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Rock Picks: Seun Kuti, Thievery Corporation, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss

THURSDAY, JUNE 19

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Romantic gambler Janiva Magness

Youri Lenquette

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Seun Kuti: Fire dancer

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Robert Plant & Alison Krauss go 'round the roses.

 Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter at the Echo

Jesse Sykes is a good witch. The Seattle singer is one of this country’s leading practitioners of hypnotic balladry, and she casts dreamy spells that are gently and subtly entrancing. Whereas Cat Power has a touch more soul and R&B in her similarly lulling music, Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter infuse their songs with more of countrified lilt while evoking the pastoral sweep and distinctively shadowy sylvan loneliness of the Pacific Northwest. Her solemn vocals and a coyote-howl harmonica light up the stark landscape of “Eisenhower Moon,” from her 2006 CD, Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul (Barsuk), while “Spectral Beings” lives up to its title with shivery harmonies and former Whiskeytown guitarist Phil Wandscher’s austere plucking. Not everything is so mellow, and bassist Bill Herzog and drummer Eric Eagle give the occasional uptempo tune like “You Might Walk Away” a bit of a Crazy Horse push. Still, we’ll be at the Echo just so we can close our eyes and drift away to billowing melodies like “How Will We Know?” (Falling James)

Hayes Carll, Old 97’s at Crash Mansion

It seems like Texas has more singer-songwriters than the other 49 states combined — but it also produces some damn talented ones. Houston-born Hayes Carll is a rising star following in the tradition of such sharp-tongued storytellers as Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen and Guy Clark. Carll populates his Lost Highway debut, Trouble in Mind (which follows several critically praised, little-heard indie releases), with a colorful cast of characters. There’s Kate, “who’s as pretty as a plate,” and the guy whose girl dumped him for Jesus (“And that’s not fair/She says that’s he’s perfect/How can I compare?”), as well as the “barefoot shrimper with a pistol up his sleeve” and “an old lion tamer parked behind the bar.” Following his impressive Stagecoach set, Carll brings his rascally roadhouse music back to the Southland as he opens for the Texas-bred Old 97’s, whose new disc, Blame It on Gravity, soars with the band’s distinctive toe-tapping twang pop. (Michael Berick)

Nico Vega at the Viper Room

With just vocals, guitar and drums, Nico Vega transmit an orchestra’s worth of sultry, sometimes surly sentiment. The trio marry tenuously related sonic elements — adventurous, occasionally frantic garage grooves; alternately arpeggiated and dissonantly ominous guitar; Aja Volkman’s smoky-Siouxsie-vs.- sweet-&-sour-Björk vocals — with thinking-hipster’s rock (imagine the Like, only with actual problems). Onstage, it’s all about the wide-eyed, wackily fashionable Volkman stomping, strutting and sweating in defiance of her svelte, catwalk-ready aura. This perpetual buzz band (who are yet to even release an album — their debut’s due in October) flirt with melody rather than beat us over the head with hooks, seemingly tiring of each idea before the listener’s even fully grasped it. Admirable, but Nico Vega’s structural perversity is both their best mate and worst enemy: It keeps us coming back for more and earns muso cred points, but ultimately stems the seemingly inevitable mass-adulation tide. (Paul Rogers)

Martha Wainwright at the Troubadour

Although both of them have inspired a recent flood of media commentary and popular opinion, Emily Gould (the ex-Gawker blogger who recently shit all over The New York Times Magazine about her challenges as an expositress) and Carrie Bradshaw (with her emotion binge-and-purge buddies in the Sex and the City movie) aren’t really all that provocative, intellectually or otherwise. Sex and relationship tales à la Gould and Bradshaw tend toward the banal. Refreshingly distinct from this paradigm is the smoky, sexy mythology of badass singer-songwriters working without the smug Upper East Side–ness. Martha Wainwright (the sister of Rufus, and the daughter of Loudon III and Kate McGarrigle) has recently released a cool, dirty record called I Know You’re Married but I Have Feelings Too. Wainwright plays it seedy and tragic (or, maybe, just plays it for real) and works the salty, half-zipped femme-fatale angle like any sidelined sister would. (Kate Carraway)

 Also playing Thursday:

DUFFY at El Rey Theatre; MARC COHN, SAM PHILLIPS at the Canyon; SEA WOLF, PATRICK PARK at the Echoplex; MEIKO at the Hotel Café; CECI BASTIDA at the Knitting Factory; WATKINS FAMILY HOUR, GLEN PHILLIPS at Largo; ADAM MARSLAND’S CHAOS BAND at Mr. T’s Bowl; THE ALMOST, EMERY, ENVY ON THE COAST at the Roxy; LETICIA CASTANEDA, G.E. STINSON & HANS FJELLESTAD, NOT IN THE HOUSE at Steve Allen Theater; VERY BE CAREFUL, SACCHARINE TRUST at Cafe Mariposa.

 

 

FRIDAY, JUNE 20

 Janiva Magness at the Cellar

Blues singer Janiva Magness has a powerful set of lungs, but, just as important, she has a good soul and a warm, expansive heart. She was born and raised in Detroit, although both of her parents committed suicide when she was still a teenager. She bounced around various foster homes and, as a young mother, had to give up her baby daughter for adoption. Magness endured more than her share of tough times before stumbling into an Otis Rush concert and finding a purpose for her life. She reinvented herself as a blues diva, eventually relocating to Los Angeles in the mid-’80s, but she didn’t forget where she came from and became a passionate advocate for foster-care programs. On her excellent new album, What Love Will Do (Alligator Records), that generosity shines through as she interprets tunes by Bill Withers, Al Green, Ike Turner and her guitarist-husband, Jeff Turmes. The magnetic Magness moves seamlessly from the swampy voodoo of “I Want a Love” and the funky soul of “Bitter Pill” to the sinuously ebullient strut of “Freedom Is Just Beyond the Door” and the somberly moving piano ballad “Sometimes You Got to Gamble.” 201 E. Broadway, Long Beach. Also at Harvelle’s, Sat. (Falling James)

Bobby Digital & Stone Mecca at Henry Fonda Theater

Wu Tang Clan’s untouchable master producer/sound wiz RZA is one buzy MF. He’s doing his Wu Tang duties and scoring for films, acting in ’em, too, and now he’s celebrating the 10-year anniversary of his Bobby Digital persona with the new Digi Snax disc, coming out in July on Koch. Who’s Bobby Digital? He’s a character who plays a big part in RZA’s eternal pursuit of sex & sci-fi, and Digi Snax is, just maybe, the supreme zenith of the RZA art, where the producer, MC and composer whips out another highly unusual electro-pop hip-hop opus, mashing a sci-fi blaxploitation Ennio Morricone in a pachinko parlor on Uranus, or something. This beautifully skewed music is assisted by RZA’s bizarre guest players, such as the Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante, Dhani Harrison, the Black Knights, Dexter Wiggles, Shavo Odadjian of System of a Down, Reverend William Burke and primo West Coast soul/funk band Stone Mecca; the latter will accompany Bobby onstage tonight. Dig this Hollywood scene! (John Payne)

Also playing Friday:

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Ingrid Michaelson: Tongue tied

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Sam Phillips waits for a signal.

INDIGO GIRLS at Long Beach Terrace Theater; B.B. KING, DUANE EDDY, LIZA MINNELLI at the Hollywood Bowl; MARTHA WAINWRIGHT at Amoeba Music, 6 p.m.; RAEKWON, CAPPADONNA at Blue Cafe; NOUS NON PLUS, TOUR DE FRANCE, CASXIO at the Bordello; FISHBONE at Harvelle’s (Redondo Beach Pier); HELMET at Malibu Inn; WOLF EYES, JOHN WIESE, DAMION ROMERO at Spaceland; 50 CENT HAIRCUT, JAMES WILSEY at Taix; CIVET at the Viper Room.

 SATURDAY, JUNE 21

Long Beach Bayou Festival at Rainbow Lagoon

With its seaside setting, scads of exquisite Creole vittles and some of the finest names in Louisiana Cajun and zydeco, the annual Long Beach Bayou Festival rates as downright irresistible. The esteemed Savoy Doucet Band, a clan of folklorists with an intimate, encyclopedic knowledge of the Cajun idiom, are not stuffy academics but fiery tradition bearers loaded with innate skill and dynamism. On the zydeco side, Terrence Simien & the Mallet Playboys and Geno Delafose & French Rockin’ Boogie offer prime examples of that exotic R&B-tinged regional sound. And there are also rousing doses of blues from the capable disciple Bernie Pearl (check his fine new double-CD release, Old School Blues) and the incomparable, jazz-informed veteran singer Barbara Morrison, two local stylists who should represent Los Angeles with admirable impact. Satisfying, soul-stirring stuff. Also Sun. (Jonny Whiteside)

Chip Taylor at McCabe’s

Don’t go see Chip Taylor because he wrote such rock and pop standards as “Wild Thing” and “Angel of the Morning” or because he happens to be Angelina Jolie’s uncle and Jon Voight’s brother. Go see Taylor because he is one feisty cuss of a singer-songwriter. Imagine Steve Earle 15 years down the road. On his new release, New Songs of Freedom, Taylor rails against injustice and hypocrisy. The title track timely name-checks the oil crisis, global warming and China-Tibet conflicts, while other politically charged tunes address war vets, religion and “red, white & black & blue America.” Besides his outraged reportage numbers, he also spins tales of love and life with bar-stool poignancy and sly humor. Taylor, who is in the midst of a major prolific period (releasing 11 albums in the last 12 years), sings it like he sees it, and there’s something to be said for that. There’s also something to be said for the thrill of hearing him perform “Wild Thing” live. (Michael Berick)

 

Seun Kuti & Fela’s Egypt 80 at El Rey Theatre

Oh, the burden of greatness that befalls the progeny of genius. Take Seun Kuti, son of Fela Anikulapo and younger half-brother to Femi. We’ve seen it before with Marleys, Lennons, Dylans and the like, but in Seun’s case he inherited a crucial non-genetic piece of Dad’s legacy — the band Egypt 80. The power and the glory of that funky, trance-notic, ginormous swirl of West African big-band sound — with its boisterously in-your-face brass, relentless guitar groove-web and renewably energetic percussive foundation — hasn’t dimmed. The gene pool factors into Seun’s blossoming talent too. He’s heir to a fair dollop of his pop’s hip-swaggering, antiauthoritarian attitude — part rebel rabble-rouser, part lithe-wire dancer, part libidinal funkateer. Seun’s new self-titled debut album doesn’t mess much with the Afrobeat formula, but damn if it doesn’t swing, with Fela’s Egypt 80 in full effect and the young un’s talk-sung rants keeping the finger-pointing flame at a white-hot burn. This shit is real — accept no imitation. Also at California Plaza, Fri. (Tom Cheyney)

Also playing Saturday:

KINKY, RAVEONETTES, AUTOLUX, DENGUE FEVER, BOSTICH + FUSSIBLE, JESCA HOOP, AFROBEAT DOWN, AM at Make Music Pasadena festival, 11 a.m.; SHE WANTS REVENGE at the Wiltern; VERY BE CAREFUL at Alex’s Bar; JOHN OLSON, NATE YOUNG, MIKE CONNELLY at Beyond Baroque, 7:30 p.m.

SUNDAY, JUNE 22

 Thievery Corporation at the Hollywood Bowl

Dusty grooves and bossa-nova beats didn’t always go hand in hand like Caiparinhas and passion-fruit-flavored blunts, but the Thievery Corp have made sophisticated yet simple combos their business. The duo of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton put almost equal parts dub reggae, trip-hop, lounge, house and a splash of the world into a blender called the Eight Street Lounge (their now-legendary D.C. club, studio and label) and serve a concoction that’s 100-percent vibes, whether it’s described as chill-out, downtempo or left-field (they call it outernational). And if their global awareness isn’t already apparent, they’re headlining the Outernational Music Tour, bringing along an assortment of their favorite acts (Argentina’s Federico Aubele, Venezuela’s Los Amigos Invisibles and longtime collaborator Bebel Gilberto) and partnering with the United Nations’ World Food Program. Don’t expect a Babylon by Bus tour, as this show will be one of only two West Coast dates. (Daniel Siwek)

Also playing Sunday:

EARTH WIND & FIRE, MACY GRAY at the Greek Theatre; LKN at Que Sera; SARA WATKINS & SEAN WATKINS, FICTION FAMILY at Spaceland, 7:30 p.m.

MONDAY, JUNE 23

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss at the Greek Theatre

Led Zep fans anticipating Robert Plant’s throat-ravaging wails and fiery vocal pyrotechnics might not dig his collaboration with bluegrass singer Alison Krauss — which has apparently put any future Zeppelin reunions on hold — but there are some sublime roots-folk gems on their new CD, Raising Sand (Rounder Records). At times, Plant’s voice is almost unrecognizable, avoiding bombast for something subtler. On Gene Clark’s “Polly Come Home” (one of two covers by the underrated late Byrds singer), Plant gives a downbeat, funereal reading, much like his breathy, austere version of Townes Van Zandt’s aptly titled “Nothin’,” which Krauss weaves together with dusty violin melodies. Krauss is solemnly spellbinding on Tom Waits & Kathleen Brennan’s “Trampled Rose,” which has a haunting, otherworldly Old World feel with Marc Ribot’s clucking dobro. Not everything on Raising Sand is as mellow: A remake of the Everly Brothers’ “Gone Gone Gone (Moved On)” drives with a rootsy chill, Naomi Neville’s oft-covered “Fortune Teller” is given a swampy, funky makeover, and “Rich Woman” is hypnotically slinky. There are some groovy grooves here despite T Bone Burnett’s muted, overly restrained production. Also Tues. (Falling James)

Death Cab for Cutie at Nokia Theatre

Although Death Cab for Cutie can readily be considered a good band for a populist indie-rock outfit, they haven’t historically been one to become too engrossed in. As it happens with cocaine and psychotherapy, overindulgence in Death Cab’s self-serious, lovelorn-but-loving-it music can only hurt you. (An exception is still-suburban teens, whose ennui is legitimately unsatisfiable.) Historically favored by television music supervisors for their palatable dramatics (what could better suit emotional arcs of The O.C. or Six Feet Under?) and sweet-stinging relatability, the band have on their new record, Narrow Stairs, made an unexpected, and great — and great in its unexpectedness — move from a “Fuck me gently” sound toward one that’s more “Fuck you, actually.” Whatever the reason for a gate-keeping band to make such a distinct and bold departure, it’s notable not only for the improved style, but for the basic and genuine attempt to re-imagine their own form and ideas about music. (Kate Carraway)

 

Also playing Monday:

LUKAS HAAS, KEATON SIMONS at the Hotel Café; CATTLE DECAPITATION, RESISTANT CULTURE at the Knitting Factory; ANAVAN at Pehrspace; AFTERNOONS, PARSON RED HEADS at Spaceland.

TUESDAY, JUNE 24

Ingrid Michaelson at El Rey Theatre

On her recent CD Girls and Boys, Ingrid Michaelson sings a breezy pop melody, thanking a lover who takes her “the way I am.” Such true-blue devotion apparently doesn’t work both ways, as she makes it clear that she won’t necessarily appreciate her boyfriend the way he is. “I’d buy you Rogaine when you start losing all your hair,” she coos, perhaps a little too caught up in her own cleverness. The Staten Island singer has a talent for mainstream pop songwriting, although she’s often fatally undercut by sticky-sweet, simplistic lyrics and an excess of cutesiness. She’s at her best when she challenges herself by digging deeper on songs like “Masochist,” where she actually has something fresh and interesting to say about the state of modern relationships. Even better is “Glass,” where she surrounds herself with celestial keyboards and soft flecks of guitar. When she confides, “Rolled around on kitchen floors/Tied my tongue in pretty bows with yours,” she reveals that she can sometimes write gently insightful lyrics with an unforced intimacy. (Falling James)

Also playing Tuesday:

ROBERT PLANT & ALISON KRAUSS at the Greek Theatre; STONE TEMPLE PILOTS at the Hollywood Bowl; THE WATSON TWINS at Amoeba Music, 7 p.m.; HECUBA, LA COSTE at the Echo; JESSIE BAYLIN, ZACK HEXUM at the Hotel Café; BILL FRISSELL at Largo; JD & THE STRAIGHT SHOT, JOE WALSH at the Roxy; ICE T & BLACK SILVER, TOO SHORT, MEDUSA at Vault 350; THE SLOW POISONER at Hyperion Tavern.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 25

 Marco Benevento, Reed Mathis, Matt Chamberlain at Largo

On his debut solo album, Invisible Baby (Hyena), “post-jazz” keyboard killer Marco Benevento expands the often-stilted sound palette of jazz/“players music” in passionately performed and curious, colorful compositions that feature snakily protracted melodic themes, fantastically off-the-wall harmonic concepts, and a toy shop of textural discoveries layering his fiery acoustic piano with a lot of skull-scratching Mellotron quirk and some way-pleasing noodle on circuit-bent toys like Speak & Spells, cheap-o Casio keyboards and a maelstrom of banjos, a vintage church pump organ, drum loops and glockenspiels. What this gifted conceptualizer is doing can be located somewhere at the crossroads of jazz-jam-band-rock-pop and “serious” art music; for this show, he’ll be joined by bassist Reed Mathis and drummer Matt Chamberlain. (John Payne)

Also playing Wednesday:

TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS, STEVE WINWOOD at the Hollywood Bowl; T.I. at the Wiltern; GEORGE MICHAEL at the Forum; AMOS LEE at Amoeba Music; CRYPTACIZE, BECKY STARK, PALMS at the Echo; LKN at Mr. T’s Bowl; TRV$, DJ AM at the Roxy; THAILAND at Silverlake Lounge; ABE VIGODA at the Smell; CHEATIN’ KIND at Taix.

THURSDAY, JUNE 26

Sam Phillips at Largo

“I love you when you don’t do anything/When you’re useless, I love you more,” Sam Phillips declares on the title track of her new CD, Don’t Do Anything (Nonesuch). It’s such a relief and a rarity to hear someone in our fast-paced, competitive society say it’s okay to stop racing around in circles. Phillips gives us permission to think, to see things that are under the surface, things that don’t “matter.” She first came to attention as the Christian pop singer Leslie Phillips, but she’s worlds away from such a fluffy and simple beginning. Even folks who don’t subscribe to the Jesus myth are likely to get something out of Don’t Do Anything, which replaces the sanctimonious and smug bossiness of typical Christian music with something more artistic and deeply personal. Most of the songs are stripped down with lovely, non-flashy cello and violin accents from the Section Quartet. “My Career in Chemistry” pairs sly lyrics with Jay Bellerose’s clattering drums and guitarist Eric Gorfain’s “dancing molecules.” Such tracks as “Under the Night” and “No Explanations” are pushed along with little more than Phillips’ throbbing, lurking guitar, whose fuzzy distortion wonderfully contrasts her airy, dreamy singing. (Falling James)

Also playing Thursday:

BONEDADDYS, CROWN CITY ROCKERS at the Santa Monica Pier, 7 p.m.; EPMD, GRANDMASTER FLASH at Crash Mansion; THE MOVIES at the Echo; MEIKO at the Hotel Café; EVERCLEAR, SOUL ASYLUM, CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN at House of Blues; REVEREND PEYTON’S BIG DAMN BAND,THE DOLLYROTS, HAZELDEN at Safari Sam’s; LKN at Silverlake Lounge; OLIVER FUTURE, GRAY KID at Spaceland; DANNY B. HARVEY, JAKE LA BOTZ at Taix; L.A. GUNS, JANI LANE at the Whisky.


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