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Saved by the Light

Photo by Kevin Westerberg

SPIRITUALIZED at Avalon, November 13

The opening pomp of Spiritualized’s spaced-country ballad “Hold On” prompted a whisper of “Stoner prom!” from the peanut gallery. The comment began as a snicker but ended with a smile . . . because a lot of blissed-out stoner couples were there, and the song was a sentimental ballad. But we all deserve a prom we’re not ashamed to attend: a communion that dares to address the core stuff — hurt and awe and sex and fear and love and ache.

Anyone who wasn’t stoned at least got a dose of something via the band’s two-hour light-and-sound presentation, which was so overwhelming — warnings were actually posted — that it verged on illegal. No decorations, films, mascots, costumes or fake blood: no rock & roll band, really, what with bandleader Jason Pierce remaining seated for the entire set. What there was, wuz lights. Soft pinks and blues and yellows. Pinpricked stars on a massive black backdrop. Laser lights that seemed graspable. And the most powerful stroboscopic lights I’ve seen since Butthole Surfers at the Palladium.

The two-chord Stooges/Cramps churn of Spiritualized’s newer rock songs, not so attractive on the recently released Amazing Grace, made sense live, where the three guitars, bass and drums (and one, sometimes two keyboards) seemed to fall slightly out of rhythm with each other, creating a weirdly complex, high-volume oscillating drone. Combined with the ingeniously timed strobes, these creations throbbed on three senses at once: sound, touch and vision.

Such bracing affairs softened us up for the slower rock songs . . . and, of course, for the evening’s several ballads, a form for which Pierce has shown a late-blooming talent. Deep in the set, he pulled out the gorgeous “The Ballad of Richie Lee,” written in memory of a friend from the Silver Lake band Acetone who committed suicide two years ago. Following Elliott Smith’s recent suicide, the song had an added poignancy; it was a tribute to someone whose loss affected many among those assembled. In short, it was a prom song: a moment of communal healing, maybe. Or at least a shared contemplation of the eternal alternation of darkness and light.

DANCE DISASTER MOVEMENT, T.RAUMSCHMIERE at the Echo, November 21

No journalist should ever again allude to a band’s “dance-punk” energy — that is, not until seeing Dance Disaster Movement. In keeping with their name, singer-keyboardist Kevin Disco and drummer Matt Howze (identically clad in dingy T’s and white jeans) stripped the disco-trash formula down to its robot-funk essence, then gradually rebuilt it into a miasma of siren pulses and frenzied drum pounding. Studied aloofness may be the usual club pose, but DDM had no patience for affectations: “Waddaya think of this crowd,” Howze said to his partner; “Ida know,” said Disco suspiciously. “They’re kinda boring.”

If attendees were less than responsive to DDM’s performance-arty seizures, they found their dancing shoes when German guttersnipe T.Raumschmiere — in tank top and trucker hat like a Bavarian beastie boy — appeared. Though Raumie comes from the Berlin school of hard knocks (he’s six degrees from EQ8OR and Alec Empire), his jones is MCs and sped-up R&B divas spitting over wrenched midtempo bpms. The result is militaristic discipline meets expressionist free-for-all: Call it Prussian soul. Compensating for DJs’ collective rep as static knob twiddlers, T.Raumschmiere thrashed about like a soloing guitarist, hovering over his gear like he wanted to suffocate it. By night’s end, this electro Pete Townshend was smashing equipment, including his laptop (Compaq Presarios ain’t the latest, but still . . .). Before he could make similar mincemeat of a keyboard, he unplugged and handed it to an audience member — you got the feeling if he hadn’t left us soon thereafter, he woulda fallen on his face from exhaustion. (Andrew Lentz)

THE VON BONDIES at the Troubadour, November 18

Inseparable from the fucked-up romance and idle danger of their native Detroit, the Von Bondies’ rock & roll is, at its best, both frenetic and contained, an elixir meant to repair the wounds of love. California-bound for the first time since March, the foursome slinked onto the stage — which looked all the emptier after the busy opening salvo of L.A.’s Disciples (five young men in black! two vintage organs!) — and made their sweet way through songs off their upcoming bruised-soul compendium, Pawn Shoppe Heart, as well as some steadily rocking laments from their 2001 debut, Lack of Communication.

The energy level sagged a bit toward the beginning (a busted guitar pedal encumbered guitarist Marcie Bolen throughout the set), but confidence surged back once the band unleashed the don’t-give-a-damn anthem “It Came From Japan” (“We all hail, hail from rock & roll”), the bittersweet ’n’ catchy upcoming single “C’mon, C’mon,” and the elegantly slumming “Been Swank,” their salute to fellow Detroit musician Ben Swank from the Soledad Brothers.

Throughout, Bolen and bassist Carrie Smith remained locked in deadpan harmonizing, intent on being each other’s secret; slightly aloof and sullen-voiced, they let their male counterparts do the raving. Drummer Don Blum’s passionate, spot-on drumming was a major asset. As for the howlin’ of front man Jason Stollsteimer, never was it crueler or more soulful than during the encore, when he thoroughly forgot himself in the savagely distorted “Take a Heart.” The song, a vintage gem from ’60s British freakbeat renegades the Shadows reworked into a venomous jam, sputtered to a messy climax that against all odds bodes well for the hopes of this one Motor City act to cross over into mainstream(ish) territory. (Sorina Diaconescu)


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