Rock Picks: Tinariwen, Lucy Schwartz, Brendan Benson, Free Energy, P.O.S.
Randy Newman at Royce Hall
Real talk: Randy Newman does characteristically great work in The Princess and the Frog; truly, no one's better suited to write tunes for an animated flick set in Jazz Age New Orleans. But handing the dude two Oscar noms for best original song seems kind of lazy, doesn't it? (Karen O and her Wild Things were robbed, y'all!) That said, "An Evening With Randy Newman" — as the folks at UCLA Live are billing this show — is not a thing to be missed. As he demonstrated the last time I saw him perform, at Largo in 2008, shortly before the release of that year's excellent Harps and Angels, Newman is no less entertaining while giving his songs the VH1 Storytellers treatment than he is while playing them. Particularly interested to hear his current thoughts regarding A Few Words in Defense of Our Country, his trenchant Bush-era look at the end of an empire. (Mikael Wood)
P.O.S., Grieves & Budo, Dessa at the Troubadour
On "Purexed," the fourth single from P.O.S.'s Never Better, the Minneapolis rapper/musician makes a telling name-drop: "Them rappers got the 'itis'/Catch me bumpin' Isis in a crisis." Stefon Alexander — as P.O.S. is otherwise known — got his start as a punk-rocker in the late '90s, went on to found alt-rap crew Doomtree in the aughts and rose to prominence by way of his solo work, which has long displayed a dueling affinity for heady hip-hop and hard rock. But like the post-metal band that P.O.S. listens to in times of need (Isis, that is), his approach to the heavy arts is nuanced. Never Better is chock-full of songs that know how to grind — thanks to the MC's mastery of guitar, bass and drums — but which do so without pummeling the listener into a confused mush or, worse, slipping into hybridized genre cheese. Opener Dessa also hails from Doomtree, and offers a jazz-steeped female perspective on the kind of thoughtful, diarist rap that Minneapolis seems to have in spades. (Chris Martins)
Ancestors, Intronaut, Black Math Horseman at Spaceland
Los Angeles doom-dealers Ancestors are undoubtedly heavy, but then they're a lot of things, in the way, say, Pink Floyd and King Crimson were back in the early '70s, a time when bands could toss anything they wanted into their cauldrons, stir it up and watch it explode — often right in their faces. A concept album of sorts, the band's recent eight-part gloom epic, Of Sound Mind (Teepee), is an ungodly hash of Black Sabbath–thick stereo-distorto guitar riffage, ambient electronic interludes and soaringly melodic gambits, plus a lot of interesting stuff residing somewhere in between. It's real broody, rainy-day-holed-up atmospheric sludgehammer that takes you places and suggests that you use your mind along the way. Co-headliners Intronaut are metal monsters, and create fire-breathing, hypertricky song-shapes, with skull-skratch guitar and a truly scary bass & drums assault. Ladled out with terse economy, craft and loads of dark charisma, the arcane rituals of openers Black Math Horseman are heard to psychotically tasty effect on their new Teepee album, Wyllt. (John Payne)
Also playing Friday:
ASYLUM STREET SPANKERS at Molly Malone's; KRS-ONE at the Roxy; VITALIC, MIRA AROYO, LADYTRON (DJ SET), ACID GIRLS at Avalon; FITZ & THE TANTRUMS, POP NOIR at the Echo; BRAD PAISLEY, JUSTIN MOORE, MIRANDA LAMBERT at the Staples Center; JON BRION & FRIENDS at Largo at the Coronet; TERA MELOS, ALL LEATHER, FNA, WET DREAMS at the Smell; RADARS TO THE SKY, ONE TRICK PONY, MISSISSIPPI MAN, RADEMACHER at the Echoplex; THE DAN BAND at Club Nokia; OLD TOY TRAINS, JUBILEE SINGERS, SUBTLE SELVES at Pehrspace; THE DAMNED, JAY ASTON'S GENE LOVES JEZEBEL at House of Blues; JORMA KAUKONEN & G.E. SMITH at McCabe's; HARLEM, AUDACITY, BLUE JUNGLE, COSMONAUT at L'Keg Gallery.
Tinariwen at Royce Hall
The ever-evolving transgenerational Saharan musicians Tinariwen conjure a distinctively mesmerizing style of music that's just as soulful and timeless as the blues, with which it shares a certain simpatico, inexorable heartbeat groove. But whereas most modern blues songs are so predictable that you can hear every lick and lyrical lament coming from a mile away, Tinariwen's music is constantly surprising, with whorls of intricately gnarled/gnarly guitars spun 'round dreamy voices chanting restless, surreal poetry. "The revolution is a long thread/Easily twisted, hard to stretch/I patch up the desert, the great desert," sings Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, the band's patriarch and one of several singer-guitarists, on Tinariwen's fourth album, Imidiwan (World Village). The inexplicably manifested, almost backward-sounding riffs by Ibrahim, Elaga Ag Hamid, Le Lion, Diara, Intidao and others would be trippy enough, but they become even more iconic and emotionally resonant when blended with incantational stories about life in the desert, romance, family and the literal fight for freedom by the Kel Tamashek nomads (sometimes referred to as the Tuareg). "It's often said that every Tuareg from Tamanrasset to Niamey and from Timbuktu to Ghat is a member of Tinariwen, so widely are their songs known and treasured," explains the band's manager, Andy Morgan. "They are more of a social movement than a desert rock & roll band." Hear, hear. (Falling James)
Brendan Benson at the Troubadour
You'd certainly be forgiven for thinking that last year's My Old, Familiar Friend was the first solo album from Nashville-based Brendan Benson. After all, Benson's first three discs came out before he'd joined forces with Jack White in the Raconteurs, a gig that lifted Benson out of the realm of cult-fave power-pop wizards and put him on the road toward True Alt-Rock Semistardom. Yet with its indelible melodies, clever wordplay and crafty arrangements — check out the sweet Philly-soul strings in "Garbage Day" — Friend hardly sounds like the work of a rookie record maker; it's a little lived-in wonder. Tonight Benson hits the Troubadour with his three-piece band, which includes one touring Raconteur as well as a member of Ryan Adams' Cardinals. Ask nicely and he might play his contribution to an upcoming tribute to Graham Nash's Songs for Beginners. (Mikael Wood)
Also playing Saturday:
WAVVES, BEST COAST, THE FRANKS, 12TH PLANET at the Three Clubs; THE ENTRANCE BAND, LIGHTS, POCAHAUNTED at the Bootleg Theater; HARLEM, DANTE VS ZOMBIES, J. WORTHINGTON, FOULFELLOWS at Spaceland; CONSPIRACY OF BIRDS at the Mint; FANFARLO, APRIL SMITH & THE GREAT PICTURE at El Rey Theatre; WET & RECKLESS, WILD YAKS, THE 1921A, COSIO at the Redwood Bar & Grill; JORMA KAUKONEN & G.E. SMITH at McCabe's; CHUCK DUKOWSKI SEXTET, INSECTS VS. ROBOTS, THE SHRINE at Echo Curio.
Sloan, Taylor Locke & The Roughs, The World Record at King King
That Toronto four-piece Sloan isn't one of the most popular touring acts in the world is an outright tragedy. The group's sweet, sweet lyrics about love and rocking Canadian style — as well as its strict adherence to power chords and songs that deliver in under three minutes — have led to certain criminal characterizations: namely, that what Sloan does is kitsch. But the band has been around for 19 years and nine albums, doggedly sticking to its guns throughout, despite a general failure to make it outside its native land, which should be evidence enough that Sloan's stance is sincere. These guys really do want to "do it in the movies" even if their experience has truly been "... one thing, then another thing/Building up into a mountain of annoying." Live, Sloan's power pop is incredibly amped up, thanks to the frequent instrument switches (each member writes and sings lead on his own songs) and the band's sunny, distinctly Canuck disposition. (Chris Martins)
Also playing Sunday:
MIRAH, RACHAEL CANTU, MORGAN MEYN at the Bootleg Theater; WHITE LUNG, NU SENSAE, FRIENDLY NEIGHBORS, NASA SPACE UNIVERSE at the Smell; BARON VON LUXXURY, DEV, HIS ORCHESTRA, JAMISON at Spaceland; MATTHEW RYAN at Molly Malone's; RAY WYLIE HUBBARD at McCabe's; SARA HAZE at the Mint.
Useless Keys at the Echo
L.A. four-piece guitar band Useless Keys do the soft-loud-soft thing that the Pixies and Nirvana perfected nearly two decades ago: Start slow and low to create tension, build it gradually, then cascade into a jumbo distorted surprise that turns drenched feedback into a thing of beauty. It's a formula, yes, but in their hands, it's one that retains some shock. The hooks are there, the meandering post-second-chorus weirdo bridges, the big finishes. "White noise and repetition," they sing on "White Noise," which is an apt description of their philosophy. If they're a bit predictable — and they are — it doesn't diminish the impact of their gorgeous melodies and truly impressive fury. Also on the bill are Free Energy (see music pick for Tuesday) and Moon Over Moscow. (Randall Roberts)
Also playing Monday:
PRINCETON, CASTLEDOOR, LOS ANGELES NEW MUSIC ENSEMBLE at Spaceland; ELLE FORTUNE, MASON LINDAHL, SUBTLE SELVES at Pehrspace; RED ARROW MESSENGER, DAMN SONS, UNITED BY SOUND at the Bootleg Theater.
Free Energy, The Mystery Lights, The Blank Tapes, Early Dolphin at Spaceland
With Free Energy, Mystery Lights and Early Dolphin sharing a bill, one might mistake this show for some sort of exhibition of bizarre natural phenomena. Thankfully, there will be no photos of malformed preemie marine mammals, but make no mistake, there will be plenty of untamed thermodynamic transference (which is to say, heat) and no doubt a smattering of floating photon packets (which is to say, sparked bowls). Delivering the former is Free Energy, a DFA-signed Philly power-pop band whose upcoming debut, Stuck on Nothing, was produced by LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy despite the band's complete lack of interest in the electronic arts. Catering to the latter is the dingy, low-key garage-country of Salinas quartet the Mystery Lights. That band's 2009 album, Teenage Catgirls & the Mystery Lightshow, is about as promising as debuts come: raw, original and filled with songs as catchy as they are skuzzy. L.A.'s own Early Dolphin specializes in slow-rolling, Shins-y folk, while the Blank Tapes, hailing from the Bay Area, alternates between sludgy psych and clean, economic pop. (Chris Martins)
Also playing Tuesday:
GLACIER HIKING, HAIM, KITTEN, GO WEST YOUNG MAN at the Echo; LESLIE & THE BADGERS at the Bootleg Theater; BUTCH WALKER at the Hotel Café.
Visqueen at Amoeba Music
Folks who've only seen Rachel Flotard coo backup vocals for Neko Case on recent tours might not realize that she's also an estimable lead singer in her own right. Whereas Case is more of a country-folk stylist, Flotard and her longtime Seattle group Visqueen have a harder, faster punk-pop sound that's closer in spirit to the Fastbacks and the Muffs. (In fact, the Fastbacks' Kim Warnick and the Muffs' Ronnie Barnett are among the many bassists who've been in the band at some point in the past decade.) Drummer Ben Hooker, guitarist Tom Cummings and new bassist Cristina Bautista churn up a neatly rambunctious, Ramones-y racket while Flotard sings with a contrastingly pure, melodic tone. Visqueen's 2009 CD, Message to Garcia (on their own Local 638 Records), bursts with exuberantly glittery power-pop gems like "Hand Me Down," which features sugary harmonies from Case. The band plays at 7 p.m., with another set later tonight at Alex's Bar. Also at Spaceland, Thursday. (Falling James)
The Rescues, Lucy Schwartz at the Troubadour
On the cover of her new EP, Help Me! Help Me!, Lucy Schwartz has a literal bird's nest — as well as flowers, scissors and an alarm clock — in her hair. It's a cute photo, but it might make you think that the local singer-pianist is just another fluffy pop airhead or, even worse, some contrived "kooky" new-wave revivalist. Luckily, she's capable of much more than that. Schwartz may be pop, but her arrangements are smart, and she's even brave enough to give Otis Redding's "Respect" a radical, surprisingly successful Joni Mitchell–style makeover. "Those Days" has a winsome Carole King bounce, and the catchy title track comes off like cheery-sad Fiona Apple. Headliners the Rescues are sort of a singer-songwriter supergroup, combining the gauzy voices of Kyler England, Rob Giles, Adrianne Gonzalez and Gabriel Mann to more conventional effect. The problem is, when you use such overly urgent, breathy vocals to declaim the usual banal lyric clichés, you risk ending up with unwittingly self-fulfilling prophetic titles like "You're Not Listening." (Falling James)
Raul Malo at the Hotel Cafe
Simply put, Raul Malo has one of the most gorgeous voices around today. No matter the style — country, rock, pop, Latin, standards — Malo can deliver a song that's deeply emotive but never over-the-top (learn a lesson, American Idol-ers). His supple, mellifluous voice can soar like Orbison and seduce like Sinatra. The Miami native, of Cuban heritage, made his name as front man for the popular but maverick mainstream country band the Mavericks. His solo career has been just as adventurous, serving in the Tex-Mex supergroup Los Super Seven as well as doing a bluegrass-based project. After a trio of cover albums, Malo stocked last year's Lucky One with timeless-sounding originals. One treat of his current solo tour is the chance to hear him sing in a small club setting. (Michael Berick)
Also playing Wednesday:
DAN BLACK at Spaceland; OLIVER FUTURE, THE DELTA MIRROR, JESUS MAKES THE SHOTGUN SOUND, QUEEN KWONG at the Echo; ELAN at the Roxy; NICOLE SIMONE, PENELOPE FORTIER, SONUS QUARTET at the Bootleg Theater; GOLDSPOT at the Hotel Café (10:30 p.m., after Raul Malo).
Meshell Ndegeocello atLargo
For her third night at Largo this month, Meshell Ndegeocello is planning a special treat she's calling "Ventriloquism: A Night of Covers." One can only imagine what she might do, considering her widely roving tastes. Her eighth and most recent album, Devil's Halo (Downtown Records), moved with ethereally proggy expansiveness from space-funk declarations into intimate pop confessionals, along with gracefully mournful cello accents by guest Lisa Germano. Whatever the New York singer-bassist ends up covering tonight, she's bound to make it freakily, creatively her own. Ndegeocello's subdued, submerged remake of Jimi Hendrix's "May This Be Love," from her 1999 album, Bitter (back when she was still on Madonna's Maverick label), was just as psychedelically groovy in its own watery way, floating off in a mellower, more soulfully intimate ether. She's never been afraid to cross genres or expectations, so don't expect this to be like your usual karaoke party. (Falling James)
Cheap Trick at House of Blues
Unassailably the greatest power-pop band in the history of the universe (please don't argue with me about this, I'm not listening), our beloved Cheap Trick have redone their classic "The Dream Police" track in support of an indubitably righteous cause: saving Mother Earth. You gotta admit, though, that "Green Police" ad you caught during the Super Bowl broadcast was really wack: Like we're supposed to get all hyped up on environmental consciousness because if we don't, the Green Police thugs will slam our heads on the counter when we don't request paper bags; or if they find plastic bottles in our trash cans, they'll surround our houses with armed troops and helicopters, and if we don't cooperate we'll be severely beaten or shot. The Green Mafia is more like it. Okay, end of sermon: Cheap Trick are playing tonight. They'll run through all their hits plus, one hopes, gobs of stuff from their most recent, superb album, The Latest (on Cheap Trick International). You'll bask in the ritual, and it will be the funnest thing you'll do all year. (Seriously.) You have been warned! (John Payne)
Also playing Thursday:
ANDREW LYNCH, THE SECTION QUARTET, DOWNTOWN/UNION, EAGLE & TALON at the Echo; VISIQUEEN, BEAR HANDS, ADAM BONES at Spaceland; TRAILER PARK BOYS at the Wiltern; THE STRONG ARM STEADY at the Roxy; PANCHO & SANCHO, FISH CIRCUS, LEAVE IT ALONE, FULL FORCE RISING at the Troubadour; DAN WILSON at the Hotel Café.
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