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Rock Picks: Lucinda Williams, Fuck Buttons, The Sword

THURSDAY, APRIL 17

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Majestic robots: Ghostland Observatory

J. Thompson

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Hammer of the gods: The Sword

Cari Veach

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Bad Dudes: Heads will roll.

 
Sabbat at the Whisky

While America’s four horsemen of thrash metal — Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax — were gate-crashing MTV in the late 1980s, their broke Brit cousins were releasing indie albums and playing underground van tours. Nottingham’s Sabbat skewed the genre’s amphetamine formula (post–Iron Maiden militaristic/poltergeist vocals, chugging riffage and strangulated solos, ADHD tempo) with Tolkien-worthy lyrics, refreshing acoustic interludes, chuckle-inducing sound effects, and (seriously) cover art featuring the stringy-haired band posing at Stonehenge in Renaissance Faire attire. Though Sabbat’s original stint was stunted, guitarist Andy Sneap continued to shape extreme metal as a producer for everyone from Megadeth to Arch Enemy. Making their first-ever stateside visit to mark the re-release of their two mini-classics (1987’s History of a Time to Come and 1989’s Dreamweaver), these together-again gloomsters are getting some belated kudos for an uncompromising, unfiltered — and slightly unhinged — purity seldom seen on the contemporary Strip. (Paul Rogers)


Jail Weddings at the Echo

The name Jail Weddings reminds us of a time in the ’80s when Social Distortion’s Mike Ness, talking onstage about a recent stint in jail, thanked “all the homeboys and homegirls” he’d met there. We’re not sure just where Ness’ mythical coed lockup is located, but Jail Weddings take the notion of such sexy imprisonment as a fanciful launching point for their “death doo-wop” and groovy ’60s girl-group melodramas, which they describe as “the last gasp of romance.” The 10-piece L.A. band are led by singer-guitarist Gabe Hart (the Starvations, Fortune’s Flesh), who aims for a Roy Orbison grandeur on their “Somebody Lonely” 7-inch (Revenge Records) but howls with a raggedy mumble that’s closer to Jonathan Richman or the Saints’ Chris Bailey. Hart is buttressed by singers Tornado Jane and Katya Nadia Hubiak, who coo “Don’t let our mess get in the way of our obsession” over Brad Caulkins’ restless sax on the b-side, “The Honeymoon Loop.” Drummer Ian Harrower’s thunderous tom-tom rolls and Hannah Blumenfeld’s weaving violin stir up similarly grand and tragic passions on their upcoming single, “People Like Us (Are Extinct).” (Falling James)


Tift Merritt, Sara Watkins at the Troubadour

Before recording her third studio album, Another Country, in Los Angeles last summer with producer George Drakoulias, North Carolina native Tift Merritt locked herself up in a rented apartment in Paris in an attempt to recharge her creative batteries. The country singer’s immersion into another (literal) country seems to have lifted her spirits, as she sings with a relaxed confidence on such easygoing tunes as “I Know What I’m Looking for Now” and the recent hit “Broken.” Apart from the Stax-y “Tell Me Something True,” the new CD doesn’t rock out quite as much as 2004’s Tambourine (which included such similarly warm and catchy R&B-laced tracks as “Good Hearted Man” and “I Am Your Tambourine”), but mellow tunes like “Morning Is My Destination” are lovingly rendered, and Merritt does a decent job of singing in French on the sugary album-closing piano ballad, “Mille Tendresses.” Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins — who was recently a guest on Merritt’s new radio show, The Spark — opens tonight’s show. (Falling James)

 
Also playing Thursday:

EELS at El Rey Theatre; THE WATSON FAMILY HOUR at Largo; OLIVER FUTURE at Safari Sam’s; THE MONOLATORS at the Scene; DON CAVALLI at UCLA’s Kerckhoff Grand Salon, noon.

 

FRIDAY, APRIL 18

 
Ghostland Observatory at the Henry Fonda Theater

When Austin duo Ghostland Observatory churn out ear-candy electro anthems from their brand-new Robotique Majestique — or any of their other pleasurably plastic albums — what could have been tiresomely snide is a head-bobbing hoot thanks to the pair’s knack for actual songs. Crowd fave “Sad Sad City” is humanized with programmer-keyboardist Thomas Turner’s thumping grooves and sloppy synth doodles; singer Aaron Behrens’ poignant vocals turn “Stranger Lover” into the most sensual club track this side of “SexyBack.” No matter how much vocoder or artifice is glopped onto these ditties, the emotion punches through. Save for the silvery action-hero cape, Turner is basically the straight man to Behrens’ disco-man-lover except when he’s kicking the 4/4 on a real drum set. Even when he’s not singing his heart out, Behrens’ Elvis–via–Michael Jackson–cum–Saturday Night Fever moves are a spectacle in itself. (Andrew Lentz)


The Ash Grove 50th Anniversary at Royce Hall

The paradox of “folk music,” where the banal, barely able Pete Seeger was perceived as a creative force comparable to the intensely idiosyncratic Texas blues demon Lightnin’ Hopkins, is one of the great pop-culture snafus of modern America. At the fabled and long-gone Los Angeles club the Ash Grove, though, it all came out in the wash, and whether a weedy revivalist or a menacingly genuine real McCoy was onstage, that room served as both an artistic oasis and social acid test whose impact still reverberates five decades after it opened. In honor of this 50th anniversary, UCLA is hosting a three-day blowout that brings together some of the still-active key players, such as the folk-revival tradition-bearer Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and the freewheeling blues-and-beyond entertainer Taj Mahal, and some performers, like the fine blues singer Bernie Pearl, who literally came of age in the club. The scope is impressive, ranging from the Watts Prophets to country-bluegrass boss Roland White, and there are bound to be more than a few profound moments along the way. Also Sat.-Sun. See Music feature. (Jonny Whiteside)


The Sword at El Rey Theatre

It doesn’t happen very often that people who collect back issues of Heavy Metal and the hipsters at SXSW hype the same band, but that’s exactly what transpired when Austin natives the Sword delivered a breakout performance at last year’s festival. A four-piece with the soul-sucking sonics of a classic NWOBM (New Wave of British Metal) five-piece, they are the new heroes of retro-metal, complete with blazing twin guitars that are more Adrian Smith and Dave Murray (Iron Maiden) than Glen Tipton and K.K. Downing (Judas Priest). Lead singer J.D. Cronise is capable of delivering an Ozzy-like whine or a Hetfield-vs.-Mustaine-like scolding. Whatever reason the post-irony crowd gives you for digging Gods of the Earth (the Swords’ latest, on Kemando), they’re full of it. The Sword cut through such pretentious armor like the Black Blade through butter. (Daniel Siwek)

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Bent Festival at California Plaza

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Kanye dig it?

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Brother love’s traveling salvation show, a.k.a. the Virginia City Revival

Alan Messer

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Gotta serve someone: Lucinda Williams.

Ever felt curious about what it’d sound like if you short-circuited that Talking Cabbage Patch Kid and filtered the output through twin ring modulators, four layers of digital delay and massive loads of distortion? No? You don’t know what you’re missing, bud, and here’s the fifth-annual Bent Festival of hardware hacking, DIY electronics and circuit bending coming to town to put you wise. In the now-traditional art of circuit bending, artists scramble the electronics in battery-powered children’s toys and in the process invent entirely new musical instruments. This tech-geek cult has grown to a worldwide super-society of amazingly creative dweebs, including artists who devise new instruments from scratch using their own homemade circuitry. Come see and hear some of the best of the bent each night of the festival, which also features art displays and workshops for adults and children in everything you ever wanted to know about circuit bending, audio-chaos generators, robot-building and myriad other madnesses. 350 S. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., April 17-19. See www.bentfestival.org for more info. (John Payne)


Helmet at the Key Club

Like a half-man, half-machine horror villain, the long-running metal-by-way-of-hard-rock group Helmet have repeatedly slouched and crumbled (with long breaks and member departures) only to stagger back to life, guns cocked. After almost 20 years, founder/singer/guitarist Page Hamilton’s band continues to seek out that crucial, elusive coalescence of smart and heavy music, effectively burying the majority of hybrid outfits that attempt the same. Helmet’s most recent release was 2006’s Monochrome, a return to their tough-as-a-two-dollar-steak origins after a bout of kinder, gentler metal that didn’t really work out so well. It nicely demos the classic Helmetian musicianship (surgically precise; they roll with producer/audio god Wharton Tiers, after all), with the guitars in particular blazing hotly. Hamilton’s vocals (sometimes offering up a stylistically similar metal response to Henry Rollins’ punk call) don’t go in for a lot of undue fuss. It’s a simple enough equation, but what Helmet do within it is exactly right. Tonight they plan to perform their Meantime album in its entirety. (Kate Carraway)


Bad Dudes at Pehrspace

Smashing together new wave, prog rock and post-punk, the dudes in Bad Dudes turn out to be some bad mothers on their second CD, Eat Drugs (Retard Disco). The local band is composed of former members of Miracle Chosuke with contributions by various folks from Ozma, Epsilons, Silver Daggers and Upsilon Acrux, and they’re all super-tight, brainy and adventurously creative musicians. Loopy synthesizers and knotty guitars become entangled on such frantic math-rock instrumentals as “Preteen Wolf” and “Mjölner,” while “Secret Protector” encases slithery synth lines in bone-crushing hard-rock guitars. With its jaggedly metallic stops and starts, “Vanity Cane” sounds like the work of angry robots gone amok. Filtered disembodied alien voices break up the instrumental action by crying out among the busy, boxy riffs of the space oddities “Heterosaucer” and “Suez.” The dazzling (and sometimes dizzyingly intense) musicianship is always impressive, although it’s a bit of a relief when the intricate complexities give way to a catchy shout-along melody on the title track. Sometimes it’s better to hang all that fancy fretwork on a simple hook. (Falling James)


Also playing Friday:

JOHN MAYALL at the Canyon; THE QUARTER AFTER at the Echo; CAROL KAYE at McCabe’s; BAVAB BAVAB at Mr. T’s Bowl; PRE, THE MAE SHI at Spaceland; WILD WEEKEND at Taix.


SATURDAY, APRIL 19

 
Powder at the Key Club

“Tuesday I’m a thief/Wednesday I’m a prostitute,” Powder lead singer Ninette Terhart confesses on the song “Go,” recounting a week’s worth of sins before concluding, “But someday I’ll be saved.” Spiritual redemption seems like the last thing you’d associate with the charismatic and sexy Terhart, who likes to wear shiny, colorful plastic-fantastic costumes and is most often seen onstage “hanging from the ceiling by improbable parts of her anatomy.” She and her fellow dancers twist themselves into some amazing acrobatic positions in concert, to the point where their unique theatrics have apparently been lifted by shameless pop plagiarist Pink (see the band’s MySpace page for photographic evidence of Pink’s cultural shoplifting). None of this would matter if guitarist Phil X and drummer Dogboy didn’t churn out such hook-filled tunes as “Need a Little Help” and “Monger.” Their metal-punk assault dovetails nicely with Terhart’s melodic new-wave cooing, combining for a sound that’s pop but still hard rocking. When she sings “Adore Me” against Mr. X’s surging guitars, it’s impossible not to obey her. (Falling James)


Also playing Saturday:

BIG DADDY KANE, MC LYTE, SLICK RICK, DOUG E. FRESH at Gibson Amphitheatre; ELTON JOHN at the Honda Center; JOEY ALTRUDA & CRUCIAL RIDDIMS at the Bordello; THE HANGMEN, BLOODY HOLLIES at Safari Sam’s; EEK-A-MOUSE at Saint Rocke; KINGSIZEMAYBE, TONY GILKYSON at Taix.


SUNDAY, APRIL 20

 
Playing Sunday:

TAJ MAHAL, ZIGGY MARLEY at the Santa Monica Pier, noon; NO AGE, MIKA MIKO at Central Library, 2 p.m.; DAN JANISCH at the Echo, 5 p.m.; NAPALM DEATH, CATTLE DECAPITATION at the Knitting Factory; HOLLY NEAR at McCabe’s, 7 & 9 p.m.; HEALTH, PRE at the Smell; DOUBLE NAUGHT SPYCAR at Liquid Kitty.


MONDAY, APRIL 21

 
Kanye West, Rihanna, N.E.R.D., Lupe Fiasco at Nokia Theatre

Kanye West doesn’t exactly need help drawing attention. For one thing, he makes brilliant pop records like last year’s Graduation; for another, he gives better sound bite than anyone save Heidi “Vote for McCain” Montag. Yet for his current two-month Glow in the Dark Tour — which hits the Nokia for two nights this week before circling back to Staples Center in June — West has put together a star-studded bill that’s sure to be one of the year’s strongest (if not one of its hardest and fastest). Rihanna’s a much more dynamic live performer than many of her R&B songbird peers; at House of Blues last fall, she went from goody-goody balladeer to disco-punk dominatrix. Pharrell Williams has been telling reporters that the new N.E.R.D. album shares more with In Search of... than Fly or Die; that’s a good thing. And Lupe Fiasco thinks he’s misunderstood, which is probably true. Also Tues. (Mikael Wood)

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Also playing Monday:

Brad Miller

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Horse latitudes: The Black Heart Procession

RADARS TO THE SKY at the Echo; THE MONOLATORS at Pehrspace; GO BETTY GO at Silverlake Lounge.


TUESDAY, APRIL 22

 
The Virginia City Revival at Safari Sam’s

For almost as long as there have been hypocritical preachers, snake-oil salesmen and tent-show revivalists, it seems like there have been an equal number of old-timey rock & roll parodists. The Virginia City Revival are the latest in a long line of pseudo-redneck visionaries that stretches back to such bands as the Hickoids and the Southern Restoration Society, and, while VCR’s brand of blasphemy and goofy irreverence probably isn’t all that shocking anymore even in the Bible Belt, they still crank out a rip-roaring good time. The strained title of the group’s 2007 CD, A Bandin’ the Herd, is punny without actually being funny, much like “Congo Lisa,” an ode to jungle fever in the White House that is more cute than outrageous. VCR are fronted by the Rev. Josey DeVille, who sings in the highly mannered, exaggerated slack-jaw drawl so typical of this genre’s faux-preacher types, but what really makes the band go is drag-queen lead guitarist Gaby Godhead (ex–Haunted Garage), whose sizzling solos elevate the songs from jivey satire into something that really rocks. (Falling James)


Also playing Tuesday:

KANYE WEST, RIHANNA, N.E.R.D., LUPE FIASCO at Nokia Theatre; B-SIDE PLAYERS at Cal State L.A., noon; SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK at Cerritos Center; MICHAEL FRANTI at Wilshire Center, 3 p.m.; INDIAN JEWELRY at the Echo; 2 LIVE CREW at Malibu Inn; OLIVER FUTURE, KÁRIN TATOYAN at the Troubadour.


WEDNESDAY, APRIL 23


Lucinda Williams, Zack de la Rocha, John Doe at Skirball Cultural Center

“I ain’t looking to... analyze you, categorize you... define you or confine you,” Bob Dylan once sang on “All I Really Want to Do,” and later, on “John Wesley Harding,” he warned, “There was no man around who could track or chain him down.” Nonetheless, a host of musical acolytes will attempt to track Dylan down and define him at tonight’s Skirball tribute, “Like a Complete Unknown.” Folks have been covering, uncovering, interpreting, misinterpreting, analyzing and over-analyzing Dylan’s tunes since the early ’60s, and his music has remained stubbornly timeless and yet open to wild mutations. While tonight’s lineup isn’t as stylistically diverse as one might hope, it should nonetheless be a real kick to see which songs will be covered by Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha, X bassist John Doe, Spearhead’s Michael Franti, former Lone Justice waif Maria McKee and the redoubtable country-rock singer Lucinda Williams. Let’s hope they reinvent his songs with the same bravery that Dylan (still) uses to remake himself constantly. (Falling James)


Also playing Wednesday:

CALVIN HARRIS at Henry Fonda Theater; JACKSON BROWNE at Fred Kavli Theatre, Thousand Oaks; NELLIE McKAY at Largo; SARA LOV at Tangier.

THURSDAY, APRIL 24

 
The Black Heart Procession at the Troubadour

“I have waited all these years beneath the snow,” Pall Jenkins croons somberly on “The Waiter #5,” from the Black Heart Procession’s most recent full-length CD, 2006’s The Spell (Touch & Go), and Tobias Nathaniel’s icy piano tinkling perfectly matches the song’s windswept chilliness. “Hiding in the smoke and trees we live,” Jenkins sings enigmatically on “Tangled,” as neat a summary as any for the San Diego band’s sense of foreboding elegance and shrouded mysteriousness. Matt Resovich’s violin quivers on “The Letter” and the title track, adding a layer of exotic restlessness to the aptly named Pall’s wintry obsessions. “Return to Burn” simmers in its own juices as Jenkins’ baleful lap-steel guitar hovers over a placid, funereal backing that’s positively mesmerizing. The BHP are working on an album that’s scheduled to be released by the end of this year, and it’s rumored that they’ll unveil some of their new songs tonight. (Falling James)


Fuck Buttons at El Rey Theatre

England’s Fuck Buttons — the name conjures both a fetishistic device and an anti-digital rebel yell — constantly summon forces seemingly in conflict. Their music is innocent and violent, bursting with horror and wonder, mechanical but organic. The duo of Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power craft something like post-noise, if we must hang a genre signpost on the distortion-caked slush they shoot from amplifiers like sewage pumping out of a docked ocean liner. The acidic simmer, a toxic shimmer of overtones and percolating hiss, is underscored by single-note drones and music-box twinkles providing a melodic salve from the chaos. A voice chatters and screams, bursting with bleached harmonics in exorcised hysteria. But what nudges Fuck Buttons beyond total white-hot wipeout is rhythm. On “Bright Tomorrow”, the penultimate track on the group’s debut, Street Horrrsing, Hung and Power chop up the caustic ectoplasm with the Field’s flicker-flicker ecstasies and a brazen dance-floor-ready thump. (Bernardo Rondeau)


Siberian at the Silverlake Lounge

Importing coy boys with floppy bangs and vintage guitars to Silver Lake is a bit like having hypocrisy shipped to the White House. But Seattle quintet Siberian, though apparently an archetypal indie band, are far from superfluous even on the shoegazer-saturated Eastside, as they actually have some serious songwriting substance amid their well-worn aesthetics. Siberian’s debut full-length, last year’s With Me, is also with Radiohead: thick with the overthinking alienation and questioning vocals of that band’s first two records, but buffed with Interpol’s metropolis sheen, talkative bass and melodramatic dynamics. Remote arpeggios drown in crafted sheets of chord play; bustling beats crave both dance floor and dorm room. Defying its title, With Me is a lonesome record, but comforting too ­— evoking the night of the breakup next to an open fire. Without a hefty infusion of self-esteem and identity, Siberian will soon be forgotten, but for now this is about as good as melodic, under-the-radar rock gets. (Paul Rogers)


Also playing Thursday:

AGENT ORANGE, D.I. at Crash Mansion; BIRDS OF AVALON, TWILIGHT SLEEP at the Echo; WATKINS FAMILY HOUR at Largo; LESLIE & THE BADGERS at Taix; TIMBIRICHE at Vault 350.