So Fresh, So Clean
Photos by Gregory Bojorquez
OUTKAST, THE ROOTS at Universal Amphitheater, July 19
"I don't think these motherfuckers know who we are," André 3000 shouted out halfway through OutKast's headlining spot last week on the local stop of the Smokin Grooves tour. He was obviously kidding. The Roots had the crowd out of their seats during the preceding set, which kicked off with hard-stomping, uptempo beats -- infused with incisive lyrics that inverted the concept of Phrenology (the name of their upcoming CD) -- then segued into a soul-diva star turn and closed with Rahzel's amazing human-beatbox impression.
But the forest of upraised arms that had been waving gently to the Roots appeared to be struck by a hurricane when OutKast hit the stage. With new wars on the horizon and the stock market plunging, OutKast's partners in rhyme, Big Boi and André 3000, made it clear that everything would be fine -- now that they were here. A moody blue light suffused the room, emphasizing what had previously seemed like throwaway lines in "So Fresh, So Clean": "We are the coolest muthafunkers on the planet/Ma ma, the sky is fallin'/ain't no need to panic." Yet the sunny, sing-along vibe of new hit "The Whole World" was countered by the lurking menace of "Xplosion," as André 3000, shedding his olive-green military jacket, repeatedly intoned "We just can't be amazed/Even if you pull the pin from your hand grenade" in the empty space after the song's kinky harpsichord line faded away. Even the yearning romantic ballad "Ms. Jackson" felt revitalized, angry and impatient. By the time Killer Mike and opener Cee-Lo joined OutKast for an apocalyptic finale of "B.O.B.," the words were flying in all directions like the confetti that rained from above the stage.
More than just a pro- or anti-war song, the 150 bpm "Bombs Over Baghdad" -- with its untethered psychedelic guitar solos, admonishing Greek chorus of backup singers, and litany of orangutans, ghettos, Taco Bell and babies -- pulsed like life itself, implying every heartbeat, every thought, of every molecule between here and Iraq. It was either the end of the world, or a cataclysmic new beginning.
NANCY SINATRA, B-52's at House of Blues, July 15
Looks aren't everything. That doesn't mean Nancy Sinatra isn't still attractive at 62, 'cause she is, it's just that no swanky designer dress and thigh-high silver boots could hide the fact that the original go-go girl wasn't having much fun tonight. Instead of effortless '60s cool, she and her band were laboriously honky-tonk, going for a rough-hewn charm they imagined would please HoB's budget tourists who thought they were in Vegas. And for the most part, it worked. A generous performer, Sinatra even allowed her guitarist a few moments to wank off in the limelight while her Johnny Bravoesque bohunk of a drummer replete with ten-gallon hat gave the drums a good lickin'. Sinatra has hired some interesting songwriters over the years but never one who could equal 1966's surprise smash hit "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," which, of course, she saved up for the encore. At song's end, she slipped on some Jackie-O sunglasses and a leather jacket, and waltzed offstage with a languorous wave.
When B-52's guitarist Ricky Wilson succumbed to AIDS in 1985, three days after singer and li'l sis Cindy and the rest of the band learned of his condition, the bouffant-rock pioneers saw their fan base suddenly divide into Ricky and post-Ricky contingents. Were you at their Santa Monica Museum of Flying gig six months ago? That was a Ricky crowd, thronged with suburban straight couples nostalgic over their carefree new-wave days. Conversely, tonight was a decidedly post-Ricky assemblage of gay men and lipstick lesbians getting their swerve on. Bringing back song staples they hadn't done for years, like "52 Girls" and "Give Me Back My Man" (the sexiest ballad of the '80s?), the '2s played gobs of well-known and lesser-known singles spanning their 13-year, seven-album career, even indulging oddities from '86 sleeper release Bouncing off the Satellites.
For an over-the-top band, the B-52's don't engage the crowd much, precisely because banter at this level of camp would be redundant. Wilson's gold-braided Brünnhilde wig, Kate Pierson's spangled orange pantsuit and Fred Schneider's Soviet sailor duds were just the right sartorial flair to go with the studio-exact songs and vestigial Southern accents. Saving "Rock Lobster" for last -- like we knew they would -- Wilson/Pierson left us with the finest impersonations of sea creatures in all of pop. Except I don't think jellyfish can make a noise. (Andrew Lentz)
THE KILLS, RADIO VAGO, YOUR ENEMIES FRIENDS, BLUEBIRD at the Troubadour, July 17
"What a fucking refreshing bill this is to play," said Bluebird's spastic-'n'-elastic singer Sam James at the end of the night, just before thanking the openers. "Every band is so different from the others, and I'm so tired of homogeneous bills!" Musically and on the surface that sounded right -- but not so fast, Mr. James. There's always that potluck of neuroses today's bands have in common. For starters, the Kills, another in the recent long line of monosyllabic bands to emerge with their vintage amps set upon defrosting the raw-rock sounds of the late '60s/early '70s. The Kills did a damn good Velvet Underground impression, only with more voltage. What's that? They're from the U.K.? That explains the transatlantic buzz that infiltrated L.A., which they actually lived up to.
Locals Radio Vago played a paroxysmal spunk-rock set while singer and Tasmanian she-devil Adrienne Pearson lunged into Texas-Terri-size psychotic stage aerobics. From what core-depths she digs out the supernatural "Shotgun" song we will never know, but it never fails to haunt. Meanwhile, Seattle's Your Enemies Friends were the unexpected highlight of the party, though the crowd came off a little cold toward them. Through a tempestuous and grinding punk noise that at its loftiest nears the Pumpkins and at its dingiest the Misfits surfaces an old new-wave/industrial flavor like that of Nitzer Ebb or Ministry. The highlights are in the details of YEF's songs, though, such as the "Tubular Bells"like piano motif keyboardist Aska scrambles into the soundscape with mad, critical care.
Bluebird gave glimpses of its forthcoming atmospheric album by way of a 10-minute intro in which the amp waves lyriclessly diffused streams of serendipitous noise before Bryan Brown's drumbeat joined in to form a structure. By the end of their raucous set, however, it was evident that their loyalties where immured in the pillars of good old rock & roll, which is probably why they're concurrently releasing a rock album this fall as well. (Chuck Mindenhall)
COUSTEAU at the Troubadour, July 15
This is Cousteau, and this is what music sounds like when the kids are asleep. When the parents are asleep, too. They all sleep while your weird, mid-everything-listening age gets you confused about musical generations and keeps you up all night, giving you time to wonder if Cousteau's public-radio torch songs of elevator rock are the new alternative pop or the not-so-new pop revisited, with antecedents ranging from the Tindersticks to Burt Bacharach, from Brian Ferry/Roxy Music to Nick Cave, from Spandau Ballet to (you can hear it slightly when the lyrical laments fall on shaky ground) Bill Medley.
Take your pick as lead singer Liam McKahey adds more contradiction by discarding his black piano-bar suit jacket, revealing his large leather-bar biceps and forearms emblazoned with tattoos. "Now the morning breaks in showers/I'm left with the North Wind breathing down my neck," McKahey sings with his crooner's eyes closed, his baritone diving to the depths of dead starfishes and sunken treasure. The song is "Last Good Day of the Year," one of the last great songs of the last century (the British band re-recorded and domestically released their self-titled debut in late 2000). In performance, the song relinquishes some of its chamber-pop texture as songwriter and keyboardist Davey Ray Moor leaves his flügelhorn at home and lets Robin Brown's electric-guitar strings exhale the seductively sad chorus melody.
"Last Good Day" is certainly the biggest reason why the Troubadour is packed shoulder to shoulder; its re-emergence as the group's second encore would have told anyone as much. Another reason is to hear songs from Sirena, the group's recently released second album, which lacks a standout moment but is an altogether better-sounding enterprise, with some members of the crowd already knowing the words to "Nothing So Bad" and "She Bruise Easy." Missing from the set list is "One Good Reason," a song where McKahey eases up on his Scott Walker diaphragm and sings with the Adam's apple of David Bowie. That song would have really pushed for an answer: What is Cousteau's music, and why is the ocean so damn large these days? (Tommy Nguyen)
FLAMING LIPS at Amoeba Records, July 16
The 17th annual meeting of Shareholders of the Flaming Lips was held at Amoeba Records on Tuesday, July 16, 2002. Mr. Wayne Coyne, chairman of the board, singer, guitarist and composer, assumed the microphone at 6:05 p.m. The following members of the board were present: the honorable bassist/director Michael Ivins and the honorable keyboardist/director Sir Steven Drozd. Absent was honorary board member/producer/multi-instrumentalist Dave Fridmann. Also present were several other musicians/shareholders and approximately 1,500 shareholders, guests and auditors -- enough to fill the brightly lit venue back to the "Hip-Hop LPs" section. Other guests and proxy shareholders were left in line outside.
The chairman, who was wearing an eye patch, called the meeting to order. As a quorum was present, the meeting was declared properly constituted. Shareholders and guests were welcomed to the meeting and thanked for their interest in the Lips' affairs. The chairman then gave his address to the meeting. Mr. Coyne presented prerecorded audio excerpts from the Lips' annual report, titled Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, which was released by Warner Bros. earlier that day to shareholders and members of the public in CD format. Particularly difficult sections of the report, including the question of the correct identity of "Yoshimi" and the specific nature of the battle with the Pink Robots, were addressed by the chairman before they were presented in unqualified format by members of the board employing a range of electronic and acoustic musical instruments.
Shareholders and guests expressed appreciation to members of the board for their new report and their dedicated service throughout the past 17 years. The chairman stated that the formal business of the meeting pursuant to the notice had been concluded, and referred to the earlier announcement that time would be provided for relevant questions and observations. One shareholder commented that a representation of a holding titled "Jesus Shootin' Heroin" (first introduced in the 1987 annual report Hear It Is) would be appreciated. Mr. Coyne addressed this comment, tabled the motion, and then moved that the board instead present other holdings that the assembled might be more familiar with. The board then presented "Waitin' for a Superman" from the Lips' 1999 report The Soft Bulletin, and "Can't Get You out of My Head," a resolution originally filed by Kylie Minogue. Cymbals rolled, Mr. Coyne sang with hands to his heart and goose bumps were distributed. Wow. As there was no further business, the chairman thanked all present for their attendance and declared the meeting terminated at 6:50 p.m. (Minutes by Jay Babcock)
LAURYN HILL at the Hollywood Bowl, July 14
Lauryn Hill's relatively brief set as part of KCRW's Global Divas series was extraordinary. Lauryn came to slay L-Boogie, making it clear that any part of her old audience who didn't care for the new incarnation was free to leave. (The raising of the house lights before her set was even over almost seemed to say, "I'll make it easier for you to find your way out.") Hill, hip-hop's own Sinéad O'Connor, was old-school punk in her fierce determination to follow her muse, crowd be damned.
Those who could stop shouting futile requests for "Everything Is Everything" or "Ex-Factor" were rewarded with a fantastic show. Hill's voice was far stronger and more impassioned than on her current Unplugged CD; "Just Like Water" and "Selah" were especially beautiful. She also premiered brand-new tunes, including one called "Let Me Loose," whose blazingly defiant lyrics earned one of the night's strongest ovations. Armed with her guitar (she was accompanied by a percussionist on only a handful of selections, with the beat purposefully underscoring political and confessional points), she indulged in the barest of between-song banter, and was fiercely on guard whenever she wasn't singing, seemingly reserving all her focus for the music. At one point she chuckled wryly, "The songs are self-explanatory. I get that now," in clear reference to the scathing feedback she's gotten on Unplugged's candid chatter.
The steady stream of folks pouring out of the Bowl during the concert was disheartening but understandable -- and historically correct. In the handful of times that popular musical artists have truly reinvented themselves (new hairdos don't count), there's been stinging backlash -- from Dylan going electric to Joni moving into experiments with jazz. As Lauryn Hill fashions herself into something that's equal parts Bob Marley, Odetta and Nina Simone, she's shearing off a huge segment of her fans. It's self-immolation as rebirth. And if she pulls it off, she'll find herself standing with the greats. (Ernest Hardy)
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