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Rock Picks: The Slits, Squiddo, Electrocute

{mosimage}THURSDAY, AUGUST 2

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars at Malibu Inn

The Refugee All Stars’ story is so fantastic that it sometimes threatens to take attention away from the African band’s equally magical music. The musicians started playing together in a refugee camp in Guinea after escaping the civil war in their Sierra Leone homeland. Somehow, without fancy musical equipment or access to standard recording-studio technology, the inventive band drew the attention of American filmmakers Banker White and Zach Niles, who filmed a fascinating documentary that charted the musicians’ relocations from various refugee camps before finally returning triumphantly to Freetown. None of this would matter if the music on their new CD, Living Like a Refugee (Anti-), wasn’t such a mesmerizing combination of Afrobeat, uplifting Bob Marley–style reggae and MacGyver-style ingenuity. The acoustic-guitar-based title track, in fact, was recorded “by the light of an oil lamp in Sembakounya Refugee Camp in Guinea.” Sunny pop tunes like “Smile” and “Soda Soap” are highlighted by intricate trills of guitar, while festive harmonies belie the anti-politician anthem “Bull to the Weak.” The All Stars’ long, strange trip has even led them to work with unlikely new collaborators like Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. (Falling James)

Marnie Stern at the Echo

New York guitar hero Marnie Stern wastes little time showing off her dazzling fretboard trickery on her new CD, In Advance of the Broken Arm (Kill Rock Stars). The opening song, “Vibrational Match,” fairly bursts with intricately knotted lead-guitar flurries, a virtual sound storm of looping, flickering, flashing guitar patterns. “Precious Metal” swarms with thousands of glistening notes that flop around like grunion on a crowded night beach. Stern’s arty lyrics are just as dense on brain-bulging workouts like “Letters From Rimbaud” and “Every Single Line Means Something,” where her insistent finger-tapping style raises beautiful halo noises from her ax. She combines prog-rock dexterity and ambition with a post-riot-grrl aggression that draws on such disparate inspirations as Yoko Ono and Hella (whose drummer, Zach Hill, produced and played on Broken Arm). At times, the nonstop note hammering can get pretty dizzying and even exhausting, and it’s possible that the album title predicts the guitarist’s arm falling off eventually from so much frantic activity. (Falling James)

Also playing Thursday:

SECTION QUARTET at Pershing Square, 8 p.m.; REEL BIG FISH, LESS THAN JAKE at the Wiltern; POP LEVI, THE SHYS at the Roxy; THEE L.A. GENTLEMEN CALLERS, THE FRESAS at the Scene.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 3

{mosimage}RTX, Entrance, Earthless at Safari Sam’s

TeePee Records’ planned annual showcase “Manifest Destiny” presents some of the greatest purveyors of ruthless psychedelia, brutality-prog and ye olde “stoner” rock to trod this gnarly Earth in their big, floppy boots. RTX features ex–Royal Trux–er Jennifer Herrema, the most wickedly intelligent (actually funny) in a dying breed of the real true rock screamers; her new band’s latest elpee, Western Xterminator, on the righteous Drag City, is a passion-packed thing of ferally riffa-luscious noise subtly juxtaposed with harshly heartbreaking words — it’s spectacular. Entrance is the Topanga Canyon mystery man whose raw electric-blues-cum-Coltrane-raga flights conjure more blatantly ecstatic vistas. Earthless is the not-quite-exhausting power trio of former Nebula guitarist Isaiah Mitchell along with Clikitat Ikatowi’s formidable octopus drummer Mario Rubalcaba and bass player Mike Eginton (ex–Electric Nazarene), and their epic feedback/wah power epics like to stretch out past the 45-minute mark; request “Flower Travelin’ Man” if you must, but they won’t have time to play anything else. (John Payne)

The Slits at El Rey Theatre

Despite the title of their 1979 debut single, the Slits were never “Typical Girls.” These proto-riot-grrl Londoners were playfully arty, and far more subversively experimental than, say, Banarama and the other pop bimbos who took over the British music scene in the ’80s. The Slits came out of the extended Sex Pistols family in 1976 (singer Ari Up’s mom married Johnny Rotten, while Pistols drummer Paul Cook plays on the band’s excellent 2006 comeback CD EP, Revenge of the Killer Slits), and were among the first musicians to combine dub spaciness and punk immediacy, and also released the quirkiest of the many covers of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (has there ever been a bad version of that tune?). Even with just three songs, Revenge of the Killer Slits offers a good taste of the band’s methodical madness. “Slits Tradition” rolls along on a concrete-thick dub groove with Ari Up spitting out a mesmerizing autobiographical rap, while the early relic “Number One Enemy” is an exhilarating shot of straight-ahead punk adrenaline. The ghostly vocal warbling of the groovy dance groove “Kill Them With Love” is pleasingly trippy and even radiantly hopeful. (Falling James)

Gravy Train at the Echo

Gravy Train are meaty, beaty, big and bouncy, although you might know them better as Chunx, Hunx, Funx and Junx. The Oakland dance-rock outfit started as something of a joke in 2001, singing silly and sometimes disgusting songs about their raging appetites, sexual and otherwise. And while there’s still an air of goofiness on disposable new songs like “Wutcha x6 Doin’ Tonite,” their new CD, All the Sweet Stuff (Cochon Records), sounds almost professional. Gone are the crappy drum machines and cheap synthesizers of the early days, replaced by the full-bodied grooves of the shiny, sophisticated Prince-like track “Club Situation” and the snappy electro-funk of “Strip 4 Me.” As part of their glossy transformation, the formerly chunky singer Chunx is looking sleek and sexy, as alluring as any non-ironic disco diva. So are Gravy Train still a dance-rock parody, or they slowly turning into the real thing? The CD’s catchy title track, with its buoyantly circusy bubblegum-pop feel, makes it clear that these unrepentantly hedonistic exhibitionists still know how to have a good time. (Falling James)

Also playing Friday:

THE CULT at Grove of Anaheim; FERGIE at Pacific Amphitheatre; JOEY ALTRUDA at the Bordello; RAINE MAIDA & CHANTAL KREVIAZUK at Hotel Café; MORGAN HERITAGE at Malibu Inn; SHINICHI, BLACK SHAKESPEARE at the Mint; EKUK, MONOLATORS at Mr. T’sBowl; BETH THORNLEY at Pehrspace; HORNET LEG, JEREMY JAY at the Smell; VHS OR BETA, GRAN RONDE at the Troubadour.


{mosimage}SATURDAY, AUGUST 4

Tift Merritt at McCabe’s

The North Carolina country-pop singer Tift Merritt hasn’t performed in Los Angeles for a few years, but then again she’s been busy. The unabashed Creedence Clearwater Revival fan just signed to CCR’s old label, Fantasy Records, and — speaking of fantasies — she and her band have been fulfilling their “Joni Mitchell/Graham Nash fantasy” by renting a house in Laurel Canyon while they record their next album, tentatively titled Another Country. Merritt has a way with spare, delicate ballads like “Plainest Thing” and sad old songs like “It’s the Shame,” but she also releases her inner Dusty Springfield on such ebullient R&B workouts as “I Am Your Tambourine” and “Good Hearted Man” (from her 2004 CD, Tambourine). While Merritt may not have the awesome vocal power and fable-like lyrical dexterity of Neko Case, she’s an underrated, unpretentious songwriter who avoids the usual country-rock clichés, and she has a lovely voice that exudes plenty of beguiling charisma. Let’s hope we’ll be seeing more of this new Lady of the Canyon around town in the near future. (Falling James)

Subtle, Thee More Shallows at the Troubadour

{mosimage}Subtle, the aesthetically amoebic Oakland music collective (featuring Adam “Doseone” Drucker and Jeffrey “Jel” Logan), play tracks from their busy six-year history, weathering hideous downturns like getting $15K worth of equipment ripped off from their van in Barcelona last November or member Dax Pierson’s black-ice-induced paraplegia. But dig they must, as they weave their theatrical multimedia performances to an always appreciative audience who, unlike their stolen gear, isn’t going anywhere. San Francisco trio Thee More Shallows, on the other tentacle, play songs from their latest on Anticon, Book of Bad Breaks. Amiably electrifying, their extortionately dynamic take on fuzzed-out rock and the stinging nettles of oblique beats comes across like a message written on flash paper and then ignited. Chances are, you’ll never catch all the words, but this look into the abyss of sudden fire is something for which it is eminently worth scouring one’s retinas. (David Cotner)

Also playing Saturday:

SUICIDAL TENDENCIES, GWAR, SHADOWS FALL, GOATWHORE at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, noon; MUSIQ SOULCHILD at Wilshire Theatre; GOLDEN ARM TRIO at Steve Allen Theater; THE FLAKES at the Bordello; THE LOCUST, THE BRONX, QUI & DAVID YOW at the Echo; 5:30 p.m.; ELEVATERS, QUETZAL at Fais Do-Do; CINDY LEE BERRYHILL, VICTORIA WILLIAMS at Largo; SI SE, GEORGE SARAH at the Roxy; INDIAN JEWELRY, PTERODACTYL at the Scene; RADARS TO THE SKY, BEDROOM WALLS at Spaceland; ANDRE WILLIAMS & THE FLASH EXPRESS, JOHNNY LEGEND, THROW RAG at Crash Mansion L.A., 4 p.m.; DNTEL, LANGUIS, MIA DOI TODD at Farmlab/Under Spring Gallery, 6 p.m.


SUNDAY, AUGUST 5

{mosimage}Squiddo at the Joint

The International Pop Overthrow, marking its 10th year of annual coast-to-coast bubblegum festivities, has got to be one of the most doggedly ambitious roundups of struggling bands ever conceived; trouble is, it quite often seems more like a cattle call for marginal aspirants than a rallying point for the best and bitchen-est (yeah, Maroon 5 participated — when they were billed as Kara’s Flowers — but they still really stink). If mediocrity is a requisite for the IPO, they made a terrible mistake by having Squiddo back this year. A taut, sizzling little outfit with Berlin-born singer Maren Parusel’s sugar-and-strychnine vocals scattered atop the band’s turbulent yet tasteful pop-roll-punk throb, Squiddo excels in pop’s key component: simplicity. A mere three chords can do wonders, and this foursome uses ’em in a consistently interesting way. (Jonny Whiteside)

Al Stewart at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum

Before you read any further, please note that Al Stewart is the guy who gave us “Year of the Cat,” not the guy who gave us “Baker Street” — a distinction I have always had to wrestle with. Stewart also had huge hits in the ’70s with “Time Passages” and “On the Border”; both were all over the radio the summer many of us learned to drive. But his blockbusters barely scratch the surface of this prolific and ambitious songwriter. Though prone to epics that span well over 10 minutes, Stewart’s musical outpourings take much of their inspiration from history, such as “Fields of France,” about World War I pilots, and “Charlotte Corday,” about Jean-Paul Marat’s assassin. With a voice that’s still mellow and spry and happy sounding, he may bring up the Trojan War or other historical events while you get your folk-rock on. 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga Canyon; 7:30 p.m. (310) 455-2322. (Libby Molyneaux)

Channel 3 at Alex’s Bar

Channel 3 were among the first wave of suburban combos that swept through Southern California in the early ’80s in the wake of the original Hollywood punk bands. The Cerritos group were faster and more aggressive than the early punks, but their raging anthems also had more tunefulness than their hardcore peers. CH3’s initial releases ranged from the universal romantic frustration of the KROQ hit “You Make Me Feel Cheap” to such songs of teenage identity and bravado as “Catholic Boy” and “I’ve Got a Gun,” but they made their most chilling emotional impact with “Manzanar.” Based on a distinctively wicked metallic riff (suspiciously similar to the chords in “Pretty Girls” by E.L.A. punks the Stains), “Manzanar” rudely but effectively pointed out that Germany wasn’t the only country in the 1940s rounding up people and putting them in concentration camps. Singer Mike Magrann and guitarist Kimm Gardener pissed off a lot of fans when they had a hair-metal makeover in the mid-’80s (although they still released vital, Clash-inspired tunes like “Indian Summer”), but CH3 have since returned to their classic punk roots. (Falling James)

Also playing Sunday:

CHRIS CORNELL, PUDDLE OF MUDD at Pacific Amphitheatre; BLUE HAWAIIANS at the Bordello; 1990s at the Echo; THE ABYSSINIANS at Malibu Inn; TEENA MARIE at Vault 350; 8mm at Malibu Inn.

{mosimage}MONDAY, AUGUST 6

Au at Pehrspace

Portland, Oregon’s Au deals in an acoustic American folkie thing, sure, but it seems unusually aware of the more modern, minimalist impulses where repetition, multiple-cyclicism, and stark guitar, keyboard and choral settings might aim for a Zen-like trancendentalism. Leader Luke Wyland, a classically trained pianist, professes an abiding interest in avant-garde jazz too, which is only hinted at in his ambiguously defined sound, a naturalistic kind of experience that often resembles music growing in clay pots on the back porch, strewn with jagged rocks. As heard on the eponymous recent album, Wyland’s is a spiritually oriented trip that flirts with pop-song format but finds it a mere jumping-off point for airy, delicately defined flights of fantasy. At its best, it gives a bit of sonic cruelty — to keep you awake. Also at Zephyr’s in Long Beach, Sat., Aug. 4. (John Payne)

Also playing Monday:

WADDY WACHTEL at the Joint; CHENCHA BERRINCHES, LOS CREEPERS at Knitting Factory; CHUPACOBRA at Mr. T’s Bowl; LOW VS. DIAMOND, NICO VEGA, ALAMO RACE TRACK at Spaceland.


TUESDAY, AUGUST 7

Robbers on High Street at the Troubadour

Since licking off their Spoon-erisms and acquiring an acute case of Decemberists syndrome, Robbers on High Street’s sound has matured into literate, thesaurus-hugging pop, which is a welcome thing. One critic even called their brand-new album, Grand Animals, “swishy.” Now touting their pop-wordsmith degree, affected by wearing wool caps and using expressions like “crumbly bones,” the band work in strings, French horns and even a tuba to make rock that even graduates in English lit can appreciate. “The Fatalist” from Grand Animals is every bit ’80s new wave — in the best way — a song Taking Liberties–era Elvis Costello would be proud of. The fact that these Poughkeepsie-bred boys sing with a refined English accent is certainly no coincidence. “Crown Victoria” is a pop highlight, and the new record is a wall-to-wall joy, and, at $15.99, that comes out to about 80 cents per rapturous melody. (Libby Molyneaux)

Blair at Silverlake Lounge

“Something is one way all your life, then all of a sudden it totally changes,” the singer-songwriter Blair says, referring to Pluto’s recent demotion as a planet, as well as what it’s like living in her post–Hurricane Katrina New Orleans hometown. Her new EP, Pluto, combines her folkie roots (she began performing in NOLA coffeehouses at age 16) with more ambitious electric-rock aspirations. She croons her ode to a “Wolfboy” with an ethereal melody as glowing guitar chimes take the song beyond mere folk-rock keening. “Mona Lisa,” a charming midtempo shuffle, is imbued with Blair’s soothing vocals. “Half Moon” is even better, with acoustic-guitar strumming that’s augmented by psychedelic flute tones that float over the rooftops like, well, a half moon. Despite the former ninth planet’s humiliating reclassification as a mere asteroid (“the celestial equivalent of learning that Santa Claus doesn’t exist”), the arrival of Pluto (the CD) is a welcome consolation prize. (Falling James)

Also playing Tuesday:

SCARY KIDS SCARING KIDS at El Rey Theatre; FINCHES, GWENDOLYN at the Bordello; FIONN REGAN, FERRABY LIONHEART at Hotel Café; MIRANDA LEE RICHARDS at Largo; THE MORMONS, 8-BIT, THE MONOLATORS at Mr. T’s Bowl; THE PRIX, ASTRA HEIGHTS, IO PERRY, 17 PYGMIES at Spaceland; HANSON at Viper Room; BARRY McGUIRE, TERRY TALBOT at Coffee Gallery Backstage.

{mosimage}WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 8

Electrocute at the Troubadour

Electrocute is what they aim for, now that Nicole Morier has relocated her electro-punk duo from Germany to Los Angeles, joined by a new partner, Legs Le Brock. Yes, Electrocute are cute with their satiny superheroine-style costumes, but their songs are too catchy to be mere novelties. “Tales of Ordinary Sadness” is a driving pop-punk number that sounds like early Fuzzbox, juiced up with surging distorted guitars, serenely assertive vocals, and lyrics partially lifted from the Monkees’ “Stepping Stone.” “Nobody likes us because we’re two lazy chicks,” they chant on the punked-up statement of purpose “Nobody Likes Us,” before Morier brags, “Did you meet my boyfriend?/He looks like Elvis after 1974.” (At least, I think she’s bragging.) They beat know-it-all critics like this one to the punch with other similarly humble statements including “We hate everybody as much as they hate us.” The fact is, Electrocute are ultimately quite adorable despite their boxy drum-machine backing and self-deprecating insults. (Falling James)

Vieux Farka Touré at Amoeba Music

The musical realm resonates with the sons and daughters of legends, as the progeny of Marley, Dylan, Lennon, Coltrane, Carthy and Kuti stake their own creative claims. But intergenerational death’s-door collaborations are a rare thing, since all too often the elder passes before the younger matures. Ali and Vieux Farka Touré knew dad’s bone cancer would soon claim him when Ali laid down what would be his last tracks for his boy’s album. Ali once forbade Vieux from pursuing a musical career, which the talented kid wisely ignored, making the haunting Niger River blues of “Tabara” and “Diallo” final bittersweet blessings from the father of his son’s chosen path. The rest of Vieux’s vibrant eponymous debut confirms that the Touré legacy — and the future of Malian music — is in very good hands indeed. Also at the Skirball Cultural Center, Thurs., 8 p.m.; California Plaza, Fri., Aug. 10, noon; and Temple Bar, Fri., Aug. 10. (Tom Cheyney)

Also playing Wednesday:

TONY TUFF, TRINITY at the Echoplex; HARRY SHEARER at House of Blues (see Hoopla); HEALTH CLUB at Molly Malone’s; THE GUILTY HEARTS, BLACK FUZZ at the Scene; HEALTH, HUMAN HANDS at the Smell; YOU AM I, REDWALLS, WOMBATS at Spaceland; ABYSSINIANS at Vault 350.

THURSDAY, AUGUST 9

Playing Thursday:

VIEUX FARKA TOURÉ at Skirball Cultural Center, 8 p.m.; ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, AGAPE INTERNATIONAL CHOIR at Santa Monica Pier, 7:30 p.m.; LITTLE FEAT at the Canyon; FISHTANK ENSEMBLE at Hotel Café; BUCK-O-NINE at Knitting Factory; SIERRA SWAN, CARINA ROUND at Largo; THE CARIBBEAN, BRAD LANER at Pehrspace; REDWALLS, BANG LIME at the Roxy; BLOODY HOLLIES, RESTAURANT at Spaceland; THE LOVEMAKERS at the Troubadour; SIXTH CHAMBER at Viper Room.


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