Rock Picks: Meat Beat Manifesto, Jay-Z, Eels


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Happy homemaker Iris DeMent

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Reading is fundamental: Xiu Xiu.

Michele Noach

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Close shave: Robyn Hitchcock

X at Henry Fonda Theater

X are celebrating their 31st year in show biz, and while 31 might seem like an odd number to mark an anniversary, it makes some sense when you consider the triskaidekaphiliac band’s longtime fascination and superstition with all things relating to the number 13. X’s most recent album of original material, the uneven Hey Zeus!, came out back in 1993, and it’s tempting to write them off now as an oldies band coasting on their past glories. Ironically, singer Exene Cervenka has been fairly creative in recent years, maintaining her punk credibility with such underrated bands as Auntie Christ and the Original Sinners, while singer-bassist John Doe’s 2007 CD, A Year in the Wilderness, was his best solo album, by far. Clearly, these two former denizens of Beyond Baroque’s poetry workshops in the late ’70s can still write a good song, and the band goes beyond cheap nostalgia, if only because they’re still powered by the relentlessly pummeling drummer D.J. Bonebrake and the serenely above-it-all, terminally grinning guitar machine Billy Zoom. They’ve always been better live than on record, so don’t miss ’em on their lucky 31st birthday. (Falling James)

Also playing Thursday:

LAURIE ANDERSON at Royce Hall, UCLA; EDDIE VEDDER at Arlington Theater, Santa Barbara; JON ANDERSON at the Canyon; MIA DOI TODD, WINTER FLOWERS, KÁRIN TATOYAN at the Echo; ANTI NOWHERE LEAGUE at Safari Sam’s; H.R. at the Viper Room.



Iris DeMent at the Getty Center

Country-folk singer Iris DeMent hasn’t performed in this town in a long time, so you’re considerably lucky if you’ve already scored tickets to this sold-out performance at the ol’ museum up on the hill. Her most recent album, 2004’s Lifeline, is a collection of reverential love songs to Jesus, such as “Blessed Assurance” and “I’ve Got That Old Time Religion (In My Heart),” but even non-believers are likely to get something out of DeMent’s soaring vocals, which quiver with sincerity and passion and a distinctively rustic delivery. Loners and oddballs of all stripes should relate to the majestically defiant way she sings the acoustic-guitar-driven ballad “I Don’t Want to Get Adjusted to This World.” Lest you think that the Arkansas native is merely quaint, she’s shown real fire in the past with songs like “Wasteland of the Free” (from her 1996 CD, The Way I Should), where she decries fat-cat CEOs, inner-city injustice, illiterate MTV bimbos and hypocrite preachers: “We call ourselves the advanced civilization/That sounds like crap to me.” Amen. (Falling James)

Xiu Xiu, Thao Nguyen at the Echo

Xiu Xiu’s new album is called Women as Lovers (Kill Rock Stars), another incredibly ambiguous jumble of musics and words and dashed hopes and future fears, confessed by warbling Jamie Stewart and cohort Caralee McElroy, along with new drummer Ches Smith and bassist Devin Hoff. Michael Gira (Angels of Light/Swans) accompanies them on a version of Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure,” as well. Women’s songs, awash in surprising xylophones and gongs, or the de rigueur laptop hack and chop, are darkly literate, daring, blatantly confusing and sour to the taste — a bewilderingly broad range of approaches that have in common the most peculiar way of being memorably moving because of their surface ugliness. Woman as Lovers is like sensitive fighting back; it’s 14 songs about us. Be on time to experience Thao Nguyen, a very funny singer-guitarist from Virginia whose raspy voice can make you feeling like laughing and crying simultaneously; seek out and savor her Kill Rock Stars album We Brave Bee Stings and All. (John Payne)

Leo Nocentelli at the Mint

Ah, the many flavors of funk. Whether it’s the interstellar cosmology of George Clinton, the cocaine-amped, between-the-sheets rumble of Rick James, the psychedelicized celebration of Sly Stone or Johnny Guitar Watson’s blues-informed strut, funk never fails to fill your thrill void. But when it comes down to a fierce yen for the primordial funk purity, you call on New Orleans, and Crescent City ax-man Leo Nocentelli is one of the all-time top-dog prophets. He has a second-to-none résumé that features stops with Art Neville’s ground-breaking Hawkettes, those almighty avatars the Meters, not to mention dates with Lee Dorsey and Dr. John. Nocentelli’s peerless, un-impinged jamological sense, a syncopated, jazz-fed, R&B-bred style so liberated and expressive that it seems to reaches directly into your mind, is always an experience of dazzling quality and undeniable impact. A not-to-be-squandered opportunity. (Jonny Whiteside)


Nick Lowe, Robyn Hitchcock at El Rey Theatre

Those with an appetite for quirky English guitar pop won’t find a more satisfying repast in town tonight than this double bill. (Those not amused by nerdy white guys should consider other options.) Pub-rock pioneer Nick Lowe’s on tour behind Yep Roc’s handsome new reissue of Jesus of Cool, the 1978 solo debut he released following his departure from Brinsley Schwarz (whose “[What’s So Funny ’Bout] Peace, Love and Understanding” later became a Lowe-produced hit for Elvis Costello). In this country, Jesus was retitled Pure Pop for Now People; the “pure” part is still pretty accurate. Robyn Hitchcock’s out supporting old stuff, too: last year’s I Wanna Go Backwards, an aptly titled box set collecting three early solo discs by the former (and perhaps future?) Soft Boys front man. (Another Soft Boy, Kimberly Rew, went on to form Katrina & the Waves.) You can bet that requests will be entertained tonight. (Mikael Wood)

Also playing Friday:



Meat Beat Manifesto at El Rey Theatre

If a group can march valiantly into a pop music Valhalla with but one song, it is Meat Beat Manifesto with their shimmering “Love Mad,” which was included lo, those many moons ago, on those old Volume compilations that turned people on to new music like fireflies all through the ’90s. Will they play it tonight? That’s the question at any concert, but this isn’t just any concert: Jack Dangers — longtime studio re-mixer and producer for everyone from David Bowie to Tower of Power — unfurls his Manifesto tonight with tracks from Autoimmune, his latest foray into techno-pop dance and movement and his most recent effort since 2005’s lauded-yet-underrated jazz hybrid At the Center. He’s also exploring multimedia that involves real-time percussion-triggered video sampling, so to say that he’s headed for Bill Gates–styled riches while his contemporaries lick stamps for a buzz would be the understatement of the last tachyon. Also: Raz Mesinai’s Badawi. (David Cotner)


Scout Niblett at Spaceland

Todd Garrison

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Meat Beat Manifesto is murder.

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Blue magician: Jay-Z

Nigel Craine

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Sabbat: Robert Plant finds himself in a parallel-universe version of Led Zeppelin.

Emma Louise “Scout” Niblett is an English singer/guitarist/drummer whose minimalist songs on her fourth album, This Fool Can Die Now (Too Pure), are beefed up by guest contributions from Will Oldham. The pair duet over a somber, spare guitar on the dreamy interlude “Do You Want to Be Buried With My People,” where they gently croon, “I’ve heard of the city called Heaven/and I’ve started to make it my home.” A string section washes consolingly over them on the similarly sparse and fragile ballad “River of No Return.” The sleepy guitar perks up a little on “Kiss,” where Oldman suggests, “Let’s kidnap each other and start singing our song,” perhaps alluding to the title of Niblett’s previous album, Kidnapped by Neptune. Both albums were recorded by the seemingly ubiquitous Steve Albini, whose production touches are relatively subdued here, in keeping with the downbeat music. With so many long ballads, This Fool might test the patience of those who’d rather rock out, but there are nonetheless some quietly beautiful moments that shine through the CD’s murky haze. (Falling James)

Also playing Saturday:

LUPE FIASCO, DE LA SOUL, ACEYALONE at USC’s McCarthy Quad, noon; MIKE PETERS at UCLA’s James Bridges Theater, 1 p.m.; MUDCRUTCH at Malibu Performing Arts Center; EDDIE VEDDER, LIAM FINN at the Wiltern; INGRID MICHAELSON, JESCA HOOP at Henry Fonda Theater; SMOGTOWN, CIVET at Alex’s Bar; RHETT MILLER at Largo; SUPERSUCKERS at Malibu Inn; CHRIS HILLMAN & HERB PEDERSON at McCabe’s; JACK BREWER BAND, AZTLAN UNDERGROUND at La Conga Mexican Cantina.


EDDIE VEDDER, LIAM FINN at the Wiltern; INGRID MICHAELSON, JESCA HOOP at El Rey Theatre; MORCHEEBA at Henry Fonda Theater; TONY GILKYSON at the Echo, 5 p.m.; DAVID WILCOX at McCabe’s; BEAR McCREARY at the Roxy; MIKE STINSON at Safari Sam’s, noon.



Radars to the Sky at the Echo

Radars to the Sky are midway through their April residency at the Echo, celebrating the release of their second EP, The Big Bang, and special guests are likely to appear on tonight’s bill. The Radars claim an affinity with Built to Spill, Pavement and the Smiths, but a quote from Gustave Flaubert on their MySpace page neatly summarizes their musical aspirations: “Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.” Literary and historical allusions crop up on “Prufrock,” which sparkles with chiming post-punk guitars as Andrew Spitser confides with a Morrissey-like sense of regret, “The crashing waves drown out all I say.” He duets with his keyboardist-wife Kate Post Spitser on “Long Walk Home,” where his jangly guitar spirals blend enchantingly into her breathy delivery. The title track evolves from a spacy, languid intro with its flickering scrapes of Television-style chords into an impressively stormy landscape of whirring keyboards and crashing guitars. (Falling James)


Also playing Monday:



SUBHUMANS at the Echo; MEIKO at the Hotel Café; BEAR McCREARY at the Roxy; THE NIGHTWATCHMAN at the Troubadour; TULSA SKULL SWINGERS at Steve Allen Theater.


Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige at the Hollywood Bowl

The big news out of Jay-Z’s camp last week was the announcement of his impending $150 million deal with Live Nation, the concert-promotion behemoth that’s working hard to become the last (profitable) man standing in the record industry. Live Nation’s narrative neatly mirrors that of Jay-Z, who, as even grandmothers know, has spent the last decade-and-change pushing product (first drugs, then music) to an increasingly large consumer base. Last year’s American Gangster — tied to the Ridley Scott film of the same name — didn’t sell like the hotcakes of yore, but it did prove that 2006’s iffy Kingdom Come wasn’t the creative death knell many took that CD for. There aren’t many acts for whom Mary J. Blige, the brightest light in current R&B, would deign to open — and, indeed, she’ll almost certainly find several opportunities to make her way into Jay-Z’s set tonight. (Mikael Wood)

Eels at El Rey Theatre

Eels’ founder/singer/guitarist/multi-instrumentalist E recently marked his band’s 10-year anniversary with the release of two separate loads of material: Essential Eels, a greatest-hits collection plus a DVD of several videos; and Useless Trinkets, a compilation of soundtracks, b-sides, rare and unreleased items, and a DVD featuring videos of Eels’ 2006 performance at Lollapalooza. Taken altogether, these tunes are some of the smartest, deepest and most heart-rendingly beautiful pop music the “indie rock” (and beyond) era has yielded to date. As shall undoubtedly be revealed again tonight, the man is remarkable for the vast array of musical approaches with which he paints his music, and perhaps most of all for the variety of personas that reveal themselves in the telling of his songs. Also Thurs. (John Payne)

Also playing Wednesday:

HALF PINT at the Echoplex; SARA LOV, PATRICK PARK at Tangier.


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.


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