Friday, March 22
When you think of the tragic lives of old blues musicians who died alone, in obscurity and too young, it's enough to make you want to build a time machine, hurtle back through the decades and loan some of these legends a few bucks. We consider the shameful neglect of our heroes a quirky aberration of this nation's less-enlightened past, but the sad truth is that many brilliant modern musicians are suffering badly from the difficult economy -- not to mention from our culture's increasingly paralytic nostalgia for the ancient past. Lawrence Lebo doesn't want your pity, but she could use your help with the considerable expenses required to replace her worn-down pacemaker. This glamorous diva still has plenty of heart on her recent collection The Best of Don't Call Her Larry: Blues Mix, kicking up her heels on such swinging original tunes as "(I'm Your) Christmas Present, Baby!" (where she purrs invitingly, "Tie me up with ribbons") and "Lawrence's Working Girl Blues" (a sassy answer to Three 6 Mafia's "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp"). Lebo remains one of this country's greatest living blues singers -- let's keep the emphasis on living. --Falling James
As both a mainstay in the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and a seven-time Grammy winner, the only current baritone saxophonist better known than Gary Smulyan is cartoon character Lisa Simpson. Says Simpson of Smulyan, "I have tremendous respect for Gary, and I love his recordings, especially that Frankie Laine tribute album, High Noon. But I've been playing bari for millions of viewers for 23 years! I hope people stop discounting my talent just because I'm not a real person." (Maybe if she, like Smulyan, had played with virtually everyone from Woody Herman to Dave Holland ...) Smulyan's only other upcoming SoCal appearance is in Palm Springs, where he will perform his well-reviewed nonet material with a nine-piece ensemble. At Blue Whale it's down to a trio, with the profoundly talented Darek Oles on bass and an eternally youthful Joe LaBarbera on drums. --Gary Fukushima
Saturday, March 23
Jesca Hoop once belonged to us. The singer-guitarist was born in Santa Rosa, raised in Northern California, lived off the grid as a homesteader in the forests of Wyoming and Arizona, and worked for a spell as a nanny for Kathleen Brennan and her husband Tom Waits, who brought Hoop's unusual music to the attention of the rest of the planet. Her songs were so unusual, in fact -- blending Kate Bush-style art-pop with weird guitar chords and ethereal vocals -- that now Hoop belongs to the great wide world. A few years ago, she left California and moved to Manchester, England, and has since toured with Eels and collaborated with Bush's pal Peter Gabriel. Her music has evolved from the intricate, angular harmonies and sylvan baroque folk of her debut album, Kismet, to the more electric and colorfully poppy grooves percolating on last year's The House That Jack Built. --Falling James
Even in this heady time of unbridled pop eclecticism, Django Django's recent eponymous debut album is an almost defiantly indie thing. The East London band, led by drummer/producer David Maclean, makes psychedelicized art-rock with pummeling dance grooves, kitschily laced with vintage synth bleeps and hyper guitar scratchy-scratch. To all this they add pastoral Beach Boys-style harmonies, segues into cowboy campfire crooning, a few industrial jackhammer beats and, well, you get the idea. In more restrictive times, such mad eclecticism has been hastily dismissed, yet Django Django neatly skirts irrelevance by anchoring their far-flung forays in hummable, toe-tappable tunesmithery and a healthy sense of humor. In another, parallel world, a better one, they'd be at the top of the charts. --John Payne
If you're eager for a bit of Brit youth culture but don't fancy the transatlantic haul, a few minutes with Enter Shikari's patchily brilliant third album, last year's A Flash Flood of Colour (or even just its standout track, "Arguing with Thermometers"), might suffice. The group layers strep-throated metalcore, throbbing dubstep, socially-conscious post-hardcore and grimy drum and bass beneath both Streets-level ranting and rather boyish singing. As such, listening to Flash Flood is like wandering the hallways of a London rehearsal complex where every act magically plays in the same key. Even with a stand-in drummer, the quartet slaughtered (in the good way) during their visit to the Roxy last April. The show found frontman Rou Reynolds covering not only every inch of the stage, but the majority of the venue. Go see it for yourself. --Paul Rogers
Sunday, March 24
To many fans, Michael Nesmith was the smart Beatle of the Monkees -- a long, tall Texan who appeared considerably uninterested in teeny-bop fame but nonetheless wrote many of the group's best songs ("Mary Mary," "Listen to the Band," "You Just May Be the One"). Other folks remember him as the scion of the Liquid Paper fortune who penned Linda Ronstadt's first hit ("Different Drum"), later executive-produced the films Repo Man and Elephant Parts, and virtually invented music videos and the prototype for MTV in the early 1980s. Despite all that, Nesmith's biggest invention might have been country rock, with solo hits like "Joanne" and such presciently jangling Monkees tracks as "Sunny Girlfriend" paving the way for the Eagles and Neil Young. Apart from a surprise appearance at Largo and last summer's unexpectedly sublime Headquarters-centric reunion with the Monkees, Nesmith hasn't toured much in the past 20 years. Expect a lot of material from his extensive solo career. --Falling James
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