Rock Picks: Ray Davies, Beth Orton, Justice


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Everybody's a dreamer: Ray Davies

Darryl Smith

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The Afrobeat goes on: Najite

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Straight outta Buckersfield: Terry Hanson

Russian Circles, Red Sparowes at the Echo

Chicago’s Russian Circles purvey a kind of nü arena rock that takes all that “tasty” ’70s twin-lead-guitar huffapuffa (clean in one channel, riffarama-mama woolly mammoth in the other) and then stretches stuff out, way out, into long-ass tales from the creepy crypt that go through innumerable changes in direction and tone, telling a kind of story, you know. well, they do some wicked jams, bro (seriously), as their upcoming full-length, Station (on Suicide Squeeze), will no doubt tell you; along with super-drummer Dave Turncrantz and guitarist Mike Sullivan, bassist Brian Cook of These Arms Are Snakes and the massive Botch helped out. Meanwhile, L.A.’s own Red Sparowes, featuring that interesting ax man from Isis named Cliff Myer, make an ambient-metallic haze/horsewhipping; their superb Every Red Heart Shines Toward the Red Sun (Neurot) was produced by Fucking Champ Tim Green, a trademark of high quality. (John Payne)

 Also playing Thursday:

COLD WAR KIDS at Samueli Theater, Costa Mesa; DANIEL LANOIS at the Vista (see Music feature); CHAPIN SISTERS at Amoeba Music, 7 p.m.; WATKINS FAMILY HOUR at Largo; FREE MORAL AGENTS at Silverlake Lounge; THE DATSUNS, THE BINGES at Spaceland.


Too Short at House of Blues

It’s hard to take aging rappers seriously, especially those who made a name off street life only to hit mainstream success and coast for the remainder of their careers. But Too Short’s different. The Oakland-based MC has never been about gang connections or the size of his guns. Nope, Shorty the Pimp’s smooth flow concentrates on women, hustling and hustling women. The pimp/hip-hop overlap seems contrived when spit from the mouths of many of his peers, but Too Short’s simple vernacular makes him the Charles Bukowski of the rap world. He might not use big words or rhyme real fast, but lines such as “I live my life just how I please/Satisfy one person I know, that’s me/Work hard for the things I achieve in life/And never rap fake when I’m on the mike,” from the title track off his classic Life Is ... Too Short, say more in a slowly delivered verse than most do in an entire album. (Ryan Ritchie)

Luciano at Crash Mansion

It’s hard to think of Luciano as old school, when not that long ago he was heralded as one of the primary torchbearers carrying on the conscious-music tradition of roots reggae’s greatest generation. But the prolific singer has become a role model for a fresh breed of Rasta revivalists who offer a righteously rocking alternative to the baser instincts of Jamaican dancehall. Luciano’s latest, Jah Is My Navigator, proves that the man with the smoky baritone can still chant the sufferer’s song with as much soulful sweet indignation as the young upstarts sermonizing in the tent. Peter Tosh’s “I’m the Toughest” and Bob Marley’s “Jah Live” receive endearing makeovers, while “Sweet Jamaica” pleas for an end to the gun violence plaguing his island homeland, and “Wise Up the Youth” ministers to the juvenile population. As the Dean Fraser–produced riddims resound, Luciano’s gospel-tinged voice touches deep the universal yearning for justice and spiritual redemption. (Tom Cheyney)

Beth Orton at El Rey Theatre

Zeitgeist-y British techno, a since-sunk ship, left some surprising artists in its wake, chief among them a strangely voiced folk troubadour. Beth Orton, a wunderkind of genre-splicing, has always been something of a rare bird: She broke out in the mid-’90s with Trailer Park, a desolately beautiful “folktronica” album (frequently marked as the ideal come-down accompaniment) featuring her uncommon vocal style and a deft sense of songwriting. She has since pursued a more traditional pop sound while maintaining a happy distance from anything predictable. Her most recent effort, Comfort of Strangers, is the weightiest of her records. Like Annie Lennox (a past collaborator) and Kate Bush, Orton finds grace in a framework of otherworldly awkwardness. Likewise in her professional efforts: Orton is among the few mainstream artists who seems consistently devoted to reasonable production and promotional methods, focusing on environmental sustainability that doesn’t involve Vanity Fair covers. (Kate Carraway)

Also playing Friday:

RED MAIDS, LIZ PAPPADEMAS at Pehrspace; OLLIN at Eastside Luv; LEON MOBLEY & DA LION at the Mint; IMAAD WASIF & THE TWO PART BEAST at the Smell; THE SIXTH CHAMBER at Spaceland.



Ray Davies at the Wiltern

With the Kinks, Ray Davies has been a dandy, a sleepwalker, a well-respected man, a Victorian sentimentalist and even King Kong. On his two most recent solo albums, he plays the role of Ray Davies, an Englishman wandering through the contradictions of modern America. He dealt with the trauma of being shot during a robbery attempt in New Orleans on his 2006 CD, Other People’s Lives, and traces of the Crescent City show up on his new CD, Working Man’s Café (New West/Ammal). The sinuously slinky, swampy “Voodoo Walk” stalks with an insomniac restlessness as he rails against the “voodoo curse” hanging over his head. It’s one of the few overtly rocking tunes on the album, where Davies generally prefers to couch his fanciful fanfares for the common man in more laid-back pop settings. This stubborn traditionalist finds himself mystified by the new world order on the jauntily countrified “Vietnam Cowboys,” contrasting Asian economic growth with “auto workers laid off in Cleveland” and “empty factories in Birmingham.” He retreats further into himself on “Imaginary Man,” the latest in a long line of gracefully melancholic ballads. (Falling James)

Roy Ayers, Najite & Tony Allen, J. ROCC at Crash Mansion

The ArtDontSleep bunch present “Homenaje,” a series of events custom-designed to “bridge the gap between the elders and young adults in the Los Angeles community.” And this is a good start: Veteran jazz-funk-soul star Roy Ayers brings his trademarked cool vibraphone work, which is sounding even more relevant nowadays than it did back in the L.A. native son’s ’70s heyday with his band Ubiquity. And it gets better: a very, very rare chance to see the one and only Tony Allen in a local appearance, with his fierce Najite. Allen is the renowned Nigerian drummer who played with Fela Kuti and is personally responsible for the development of the Afrobeat sound with his synthesis of jazz, funk and highlife rhythms; he’s lately been a member of Damon Albarn’s the Good the Bad & the Queen group as well. He’s an unbelievably great drummer and hugely influential figure — listen and learn. Then you’ve got virtuoso turntablist J. Rocc hitting the decks, along with DJs Coleman, Jeremy Sole and Anthony Valadez. (John Payne)

Buckfest at the Cowboy Palace Saloon

Marco Dos Santos

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Disco techs: Justice

Tim Soter

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In the Justice system: DJ Diplo

Katerina Kuzmina

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Boys sing: Auktyon

The late California country star Buck Owens was a honky-tonk juggernaut with a bandstand penchant for gold lamé wardrobe and ear-splitting volume levels, and he managed to score an astonishing 26 number-one country hits between 1959 and 1974. That towering feat led his adopted hometown to become nationally known as Buckersfield and, for a time, the burg threatened to eclipse Nashville as the most hit-making spot on the map. Tonight, the second annual BuckFest tribute night, organized by the Oildale-based Owens acolyte Terry Hanson, ensures that many of those brash, hard-socking classics will gain a new, rowdy lease on life. With high-octane six-stringers Merle Jagger (one of a very few groups able to reach the guitaristic heights proposed by Owens’ fabled ax-man Don Rich), the eruptive empress of hard California country Patty Booker and that intriguing 11 p.m. “special-guest-star slot,” it’ll damn sure feel like you’ve got a tiger by the tail. (Jonny Whiteside)

Also playing Saturday:

GZA, BLUE SCHOLARS at El Rey Theatre; AZTLAN UNDERGROUND at the Airliner; THE STITCHES, SUPERNOVA at Alex’s Bar; THE BLASTERS at Anarchy Library; PONCHO SANCHEZ at Blue Cafe; JAMES HARMAN at Cafe Boogaloo; BACKBITER, THE PROBE at Mr. T’s Bowl.




Justice, Diplo, Fancy at the Mayan

Justice emerged last year as the edgy French disco-house duo of choice among people who spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not Daft Punk have gotten too mainstream. Not even 12 months after the release of their debut album, though, Justice themselves have started dipping toes into that water: Their appearance on Jimmy Kimmel’s show is a YouTube staple, you can currently hear their track “Genesis” in a Cadillac commercial, and here they are headlining the MySpace Music Tour, which wraps up tonight with a three-act bill that also includes globe-trotting producer/DJ Diplo and French glam-punk group Fancy. Will Justice’s new shine bring a share of dance-music neophytes to the Mayan? For sure. Will it lessen the impact of their stupid-smart heavy-metal electro jams? Not at all. (Mikael Wood)


Also playing Monday:


 TUESDAY, APRIL 1Auktyon at Safari Sam’s

Some wonderful things occurred when guitarist Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, John Zorn), keyboardist John Medeski, saxist Ned Rothenberg and trumpeter Frank London joined the Russian band Auktyon for Girls Sing (Geometriya), its first studio album in a dozen years. The punk-funk track “Debil,” with Rothenberg’s and Nikolai Rubanov’s swooning intertwined horns, starts out with an Eastern European flavor that’s not far from Gogol Bordello, segues into a percussive, staccato No Wave stomp and trails off with a reflective cool-jazz outro. Medeski’s melodica chases singer Leonid Fedorov’s acoustic guitar in a madcap tangle on the fast folk tune “Slova,” while “Padal” floats away on trance-y space echoes and the building momentum of its ponderous back-&-forth chords. It’s not so much East meets West as it is that the embellishments of Ribot, Medeski and crew fit in so naturally with Auktyon. Fedorov credits the American musicians for getting the Russians to improvise and avoid artifice: “There is no grandeur. All reflections on the subject of the eternal nature of art in reality are made up of fetishes; sooner or later, they disappear.” (Falling James)

New Model Army at the Knitting Factory

The war on terror has been surprisingly effective, at least when it comes to protecting this country from the dangers of foreign rock & roll musicians. The U.S. government’s increasingly strict and seemingly subjective standards for issuing visas has led to the cancellation or postponement of American tours by the Saints, Hugh Cornwell, Balkan Beat Box and many others in the past year. British band New Model Army were supposed to visit L.A. last fall, but they’ve managed to sneak in this time for another rude attempt at undermining national security and weakening our admittedly tenuous moral resolve via their pesky folk-punk brainwashing. It’s easy to see why La Migra would want to keep out musicians who have released such great, rabble-rousing anthems as “Here Comes the War,” “Christian Militia” and a classic version of “51st State,” but singer-guitarist Justin Sullivan has always balanced his fierce principles with the saving grace of tunefulness. The keyboard-pumped “Bloodsports,” from their 2007 CD, High, is prodded along by Sullivan’s urgent vocals, and “Dawn” is marked by churning acoustic guitars and the band’s trademark epic grandeur. (Falling James)

Also playing Tuesday:

THE BLACK KEYS with JAY REATARD at the Wiltern LG; LILI HAYDN at the Silent Movie Theatre.


THE GUTTER TWINS, GREAT NORTHERN at Avalon; DON CARLOS at the Echoplex; THE NIGHTWATCHMAN at the Hotel Café; SARA LOV, ANA EGGE, LIZ PAPPADEMAS at Tangier; JUCIFER at the Knitting Factory; THE VERONICAS at the Roxy.



A Fine Frenzy at the Roxy

Alison Sudol had a broken heart. Instead of climbing back into bed with a gallon of chocolate ice cream like the rest of us, she channeled her loneliness and pain into a series of cathartic breakup songs, such as “Near to You” and “Ashes and Wine,” on her 2007 debut CD, One Cell in the Sea (Virgin). Armed with a major-label deal and a large supporting cast of sympathetically low-key, if slick studio musicians, Sudol reinvented herself as A Fine Frenzy (from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream), turning her heartbreak into the stuff of grand melodrama. The album’s piano ballads have a rueful, stately presence, and Sudol coos with a breathy delivery that is often languidly pretty. However, Lukas Burton and Hal Cragin’s strings-laden production is wearingly sticky sweet at times, and the occasionally playful but twee lyrics are made soggier by the repetition of lazy banalities like “thick as thieves” and “all I can say/is you blow me away.” Let’s hope that more of the fantastical whimsy of her hero Lewis Carroll finds its way into the future work of this talented singer. (Falling James)

Pitbull, Baby Bash at the Vault 350


Hillary Walsh

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Through the looking glass: A Fine Frenzy

One of Pitbull’s stickiest new verses goes, “I’m too Latin for hip-hop and too hip-hop for Latin — y’all figure it out,” which nicely sums up the Miami MC’s dilemma. Like his previous release, El Mariel, the similarly overstuffed Boatlift sees him doling out crunk, reggaeton, syrupy ballads and other styles. But for all its 18 cameo-studded tracks, the record feels thin, probably because he’s never sinking his teeth into any compelling subject matter, such as the Cuban diaspora the CD’s title hints at. To see what this “li’l chico” can really do, pick up Pit’s debut, M.I.A.M.I., the odds-and-sods/remix album Money Is Still a Major Issue or any of the “Unleashed” series of mixtapes with DJ Ideal. Pit’s only 27, and his best work is still ahead of him, so twist off a Red Stripe and drink to his future. Also check for Baby Bash, who rocks it rico-suave smooth over Latin R&B bounce. (Andrew Lentz)

 Also playing Thursday:

MYSTIK JOURNEYMEN, AWOL ONE at the Knitting Factory; THE KRIS SPECIAL at Mr. T’s Bowl.

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