Rock Picks: Sunset Strip Music Festival, Neil Innes, Cheap Trick


Tara Punzone

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The Casualties are still mad at Ronald Reagan.

Frozen Pictures

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Neil Innes: How sweet to be an idiot with a tiny guitar

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Gilberto Gil rides a blue wave.

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:




The Casualties at Crash Mansion

While Britain’s original late-’70s punk bands were often just irreverent rock & roll acts with some funny clothes, the second, so-called “U.K. 82” wave of the genre took matters to cartoonish sonic and visual extremes: Discharge, the Exploited and GBH bolted oi’s relentless boom-chik beats and Motorhead’s wall of guitars to guttural, violent and hopeless utterances while cajoling their manes into vivid middle-finger Mohawks. New York’s Casualties faithfully revive this snarling mongrel sound (basic buzzy riffs, rigid rhythmic stabs, street-level gang vocals) and look (stud-armored leather jackets, star-burst hairdos) with an infectious sense of utter commitment and the infusion of some busy, bubbly bass lines. Like their early-’80s idols, some of whom are still treading the boards, the Casualties have proved amazingly durable — since forming in 1990, they’ve gradually converted both old-school diehards and fresh-faced Hot Topic–ers to their glorious anti-establishment racket. Also at the Vault 350, Sat. (Paul Rogers)

Sunset Strip Music Festival on the Sunset Strip

With all the hoo-ha over all the various Eastside indie happenings, the Sunset Strip, despite its lineage, is oft considered more an old movie set than a living, breathing scene. But the posse of clubs — including the Roxy, Viper Room, Key Club, House of Blues and Whisky a Go-Go — offers a reminder this weekend with the Sunset Strip Music Festival. Three days, a few dozen bands — and known hair-metal aficionado Larry King of CNN, to boot. The first-annual party features a decent roundup of rock and rap acts, including, in order of worthiness: Camper Van Beethoven, Dilated Peoples, Soul Asylum, Juliette & the Licks, and L.A. Guns featuring Jani Lane of Warrant. There are others, sure, but, really, how many bands can you actually see? Besides, we’re blinded by the entertainment potential of the Saturday-evening roundtable at House of Blues, featuring Strip icons Lou Adler, Mario Maglieri and Elmer Valentine, hosted by King. The festival continues at various Sunset Strip clubs, Thurs.-Sat., June 26-28. For more information, go to (Randall Roberts)

U Roy at Dub Club at the Echoplex

In terms of his impact and influence, reggae spearhead U Roy is comparable only to Elvis Presley — an artist who gathered together all the current and prevailing musical sounds and supercharged the mixture with a individualistic, breakout style. His innovative late-’60s toasting, in conjunction with dub mastermind King Tubby’s captivating versions, galvanized the music’s entire sound, content and presentation, and spread like a fever that influenced virtually every one of his colleagues and initiated an entire new musical school. He’s appearing here on a dream bill that also features some of reggae’s most alluring and under-appreciated forces — the soulful drive of Stranger Cole, Cornell Campbell’s otherworldly falsetto, the rocksteady big wheel Pat Kelly. Once again, those zealous Dub Club cats have made us a gift for which the Rastafarians’ standard benediction of thanks and praise hardly seems sufficient. Campbell and U Roy also at Malibu Inn, Sun. (Jonny Whiteside)


Ersi Arvizu at Bagramian Hall

“I wasn’t allowed in this man’s world/The holes in the wall became my windows of dreams,” Ersi Arvizu sings at the opening of her new CD, Friend for Life (Anti- Records), using boxing analogies to chart the ups and downs of her varied life. She was raised in East L.A., charting her first hit, “Gee Baby Gee,” in 1964 with the Sisters, her aptly named familial group. She eventually joined El Chicano before dropping out of sight again for many years. Now she’s back with a vengeance on this long-overdue solo album, filling in the blank spaces and missing decades with artful songs like the bilingual “En El Tambo,” where El Chicano’s visit to perform at Tehachapi State Prison led to some unexpected, soul-slamming revelations. Produced by Ry Cooder, who’ll be a part of her all-star band at tonight’s concert, the album has a contemplative wistfulness that extends through its jazzy, pop and traditional-folk-music settings. If you’ve ever wondered what real L.A. music sounds like, this is it. 900 W. Lincoln Ave., Montebello. (Falling James)

Nikka Costa at El Rey Theatre

Despite the media buzz that surrounded her 2001 American debut, Everybody Got Their Something, this well-connected L.A.-based soul siren hasn’t really succeeded in establishing much of a mainstream presence; casual listeners might remember “Like a Feather” from the Tommy Hilfiger spot it soundtracked a few years back, but no one’s in any danger of confusing Nikka Costa with Alicia Keys or Erykah Badu. Still, Costa has rightly cultivated an adoring cult, and that’s the audience she appears to be aiming for with the release this fall of Pebble to a Pearl, a funky new disc she made with her producer-husband Justin Stanley. It downplays the mixing-desk flash of her past two albums in favor of a back-to-basics approach that befits her new relationship with the long-running Stax label, which will issue Pebble in conjunction with Costa’s own Go Funk Yourself Records. Tonight’s show is part of a brief four-gig preview jaunt that winds up in New York on Monday. (Mikael Wood)


Neil Innes at the Egyptian Theatre

You might remember Neil Innes from the daft ’60s British group the Bonzo Dog Band, whose rendition of “Death Cab for Cutie” in the Beatles’ film Magical Mystery Tour inspired the name of a much-less-clever modern indie-rock band. Or perhaps you recall Innes as Ron Nasty in the wickedly brilliant Beatles parody the Rutles, or the songs that he wrote for Monty Python, such as “How Sweet to Be an Idiot,” whose endearingly heartbreaking melody transcended mere novelty status. Maybe you’ve never heard of Innes at all, which is where the new film The Seventh Python comes in. The documentary (which screens on Thursday, July 26, at this theater) celebrates the merry life and mad career of this songwriter, who’s often underrated because of his “joke” songs, but also writes gorgeous melodies along with those sarcastic lyrics. Tonight he’ll play a set encompassing his many phases and incarnations, which should make up for the keen disappointment when he appeared — but didn’t sing — during the festivities surrounding Rutlemania, Eric Idle’s slapdash theatrical revue of Innes’ music that played in Hollywood earlier this year. (Falling James)

Also playing Friday:

JESCA HOOP at Greek Theatre; DILATED PEOPLES, ACEYALONE at House of Blues; THE HEALTH CLUB at Pehrspace; HOT HOT HEAT at the Roxy; MICK TURNER at the Smell; INSECT SURFERS, BLACK WIDOWS at Taix; B-REAL at the Whisky.


The B-52’s at the Greek Theatre

Like so many old new-wave bands, the B-52’s could coast on their reputation and play their early hits for the rest of their lives. Unlike so many of their former peers, they and their sumptuously summery surf-rock tunes (“Rock Lobster,” “Private Idaho,” “Love Shack,” “Roam,” etc.) have aged surprisingly well. No one would really blame them if they chose to fade away on the oldies circuit, but the onetime Athens, Georgia, band have instead released an aptly titled comeback CD, Funplex, their first album of new material in 16 years. The title track has all of the group’s classic elements, with a kicky, handclaps-driven groove, Keith Strickland’s surging fuzz-punk guitar, and call-&-response chants with memorably disposable lyrics/slogans like “underneath the chandelier at the ATM machine” and “I’m your daytime waitress/Here’s your stupid 7-Up.” Fred Schneider’s punchy declamations are always witty, but what really makes the B-52’s soar is the giddily dreamy way Cindy Wilson’s and Kate Pierson’s sleek and sexy vocals twine together, particularly on the mystically spacy ode “Juliet of the Spirits.” (Falling James)


Willie Nile at McCabe’s

“You can dream out loud,” Willie Nile sings on his new live CD, Live From the Streets of New York (due next month, as is a separate DVD with the same title, shot at the same show). His dreams come through loud and clear at this celebratory concert, where he’s backed by the Worry Dolls and such guests as Roseanne Cash drummer Rich Pagano and Jimmy Vivino (Late Night With Conan O’Brien). Nile is a quintessential New Yorker, sharing a romanticized Manhattan perspective that’s not all that far from the lonely alley-cat rambles of Johnny Thunders and Kevin K, but pumped up (for better and worse) with the sometimes-hammy theatrics of fellow East Coast bards Meat Loaf and Bruce Springsteen. “Vagabond Moon” rolls across the sky with latter-day Stones riffs, while the evocative ballad “The Day I Saw Bo Diddley in Washington Square” takes on added resonance after the great man’s recent passing. Nile’s most obvious hero is Bob Dylan, whose lyrical imagery heavily influences the title track and the nostalgically autobiographical “Back Home.” Nile is so Noo Yawk, in fact, he hasn’t performed in L.A. in 20 years. (Falling James)

Cheap Trick at the Hollywood Bowl

If there are any musicians who can pull off performing an album like Sgt. Pepper’s with credible faithfulness while still make it exciting and powerful in their own style, it’s Cheap Trick. They’re the perfect band for this, short of the real Beatles. The Rockford, Illinois, quartet’s history is already deeply tangled with Beatles allusions and homages (“Taxman, Mr. Thief”), cover songs (“Day Tripper”) and personal connections (George Martin produced their 1980 album All Shook Up, and guitarist Rick Nielsen and drummer Bun E. Carlos recorded with John Lennon). Last year’s 40th-anniversary celebration of Sgt. Pepper’s was a surprisingly satisfying affair, despite the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra’s sometimes treacly arrangements. Gomez’s Ian Ball — who came off as an amiable Davey Jones manqué despite butchering some of the lyrics — and Rob Laufer will reprise their roles, while new guest star Billy Corgan (probably) won’t bungle things as much as Ministry’s Al Jourgensen did last time. The show actually works best without all the embellishments, especially when powerhouse singer Robin Zander and the rest of Cheap Trick are left to their own devices. (Falling James)

Also playing Saturday:

311, SNOOP DOGG at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre; MICKEY AVALON, ANDRE LEGACY at the Key Club; THE BLESSINGS, BLACK WIDOWS, BACKBITER at Mr. T’s Bowl; THE 88 at the Roxy; KINGSIZEMAYBE at Taix; QUINTO SOL at Temple Bar; CASUALTIES, YOUTH BRIGADE at Vault 350; LOUIS XIV at Viper Room.


Gilberto Gil, Devendra Banhart, The Album Leaf, Mike Heron at the Hollywood Bowl

Part of the 10th-annual KCRW World Festival at the Bowl, this seemingly peculiar lineup is perhaps not so strange within the context of a contemporary redefining of what should appropriately be included under that big umbrella called world music. Singer-composer-guitarist Gilberto Gil is a cultural ambassador of Brazil — he, in fact, currently holds the official post of Culture Minister. Gil is the legendarily dazzling post-bossa sambista who originally emerged from Brazil’s tropicalismo movement in the late ’60s to help redefine the country’s music scene with his self-penned, eclectic stew of African, reggae, Euro-classical and traditional chorro-tinged tunes, richly melodious singing and agile, inventive acoustic guitar playing. Next, we have the one and indeed the only Devendra Banhart, the charismatic Venezuelan-American folk-rock-avant-bolero mystery man and, lately, a virtuosic singer and spidery-fingered guitarist. The Album Leaf is the dulcet-toned singer/multi-instrumentalist Jimmy LaValle, who creates a nicely ethereal introspection rock that etches its way firmly into the memory; he’ll be aided by Mike Heron of the late, great Incredible String Band, in an incredibly rare local appearance. (John Payne)


Also playing Sunday:

BOB WEIR & RATDOG, GOV’T MULE at Greek Theatre; JIM BAILEY at House of Blues; MESHELL NDEGEOCELLO at the Key Club; U ROY, CORNELL CAMPBELL at Malibu Inn; GENE LOVES JEZEBEL at Safari Sam’s; CAPTAIN AHAB at the Smell; WATSON TWINS at Fingerprints, Long Beach, 4 p.m.




We Are Scientists at El Rey Theatre

On their label’s web page (, Keith Murray and Chris Cain hype their new album, Brain Thrust Mastery, by staging a mock MTV Cribs-type program that looks like a Best Week Ever parody. The release’s first video, “After Hours,” was like their own little movie, subtitles and all, but it was the follow-up video, for “Chick-Lit” (a parody of Brokeback Mountain), that left me wondering if they’re a real group or a post–“Lazy Sunday” fabrication. In other words, do they make funny skits for their songs, or do they make songs for their funny skits? I would argue the latter if their songs weren’t genuinely catchy on their own. These Scientists have a knack for dance rock and an instinct for romance that would have been perfect for New York’s WDRE, circa 1987 (or Rodney on the ROQ), but it’s a “retro” that smells as au courant as the bathrooms of the Bowery Ballroom. (Daniel Siwek)


Also playing Tuesday:

GRAVY TRAIN, BRIDEZ at the Echo, 7 & 10 p.m.; OURS at the Roxy; THE MAE SHI, DEATH TO ANDERS, DIE ROCKERS DIE, THE LIGHT FM at Spaceland.


Magic Lantern at Echo Curio

Whittier-born and now Long Beach–based, Magic Lantern honor their moniker with streams of mottled electricity and kinetic fantasias. A prodigiously noisy quintet with two radioactive guitars orbiting in mantric figure eights, they effuse abandon instead of narrative clarity. Less ebb and more flow, their torrents of distortion and echo are expansive, allowing for tones and other sonic flotsam to get carried off in its burbling tides. There’s a bit of Spacemen 3’s bulb-blowing glare and far-gone languor to their approach, sure. But Magic Lantern are mercifully not psych pastiche. It’s more apt to say they jam instead of improvise, as the latter often implies either acting out by the totally untrained or random applications of scrupulously learned techniques. Both have a dusty whiff of academia. Magic Lantern are not methodical; they’re miasmic. They’ll be dropping their debut album, High Beams, on Not Not Fun Records this August, so bring some cash for a CD-R and stake your claim to having been there. 1519 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. (Bernardo Rondeau)

Also playing Wednesday:

THE BOWMANS at the Hotel Café; TODD RUNDGREN at the Key Club; KIND HEARTS & CORONETS at Mr. T’s Bowl; MIA SABLE, PATRIA JACOBS, SUKI EWERS at Tangier; CASXIO at the Troubadour.


Constantines at the Troubadour

The Constantines are probably the best rock band out of Toronto (via two shitty college towns in Ontario: London and Guelph), and probably Canada at large. A live Constantines show is a cyclical affair: Arena-rock seriousness builds to fuzzy punk pleas and instrumental histrionics, eventually giving way to a coaxing pastoral lust. The band, always good, have become great after close to 10 years, four albums (and handfuls of EPs and compilation appearances), deals with Arts & Crafts in Canada and Sub Pop in the U.S., and now a few established side projects and the odd celeb collaboration. The Cons are heirs apparent, and constantly made analogous, to Neil Young’s Canadiana-fixated rock resonance (the band’s alter ego, Horsey Craze, has recorded Young songs), Bruce Springsteen’s double-denim working-man spirituals and Fugazi. The air in utopia may be poisoned, but the Constantines are working on it. (Kate Carraway)

Also playing Thursday:

NICO VEGA, THE GROWLERS at the Hammer Museum; FREE MORAL AGENTS at Alex’s Bar; THE KIDS OF WIDNEY HIGH at Mr. T’s Bowl; CHANA at Temple Bar.


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