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Rock Picks: RZA, Etta James, Zola Moon, Tori Amos, The Monolators

Thursday, December 13

Rock & roll roustabout Richard Hawley (Photo by Steve Gullick)
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Do they know it’s Christmas? Good for the Jews
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Pity Party bundles up.
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Richard Hawley at the Troubadour

While there’s never been a shortage of moody, self-absorbed Brits harping endlessly on their star-crossed misfortune and illimitable psychic torment, Richard Hawley’s blend of lowly moaning with Roy Orbison dramatics and crafty Burt Bacharach–style orchestration elevates the standard scab-picking formula to an artful degree that can be, at moments, almost dizzying. He’s the spawn of a guitar-twanging Teddy boy, and his teenage launch as a rock-&-roll roustabout in the blue-collar English hellhole Sheffield soon made it clear that his was a singular voice crying in the pop wilderness. His intense fixation on the high-’60s school of melodic pop — Reprise-era Jimmy Bowen hep and Lee Hazlewood atmospherics — created a pathology that Hawley continues to exploit with no small aplomb. He’s bringing a deck of numbers from his current CD, Lady’s Bridge, so expect a potent demonstration of expressive musical thrills. (Jonny Whiteside)


Also playing Thursday:

R. KELLY at Honda Center; TEAM SLEEP at Henry Fonda Theater; WEST INDIAN GIRL, SARA MELSON at the Bordello; MOVING UNITS, SCISSORS FOR LEFTY at the Echoplex; THE NIGHTWATCHMAN at the Hotel Café; TWISTED SISTER at House of Blues; WATKINS FAMILY HOUR at Largo; MY LIFE WITH THE THRILL KILL KULT at Safari Sam’s; DEWEY COX & THE HARD WALKERS at Guitar Center Hollywood.


Friday, December 14

Good for the Jews at the Knitting Factory

The international Jewish conspiracy is malevolent and vast. Henry Ford knew this, and so did the fabricators of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Theories that have been labeled as anti-Semitic are entirely plausible, like this one by me: The Beatles’ “Eight Days a Week” was really a secret lesson about the Eight Days of Hanukkah. The Beatles’ deviant Jewish manager, Brian Epstein, already had them denouncing Jesus, and the infamous “Butcher” cover for Yesterday and Today was a demonstration of how Jews extracted the blood of Christian babies. Humor like this is Good for the Jews, especially around Christmas time, when the duo of Rob Tennenbaum and David Fagen sing us through the alienation. They go great with Chinese food and can make Adam Sandler blush, but more importantly they’ll get you through an oppressive desert worse than the Sahara — J-Date. This Putting the Ha! in Hanukkah Tour is sponsored by Heeb magazine. www.goodforthejews.net. See Hoopla. (Daniel Siwek)


RZA at El Rey Theatre

Things are busy for the Wu-Tang Clan right now: Earlier this week, the New York hip-hop supergroup released their first new studio album in six years, 8 Diagrams, which has both fans and critics buzzing about a return to the outfit’s early form. And on December 4, Ghostface Killah — perhaps the Clan’s highest-profile member at the moment — issued his latest solo disc, The Big Doe Rehab, another typically thrilling collection of breathless crime-world travelogues. Tonight RZA, Wu-Tang’s mastermind and sonic architect, drops in at El Rey for a concert likely to feature material by Bobby Digital, his futuristic pimp-warrior alter ego. In truth, though, anything could happen: As anyone who’s seen one of Wu-Tang’s notoriously chaotic live shows knows, the only thing you can expect with these dudes is the unexpected. (Mikael Wood)


The Christmas Sweater Festival at Crash Mansion

That craptastic fashion don’t, the Christmas sweater, has become a do at hip holiday fetes, and this rock-a-thon offers the ultimate eve to break out all the ugly-ass knitted red/green/reindeer/Santa garb granny gave ya — or buy some. A benefit for Doctors Without Borders, the anything-but-silent night presented by the Fold will offer local bands gifted with both an imposing melodiousness and unpredictable performance style: the rootsy beat lashings of the Deadly Syndrome, the epic electric mojo of the Mae Shi, the pop-pocked power of the Happy Hollows, the icy atmospherics of Eskimohunter and the emotionally charged rhythmic extractions of the Pity Party. All will be doing revolving 15-minute sets, and, in this condensed, (hopefully) swift-moving format, it’s sure to be a manic yet magical holiday happening, not to mention mighty toasty with all those acrylic blends around. Bring an undershirt. $5 minimum donation. (Lina Lecaro)

 


Also playing Friday:

JOHN MAYALL, REO SPEEDWAGON at Malibu Performing Arts Center; BETH THORNLEY, JIM BIANCO, PRISCILLA AHN at Getty Center; LISA LISA, COVER GIRLS, DAZZ BAND, EVELYN KING Gibson Amphitheatre; VAN HALEN, KY-MANI MARLEY at Staples Center; R. KELLY at the Forum; CHANNEL 3 at Alex’s Bar; ANAVAN at the Echoplex; KNITTERS, DEAD ROCK WEST, AMY FARRIS at Safari Sam’s; MILES LONG, SHINICHI at Temple Bar; IMPERIAL TEEN, MIDNIGHT MOVIES at the Troubadour; D.I., HARMFUL IF SWALLOWED at the Epicenter.


Saturday, December 15

Etta James at the Wiltern

The mid-’50s rhythm & blues tradition that Etta James near solely represents today was a frighteningly turbulent school of artistry, and she bears the scars from innumerable busts, beatings, shakedowns and dope binges. Yet the very oppressive weight suffered by these beautiful ’50s renegades produced not only a slew of romping, raving and deeply black big-beat classics, it also laid the foundation for what, thanks to Miss James (and Solomon Burke and Sam Cooke), became known to the world as soul music. A highly significant psychic transition that altered American pop music in its entirety, it’s also the key to understanding James’ creative mind: At once earthy and celestial, passionately expressive, anchored in truth and consistently striving for maximum interpretive impact, she reigns yet as one of the most effective, untrammeled and unpredictable song stylists working. Whether growling “Tell Mama” or taking on a piece of shit like the Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit,” James flat gets the job done. (Jonny Whiteside)


Brian Joseph Davis at Betalevel

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Toronto-based sonic artist Brian Joseph Davis has an amazing head for aural experiments, creating expansive compositions out of found sounds and computer manipulations that are smart on paper and fascinating in execution. For example, on Davis’ seven-track CD The Definitive Host, his way of grappling with copyright issues is by adapting the legalistic words to Sony/BMG’s notorious “end-user’s agreement” for the chorus, then recording it in the style of a Gregorian chant. For “Yesterduh,” Davis set up a little recording studio in an art gallery and asked dozens of random people to sing from memory the words to the Beatles’ “Yesterday.” He then created a collage of the many renditions, mis-remembered and mumbled half-lyrics included. For this performance, Davis (who’s also a columnist for Arthur magazine) will perform, among others, his “10 Banned Albums Burned Then Played,” and “It’s Gonna Rain Blood,” which, writes Davis in an e-mail, is “a Steve Reich–inspired phase performance of Slayer’s ‘Raining Blood’ using 10 CD players.” Down the alleyway at 963 N. Hill St., Chinatown; 8 p.m.; free. www.betalevel.com. (Randall Roberts)

Tequila dreamer Zola Moon
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Dance-class revolutionaries Listing Ship
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The Monolators never get tired of playing musical chairs.
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Zola Moon at Ricky Gene’s

Zola Moon is a powerhouse blues vocalist in the fiery tradition of her idols Big Mama Thornton and Janis Joplin, but she also brings some unusual twists to what she calls her “postmodern blues.” As much as she’s inspired by the past, Moon’s songs on her latest CD, Wildcats Under My Skin, are firmly grounded in the here and now. “I hear those lying sound bites/They say they’ll stay the course,” she warns on “A Paycheck Away,” as guitarist Michael “Monster” Carter unreels some swampy licks. “They think they’re pretty slick, those fat-cat chicken hawks/but it’s always someone else dying.” On previous albums, Moon has occasionally put her sassy, brassy vocals to distinctively styled versions of such standards as “St. James Infirmary” and “House of the Rising Sun,” but Wildcats is all original, ranging from the evocative walking blues “Hot Texas Sun” to the slowly smoldering, psychedelically febrile eight-minute epic “Tequila Dreams.” Even though this self-described “dowager empress/worm commissioner of the world” tackles heavy subjects like war, poverty and the uselessness of “The Human Brain,” she still likes to cut loose and have fun: “You want to have a good time? I’m down with that.” 1831 Pacific Coast Hwy., Lomita. (Falling James)

 


Les Savy Fav at El Rey Theater

When burly tiger Tim Harrington fronts the Brooklyn art-punk quartet Les Savy Fav, it’s a little like the insane uncle thinking he’s Teddy Roosevelt in Arsenic and Old Lace: Everyone knows he’s not really excavating the Panama Canal, but he seems to be having such a damned good time diggin’ it that everyone simply carries on regardless. It’s just business as usual, as Les Savy Fav’s angular guitar lines blare behind his amusing antics and arcane rants while he works the crowd like Magneto works a pair of Ben Wa balls — and here angular means that the “zow” is perpendicular to the “wowowow” of the tweedly guitar. With six albums of propulsive electric skank released over 10 years — including their latest, the autobiographical CD Let’s Stay Friends (Frenchkiss) — they’re energetic, interesting to look at and, by the time the show’s over, four out of five dentists agree that you’ll be smiling like there’s no tomorrow. (David Cotner)


Also playing Saturday:

STEVIE WONDER at Nokia Theatre; LAMB OF GOD, DEVILDRIVER at Long Beach Arena; JOEY ALTRUDA’S CRUCIAL RIDDIMS at the Bordello; CIRCE LINK at Genghis Cohen; THE NIGHTWATCHMAN, JILL SOBULE at Hotel Café; SNOOP DOGG at House of Blues; TWISTER NAKED at Mr. T’s Bowl; KINGSIZEMAYBE at Taix; PIGEON JOHN at Temple Bar; GREYBOY ALLSTARS, LEON MOBLEY & DA LION at the Troubadour; PASTILLA at the Westchester; 17TH PYGMY at Dangerous Curve.


Sunday, December 16

Listing Ship at Spaceland

Guitarist Lyman Chaffee and violist Heather Lockie have been to the edge of the galaxy and back since the late ’90s, when they were still calling themselves Leather Hyman. As Listing Ship — augmented with such savvy local musicians as violinist Julie Carpenter, guitarist Michael Whitmore and W.A.C.O. drummer Kyle C. Kyle — they’ve expanded their sound to encompass the glassy reveries of their enchanting 1999 debut CD, Sunshine & Other Forms of Radiation, and the gorgeously trippy Pink Floyd–style wallowing of their 2002 second album, Dance Class Revolution, before contracting and coming back down to Earth with the folk-infused slices of arty Americana on their third release, 2005’s Time to Dream (all on the True Classical label). Listing Ship’s upcoming CD, A Hull Full of Oil and Bone— whose release has been delayed until February since Lockie and Carpenter have been touring with Spiritualized and the Eels — draws on all of their previous personas, contrasting the Mekons-ish sea-chantey title track and the acoustic-driven “One Down,” where Chaffee’s low vocals evoke Johnny Cash, with the elegantly shimmering pop of Lockie’s “Archaeologist,” which is riven with quivering strings and a wash of horns. The somberly lulling “Depression,” sung by Heather’s sister Shawn, is brightened with candy-cane chimes and sleigh bells, while the semibrave new world of technology is wittily confronted on the Velvet-y rocker “Voice of the Future.” (Falling James)


Ingrid Michaelson at the Hotel Café

Ingrid Michaelson proves (yet again) that television is the new radio. Like Nick Drake’s VW-ad-spurred posthumous popularity, the label-less Michaelson has become an indie singer-songwriter success story following her multiple song placements on Grey’s Anatomy (including the show-commissioned season-finale centerpiece, “Keep Breathing”) and the current Old Navy spot set to her infectious “The Way I Am.” While her genial folk-poppy sound and confessional “You and I” lovelorn lyrics suggest that this Staten Island native might be Sarah McLachlan’s latest acolyte (and her geeky-chic glasses have drawn her easy comparisons to Lisa Loeb), Michaelson nicely varies the Lilith Fair template — like using jagged guitar riffs to enliven “Die Alone” and “Overboard” on her delightfully charming self-released Girls and Boys. But what really impresses is how Michaelson injects her relationship tales with amusing details, not broad platitudes, while her affably catchy melodies never turn overly melodramatic. (Michael Berick)

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Tori Amos at Nokia Theatre

Volumen Cero focuses on the bright spot.
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Multiple personalities are your best entertainment value, and on Tori Amos’ current world tour not only do you get Tori, you get Santa, Clyde, Isabel and Pip, all of whom sport different colored hair and one of whom may in fact be the promiscuous wife of a Mafia kingpin. Each personality interprets some of the 20 tracks from her ninth studio album, American Doll Posse, an avowedly more political statement than her previous, insular works. Tempest, teacup, etc.: The first single, “Big Wheel,” incited a kerfuffle because the term “MILF” is in the song (she could actually be referring to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front; one never knows). Plus, you can buy a CD of the performance you just heard shortly after it ends — because, as ever with the redoubtably spectacular Tori Amos experience, it helps to have concrete proof that you haven’t just stepped out of a dream. (David Cotner)

 


Also playing Sunday:

NE-YO at the Wiltern; OASIS at Silent Movie Theatre; WAYNE HANCOCK, 8 p.m., I SEE HAWKS IN L.A., noon, at Safari Sam’s.


Playing Monday:

BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA at Disney Hall; LETTER OPENERS at Crash Mansion; METAL SKOOL, WEAPON OF CHOICE at Key Club; CROOKED COWBOY at Mr. T’s Bowl; THE BINGES at Spaceland; JAMES TORME at Tangier; GREAT NORTHERN, HAPPY HOLLOWS at Viper Room.


Tuesday, December 18

The Monolators at the Scene

The ultracharming husband-&-wife duo the Monolators have expanded into a full quartet, with singer-guitarist Eli Chartkoff and singer-drummer Mary Chartkoff now joined by bassist Andrew Bollas and lead guitarist Tom Bogdon. Their new 10-inch EP, You Look Good on the Train, which is available only on vinyl or as a digital download (www.ninjastarrecords.com), fleshes out Eli’s lo-fi tunes with keyboards, saxophones and other instruments to wonderful effect. Eli croons the offbeat love songs “At the Top of the Stairs” (where he collects sea shells and rhapsodizes about a gal “in pink jeans and tambourines”) and “My Weaker Self” with his distinctly unusual, rubber-throated yowl, whereas Mary spits out the jangly title track and the loopy punk rock ditty “Eagle Fighting Zebra” (which is apparently about crazy women brawling at Mr. T’s Bowl) like a more melodic Exene Cervenka. As much as the Monolators might evoke the Modern Lovers and the Subsonics with such whimsical roots-pop songs as “Strawberry Roan,” from their 2006 CD, Our Tears Have Wings, they have their own indefinably unique style and are one of this town’s most promising new combos. (Falling James)


Also playing Tuesday:

CASTLEDOOR, FLYING TOURBILLON ORCHESTRA at Boardner’s; SOCIAL DISTORTION at House of Blues; COLIN HAY at Largo; NU-TRA, JEAN PAUL YAMAMOTO, FUXEDOS at Safari Sam’s; OLIVER FUTURE at Viper Room.


Playing Wednesday:

AMON AMARTH at Avalon; FANGS ON FUR at the Bordello; SOCIAL DISTORTION at House of Blues; THE BINGES at the Troubadour.


Thursday, December 20

Volumen Cero at the Knitting Factory

Volumen Cero are a bilingual rock trio from Echo Park with roots that extend as far as Peru, Mexico and Chile, but their sound is more Anglocentric than inspired by traditional Latin music styles. After forming in Miami in 1998, they came to wider attention in 2002 with the release of “Hollywood,” a single from their second album, Luces. A jangly lament about an actress riding around in limos while chasing her dreams in Tinseltown, the tune glides with swirling power-pop guitars and new-wave keyboards. Volumen Cero gained more exposure with their 2004 CD, Estelar, becoming one of the first Latin alternative bands to get airplay on MTV’s Advance Warning, thanks to the surging rush of acoustic guitars on “Autos.” Singer-bassist Luis Tamblay is soothingly reassuring on “Despiértame” as Marthin Chan chimes in with spiraling Cure-style lead-guitar patterns, while drummer Fernando Sánchez lays down a contemplative groove under the spacy echoes of the yearning “Diviso.” Although Tamblay sang primarily in Spanish on Estelar, the band will feature six English-language tracks on their upcoming fourth album, I Can See the Bright Spot, which also includes guest vocals from former Tijuana No! siren Ceci Bastida. (Falling James)


Also playing Thursday:

AMY FARRIS, NADINE ZAHR, SHAWN PANDER at Genghis Cohen; OZOMATLI, CHALI 2NA, CUT CHEMIST, WEAPON OF CHOICE at House of Blues; WATKINS FAMILY HOUR at Largo; THE LILYS at Spaceland; HENRY CLAY PEOPLE at Crane’s; BANYAN, NELS CLINE SINGERS at Dipiazza’s Lava Lounge.


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