Rock Picks: Orphics, Roky Erickson, Madonna

Orphics rising: Matt Roth summons a muse.
Brenda Ferrell


Neil Young at the Forum

“I was lying in a burned-out basement with the full moon in my eyes,” Neil Young sang in this same arena, almost exactly 30 years ago to the day, as his old Malibu home was burning to the ground just a few miles up the coast. Like rust, ashes never sleep, and it will be interesting to see what memories Young stirs up from our collective wreckage at this once-fabulous Forum. Of course, the prolific and unpredictable singer-guitarist might not even bother looking backward, especially since he’s still riding on the high of Chrome Dreams II, the 2007 sequel to his semi-mythical unreleased ’70s album that, with its quintessential blend of mellow ballads and rambling rockers, already stands as one of his most satisfying works (so far). The last time Young came through town, at Nokia Theatre in November 2007, he dug deeply into the new album’s disparate moods (which reflect the breadth and restless journeying of his overall musical career), ranging from non-ironic, pure-pop idealism (“The Believer”) to ironic, heavy-trudging blue-collar anthems (“Dirty Old Man”). And while he didn’t break into the 18-minute-long “Ordinary People” (the latest in a long line of ambivalent songs about the common man), Young did stretch out on the instant classic “Spirit Road,” sending out sizzling, streaking flares of green light with his crackling guitar. Even better, he built to a stunning climax with “No Hidden Path,” wringing out ectoplasmically glowing shivers with his tremelo wand and clawing piercingly heartbreaking note combinations that summed up everything with a lighthouse-beckoning loveliness. With the recent death of Love’s Arthur Lee, young Neil — along with Bob Dylan and Dead Moon’s Fred Cole — remains one of the last of the ’60s Sunset Strip survivors who’s still making vital new music. With Death Cab for Cutie and Everest. (Falling James)

Ane Brun, Tobias Fröberg at the Hotel Café

Ane Brun may hail from Norway, but her gentle, introspective music holds a pan-Atlantic feel, connecting the dots between Joni Mitchell, Dolly Parton, Kate Bush, Nick Drake and even Björk (with whom she shares engineer/producer Valgeir Sigurdsson). Her lilting, fluttery vocals lend a haunting quality to her spare, soul-baring songs on her new disc, Changing of the Seasons. Early on, she sings, “I walked into love/I walked into a minefield I never heard of,” and she walks this emotional minefield throughout this disc. The near-sprightly “The Treehouse Song” details a relationship that has fallen apart, while “Armour” (which sports a Jeannette McDonald–like warble) examines a fight’s aftermath. Even her shout-out to Gillian Welch (“Gillian”) deals with Brun taking emotional solace in Welch’s songs. For all of her romantic melancholia, Brun’s alluring voice draws in listeners as she delicately balances the ethereal and the organic. Joining her for this Hotel Café set is fellow Scandinavian singer-songwriter Tobias Fröberg, whose pop craftsmanship make him something of the Swedish Ron Sexsmith. (Michael Berick)

Jenny Lewis at the Orpheum Theatre

With her second solo album, Acid Tongue (Warner Bros.), Jenny Lewis expands her private musical universe just a little bit further past the boundaries of her band Rilo Kiley. Oh, there are still some lovely indie-rock songs and the occasional country-laced ballad (“Pretty Bird”) that evoke Rilo Kiley, but the former child actor stretches out even more adventurously (to paraphrase the title of R.K.’s 2004 album) than she did on her first solo CD, 2006’s Rabbit Fur Coat. The strange eight-minute epic “The Next Messiah” is initially anchored to a firm blues groove with woozy slide guitar, then segues into a primal hard-rock stomp, where she lowers her voice solemnly to blend with the murmuring of the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson. About five minutes in, the track flicks its tail and switches rhythms again, with rings of reverb guitar coiling around the blended bedroom-voice exchanges of Lewis, Robinson and guest singers Benji Hughes, Zooey Deschanel, Johnathan Wilson, Vanesa Corbala, Farmer Dave Scher and Morgan Nagler. Lewis searches for her inner Dusty Springfield on “Jack Killed Mom,” whose matricidal lyrics culminate in an unexpected gospel rave-up. Always intriguing, she drops acid on the title track, tries to lasso the sun on “See Fernando” and sweetens Elvis Costello’s typically clotted, nasal moaning with sunny harmonies on their power-pop duet “Carpetbaggers.” (Falling James)

Also playing Thursday:

RAY LAMONTAGNE, LEONA NAESS at the Wiltern; CARLOS GUITARLOS at Eastside Luv; THE HEAVY, POP LEVI, GRAY KID at the Echo; COBRA STARSHIP at House of Blues; SECRET MACHINES, THE DEARS at the Key Club; THE MIGHTY UNDERDOGS, ZION-I at Knitting Factory; HOLLYWOOD UNDEAD, CIVET at Sam’s at the Regent; LISTING SHIP, UKEFINK at Hyperion Tavern; ANNY CELSI at Cinema Bar.



The Orphics at the Whisky

Something kind of wicked this way comes. The Orphics are stranger and more exotic than most of the careerist bands clotting up the Sunset Strip these days, with songs that are more like epic journeys than bland, well-behaved pop tunes that can be neatly contained in a jukebox. Singer/accordionist Matt Roth aspires to the vaguely mystical, rambling classic rock of bands like the Doors, Led Zeppelin and Jane’s Addiction, and he layers the tracks on the Orphics’ recent CD, Purity, with violins, sitars, cellos, “psychedelic echoes, magic . . . and Middle Eastern scales.” The album’s centerpiece is “The Queen of the 7 Seas,” a febrile waltz where Roth croons with the world-weary voice of a lost sailor, sounding a lot like Cat Stevens or Richard Butler as he walks the plank, spellbound by an ocean muse. He finds himself spinning around on “The Carousel” at a macabre circus and is bound up in a swirling vortex of wah-wah guitar, sitars and his own seasick accordion on the somewhat pretentious “Horse Latitudes”–style intro to “Deliverance.” Although Roth’s grandiose ambitions fall flat on generic songs like “Pleasure Fucked Pain,” there are still enough hints of darkness and mystery here to make the Orphics’ “Midnight Freak Show” (which will include Porno for Pyros journeyman Peter DiStefano) one of the evening’s more weirdly unsettling Halloween events. (Falling James)


Justice, Soulwax, Crystal Castles, Simian Mobile Disco, Deadmau5 at HARD Haunted Mansion at the Shrine Expo Hall

The reason we oughtta just go ahead and declare this event in advance the ultimate Halloween partay of the m-frigging millennium is that HARD has already so successfully thrown their already legendary Summer Music and New Year’s fests to such supermaximum ultra-blowout effect, so they’ve proved their shit, and we’ve got a feeling this one will just completely slay. So check this lineup of the essential hard stuff, just perfectly in tune for this particular point in time: Headliners Justice from France bring their mega-slamming hits “D.A.N.C.E.” and “We Are Your Friends” and awe-inspiring videos, getting a competitive run in the state-of-the-art audiovisual stakes by Belgium’s Soulwax. U.K. powerhouse Simian Mobile Disco darts into the fray, along with Canadian comers Deadmau5 and primo funky punks Crystal Castles; plus, brain-frying additional sonorities from Boys Noize (Germany), Crookers (Italy), and a bunch of L.A.’s finest, including DJ AM, Jason Bentley and Destructo. Plus, special surprise guests and all manner of scary spooky stuff to put the rise in your Levis! Freaky costumes highly encouraged! 700 W. 32nd St.; 8 p.m.-4 a.m.; all ages. For tickets, information and music, go to (John Payne)

Rise Against, Thrice at Hollywood Palladium

At a time when even so-called punk tours have corporate sponsors and a “whatever” sticker is considered a badge of rebellion, Rise Against’s fist-pumping pop-oganda sounds like Che Gue-friggin’-vara. Their green-thinking, PETA-promoting message is hardly revolutionary, but, considering the ideological compromises needed to reach a mass audience (you won’t see any genuinely anarchic, Crass-like confrontation on the Vans Warped Tour®), credit to ’em. These Chicago stalwarts have achieved three-nights-at-the-Palladium status through worthy, worldly mall-punk full of dramatic pauses, clenched-teeth guitars, “whoo-ahh” backups and boom-chik bombast, with lyrics detailing everything from disturbing Iraq-veteran memories (“Hero of War”) to environmental degradation (the KROQ staple “Ready to Fall”). Their new album, Appeal to Reason, seldom rides the roller-coaster dynamics of “Ready to Fall,” yet it delivers similarly pulsating push-and-pull arrangements and a rare, earnest air. Rise Against aim to provoke debate while remaining in radio rotation. O.C.’s Thrice are emo’s U2; their faith-flecked, grandiose and breathy prog transcends genre-requisite, Generation Text angst and freshly tossed guitars through keys, loops and ever more acoustic interludes. Seems like a doubleheader to me. Also Sat.-Sun. (Paul Rogers)

The Henry Clay People at Little Radio

They’re good people, those Henry Clay People. Actually, I’m not sure just what the local group has to do with the 19th-century Kentucky senator, unless he also had a gift for writing catchy, somewhat sarcastic power-pop songs. Tonight, the Henry Clay People celebrate the release of their second album, For Cheap or for Free (Autumn Tone Records), which is loaded with original songs that echo their acknowledged heroes the Replacements, Neil Young and Pavement. Singer Joey Siara clearly has mixed feelings about the state of modern music and his band’s place in it. “It’s just a generation caught in between,” he laments on the insightfully rueful “This Ain’t a Scene.” And yet, just moments later, he’s caught up in the exhilarating rush of the uptempo “Fine Print,” where he admits that he’s too lazy and in love with warm weather to relocate the band to another city. His brother Andy Siara punctuates such ambivalent sentiments with hard-driving chords and a minimum of lead-guitar wankery, while drummer Eric Scott and bassist Noah Green keep things moving, letting up only on the folksy interludes “I Was Half Asleep” and “Bulls Through.” On the self-explanatory “Rock and Roll Has Lost Its Teeth,” Joey aptly summarizes critical attempts (like this one) to pigeonhole the band: “All of this talking made us sick.” (Falling James)


Roky Erickson at El Rey Theatre

Texas psychedelia pioneer and horror-rock kingpin Roky Erickson has an extra-large reputation that precedes him everywhere he goes — and not always in a favorable way. The brilliant shouter, who began his career circa 1964 with his band the Spades before graduating to serve as front man for legendary Lone Star visionaries the 13th Floor Elevators, has taken more than his fair share of blows (not the least of which was being committed to some very hard time at a state prison for the criminally insane), but anyone who says that Roky has lost it has no fucking idea what they’re talking about. When he turned up here last winter, his performance was exemplary, fraught with all the lysergic, bluesy gravity and near-childlike sense of wonder that have always characterized his music. Whether he was throwing down his ’70s monster masterpieces (“I Walked With a Zombie,” “Red Temple Prayer” a.k.a. “Two Headed Dog”) or belting out the same message-laden covers he’s done since the mid-1960s (including a superb version of Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me”), Erickson’s control, dynamism and sheer, flat-out-wild vocals were nothing less than thrilling. One of rock & roll’s true, fine noblemen, Roky Erickson stands alone. (Jonny Whiteside)


Pilar Diaz at the Echo

It was just two years ago that the local band Los Abandoned seemed poised to break into the big time. In 2006, they released a fantastic debut album, Mixtape, on Vapor Records that encompassed energetically silly new-wave anthems like “Stalk U” and “Van Nuys (Es Very Nice)” and such contrastingly gorgeous pop songs as “Nada Mío Es Fake” and “State of Affairs.” Just as suddenly, the band broke up with little explanation. Tonight, the supremely talented Pilar Diaz (a.k.a. Lady P.) re-emerges to unveil her new, self-titled solo CD, which is worlds away from the punky spirit of Los Abandoned. The ethereal pop song “Tu y Yo” unfolds with a lonely trumpet and spacy steel-drum sounds as the Chilean singer keens with a pure, newfound melodicism that was sometimes buried by her old band’s frenetic high jinks. She’s equally enchanting on “Novia de Soldado,” and she spins a dreamy mood on “Perdido” amid the lowing of accordion, the bobbing & weaving of violin and the soft strumming of tiny acoustic guitars. The rapid-fire, rhyming delivery of “Pinata” hints at Los Abandoned’s lightness even as Diaz experiments with an electropop backing. (Falling James)

She & Him, Lavender Diamond at the Wiltern

Considering that the “she” in She & Him is actor Zooey Deschanel, you might assume that the band is just another example of a Hollywood dilettante foolishly trying to pass herself off as a real musician. The pleasant surprise is that Deschanel writes genuinely charming pop songs and has a lovely voice on the duo’s ambitiously/playfully titled debut album, Volume One (Merge Records). It doesn’t hurt that the “him” in She & Him is the noted Portland guitarist M. Ward, who’s played with My Morning Jacket, Bright Eyes and Jenny Lewis. Singing mostly gentle love songs with simple, straightforward lyrics, Deschanel is surprisingly convincing as she slips easily into a variety of musical roles, including ’60s girl-group diva (“I Was Made for You”), yearning pop folkie (“This Is Not a Test”), sultry piano-jazz chanteuse (“I Thought I Saw Your Face Today”) and weepy country thrush (“Got Me”). Paul Brainerd surrounds her with Hawaiian-style steel guitar on a languidly enchanting version of the Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better,” while Ward duets with her on a hauntingly spare acoustic take on Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold on Me.” She & Him are perfectly matched by openers Lavender Diamond, whose 2007 CD, Imagine Our Love (Matador), is highlighted by Becky Stark’s similarly beautiful, delicate pop ballads, especially the softly lulling groove of “Like an Arrow.” (Falling James)



Suzy Williams & Her Solid Senders at the Derby

Now that every yuppie with chin spinach is called a hipster, what does “hip” mean anymore? The definition of hip is a lot like the definition of art, and Suzy Williams remains the hippest dame on any block she’s struttin’. Steeped in swing and jump blues, she’s got pipes that blow straight from her heart — and elsewhere when she’s feelin’ randy (and I bet Randy don’t mind!). The Queen of Kinetic onstage, it appears as if she’s going to spontaneously combust in infinite directions at any moment. Her Solid Senders — tonight an octet including four horns — consist of L.A.’s finest, not of the oink-oink variety, but musicians with chops and edge. Special nods go to bandleader and vibraphonist Kahlil Sabbagh and Brad Kay on the 88s. Remember that the Derby has a dance floor, so if you’re in the mood to jitterbug out George and bump-bounce boogie in Barack, don’t forget your feet. (Michael Simmons)




Los Cenzontles & David Hidalgo at the Knitting Factory

The touring-band outgrowth of a same-named Bay Area community center, Los Cenzontles (known in English and on MySpace as the Mockingbirds) just released a wonderful new collaboration with David Hidalgo of Los Lobos called Songs of Wood & Steel that offers precisely that: traditionally minded Mexican-American folk music spiked with Lobos’ adventurous brand of modern rock. (The CD features a handful of other guests, including Linda Ronstadt and the Latin-jazzy Estrada Brothers, from Camarillo.) This week, Los Cenzontles are heading out on a mini-tour of California in support of the new album; you can also catch them Saturday night at Dia de los Muertos at Hollywood Forever, and Tuesday afternoon in a performance/discussion at UCLA’s Kaufman Hall. But tonight at the Knit, they’ll be joined by Hidalgo, who might convince them to stretch beyond the Wood & Steel material and pull out something from the Lobos catalog. Dare to dream. (Mikael Wood)



Linda Ronstadt & Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano at Royce Hall

When Linda Ronstadt expanded her musical range in the ’80s to include jazz standards and mariachi styles, many of her old fans, as well as her former peers in the ’70s country-rock aristocracy, must have thought she was out of her mind. The truth is, by reinventing herself in a variety of musical disguises (big band, Cajun folk, Broadway show tunes, rancheras, new wave, jazz), she’s remained more relevant (and exciting) than most singers of her generation. At tonight’s “Romantic Evening in Old Mexico,” she’s paired with Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano (as well as El Paso dance troupe Ballet Folklorico Paso del Norte!) to highlight songs from her Spanish-language albums Canciones de Mi Padre and Más Canciones. Whether she’s quivering with passion on a dreamy acoustic-guitar ballad like “Por un Amor” or letting her melodies sail over a bed of merry mariachi horns and trumpets on the festive romp “Los Laureles,” Ronstadt can be counted on to belt it with that famously powerful voice, which is even stronger today than in her so-called heyday. She remains both a literal force of nature and a national treasure. (Falling James)

Madonna at Dodger Stadium

Did she cheat on her hubby with A-Rod? Is she a crazy control freak with an exercise addiction and anti-aging obsession? Does she insist no even one look at her behind the scenes of her current Sticky and Sweet tour? Gossip galore has come out since the launch of Madonna’s latest stage spectacle, but, for those lucky enough to attend her live show, it’s all irrelevant. Madge is hands down one of the most multifaceted and magnanimous (onstage anyway) performers in the world, and her slick and vigorous music and dance-filled extravaganzas are always nothing short of breathtaking. Even at 50, girlfriend doesn’t know how to phone it in. Expect a few cuts off this year’s groove-glazed electro-feast Hard Candy, and, of course, thematic costume changes adapted to her hump-pop faves and riffed-up grinds (“Borderline” and “Ray of Light” go rawk courtesy of Mz. M’s ax). And speaking of axes and grinding, giant monitors projecting everything from Big Brother–like visuals to anti-McCain imagery are sure to add to the extrasensory experience and confirm that, personally and politically, the lady’s far from done expressing herself. (Lina Lecaro)

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