher (we think, she’s an expert mumble-screamer, inspiring many code-cracking listens) in no uncertain terms, “I’m gonna be someone, preacher (?),” repeating it, then declaring either “I’m one turkey sandwich” or “I want a turkey sandwich.” Which reading you give the line dictates vastly different translations of the song. Is she declaring said foodthing to be the ultimate Socratic ideal? Is her goal to be the turkey sandwich of her domain? Or is it that her desire to be “someone” dictates a craving for turkey sandwiches (as fuel? as a display of hearty appetite? as argument against vegetarianism?)? What we do know is that after volunteering that she either wants or is a turkey sandwich, the preacher/teacher — co-vocalist Jennifer Clavin, in deep man-voice — responds: “Jenna, I’ll miss you when you go/but don’t think I don’t know/We’ll go in different directions/yeah, I listened to them.” What does the preacher/teacher know? Who is the “them,” and what did they say? (Was it a recipe?) There follows an itsy hook, a tiny fuzz-guitar curlicue, then Jenna starts chanting something that even after dozens of listens is absolutely impenetrable. It’s a great “Louie Louie” labyrinth of a song, one that could be about a conversation at a deli or in a confessional booth, or the hope of a better future. The song’s so great they included two versions of it, the second being “Turkey Barnyard Mix.” It’s four seconds longer, contains awesome washboard beat, and features a dude in the left channel chanting, “Turkey sandwich.” (Note: We got an advance of We Be Xuxa. For all we know the full-art version comes with a lyric sheet that clarifies all this — but we hope not.) (Randall Roberts)

 

 

JENNY OWEN YOUNGS AT THE HOTEL CAFÉ

Brooklyn singer-songwriter Jenny Owen Youngs may have a mainstream, potentially commercial pop style, but she’s not another dumb pop diva. On her 2005 debut CD, Batten the Hatches, a collection of sweetly melodic tunes, she revealed an unexpectedly wicked sense of humor on the antilove song “Fuck Was I” (as in “What the fuck was I thinking?”). She’s up to more clever tricks on her upcoming Nettwerk CD, Transmitter Failure (due later this month), which ranges from the Old World folk of “Clean Break” to the romantic rocker “Last Person.” She’s charming on the soap-bubble-popping lullaby “Nighty Night,” crooning with a languidly confident sensuality. Again, we’re not talking about anything musically radical, but Youngs has that rare ability to write romantic songs that are both sentimental and smart. (Falling James)

 

THE AVETT BROTHERS, MAGNOLIA ELECTRIC CO. AT THE HENRY FONDA

The latest roots-music outfit to capture the attention of bushy-bearded superproducer Rick Rubin, North Carolina’s Avett Brothers play a ragtag brand of back-porch folk-rock that sounds like the fruit of a more bright-eyed Bright Eyes: Unless you only listen to the Misfits, you’re unlikely to hear songs about death fuller with life than “Die, Die, Die” (from 2007’s Emotionalism) or “Murder in the City” (from last year’s The Gleam II EP). Rubin produced the Avetts’ upcoming major-label debut, I and Love and You, and they’re spending the months till its August release laying some serious groundwork on the road (including a just-wrapped stint opening outdoor-shed shows for the Dave Matthews Band). Openers Magnolia Electric Co. are headed up by veteran indie-folk singer-songwriter Jason Molina, who’s perhaps best known for his late-’90s stuff as Songs: Ohia. (Mikael Wood)

 

SUNDAY, MAY 10

THE VASELINES, THE TYDE AT EL REY THEATRE

After not having played together since 1990, when they opened a Nirvana show in Edinburgh at Kurt Cobain’s request, Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee re-formed their seminal Glasgow indie-pop outfit the Vaselines last year for a handful of gigs, including their first-ever U.S. shows in New York and Seattle (the latter as part of Sub Pop’s 20th-anniversary festival). Now, in support of Sub Pop’s brand-new double-disc Enter the Vaselines retrospective, Kelly and McKee (along with Michael McGaughrin of 1990s and Bob Kildea and Stevie Jackson of Belle and Sebastian) are headed to our shores once again, kicking off a weeklong North American tour with an El Rey concert sure to attract a preponderance of people (like me!) who weren’t hip to their fuzz-drenched sex jams the first time around. Don’t miss ’em again. With local guitar-pop purveyors the Tyde. (Mikael Wood)

 

AZITA, DESTROYER, DEVON WILLIAMS AT THE ECHOPLEX

Azita’s newish album, How Will You?, is on the high-standard Drag City label, which gives it a kind of cachet, of course, but bringing expectations of the left-field, kranky and experimental, which the Iranian-born singer’s music/performance art/punk-noise has been in prior incarnations. The new one, however, boasts a full brace of beautifully spare, not-so-ironic, piano-driven paeans to her friends, lovers, time, life and nothing in particular, given the odd little late-Beatles or ’70s lite-jazz shades here and there. Very simple, but not simplistic, the album pays big dividends by third listen or so. Destroyer in tonight’s presentation comes in the solo form of the Vancouver band’s leader guy, Dan Bejar, the New Pornographers/Frog Eyes/Wolf Parade collaborator who’s going to be his usual cryptic chameleon self and will make you laugh and cry and be glad for unclassifiable artists such as himself. Devon Williams is a stylishly facile singer-composer who’s played with Lavender Diamond, Osker, Champagne Socialists and his very own fabulous Makeout Party; he’s got a fine line in melodically superior ’60s pop-type effluvia, and he’s a rippingly good guitar player. What else do you need to know? (John Payne)

 

 

TUESDAY, MAY 12

THERESA ANDERSSON AT LARGO AT THE CORONET

Talk about Northern Soul: Swedish-born, NOLA-based Theresa Andersson has a voice and a sound that would wow them in Detroit or Manchester. But as doe-eyed and fragile as she may appear with her Kirsten Dunst looks, she doesn’t need a team of writers and producers to make her a star; she’s a one-woman show. With a little technology, little by little she builds her tracks before our eyes: a little drum beat, a little acoustic guitar, a little violin and some back-up singers (actually, it’s just more live loops of her), and we get one huge sound worthy of the giants at Motown or the Wall of Sound himself, Phil Spector. A complete chanteuse, yet she’s rootsy and eclectic enough to fit right in on Bourbon Street with homemade instruments and bucket-beats. She’s on the road supporting Hummingbird, Go! (Basin Street Records), whose single, “Birds Fly Away,” has been getting some extra love on KCRW, where Andersson appeared live just yesterday. (Daniel Siwek)

 

MEAT PUPPETS AT THE MINT

It’s been a long, strange trip for Arizona trio Meat Puppets, who are finally back together and creatively thriving after a decade of false starts and tragedies, such as the incarceration of bassist Cris Kirkwood, who was imprisoned for a couple of years and seriously wounded after being shot twice by a security guard in a bizarre incident outside a Phoenix post office in 2003. He’s apparently since recovered from various drug addictions and rejoined his singer-guitarist/brother Curt Kirkwood and new drummer Ted Marcus on the Puppets’ 2007 comeback album, Rise to Your Knees (Anodyne). The band are now on a new label, Megaforce, for the release of their latest CD, Sewn Together, which is a wonderfully satisfying work that evokes classic mid-’80s-era albums like Up on the Sun. As ever, Curt sings with a laconic drawl, even as his guitar bubbles over with madly psychedelic riffs on tracks like “Love Mountain.” The Puppets ramble through bleary-eyed country numbers like “Smoke” and stretch out into stranger territory on the elegantly trippy piano ballad “Clone,” where Curt ruminates about scientists “cutting up the molecules of gold” to create “the perfect sheep” who “can fly a fancy plane.” Somehow, it all does get sewn together in a mix of styles that’s both head-spinning and earthily rocking. (Falling James)

 

WEDNESDAY, MAY 13

EXTRA GOLDEN, THE MEDITATIONS, FOOL'S GOLD, YOUSSOUPHA SIDIBE AT THE ECHO AND THE ECHOPLEX

Dub Club’s “Reggae Meets Africa” night may be lazily named, but there’s not a single slouch in the lineup. Headliner Extra Golden is a Kenyan/Pennsylvanian hybrid specializing in Benga music, a bright sound typified by intricate guitar, full-bodied bass, and syncopated drums. The band came together when member Ian Eagleson’s doctoral studies took him to Nairobi to work with expert Otieno Jagwasi. Tragically, Jagwasi died of AIDS complications before Thrill Jockey released Extra Golden’s debut, but that album’s success has spurred the project onward. The current lineup — which includes Jagwasi’s brother and Weird War’s Alex Minoff — has just released a third LP, titled Thank You Very Quickly, and despite the music’s sunny disposition, the alternating English and Kenyan lyrics deal with heavy stuff — namely political strife and infectious disease. Jamaica’s The Meditations had their biggest hit in 1976, sang backup on several Bob Marley hits, and have been touring since. Fool’s Gold are locals who sing Hebrew over highlife, and Youssoupha Sidibe is a Senegalese kora master. (Chris Martins)

 

THURSDAY, MAY 14

SCOUT NIBLETT, LOVETONES, STEREO WORKERS UNION, CHIEF NOWHERE AT SPACELAND

English-born Scout Niblett is something of an anomaly in her country of origin: a Kurt Cobain–obsessed rock minimalist who would sound right at home on a lo-fi American imprint like Drag City. Good thing, because after eight years and four LPs on Secretly Canadian (also a fine fit), she’s just released her new single, “It’s Time, My Beloved,” on none other than — wait for it — Drag City. It also makes a lot of sense that she’s lived in Portland for some time and frequently works with producer Steve Albini. Scout’s songs typically feature her whispery twang over spare electric guitar or drums (both if she’s feeling flashy) which seem to take their cadence and rhythmic cues from her vocals alone. On the new single, with her voice doubled and floating above a sea of distortion, she sounds like a haunted Joanna Newsom spinning a black yarn about loneliness and love lost. (Chris Martins)


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