Rock Picks: Mulatu Astatke, The Soft Pack, Katy Perry, Merle Haggard
FRIDAY, JANUARY 30
Infinity at Spaceland
Beware detached hipster: One refrain of that first keyboard riff on “Don’t Stop Believin’” and you’ll lose all capacity to restrain the warm wave of nostalgia growing inside, like a glowing scarab spaceship leaving the sun — you know what I’m talking about. This Journey tribute is heads and high-heeled boots above the rest. Infinity’s boy-girl players from L.A. bands like Longstocking and Patsy are headed by the masterful Michelle “Woody” Stevenson — whose re-creation of Steve Perry’s wide-legged stance, eerily accurate clenched-hand gestures and weirdly flat hair can kick anything the real Journey’s new Filipino singer (the guy they found on YouTube) can dish out. So go ahead and tuck that cucumber down your crotch, grab a brew and clear your pipes for some off-key sing-along fun. Infinity does ’em all — “Stone in Love,” “Separate Ways,” “Any Way You Want It” — with enough theatricality and ridiculousness to do justice to the dreamiest of butt-rock bands, faithfully. (Wendy Gilmartin)
Also playing Friday:
ADELE at the Wiltern; FERDINAND at Amoeba Music; TYRONE WELLS at El Rey Theatre; ELENI MANDELL at the Hotel Café; HED PE at Key Club; BLOOD at the Knitting Factory; JON BRION at Largo at the Coronet; LEDWARD KA’APANA at McCabe’s; LUCY LAWLESS at the Roxy.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 31
Kenneth Pattengale at El Cid
Drop the needle down and dig that crackle and pop. Er, how old is this guy, anyway? Young Kenneth Pattengale’s ace new disc, Storied Places (Milan), like a lot of youthful musicians’ material of late, spans a range of classic American styles, from rhythm & blues and C&W to nice folkie interludes to heartfelt pumping piano balladry. Pattengale’s songs are done with a subtle but significant wink of the eye, as if to tacitly acknowledge the passage of time from these tunes’ origins, and the resulting challenge in dealing with them in anything but ironic terms. Pattengale tosses the songs into a big grab bag of musical history, and delivers each with a wise eye, yet — crucially — a sincere, simple affection. And please enjoy augmenting Tin Pan Alley cats the Found Object Orchestra, on hand to enhance your trip down false-memory lane. (John Payne)
Beat Killers at the Redwood Bar & Grill
The local group Beat Killers have the quintessential ’60s garage-rock sound — snarling caveman vocals, circus-y Farfisa organ, rumbling fuzz bass and raging surf guitars — and juice it up further with punk rock tempos and distortion. There are only about a million such garage bands in the world today with the same retro ambitions, but Beat Killers stand out from the ratty pack with their boundless energy, deft chops and crafty songwriting. The lead singer’s name is listed as only “!” (à la Question Mark of the Mysterians), and he howls over Danny Magana’s primal tom-toms with a feral tenacity that evokes the Standells, the Troggs and the Seeds. Kenny Wessel shoots up tracks like “Gimme a Kiss” (from the Killers’ iTunes CD, Beat, Broken, Bruised) with savagely efficient lead-guitar injections, as “Speedie” John Carlucci (ex-Fuzztones) lays down some nimbly agile, sludgy-thick bass solos. Meanwhile, Laura Carlucci coats “Wha Cha Gonna Do” and “Kids Are Getting Restless” in a sheen of groovy keyboard accents, adding another layer of frenzy to the group’s methodical madness. (Falling James)
Katy Perry at the Wiltern
We’re still trying to figure out just who Katy Perry really is, although it’s possible that the former Christian-pop singer doesn’t know yet, either. Raised in the Santa Barbara area by parents who were both pastors, she brims with musical talent and potential, stalking the stage with natural (although she calls it “God-given”) charisma and belting out her new-wave tunes with a brassy theatricality. Of course, her facility for artifice is also her biggest drawback. To her credit, Perry wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on her 2008 full-length One of the Boys, but hack collaborators such as Desmond Child and producer Butch Walker tend to smooth out traces of individuality, burying the occasional interesting lyric in an avalanche of clichés. The title track is fairly unremarkable until the break, where the “don’t wanna be” backup vocals swirl around her quite hypnotically, before returning to the standard bombastic-pop formula. “UR So Gay” is merely the modern equivalent to Josie Cotton’s “Johnny, Are You Queer?” — although Perry tries to deflect accusations of homophobia by tossing in a quick “and you don’t even like boys” while dissing a poor guy for being vegetarian, liking rainstorms and driving an electric car (the cad!). “I Kissed a Girl” appears to be an attempt to kiss and make up with the gay community (while titillating voyeuristic boys), but it tries too hard to be shocking and is ultimately less daring than the Jill Sobule song it rips off. Perry is at her best on acoustic-based ballads like “Lost” and the candied ethereality of “I’m Still Breathing,” where she almost sounds sincere. (Falling James)
Also playing Saturday:
BILL MEDLEY at Civic Arts Plaza; LITTLE ANTHONY & THE IMPERIALS at Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts; DJ QUIK, ZOOLAY, J-MO, SEVEN at Key Club; KEEL at the Knitting Factory; Stan Ridgway at McCabe’s; LUCY LAWLESS at the Roxy; BABYLAND at the Smell; THE BLACK HEART PROCESSION, WARPAINT, THE MUMLERS at Spaceland; THREE BAD JACKS at the Troubadour.
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 1
Mulatu Astatke, Cut Chemist, Egon and Quantic at the Harriet and Charles Luckman Complex (Pasadena)
“Timeless” is a new concert series curated by Los Angeles’ ArtDontSleep and Mochilla, highlighting gifted composers and arrangers from around the world. Their inaugural show assembles a 15-piece orchestra to back Mulatu Astatke, the ambassador for Ethiopian jazz since the 1970s; fans of Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers will recognize his hypnotic sound immediately. His appearance on the classic Ethio-jazz collection Ethiopiques, Vol. 4 helped to cement his place in the canon. The “Timeless” series places composers’ music into a contemporary frame. On Sunday’s Astatke show, DJs/producers Cut Chemist, Egon and the U.K.’s Quantic will perform sets. Future “Timeless” shows feature Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and Carlos Niño working with the music of J Dilla (February 22), Brazil’s Arthur Verocai (March 15) and L.A.’s own David Axelrod (April 5). (Oliver Wang)
Also playing Sunday:
CALVIN JOHNSON, SHARON CHESLOW, DEVON WILLIAMS at the Smell.
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 2
Nightmares on Wax at the Echoplex
You all might recall with fondness the funky mess orchestrated with such deft danceability by England’s Nightmares on Wax, a.k.a. George Evelyn, on such crushing classix as ’95’s Smokers Delight, the rip-tastic Carboot Soul of 1999, or his comeback — or rejuvenation period — mix album of 2000 in the essential DJ-Kicks series. In a way, Evelyn never really does anything so revolutionary, yet the sheer consistency of surprise in his stuff has remained pretty extraordinary. A good example of how the man can bowl you over is his latest on Warp Records, Thought So, one majorly butt-kickin’ piece of sonic art. Wicked dub, the furriest and beeriest of big-bass party grooves; all manner of further Kool & the Gangism gobbage arrives replete with Evelyn’s growing island-groove consciousness and forays into noirish, soundtracky typa shit. There’s even some quirky BBC interval music and — well, he still loves to toss in a bit of everything, almost to bursting point. This true eclectic’s skills (and taste) are mind-blowing, due mainly to a never-ending feeling of surprise, and to the man’s palpable elation, pouring down like sugar stars on top of each track. (John Payne)
Also playing Monday:
CROOKED FINGERS at the Bordello; 60 WATT KID at Echo Curio; LE SWITCH, THE WHISPERTOWN 2000, WRONG WAY at Spaceland; DEVOTCHKA at the Viper Room.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 3
Miranda Lee Richards at Spaceland
If Miranda Lee Richards picked up anything from Anton Newcombe, the eccentric Brian Jonestown Massacre front man who invited Richards to join his rotating-door trash-psych outfit for a spell back in the late ’90s, it certainly wasn’t Newcombe’s prodigious work rate: Eight years after she released her excellent solo debut, The Herethereafter, Richards has finally gotten around to completing a sophomore disc, Light of X, whose overdue February 10 release she is celebrating with a month of Tuesday-night Spaceland gigs. It’s unclear why Light of X took so long to finish, since it more or less picks up right where The Herethereafter left off — think pretty hippie-chick vocals laid over rootsy acoustic-guitar strums and shuffling psych-folk drums. Maybe she was just waiting for Dubya to get the hell out of Dodge. At Spaceland, Richards will be accompanied by a four-piece band, including guitarist (and Light of X producer) Rick Parker. (Mikael Wood)
Also playing Tuesday:
FRUITBATS, SARA CAHOONE, LUKE TOP at the Echo; THE BRONX at the Echoplex; CARY BROTHERS, GREG LASWELL, JIM BIANCO at the Hotel Café; MESHUGGAH at House of Blues; BUSHWALLA at the Mint.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 4
The Soft Pack at the Echo
The Soft Pack (formerly the Muslims, as of November) got together after graduating from Torrey Pines High in San Diego, and it didn’t take long for these third-generation suburban punks to pick up on the Stooges’ slop, the Standells’ fuzz and the Replacements’ hooks. The Soft Pack keep the music spare and skeletal; they’re judicious in their editing of ramped-up pop, tight riffs and few words; plus they rock a sweater-vest-clad Richie Cunningham style that’s so much hotter than the contrived Johnny Thunders look. It’s this confident combination that made them one of 2008’s “bands to watch,” and generated a heap of blogging buzz. (It’s also what started rumors they moved to L.A. because they were too good for the Diego. Ouch.) Their last gig at the Echo was truly infectious, and it’s a good idea to catch this one — they probably won’t play a venue this small again. (Wendy Gilmartin)
Also playing Wednesday:
EAGLES OF DEATH METAL at Henry Fonda Theater; OREN LAVIE at Largo at the Coronet; THE DIRTY DOZEN BRASS BAND, TROMBONE SHORTY & ORLEANS AVENUE at the Mint; AL DIMEOLA at the Roxy; MATT & KIM, THE MAE SHI, THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD TO CANDYLAND at the Troubadour; SOLANGE at the Viper Room.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 5
Hal Blaine’s 80th-Birthday Party at Baked Potato
Without Hal Blaine, there would literally be no kick to the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” and there would be a lot less to talk about on Elvis’ “A Little Less Conversation.” Whether it was from inside Gold Star, Capitol or a host of other studios, the legendary drummer helped to build Phil Spector’s wall of sound, laying down more tracks than Union Pacific — and he’s got a joke for every one of them. His posse, the ubiquitous Wrecking Crew (featured in a recent documentary of the same name), have been the musicians behind the hits (40 No. 1’s) since 1962, and he’s still hitting the skins at 80. Keys man and fellow Crew alum Don Randi is inviting us to his Studio City club to celebrate Blaine’s birthday with this open jam/tribute (if you got what it takes, then come down with your ax of choice), and the proceeds will go toward a music scholarship for some lucky kid. (Daniel Siwek)
Merle Haggard at the Grove of Anaheim
Merle Haggard is one tough old okie. When the honky-tonk philosopher was admitted to a Bakersfield hospital last November to undergo surgery for a lung tumor, the press began circling like vultures, predicting at best that he would never sing again and, at worst, that his burial was a sure-fire coming attraction. Getting rid of the lemon-sized growth required the removal of his right lung’s upper lobe, but just two months later, the renowned singer-guitarist is back on the road, and not only that, he already has a new Obama-inspired song (“High Hopes”) in the set list. Such mad perseverance is typical Hag, though; after all, he’s the guy who spent his youth blending a tremendous creative streak with his irresistible criminal impulses, and the former only triumphed over the latter due to a hard stretch in San Quentin. In the time since, Haggard’s excruciatingly artful output has landed him on the top of the country charts 40 times, on the cover of jazz bible Downbeat magazine and in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Don’t write him off just yet, kiddies. (Jonny Whiteside)
NOFX, Youth Brigade, Channel 3, Sin 34 at Henry Fonda Theater
Has it already been a quarter century since NOFX started out as a struggling Bad Religion–influenced group here in Los Angeles? The fun-loving, heavy-drinking band have long since moved to San Francisco, where they’ve become something of a punk-pop institution. NOFX’s underground success unfortunately paved the way for such mainstream lightweights as Blink-182 and Green Day, but they’ve distinguished themselves from their empty-headed imitators with an irreverently silly blend of punk rock that deftly incorporates skate punk, pop-punk and ska. While they’re obviously a joke band (with such song titles as “Professional Procrastination” and “Hot Dog in a Hallway”), NOFX have managed to make some serious, nonpreachy points about racism and homophobia along the way. Founding members Fat Mike (a.k.a. singer-bassist Mike Burkett), guitarist Eric Melvin and drummer Erik Sandin still lead the band, but several of NOFX’s past members will appear at this anniversary gig. Tonight’s bill is fully loaded with the venerable W.L.A. outfit Youth Brigade, the bratty hardcore rants of the recently reunited early-’80s Santa Monica punks Sin 34, and Cerritos’ still-fiery Channel 3, whose songwriting ranges from brutally profound examinations of the Japanese-American internment camps during World War II (“Manzanar”) to lighter stuff like the perils of modern romance (“You Make Me Feel Cheap”). (Falling James)
Also playing Thursday:
PILAR DIAZ, WAIT THINK FAST, LA SANTA CECILIA at the Bordello; JOHN MAYALL, CHARLIE MUSSELWHITE, LEE OSKAR at the Canyon; EMILY WELLS at the Hotel Café; NICO VEGA, THE YELLING, THE UNION LINE at the Roxy; ANDY FRIEDMAN & THE OTHER FAILURES at Silverlake Lounge; IGLU & HARTLEY at the Viper Room.
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