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The Intangibles

TOOL at Long Beach Arena, November 24

Long Beach Arena on a dank Sunday night made a strangely subdued setting for Tool's final show of their seemingly endless Lateralus world tour. Yet, far from being burnt-out, these relentlessly uncompromising prog-rock torchbearers were in fine fettle from the opening mechanical refrain of "Sober," a near-flawless mix allowing Maynard James Keenan's moaning incantations to snake around his bandmates' unsettling, crafted cacophony. That Tool's ultra-ambitious art-metal can fill this gaping shed, and similar venues across the globe, speaks volumes for the listening public's appetite for a challenge and the band's respect for their fans' intelligence. But so deliberately disjointed is Tool's thought-provoking presentation that the chiefly Gen-X crowd can barely muster a mosh pit amid the swiftly shifting signatures of the quartet's epic, beyond-dynamic masterpieces, which tonight squirm from stark, minimalist seeds into sensory-overload crescendos of sheer white-light terror.

Though appreciative of their audience, Tool rarely pander: Their punctuating light show and flanking (deeply disturbing) big-screen images enhance the music rather than glorify the dimly lit musicians. Keenan himself, part S&M gimp, part Mexican wrestler in a black pleather body suit, vogues like an inebriated puppet atop a riser adjacent to the drum kit, often with his back to us, while guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor hunch at the stage lip. And to call Danny Carey -- a long-limbed study inside his Battlestar Galactica percussion ensemble -- the world's greatest hard-rock drummer is to belittle the superhuman scope of his polyrhythmic vision. While the slow-burning atmospherics of their set's more introverted passages throw momentum to the breeze, Tool retain an almost mystical instinct for planting intangible musical mazes that still somehow lead us to darkly empathetic centers.

Keenan promotes freethinking and spiritual/psychedelic exploration in his oddly polite between-tune tirades, with help from a projected speech from LSD guru Timothy Leary. But in the morning most of this crowd will be back fretting over car payments and credit reports, for, while Tool's ever-evolving soundscapes are unanswerable, their message is futile in the face of America's crushing corporate stranglehold.

TAHITI 80 at the Troubadour, November 20

Much is made of the vague, jumbled-up retro-ness of Tahiti 80's pop-flight escapism. The French quartet somehow packs your bags and your memories -- air-headedness and nostalgia as popular getaways. Tahiti '60s, perhaps: songs about a love from outer space, about the front men of the Kinks and the Drifters, songs to sway with that pretty Polynesian honey beneath your lampshade. But on an unabashedly personal note, T80's got that wafting mind haze of the late '90s, in the hallways of undergraduate living, where a CD carousel of easygoings -- Ivy, Stereolab, early Cardigans, Fantastic Plastic Machine, Yo La Tengo and the like -- taught me that study music and sex music were the same. It's the retro-ness of my college music that gets me here tonight.

Since a Japanese roommate introduced me to T80's 1996 EP 20 Minutes, this is how I'm passing the wait from the rafters: The crowd below is 35 percent Asian, 72 percent of whom are probably Japanese, 21 percent of whom have lightened hair, and 26 percent will scream and dance like pre-sex schoolgirls when they hear the song "Heartbeat." But "Soul Deep" (from Tahiti's new album Wallpaper for the Soul) is the first song out of the gate, led by a horn that hasn't been this jubilantly goodhearted since the Brit-soul days of Style Council. There are a couple of extra gents on stage tonight, all six sharing some 15 instruments to varying degrees, and at the center is the remarkable fidelity of Xavier Boyer's soaring whisper in live evidence -- a voice so big for being absolutely nothing. Boyer puts away his guitar and sits down at his own keyboards as the boys plunge into a jam session of deep-space funk, some Gap Band mashing, before showing off their song of the moment, "1000 Times."

Sounds great, but I'm still in a love-fool haze from what the band did with "Fun Fair," with noodling melodies so college-trippy that the song finds me and a forgotten friend hiding beneath a blanket, trying to keep quiet so my roommate can sleep. (Tommy Nguyen)

THIEVERY CORPORATION at the Wiltern, November 22

When Dude entered the Wiltern's main room, he liked what he saw. Dude was happy about the way they'd redone the insides, since Dude likes to dance. Dude never did like all those seats. Dude wished they'd put in some hardwood floors, though, since the carpeting got stickier and squingier during the show, and Dude hates squingy carpet. Dude also started to hate those people who chattered away and made it hard to hear the music. Dude wondered why they paid good money to see a show but spent their time talking.

Lucky for Dude, there was a lot of good music to hear. Thievery Corporation played the kind of funky, spacy grooves that Dude loves, and sometimes it seemed like they played all the grooves at once. Dude liked how the head Corporate dudes doing the DJ stuff had two percussionists, three chick singers and a sitar player join them. "The see-tar is a fuckin' great instrument," Dude's friend said. Dude thought it was really cool how they projected all these strange film clips on a big screen behind the stage. Dude wondered whether the music was the soundtrack for the films or the films were the visual track for the music, and that thought made Dude's head spin a little.

When two dreadlocked dudes named Roots and Zee came out, Dude had the most fun. They skanked around and sang and toasted, which made Dude smile and dance harder. Dude thought it was funny when they dedicated a song called "The State of the Union" to George Bumbaclot Bush, even though Dude was pretty sure Roots and Zee and the rest of the Corporation didn't really like this Bush dude. (Tom Cheyney)

THE SHAKES, THE SATISFACTION, THE GO-DEVILS, JACKIE AND THE CEDRICS at the Garage, November 16

If you're looking for fresh, fun, frills-free garage-iana, you can't go wrong with the Shakes. The first signing to ex-New Times columnist Jim Freek's Teenacide Records label, the Shakes are as groovalicious and comfy as your parents' hi-fi system and a faded Hang Ten shirt. Mod? Surf-'n'-Spy? Punk? Soul? It's all the same shit as far as the Shakes are concerned, and they shred the subgenres accordingly.

But the band who had the crowd in the hip pocket of their snug slacks were local bad boys the Satisfaction. Personnelwise, these mop-topped and turtlenecked Vespa rockers are the former Invizible Men plus a new singer, Benny Hammond, an electrifying showboat who brings together the sex moves of James Brown, the hellfire of a country preacher and the vocal charms of a snake-oil salesman. The Satisfaction's purée of '64-'67 riff-o-rama has a Brit Invasion snarl tempered with California lysergia, and is about as close to Motown as white boys ever get. The new EP is only a three-songer ("A Day Less Gray" is pure hitsville), but the Satisfaction trotted out new material written in a fury of inspiration during a recent West Coast tour. Said irrepressible ax man Gregg Hunt, "We could care less how many records we sell. This is about friends and having fun."

Osaka, Japan's the Go-Devils are in love with '50s roadhouse rock and its take-no-shit attitude: "Please . . . in . . . monitor . . . more . . . voice," said diminutive front woman Momo. A roughed-up cover of "Louie, Louie" notwithstanding, the Go-Devils need a fresher angle than new-waif cuteness if they wanna make waves. Which is exactly what Tokyo's Jackie & the Cedrics did, with sartorial flash (powder-blue jackets with ruffles, oh my!) and chops that'd make Dick Dale green with envy. Sixties surfadelia is the band's drug of choice, but the Steve Vai-style wankitude occasionally thwarted their Beach Boys sunniness. (Andrew Lentz)

DIO, KING'S X, HAMMERFALL at the Universal Amphitheater, November 14

One-stop hard-rock shopping? Dribbly turnout for Swedish metal traditionalists HammerFall and Texan psychedelic groove monsters King's X suggested customers prefer a jumbo plate of their favorite fodder (in this case Dio) and won't sample exotic hors d'oeuvres. Their loss.

HammerFall's neo-barbarians must wonder if they shoulda bothered donning their studded leathers and synchronizing their guitar poses for only 25 minutes of nightly glory on behalf of 100 yawning early-comers, when they routinely slay hordes in Europe. Plus, assessing them was pure guesswork, since Magnus Rosen's bass was inaudible throughout, mayhap as punishment for his incessant denture-gape mugging. Drummer Anders Johansson had a blast anyway, his merciless rhythms and heart-thundering double-kicks lending authority to a classic riff-&-yodel outfit whose biggest asset is its unity.

King's X invented their own genre back in the late '80s, which may explain why many listeners still haven't logged their coordinates. Those of us who just like music, though, get flattened by the trio's loose-limbed but powerful shake and their effortlessly brilliant musicianship. Drummer Jerry Gaskill is a polyrhythmic eruption. Ty Tabor may look like a slightly unhinged Sunday-school teacher, but the endless strains of inspiration he yanks from a guitar and a wah-wah pedal border on the ungodly. And when cowboy-hatted bassist Doug Pinnick lets loose with one of his soul screams, he fucking parts your hair. A great live band.

Ronnie James Dio got the most stage time, and didn't waste a bit. Now that this lineup's been together several months, drummer Simon Wright, bassist Jimmy Bain, guitarist Doug Aldrich and keyboardist Scott Warren have pulled the Dio catalog into clear focus. Though Aldrich's slick lead twiddling won't wake you up, he's a fantastic rhythm chopsman, and Warren adds a lot both musically and visually. Highlights: a bog-slogging "Lord of the Last Day" and a rampaging "Heaven and Hell." We rock. (Greg Burk)

THE RAVEONETTES, QUINTRON & MISS PUSSYCAT, STEREO TOTAL at the Troubadour, November 14

Fresh off the redeye from Copenhagen, Danish duo the Raveonettes blended their '60s garage-psyche influences so skillfully that fans got their swerve on and collector geeks questioned their notions of authenticity. It's a moot point -- the Raveonettes' roller-coastering grooves seduce effortlessly, and their knack for stomping bass-drum/snare-thwack intros teleports you to a time when parents thought the kids had lost their minds.

If most folks consider New Orleans a party town, Crescent City duo Quintron & Miss Pussycat's disco burlesque ensures you never forget it. Things kicked off with a puppet show starring a sewing machine and a dress (not shitting you) arguing over whether to "finish the stitches or go get stoned." Q&MP quickly settled into maraca-flecked bump 'n' grind till a pyrotechnic climax of Mardi Gras Roman candles wrapped the routine. Rewind midset, the pair got blues-bent, like Marty & Elayne doing their best Royal Trux impersonation. Tasty, but not exactly in keeping with the eye-popping folderol.

With war and recession hanging over our heads, the time has never been riper for Weimar-echoing campmeisters Stereo Total. Hardly the forgettable bagatelle they are on disc, live these Francophile Berliners are like stumbling onto a storied soiree that heretofore existed only in your besotted reveries. Clad in business suit and tie, Françoise Cactus pounds her kit and sings mostly in razor-precise French and stilted English while partner Brezel Göring programs the sparklingest spritzes of synth-pop. No fashion accessory was a faux pas among the time-capsule-dwelling fans, and about 20 of 'em charged the stage for the encore: a beer-garden jingle with a chorus of "Wir Tanzen, Wir Tanzen." A beautiful, Continental and freakish thing it was. (Andrew Lentz)

AMOR at the Alterknit Lounge, November 23

Naïm Amor, this outfit's namesake, is a show unto himself. He wears a huge orange Gretsch guitar and hops madly around the stage, maniacally stepping on one or more of the half-dozen or so pedals arrayed in front of him. When he solos, he often stands on one leg and kicks an invisible object with the other. He applies a solid cylindrical metal object and a steel bottleneck to his strings or scrapes them with his pick, producing a hip-hop scratch, or he plays a toy drum machine into the guitar's pickups. The Paris-born Tucson resident also blows a melodica; the accordionesque tones add a boating-down-the-Seine atmosphere.

The sound of Amor is the spot in the universe where order meets chaos. Amor, the man, is a first-rate guitarist whose extensive knowledge of standard jazz chops contrasts with the Hendrixian whammy bar and feedback cacophony. He writes and sings gorgeous love songs as well as covering his countrymen's hits. Tonight he rendered a lovely "Paris by Night," made famous by actor/singer Yves Montand. But amid all the diminished chord balladry and declarations of amour in both French and English (with many lyrics by Naïm's partner, filmmaker Marianne Dissard), he introduces the dissonance inherent in affairs of the heart by making a beautiful racket. The bottom end is provided by Nathan Sabatino on cello. Both Amor and Sabatino play figures into a loop, then improvise on top of the loop, creating the aural appearance of a fuller band. While the loop replays, Naïm sips on a beer, cheers the audience, dances a bit and then wails on his ax. Few others in rock are making music as interestingly off-kilter and refreshingly uplifting as these musical subversives. (Michael Simmons)

LETICIA CASTANEDA & DON LEWIS, MITCHELL BROWN & ALBERT ORTEGA, JOE POTTS at Beyond Baroque, November 24

Beyond Music's latest packed-house incarnation sees Leticia Castaneda on CD and field recordings and Don Lewis on analog synths accompanied by Michelle Sinigayan's visuals. Slide projector glides in blue along the shivering wave-crests of a sound raised gently but firmly, a faint thrum like the pulse of a sea-craft engine. Images of skyscrapers pitted with darkness appear and are then backed away from. An orchestra of squeaks and slow metal cutlery tunes up, as if behind each of those lit skyscraper windows are machines constantly humming. Metallic cloudscapes rise, and the downtown diamonds are twisted and altered in geometric progression. Slight feedback kisses run along the onscreen shadow of a moving body. It's a study of motion -- the whirling, cosmic images as the sound revolves and evolves, even down to the way some people cough and shift in their chairs.

Brown and Ortega light candles and incense as the stage itself becomes a vast collage of chimes and gourds hanging from wire springs. Live video reveals a slick black millipede in an aquarium turning beneath a leaf as the bottle-blown tones of hanging instruments are struck and resonate. The hiss of an escaping aerosol spray filters across the low tones and gentle scraping. It agitates the items hung from the wire, collapsing more jangled sound. Joe Potts stands over a box of sound-making devices, his back to the audience, the sound like the corners of an airplane hangar, and the turbine whine accompanies him all the way to an unyielding, unchanging end . . . (David Cotner)

HADDA BROOKS, 1916-2002

Hadda Brooks, one of the last links to Los Angeles' formidable R&B tradition, left us on Thursday, November 21. Claimed by a torn heart valve, attendant surgery, pneumonia and kidney failure, Brooksie had just marked her 86th birthday, the first in years that was not celebrated by a local nightclub appearance. Born in Boyle Heights on October 29, 1916, she grew up a classically trained pianist in a comfortable middle-class household, and showed surprisingly little interest in popular music until the calling was thrust upon her by a chance 1945 meeting with fledgling record man Jules Bihari.

The Bihari brothers' Modern Records launched Brooks' unlikely career as the Queen of the Boogie, and the comely Hadda was a sensation, swaying onstage in purple suede outfits to coax a barrage of woogie elegance a bit more refined than the regulation thump the public clamored for. At Jules Bihari's suggestion, she recast herself as one of rhythm & blues' smoldering-est torch singers, waxing a series of unforgettably atmospheric ballads; her signature tune "That's My Desire" provided direct inspiration for fan Frankie Laine's subsequent No. 1 hit version, and she enjoyed considerable national success with a singular presentation of high-tone demurral offset by her vocals' implied eroticism.

Hadda's psychological effect was powerful, winning her brief but memorable screen appearances in The Bad & the Beautiful and In a Lonely Place, and in 1951, she became the first black performer featured in her own weekly television program, KTLA's Hadda Brooks Show. While the rock & roll frenzy pushed her from the forefront of pop commerce, she remained a polished and in-demand act, performing at the governor's request during festivities celebrating Hawaii's 1959 entry into the union.

Brooks re-emerged, in full blossom, with a 1987 residency at Perino's and began a reclamation of a career that for the next 15 years reached heights of glamour and acclaim on a level equal to her postwar breakout. A big-screen appearance with Jack Nicholson in The Crossing Guard was followed by a deal with Virgin Records, splashy spreads in trendy magazines, entertaining at movie-star fetes, and winning glowing reviews in such cities as New York and New Orleans. Her nightclub performances were always sumptuous exercises in atmosphere and passion (albeit sometimes manifested as hostile confrontations with inattentive patrons), and her way with a piano only grew more beguiling. "I love you honey," she frequently drawled, "but I'll get over it." Trouble is, we never will.

--Jonny Whiteside


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