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Rock Picks: Jon Brion, Andrew Bird, Tortoise, Vice Squad

Jon Brion

FRIDAY, JULY 10

Jon Brion at Largo at the Coronet
It’s easy for Angelenos to take for granted that Jon Brion is going to be performing at Largo. After all, he does it most Friday nights, which you might note, as we often do, cruising past the theater on the way to the Sunset Strip or Hollywood. The pianist and songwriter composes in the office above, comes down to perform, then goes back up (at least, in our imagination, that’s how it works). This ubiquity, then, dictates the occasional reminder that, ahem, Jon Brion plays at Largo nearly every Friday night. The composer’s production work with Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple, Kanye West (he co-produced Late Registration), Brad Mehldau (the amazing Largo album) and Dido (her recent, underrated Safe Trip Home) combines to create an oeuvre that will remain relevant decades hence. His film scores for Paul Thomas Anderson (most notably Magnolia, but equally awesome is his work on Punch-Drunk Love), David O. Russell (I Heart Huckabees) and Charlie Kaufman (Synecdoche, New York) suggest he’s comfortable working with strong cinematic personalities, but caresses their output with graceful, melodic scores. All this is just fodder for your brain-decider as you plop down on your couch and bemoan the volume of disposable music at L.A.’s hipster clubs. Brion’s Largo nights are usually filled with some of the town’s best session players, and at this point he’s so relaxed in front of the intimate crowd that it feels like we’re all camping out inside his muse. (Randall Roberts)

Andrew Bird at the Greek Theatre
Violin-toting Andrew Bird is one of the new breed of classically trained, technically accomplished yet musically open-minded singer-songwriters who let their hearts wander over accessible terrains of prettified indie-folk-rock while their heads hover in the sonic clouds. His latest, Noble Beast (Fat Possum), finds Bird in a gently experimental mode, hodgepodging whimsically structured and lyrically ambiguous tunes touching on the road, past lives, modern tech and chilling in the country. Sung in oddly parsed phraseology and a kind of odd nuance, and decorated with ornately wide-screen assemblages of acoustical surprise, the album’s songs are loaded with Bird’s very fine fiddle playing, often looped and filtered to shimmeringly haunting effect. Live, he pulls it all off with the aid of pedal-board samplers that mound and weave his violin, guitar, stomps, cries and whistles into misty mountains of sound. (John Payne)

Also playing Friday:

SARA LOV, BIG ORGAN TRIO at the Mint; EEK-A-MOUSE at Hollywood Park; MIXMASTER MIKE at the Viper Room; THE O’JAYS, RUSSELL THOMPKINS JR. & THE NEW STYLISTICS, THE DELFONICS & WILLIAM HART, JERRY BUTLER, HAROLD MELVIN’S BLUENOTES at the Gibson Amphitheatre; L.A. PHIL, BRIAN STOKES MITCHELL, DAVE GRUSIN, MONICA MANCINI at the Hollywood Bowl; THE RURAL ALBERTA ADVANTAGE at the Echo; OLETA ADAMS at Catalina Bar & Grill; FOREIGN BORN, WARPAINT at the Hammer Museum; BONE THUGS-N-HARMONY at the Ventura Theatre; THE TUBES at the Canyon; JOE, CHICO DEBARGE at the House of Blues; STEVE WYNN & THE MIRACLE THREE at Redballs Rock & Roll Pizza; TYRONE WELLS at the Troubadour; VICE SQUAD at Alex’s Bar.

 

SATURDAY, JULY 11

Tortoise at the Troubadour
Chicago’s veteran posteverything band Tortoise keeps coming up with unheard-of ways to smash the walls between progressive jazz, Reichian minimalism and other contemporary “serious music” concepts, mash-upping all comers in heavy, dense pools of post-hip-hop, electro noise, dubby space and mathy rock & roll. The just-out Beacons of Ancestorship (Thrill Jockey), their first in five years, adds to the intrigue of their non-genre meltdowns in tastefully radical ways. The group’s no-one-solos/everyone-solos spontaneous compositions unfold as complexly structured things made hummable and toe-tappable courtesy of equal nods toward melody, texture and rhythm. A powerful live proposition, Tortoise are too utterly slamming to be summed up as an electric-chamber ensemble. What matters is how these innovative multi-instrumentalists mutate their varied source materials into something entirely unlike anything you’ve ever heard before — until you heard Tortoise.  (John Payne)

Foot Village, Softboiled Eggies, Gowns, Lucky Dragons at the Smell
Percussion-heavy cuckoo birds Foot Village will be screaming again tonight for London label Upset the Rhythm’s band-appreciation night at the Smell. UTR is the home of now-famous L.A. Smell scene dudes No Age and loads of other smart indie bands of the era, in case you were wondering. The bill includes the constantly roster-changing Lucky Dragons, with their love of wind-chime sounds and group participation. Also playing tonight are intense folkies Gowns and all-girl, free-rock mess-makers T.I.T.S. But it’s Softboiled Eggies who make it look easy when they pull off cutesy electronica, badass new wave, fat slabs of noise and spinoffs of influences as far-flung as New Age Steppers, the Leopards, Beat Happening and Blondie. Thanks to their technical chops (Janet Kim majored in musical composition at Northwestern), Softboiled Eggies can imaginatively re-engineer all of them within their encyclopedic grip and thoughtful implementation of post-punk themes and rough, melody-driven songs. (Wendy Gilmartin)

 

Vice Squad at the Key Club
Rebecca Louise Bond has gone through several distinct personality crises and identity mutations in her self-proclaimed “Lo-Fi Life” in crime and rock & roll. At age 15, Beki Bondage was dodging gobs of spit and singing Sex Pistols covers like “EMI” with Vice Squad, who formed at the fringes of the early English punk frenzy, in Bristol in 1978. A couple of years later, Vice Squad were signed to EMI, and she expanded punk’s still-limited subject matter with epic doomsday scenarios (“Last Rockers”) and one of the first animal-rights anthems (“Humane”). The charismatic, Xena-like heroine stood out all the more in the increasingly macho early-’80s British hardcore scene, appearing on magazine covers, defying her increasingly repressive band and speaking up in interviews. But just as Bondage was turning into some kind of punk Marilyn Monroe, she walked away from Vice Squad in 1982 and went in a more experimental direction with Ligotage. She eventually returned to rock & roll with the Bombshells and re-formed her own version of Vice Squad in 1997 with Bombshells guitarist Paul Rooney. Although Bondage and Rooney sound terminally fierce on the old classics (“Coward,” “Latex Love,” “Rock N Roll Massacre”), they’re even better when tearing through the surprisingly diverse assortment of great glitter-punk-metal-psychedelic-pop new tunes on such severely underrated “comeback” albums as 1999’s Get a Life, 2006’s Defiant and the upcoming London Underground. This is one of the precious few punk revivals that outpaces the original incarnation. Also at Alex’s Bar, Fri., July 10. (Falling James)

Also playing Saturday:

CHIP TAYLOR at McCabe’s; 16 VOLT, CYANOTIC at Bar Sinister; OLETA ADAMS at Catalina Bar & Grill; BEYONCÉ at the Staples Center; MANDY MOORE at Largo at the Coronet; FUNK RUMBLE BLOCK PARTY in Chinatown; NIGHTMARES OF YOU, BRIAN BONZ, PLUSHGUN at the Knitting Factory; BOZ SCAGGS, MICHAEL MCDONALD at the Greek Theatre; THE TUBES at Brixton South Bay; GILBY CLARK AND FRIENDS at the Viper Room; SWITCH at Avalon Hollywood.

 

SUNDAY, JULY 12

Ray LaMontagne, Jenny Lewis, Blitzen Trapper at the Hollywood Bowl
Hot on the heels of excellent shows by Femi Kuti and Adele, KCRW’s smartly curated World Festival continues at the Hollywood Bowl with this fine roots-music triple bill. Though he’s still best known for his debut single, “Trouble” (thanks in part to Taylor Hicks’ performance of the tune on American Idol a few years ago), Ray LaMontagne last year released what might be his best album yet, Gossip in the Grain, a gorgeous set of haunted soul-folk stunners about winter birds, the endurance of love and, um, White Stripes drummer Meg White. Expect the slow stuff to sound particularly pretty backed by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra tonight. Like Gossip, Jenny Lewis’ recent Acid Tongue didn’t earn as much acclaim as the Rilo Kiley frontwoman’s solo debut, Rabbit Fur Coat; unlike Gossip, that’s probably because it’s not as good. Blitzen Trapper, from Portland, play a retro-’60s brand of folk-pop psychedelia. (Mikael Wood)

Slayer, Marilyn Manson, Killswitch Engage, Bullet for My Valentine, Cannibal Corpse at the San Manuel Amphitheater
Slayer’s unleashing of an album called God Hates Us All on September 11, 2001, hints darkly at their sound: a sacrilegious locust swarm of goose-stepping riffs and spat, spite-drunk lyrics pummeled by devilishly dexterous double-kick drumming. Their shows may not be the whiplash-inducing rituals they once were, but after nearly three decades without compromise, these Huntington Park hesher heroes have utterly earned their fans’ grimacing devotion. Marilyn Manson only wishes he was cursed with Slayer’s instinctive evil: He’s morphed his way through goth Child Catcher (his first two albums); androgynous Bowie-borrower (1998’s Mechanical Animals); and absinthe-sipping Weimar boho (2003’s The Golden Age of Grotesque) on his quest to remain the king of creepy. This year’s T-Rex/Ziggy-dusted The High End of Low will win few new converts but, with his heyday co-writer/bassist Twiggy Ramirez returned, at least shows that M.M. has something left to say. Elsewhere, Cannibal Corpse’s almost mechanized savagery (and perpetually teenage splatter lyrics) should make Manson sound like Hanson, while Bullet for My Valentine’s radio-ready metalcore and Trivium’s throwback twin-ax thrash will inflate forests of air guitars. (Paul Rogers)

Johnette Napolitano at the Hotel Café
The latest collection from Johnette Napolitano is called Sketchbook 3, but it isn’t the raw, half-baked assortment of songs you might expect from such a title. For one thing, the Concrete Blonde singer has too much passion to be contained by unfinished demos or faint sketches. She might simmer among the rolling, hypnotically repetitive Leonard Cohen piano chords of “SF/LA/JT,” keeping her famously fiery voice to a low, confidential whisper, but you can also hear the approaching storm clouds. “I’m a wire,” she warns inside the foggy Crazy Horse fuzz of another new song. There’s something searing but terrifying in the way the Joshua Tree resident’s reproachful backups sweep in from the dry and hollow desert, trying to undo the “Damage I Have Done” over a funereal organ melody that swirls slowly, in no hurry because there’s nowhere to go. “The best part of the movie’s coming on/The lights are on, and it is time to move along,” she implores persuasively on the contrastingly warm acoustic thrum of “Considering.” It’s a clearing of pure sunlight amid the filtered shadows of more ominous tracks like “Friday Silvertone Mix” and “It’s in the Blood.”  (Falling James)

 

Also playing Sunday:

WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM, IT’S CASUAL, INTRONAUT, MINSK at the Knitting Factory; LOCH LOMOND at Spaceland; SARA HAZE at the Mint; KIM LENZ at Amoeba Music; PRO-PAIN, SWORN ENEMY, MANTIC RITUAL, K626, REIGN OF FIRE, FEAR THY MAKER at the Key Club; ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO at McCabe’s; ONEIDA, AMPS FOR CHRIST, CLIP’D BEAKS at the Echo (2 p.m.); FLEXIONS, BRONZE, PUPPY DOG, KILL KILL KILL at the Smell.

 

MONDAY, JULY 13

Beyonce at Staples Center
Unless Michael Jackson’s aborted O2 Arena run morphs into the celeb-studded tribute event rumored to be in the works, 2009 probably won’t produce a brighter, louder or more complicated pop spectacle than Beyoncé’s current world tour, which began its U.S. leg last month at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Judging by reports from the road, it seems safe to say that music constitutes only a portion of this multimedia juggernaut; equally important are the costumes, the choreography and the jumbo-sized video screen that someone from B’s posse evidently swiped from Times Square on the way into the Garden. Still, don’t discount the music: Last year’s double-disc, I Am . Sasha Fierce, has held up better than I thought it would (still hate her treacly take on “Ave Maria,” though), while the gritty funk tracks from 2006’s B’Day have only grown more appealingly strange with age. Also at Honda Center, Sat. (Mikael Wood)

Also playing Monday:

INCUBUS, THE DUKE SPIRIT at the Hollywood Bowl; JAPANESE MOTORS, DIRT DRESS, UV LIGHTS, CORREATOWN at the Echo; ANDY CLOCKWISE, NATALIE PORTMAN’S SHAVED HEAD, HEY CHAMP at Spaceland; LAST AMERICAN BUFFALO, AVI BUFFALO, EVAN WAY, GREG JONG at Silverlake Lounge.

 

TUESDAY, JULY 14

The Datsuns at the Echo
The Datsuns continue the long tradition of New Zealand guitar bands finding beauty and glory in three or four well-reasoned, insistent chords and a catchy melody. Will they shock you with innovation? No. They tackle guitar rock with flair and energy, but not much expansive curiosity. The band’s new release, Headstunts, couples Buzzcockian sprints with freaky guitar solos and lots of chanting to create a caffeinated six-string stomp. (Randall Roberts)

Also playing Tuesday:

KURT ELLING at Catalina Bar & Grill; SCARLEY GREY, LIDO BEACH, OH NO NOT STEREO, THE LEISURELIES, TOTAL MISCHIEF at the Troubadour; MINI MANSIONS, THE CHILD at Spaceland.

 

WEDNESDAY, JULY 15

The Veils at Spaceland
On an off night from their opening slot on Foreign Born’s nationwide tour, the Veils have a chance to show us what they do best tonight by engaging a small, intimate crowd and executing their words and music within striking distance. The band’s slick, high-production single “The Letter” isn’t really the best example of their burgeoning potential. It’s during the quieter, subtle stanzas of pared-down songs like “Scarecrow or The House She Lived In” (off the new album, Sun Gangs) that the band merely steps back and sets the backdrop for Finn Andrews’ chilly, gravel-scraped voice to do most of the heart-wrenching, nostalgic aching and sensual suggesting. They work well in a small setting, since they are essentially a support band for Andrews’ artfully orchestrated persona to interact with the crowd on another level. With his lanky Mennonite chic, Rufus Wainwright–meets–Nick Cave combo and instinctual theatricality, Andrews can surely move a larger crowd; it’s just more scintillating to get up close and personal to his brand of tortured crooner.  (Wendy Gilmartin)

Also playing Wednesday:

FOL CHEN, 60 WATT KID at Pershing Square; RYAN CABRERA at the Troubadour; ACTRESS at the Silverlake Lounge; XU XU FANG at the Three Clubs Cocktail Lounge; KURT ELLING at Catalina Bar & Grill; LULUC, RACHAEL CANTU, REAL GEORGE at the Bootleg Theater.

 

THURSDAY, JULY 16

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts at Pacific Amphitheatre
Joan Jett has come a long way since she was considered washed up — when she was barely out of her teens — following the messy implosion of the Runaways in 1979. She was punk enough to record with the Sex Pistols and cool enough to produce the Germs’ debut album, G.I., but she had such a “Bad Reputation” — due in no small part to the prevailing patronizing mindset of many critics and industry executives at the time — that it was quite shocking and infectiously liberating when she crashed the mainstream party with a series of Top 40 solo hits, including “I Love Rock & Roll,” which went to No. 1 in 1982. Like AC/DC and the Ramones, Jett cranks out a deceptively simple, compulsively catchy form of rock & roll that’s stripped down yet extremely loud. It doesn’t hurt that she has one of the most unique scratchy-raw howls in rock & roll. She’s bubblegum enough to headline tonight at the Orange County Super Fair, but she’s underground enough to have worked with the Gits and Bikini Kill. Unlike most folks who end up playing the fair, Joan Jett is still relevant: Her most recent CD, 2006’s Sinner, was a strong mix of originals and well-chosen Replacements and Sweet covers, while her ongoing Blackheart label champions such promising local pop-punks as the Dollyrots, as well as the exhilarating mood swings of the fascinating Texas post-punk trio Girl in a Coma. (Falling James)

 

The Germs at El Rey Theatre
Joan Jett must have known something when she presided over the recording of the Germs’ G.I. album. Prior to its release, the Germs were largely considered a shambolic, drunken punk-rock performance-art spectacle. They were still a glorious mess after the LP seeped out of Darby Crash’s wounds and into everyone else’s, but fans could finally hear the method underneath all that battering madness, the hints of pop tunefulness in Pat Smear’s darting array of chords and the scraps of evocative, ambitious poetry that had previously been obscured by Crash’s self-immolating, word-swallowing, microphone-be-damned style of singing. Despite and because of Darby’s attempts to literally crawl into (not under) the stage, it was clear that he was a divine besotted fool/canny wordsmith/natural-born leader/clown prince of the highest order, making his suicide in December 1980 all the more frustrating and pointless, even when considered from the safe, faraway cushion of today. While seeing the Germs without Darby Crash (he’s replaced here by actor Shane West, who also portrayed him in the unintentionally riotous Germs biopic What We Do Is Secret) is like a day without sunshine and/or seeing the Doors without Jim Morrison, there is nonetheless a certain guilty, undeserved second-chance pleasure in hearing founding bassist Lorna Doom and drummer Don Bolles churn out Smear’s unusual, still-potent, maniacally devious progressions one more time — reality and impulsive mortality be damned. (Falling James)

Also playing Thursday:

THE ZEROS at the Troubadour (see Music feature); SON VOLT, COWBOY JUNKIES at the Wiltern; THE VERY BEST, RAINBOW ARABIA, BERSA DISCOS at the Echoplex; AMERICAN IDOLS LIVE at the Staples Center; KURT ELLING at Catalina Bar & Grill; THE MONOLATORS, FRENCH MIAMI, THE FLYING TOURBILLON ORCHESTRA, KISSING COUSINS at the Echo; DIRTY SWEET, HEAVY YOUNG HEATHENS at Spaceland; GILLIAN WELCH at Largo at the Coronet; CEU, ANDREA FERRAZ, PATRIZIA LIQUIDARA at the Roxy; JET, RED CORTEZ, PAPER TONGUES at the Key Club.

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