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Rush Hour

Photos by Gregory Bojorquez

SUPERGRASS at Spaceland, February 15

You had to sympathize a little with the sweaty lummox who rushed the stage at Spaceland to smother Supergrass lead singer-guitarist Gaz Coombes with kisses during an encore of "Moving." After all, Coombes fronts a band of cartoon-cute Englishmen whom NME recently called a "national treasure." With their new album, Life on Other Planets, released just last week in the States — and the guys playing an unusually intimate venue — the die-hards in the front row probably just couldn't resist the temptation to cop a feel.

The new album's reviews in Britain have been mixed — critics can't seem to agree on whether it's great or merely good — but it's reached the Top 10 there for reasons that Supergrass illustrated pretty well in their live show. Gaz's vocals were the perfect mix of punk scoff and operatic reach, and the rhythm section was all sweat. New tunes like "Seen the Light" and "Rush Hour Soul" held up between the best songs from their 1995 breakthrough, I Should Coco. And the Britpop-meets-Buzzcocks guitar work over the Nick Rhodes-arpeggiated keyboards in "Za" was perfect. Bass player Mick Quinn did seem uncomfortable when he first took the lead on the bantamweight rocker "La Song," but you couldn't resist his vocal take on "Never Done Nothing Like That Before"; with a punk verse/chorus worthy of the Clash and a Syd Barrett acid-casualty bridge, the tune was irresistible. And you know, it's hard to debut new material when you're three multiplatinum albums into your career — old fans now have old favorites — but Supergrass totally pulled it off.

Looking and sounding like a young James Taylor, Patrick Park seemed an odd choice for an opening act. Then he sank his teeth into "Silver Girl"'s acoustic-with-attitude crunch, and you just said, "Right on."

ADAM GREEN, JESSE MALIN, STEVE REYNOLDS at Spaceland, February 12

Circa 2002, making your mark as a white male singer-songwriter is one of the more difficult feats in music. There have been so many antecedents that it's hard not to draw unfavorable comparisons with your elders. This three-headed bill impressed if for no other reason than that each artist distinguished himself from the other two performers.

Local boy Steve Reynolds' lyrics are earnest, solid and not particularly notable, but his arrangements certainly are: Ethereal without being wispy, they wash over you like weather. He was the only performer of the evening to bring along accompanists, and he directed them well. Cisco de Luna on lap steel and harmonica, Josh Grange on bass pedals, and a percussionist identified only as Quinn — they hadn't met until set time — added colors to Reynolds' feverish acoustic strum. It sounded like a roiling storm with a thrumping heartbeat.

New York City's Jesse Malin was a more classic kind of troubadour, the twist being that this particular bard is actually a cleaned-up punk. He used to be the front man for the '90s glam-punk act D Generation, but his solo debut, The Fine Art of Self-Destruction, was produced by country boy Ryan Adams and has earned critical acclaim in England. Though he invoked both Joe Strummer and Kiss in his stage banter, Malin's heavy Brooklyn/Queens accent and straightforward songwriting cast him as an outer-borough analogue to Bruce Springsteen. Problem was, the banter was better than the act. At one point, he paraphrased his father's words of encouragement: "Cut your hair. Go work at the post office. But when you play Madison Square Garden, I'll come." I'm not sure if I would.

On first hearing, former Moldy Peach Adam Green's simple, straight-to-the-heart songs were easy to pass off as the work of a sexually frustrated faux naif à la Jonathan Richman or Lou Barlow. Then again, the 21-year-old was selling CDs at the merch table for a mere $5. Maybe Green is an actual naif à la Tiny Tim? Then again, his lyrics were simultaneously surrealistic, poetic, romantic and pornographic, with protagonists who came on crackers and got blowjobs under rainbows while complaining about their bleeding hearts. "There is no wrong way to fuck a girl with no legs," Green sang. I can't say the thought ever occurred to me. No one ever said originality was pretty. (Alec Hanley Bemis)

LA VOIX HUMAINE at the Lee Strasberg Theater, February 8

It's a work only a real diva, not to mention a real actress, would attempt: Francis Poulenc's La Voix Humaine was the first opera (1959) ever composed for solo soprano, and it tests the limits of vocal virtuosity and emotional endurance. With a libretto by Jean Cocteau, the one-act is a memorial to anyone who's ever been dumped: In a hotel room, a woman talks on the telephone to her lover, who is abandoning her, and becomes increasingly suicidal as she learns that he is about to be married. It's a fascinating culmination of what began as the trailblazing career of France's "Les Six," a group of musicians formed in the 1920s who followed Cocteau's dictate of what new French art should be: witty and lighthearted, its gods the music hall and the circus instead of serious, ponderous and whatever had gone before.

 

For much of his career, Poulenc wrote such carefree, amusing compositions, but toward the end of his life, religion and reflection dominated. La Voix Humaine was the result of his breakup with his own lover, and in the hands of a consummate artist like Julia Migenes, it becomes a wrenching testament to the torment of love and the frailty of the heart. Migenes, who skyrocketed to stardom some 20 years ago as the Carmen of Carmens, is known for her fiery acting; here she clutches the telephone to her heart as though it were her callous amour, whispering, cajoling, pleading with such understated desperation that we hate this person we never see as much as she adores him.

In a post-performance conversation, Migenes said that the piece is particularly difficult because as an actress she breaks down, but as a soprano, she can't afford to. "If I cry, I lose a note." So it's an arduous balancing act that leaves her so emotionally exhausted that she has to come down by . . . dancing. "I'm going out salsa dancing right now!" she laughs. You go, girl. La Voix Humaine at the Lee Strasberg Theater, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 1; free but resv. required. Call (323) 650-7777. (Mary Beth Crain)

SKY SAXON & THE SEEDS at the Bigfoot Lodge, February 9

Almost 40 years ago, the Seeds started slinging freaked-out garage rock, spastic, dreamy, infused with an adolescent, incoherent yearning. They made some noise, then went fractal, sparks fading out. So what does it mean for them to be playing now, long after their contribution's been made and noted?

This isn't even the Seeds, really, as only grizzled hipster Sky Saxon remains from the original lineup. He certainly looks the part — skin veined to bark, wearing effervescent shoes. But the first half of the show delivers little except nostalgia and a mental shuffling of feet — no one wants to be too nostalgic; it's too much like giving up. The tawny whip of the guitar is only a whimper, the rest tight only in a karaoke sense. Everything seems proplike, be it Saxon's rants against the war or the fresh-faced hollering of the backup band.

Something changes midway. After much adjustment, a now audible fresco hardens around the thumpy pop of the rhythm section. But the sound isn't what elevates the previously uneasy set. Neither is it the white-beard who grabs the mike and hollers, "Rock out with your cock out!" — though he is rock & roll. As the band moves through the hits "Can't Seem To Make You Mine" and "You're Pushin' Too Hard," the songs begin to register as new, as being very peculiarly in the here and now. "Can't Seem To Make You Mine" was once imbued with youthful, though thwarted, desire; Saxon's ravaged voice now lends the song convulsive authority. Instead of outlaw cool and want, the song's thick with entropic "what now?" A man can't sing about loss at 60 the way he does at 20, and a smart man doesn't try. (Russel Swensen)

GOOGOOSH at the Great Western Forum, February 8

It's easy for a performer like Googoosh to make up for 20 years of lost time when she has a voice that hasn't aged the teeny-weeniest bit since the night one's mother saw her at Club Tehran in the mid-'60s: throaty, powerhouse vocals, with dramatic stage presence to match. During three hours and four costume changes — starting with a gold-and-purple brocade number and golden swept-up 'do — Googoosh treated the behemoth Forum as if it were her own living room. Hers is a familial music: grandmothers/grandfathers watching in motionless silence, teenage girls dancing arm in arm, and parents doing the same with toddlers on their knees.

Googoosh's band, an international effort of Armenians, a Cuban, a Brazilian and a Venezuelan, as well as her son Kambish on backup vocals, guided her through songs in Turkish, Spanish, and even an old-timey Armenian standard, "Dzaghigner, Dzaghigner" ("Flowers") — a nod to her countless Iranian-Armenian fans and a reminder that entertainers of Googoosh's generation were raised to sing in more than one tongue. It was the tear-jerking Farsi-sung love poems like "Kavir" ("Dessert"), "Sahel Va Darya" ("The Sea and Shore") and "Gol Bi Goldoun" ("Flower Without a Vase") that had fans mimicking in slow-swaying motion and stomping the floors in lieu of applause. And though it should never be sung outside of a wedding-banquet hall, Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" was joyfully befitting.

 

Expats, children of expats, friends of expats; no one here seemed to know or want to remember Googoosh as that caged songbird under two decades of musical house arrest imposed by her homeland's former government. And the only show of nationalistic fervor was the bursting Iranian flag-colored confetti during the finale. Who'd bother thinking of either on a night like this? (Siran Babayan)

THE L.A. SHAKEDOWN at Grand Avenue, February 15-16

Most of the action was out on the sidewalk the first night as Mohawked, kilted fanatics, many arriving from Texas and Canada, discovered that the Shakedown's main draw, pop-mad Scottish rousers the Rezillos, had canceled (due to vague "terrorist threats" at Heathrow). The kids soon realized that they'd miss the event, too — hundreds of ticketholders and even musicians were turned away from the oversold Grand Avenue (a last-minute replacement site after representatives from two previously scheduled venues backed out). The frustration was all the greater because something exciting was obviously going on.

When Mr. Airplane Man's Margaret Garrett wandered outside — still flushed with post-gig adrenaline and hypnotized by the spectral dust devils her bluesy keening invokes — it was a maddening taste, a contact high. Glimpsed through the back-alley stage door as he hammered home the kill-Bob-Seger-now anthem "Silver Bullet": drummer CB Mangler of the Briefs. Imagine the Dickies plus the Weirdos, minus the Denney brothers' sense of the sinister — derivative, yes, but compulsively frantic.

Everyone got in Sunday as the Grand management freed up two more rooms. The Hangmen's bombs-away chords and their poignant blast through Lords of the New Church's "Russian Roulette" punched holes in the bricks. The Stitches and the Dragons were similarly reckless, rambunctious, uninterested in architectural preservation. Mostly nekkid coed Detroit trio the Demolition Doll Rods leered through the scuzziest-yet disemboweling of "Spoonful," kissing and making up with a childlike-pretty a cappella "Big Rock Candy Mountain." The instruments and especially amplifiers played Japan's Guitar Wolf, rather than the other way around, during an irritating yet cathartic set of feedback and nonstop heavy-metal endings. The Muffs induced true pogoing and giddy exhilaration, because their noise came with memorable melodies like "I Wish That I Could Be You."

Andy G. of NYC's earnestly sweaty bar band the Roller Kings summed it up after asking the crowd how many couldn't gain admittance the night before. (Most, it turned out.) "I couldn't get in either. I felt like I must be from New Jersey." (Falling James)

THE BREEDERS at the Echo, February 12 The Breeders’ Kim Deal(Photo by Tulsa Kinney)

Unconditional love is required of a true Breeders fan. The reason? Because they just don't deliver the goods live. That's not a recommendation to skip a show if they're in town, but just don't expect to be blown away. What you can expect from the Breeders onstage is a damn good time. Most impressive is their rapport with the audience, the clowning around, Kim and Kelley Deal's sisterly love. But the band's charisma masks a lack of musical proficiency. This a band built on emotion and feel, not skill and technical inspiration. They reach full flower in the controlled environment of the studio; live, you have to settle for the pleasures of intimacy.

They opened with an energetic cover of the Amps' "Tipp City," which they played just fine, followed by a skillfully done "Little Fury," the first cut from their new album, Title TK. Kelley Deal stepped aside on the next song to light a cigarette, which became a preoccupation throughout the set; between the two sisters they went through a whole pack of cigarettes. Water bottles thankfully replaced their usual bottles of beer this time — they tend to get sloppy under the influence.

Their set was stellar, though, a satisfying mix from all the Breeders' albums, the majority from the 1993 platinum Splash. The band's biggest hit, "Cannonball," turned out a little flat, but they had a lot of fun with their Beatles cover, "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," from the excellent first Breeders album, Pod. Other memorable songs in the generous set were "Divine Hammer," "I Just Wanna Get Along," "Drivin' on 9" and "No Aloha." Everyone left feeling good, while Kelley Deal stayed behind shaking hands with lingering fans. It's hard to dismiss that kind of rare experience. I just made the mistake of playing one of their CDs after the show. (Tulsa Kinney


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