Twists and Kisses
TELEVISION, ELENI MANDELL at the Henry Fonda Theater, September 30
An aw-shucks-humble Eleni Mandell expressed surprise that Televisions audience was so patient during her opening set of quietly confessional ballads. She neednt have worried. Backed only by subdued upright bassist Ryan Feves and her own insistently chipping guitar, Mandell made for a distinctly austere and pleasant contrast with Televisions dense thickets of guitar. She proudly wore her bohemian-punk influences on her sleeve, or rather on her white X T-shirt, leering conspiratorially with each railroad-spike-certain downstroke on Pauline, invoking a sense of luridly menacing Exene/John Doe atmosphere. She slowed things down on the languid idyll Dutch Harbor and a sweetly respectful, spare interpretation of Merle Haggards Ive Got a Tender Heart, her breathy cooing barely rippling the glassy stillness before Televisions impending electric storm.
Its pretzel time, an amused Tom Verlaine announced, tossing snacks into the front rows in response to some desperate song requests from the madding crowd. And it was pretzel time all night long, as Verlaine and especially Richard Lloyd twisted up some gorgeously fiery lead guitar during epic workouts Little Johnny Jewel and Marquee Moon. Mr. Lloyd casually flicked off the intricately snarled curlicues of Calling Mr. Lee as if he were absently swatting at flies, and the quartets surprise encore of Psychotic Reaction despite a bit of stiffness on the double-time rave-up was bookended by improvised instrumental passages in which Verlaine and Lloyd masterfully manipulated their volume controls to create moodily pretty shape-shifting waves. And these famously surly bandmates were having more fun than usual. As a pregnant silence and audience expectations gathered mass at one point, Verlaine seemed stuck for something meaningful to say. He glanced across the stage at Lloyd and burst out laughing for no real reason, all the tension dissipating. For that moment, at least, it really was all right not to think twice.
AESOP ROCK, EL-P, 2 MEX, AWOL ONE, BUSDRIVER, PIGEON JOHN, THE PROCUSSIONS at the Troubadour, September 27
When a crew comes all the way from Colorado to throw down in WeHo, you know the shits serious. The Procussions, an enjoyable threesome of b-boys who embroidered their tag-teaming flows with choreographed wit, were a startling reminder of raps playground/street-corner roots. More diverting, though, was the tease among 2 Mex, Busdriver and Awol One, trading off on the microphone while the turntablist adapted the 1s and 2s to each MCs respective style: the jazzy-scat vibe of 2 Mex, the stripped-down adagio of Awol One, and Busdrivers boom-tic/tic/tic-boom. That said, substance trumps form every time: the head-nodding crown goes to Busdriver.
The Kangol-rocking Pigeon John calling out every South L.A. burg from Carson to Cerritos definitely bumped the energy a notch but struck a weird chord when he said, I love you all, but at the same time I hate you. Check out his upcoming Pigeon John Is Dating Your Sister, and youll hear how not all styles in south L.A. County have to ape the doo-wop of Ugly Duckling or the watered-down funk-izzle of Snoop.
Aesop Rock and his mentor El-P got fists feverishly pumping until 1:30 a.m. While Aesops twisted flows were the nights showpiece, the Def Jux honcho couldnt resist ribbing his star rapper: Yo, Aesop who owns the company? The pair of motor-mouthed underground New Yorkers werent shy about challenging attitudes, parsing profundity via DJ Big Wizs uptempo swing, or getting their politics on: If you elect Schwarzenegger, said El-P, I promise Ill never come back here. In a moment reminiscent of guitar-solo solemnity, Aesop blistered through a freestyle that opened a window on his fleetness of tongue. He wasnt merely bragging when he said, Youll need to keep playing Bazooka Tooth at least a month, cuz theres no way youll get it the first time. (Andrew Lentz)
INTERPOL at the Hollywood Palladium, October 1
While providing mild musical engagement and prime people-watch fodder, this was one of those shows where a night at home with the album, a six-pack and a lava lamp couldve been as satisfying. Interpol competently delivered tunes from last years inspired Turn On the Bright Lights and some older ditties, but offered little embellishment or enthusiasm.
Interpol, though essentially a meeting of the Smiths, Bauhaus and Joy Division, never quite descend into the minimalist yet stifling Eraserhead desolation of J.D. The Palladiums often cruel acoustics were admirably tamed right from the opener, a sluggish Untitled bathed in suitably ethereal lighting. Paul Banks vocals divided their time between a dusky Richard Butler rumor and sudden, pleading Peter Murphy proclamations. Deadpan melodies were kept afloat by talking guitars, wandering Peter Hook bass lines and occasional backup vocals from a touring keyboard player. Bassist Carlos D. had his clammy Crispin Glover look down, but his white blazer and skinny tie were an incongruous cartoon next to his bandmates understated guy-from-the-office anonymity. Only guitarist Daniel Kessler made any effort at true crowd connection, visiting the stage lip while resuscitating some potentially dull passages with his twinkling arpeggiated counter-melodies.
Like their album versions, Obstacle 1 and PDA embodied the joy of propulsive pop and ominous undercurrent; NYC was a funereal bore; and Say Hello to Angels must have drawn the Smiths lawyers to the phone pronto. Pluses and minuses aside, this sold-out show was the place to be tonight, and the mixed audience goth-spattered due to Interpols vague AFI/Depeche appeal while not overly animated, were noisily enamored of the Pol. But, hey, lava lamps have never been cheaper, and there are no beer lines at home. (Paul Rogers)
THE RAVEONETTES, STELLASTARR, KITTENS FOR CHRISTIAN at El Rey, October 2
The Raveonettes latest, Chain Gang of Love, is the kind of disc that makes you want to punch the pedal to the metal, stogie drippin from yer lips, rays of sunshine gleaming off black shades. Its strikingly stylish and sexy in an old fashioned, hot-rod-flick sort of way. And though the Danish duo are obviously fixated on 50s/60s aesthetics, busting out Beach Boys and Phil Spectorderived melodies in all their ironic feel-good glory, they love chaos, too the Jesus and Mary Chain fuzz factor that burned through their debut EP remained a fervent force live.
Maybe thats why openers Stellastarr and Kittens for Christian, with their dark, new-wave-ish flair, seemed a good match. Everybody wants to be Robert Smith these days, and these two outfits evoked a Cure-like dreaminess/dreariness in varying degrees. Kittens took a weirder, heavier approach (no surprise, since theyre on the new label from System of a Downs Serj Tankian, who watched from the crowd like a proud papa). New Yorks Stellastarr showed more promise, though, with a charismatic tension that recalled Joy Division and a vulnerable, high-pitched vocal energy akin to the aforementioned Mr. Smiths plus, singer Shawn Christensen has the perfect long-bangs hairdo.
Eighties decadence flashed as brightly as the strobes at the Raveonettess show, and though flaxen-locked bassist/singer Sharin Foo did thank Psych Furs Richard Butler midset, she and partner Sune Rose Wagner proved that when youve got good chemistry, it doesnt matter what period you reference. They also gave props to Johnny Cash and Gram Parsons, and covered Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly whose Everyday wrapped up their encore with a ribbon of innocence and seduction. (Lina Lecaro)
CAVE IN at El Rey, October 5
The beauty of Cave In of late has been their very stylistic confusion: Since signing with a major label, theyve predictably had their sound molded into more concise, song-oriented and radio-friendly fare, and apparently turned their backs on the hardcore rage of their previous indie releases. Yet theres a delicate transitional joy to savor in their RCA debut, Antenna, which offers intelligent, often Lennon-McCartney-tinted contemporary hard rock, packaged in still mildly challenging arrangements.
Unfortunately, tonight Cave In mostly chose to ignore Antenna an album theyve often semi-apologized for and perversely mined their back catalog instead. Whether this was to pander to a perceived harder crowd (they were opening for pop-metal flag bearers From Autumn to Ashes) or just a rebellion against Antennas perhaps externally shaped gems wasnt clear but either way, the results were not fun. Inspired, one of Antennas highlights, only underlined the mediocrity of what followed: revisitations of older material that were high on angst and energy but low on melody, particularly when bassist Caleb Schofield assumed strep-throated vocal duties. Between-song segues of art-noise indulgence only added to the rehearsal-room air before Cave In launched into an extended take on Led Zeppelins Dazed and Confused that wouldve been more at home at Paladinos.
Its an irony that this band of unusually gifted songsmiths should retreat into generic musclecore and bedroom cover tunes: Give respect if theyre doing what their hearts dictate, the opposite if theyre trying to placate a cliquey crowd whove nettled them with sellout barbs over Antenna. Cave In can be one of the most exhilarating and ambitious guitar bands on the circuit (as at the Troubadour in April), but tonight the trucker caps outnumbered the tasty tunes, and their set suggested a sad and cynical cowering before the hipsters. (Paul Rogers)
TIM BURGESS, THE STILLS at the Troubadour, October 4
People go on about Tim Burgess and his recent conversion into an alt-country cowpoke, but in his heart of hearts hell always be a 24-hour-party person. Oh, this Charlatans front man and his bands rootsy idioms were convincing enough, despite inorganic segues from hayseed Americana to psych-tinged rave-jams. Regardless, theres no denying the band shone when they channeled the spirit of Manchester circa 1990, and much of the energy came via an expatriate Brit crowd, including indie-film star Tommy Flanagan from Lynne Ramsays Ratcatcher. Making sure that pudding-basin coif never got mussed, Burgess was every bit the Mod fop: This look bettah or worse? he inquired, donning a pair of shades to hide those, er, dilated pupils.
When the Stills, a much-hyped export from Montreal, took the stage close to midnight, sporting, like Burgess, disheveled dos that must have taken hours to perfect (and Dave Hamelins aqua-colored drum set including a 12-inch deep snare is just too damn cool), there was a brief glimmer of hope that the second coming of Sloan was imminent. (A guy can dream, cant he?) Though theyre an indiscreet mush of the Smiths, Stone Roses and late-period Blur a little bit glam, a little bit gloom the Stills hurdled romanticore blandness, in keeping with the rush of their Logic Will Break Your Heart (out October 21 on Vice), which vaunts Allison Krauss and the synth-dappled finale Yesterday Never Tomorrows. Even if theyre a bit hobbled by their influences, an inchoate lusciousness threading through the bigger-than-the-sum-of-its-parts set was discernible. For these newbies, its only a matter of time. (Andrew Lentz)
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