at L.A. Coliseum, July 10
Punk Is Dead: Thus spake a lost breed of combat-booted guttersnipes before hanging their spiky-haired heads and collectively weeping. For anyone into the melodic, conscientious or even aggressive side of today's cuddly version of the genre, Warped Tour 2002 was a wash, as band after generic band of McDonald's-farting 20-somethings spouted enough platitudes on adolescent rebellion, the transient state of coolness and smelly fingers to make Blink-182 nauseated. New Found Glory? Finch? MxPx? Alkaline Trio? Taking Back Sunday? It's sonically so five years ago and about as threatening as Dennis Rodman's cross-dressing shenanigans. Only East Coast quartet Good Charlotte pushed the formula to its bouncy, tuneful extreme. But there's still no one catchier than Bad Religion. The gently heaving ocean of sweaty flesh pressing up against the stage was a fitting tribute to the granddaddys of West Coast pop-punk. On the other hand -- $36 and eight hours of sweltering heat so that Greg Graffin et al. could play a grand total of six songs? Seems a bit off.
In the hours between high noon and dusk, Warped did turn up comic princes Homegrown, a rabble-rousing Anti-Flag, the bipolar prog-metal of Long Island homeboys Glassjaw, the slow-grind pleasures of Throw Down, and even free copies of the Bhagavad-Gita. To his credit, tour organizer Kevin Lyman is at least trying to expand the festival's suffocating parameters with the likes of neo-Celtic hooligans Flogging Molly and Icelandic b-boys Quarashi. Trudging through the late-'80s Def Jam catalog, the latter drop grooves like bombs, thanks to the way percussionist Sölvi and bassist Stoney Fjelsted lock up together. International as they come, the band boasts a mic fiend in Hössi Olafsson, who speaks fluent Spanglish: "This next one's called 'Fuck You, Puta.'"
Dropping new noise from their forthcoming Epitaph release, O.C.'s Death by Stereo stepped to the crowd with circa-'89 thrash and Pantera-style angularity. DBS's 3:504:15 slot on the Volcom Stage was one of the few places at Warped where you risked getting your face split open. Bouncing and gyrating like marionettes doing jujitsu, fans took pit protocol to the next level with the innovatively named "hardcore dancing," where rapid-fire arm thrusts and aerial kicks would put Ralph Macchio to shame. Vocalist Efrem Schulz brought a smile to many an acne-mottled face when he announced, "This next song is about a worthless group of people -- it's called 'Emo Holocaust,'" whereupon much speed-metal mayhem ensued.
Whether it's Area One or Glastonbury, Ozzfest or Lilith Faire, the most interesting things at any major music festival are to be found not front and center but in the nooks and crannies, like Warped's oafish funk-metal from Long Beach quartet Two Hit Creeper. "We've got more punk attitude than all the pussy shit here!" proclaimed singer Michael. Jarringly out of place? Yes, thank god.
"Melodic hardcore": An oxymoron?
The eighth year of this touring pop-punk prom rolls into the Coliseum's vast, sun-baked parking lot amid rumors of being the blandest bill to date. Sure enough, as the day wears on, the "melodic hardcore" acts that are Warped's meat 'n' potatoes become increasingly interchangeable -- fresh-faced white boys offering "boom-chikka" beats, harmony-heavy refrains, "whoa-whoa" sing-alongs and self-deprecating between-song banter: boy bands with guitars. Breaks in the clouds come courtesy of American Hi-Fi's accomplished songcraft, Finch's bleeding-heart guitar motifs and RX Bandits' refreshing, horns-augmented twist on the formula. Female performers are all but nonexistent; the Mimsies' hungrier-than-ever Casey Shelton is a memorable exception.
AFI's "unannounced" one-off appearance makes them buzz band of the day. They don't disappoint, their goth-veneered post-punk churnings earning a sea of hands on which crowd-surfers enjoy epic voyages. Front man Davey Havok has his Crow shtick down, coming off like a Cradle of Filth escapee mimicking vintage Ian Astbury. It's AFI's presentation that sets them apart and, ironically, the very heavy metal theatrics punkers traditionally despise have sealed the band's live reputation. The Ataris also pull off a surprise set on a minuscule side stage, stopping (foot) traffic for the duration.
All this pales next to Glassjaw's eruption onto the Drive-Thru stage as the sun dips. The Long Island emo-core crew are suddenly on everyone's lips, and their monster sophomore disc, Worship and Tribute, is about to show why. From spewing opener "Tip Your Bartender" they deliver all the verve and vitriol their recordings suggest, with vocalist Daryl Palumbo (a bearded Mike Patton) convulsing through "Ape Dos Mil" and the restless double-kick injections of "Mu Empire" before an ever-expanding pit. All five members lend energized visual italics to FNM/ATDI-influenced, shape-shifting new tunes and still more frenetic earlier material. Glassjaw's depth of field, complex cocktail of references -- from speed metal to reggae -- and sheer musicality make them the year's most intriguing act.
KRISTIAN HOFFMAN AND FRIENDS
at the Derby, July 10
You know the way you worry that brilliant studio pop won't come off live? No cause for concern, pally: Kristian Hoffman loaded most of his scintillating new Kristian Hoffman & onto the Derby's decadent stage, and actually supercharged it. The tuneslinger (Mumps, Swinging Madisons, solo projects, etc.) was unambiguously received by shoulder-to-shoulder song vultures, who nearly stomped the brass foot rail off the oaken bar in response to the kinds of giddy melodies, bountiful arrangements and throbbing rhythms that have rarely surfaced since pop's adolescence.
Hoffman stuck to the concept of the album, conscripting a series of friends and past collaborators to trade vocal lines with him as he banged keyboards. A Garbo-garbed Carolyn Edwards applied her sensitively cutting soprano both to lead vocals (opening with a true high on the wistful "Get It Right This Time") and to backups. Hoffman dedicated "Anybody but You" to the late Lance Loud, who'd first sung it with the Mumps and whose mom, Pat, was in attendance; John Easdale did the cynical lyric full justice. Kristi Callan outsang the angels on the epic "Scarecrow," while Pierre Smith cranked its godlike guitar-solo coda. Abby Travis won the prize for cleavage and complementary vocal husk, climbing atop the parlor-grand piano for the old-timey "God, if Any, Only Knows." Paul Zone duetted on a technofied (with nods to Mama Cass) "Series of Yous." Michael Quercio popped the ceiling off with "Just in Time." Ann Magnuson, draped in Olympian gauze, windmilled a tiny harp on "Sex in Heaven." And there was a ravaging rock-out on the Mumps' "Crocodile Tears." Not every singer looked comfortable -- it's not exactly a natural situation -- but every one delivered.
Hoffman himself displayed exceptional pipes, warbling operatically one minute, soaked in Phil Ochs folk the next. And his band -- Joseph Berardi, Dave Bongiovanni, Ernesto Garcia and Smith -- was a dynamic wonder. Congratulations, Mr. Hoffman. And happy birthday. (Greg Burk)
BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE, DEAD MEADOW
at Spaceland, July 11
Hailing from Washington, D.C., Dead Meadow appeared to be mild-mannered nice fellows until they got onstage and unleashed a whole lotta dirty Hendrixesque rock & roll. Singer Jason Simon's spare vocals were washed in spacy reverb and came off reminiscent of the soulful drone of Spiritualized's Jason Pierce. Drummer Mark Laughlin was loud and tight and hit hard, just like all good drummers should. Bassist Steve Kille kicked out the grooving bluesy bass lines. The sizable crowd witnessing the spectacle appeared impressed with the trio's pugnacious and largely instrumental performance, which lasted nearly an hour and never slowed down. It must be noted that the band's classic Orange amps were a welcome sight.
Following Dead Meadow was the band that has spawned a thousand bands, Brian Jonestown Massacre, whose charismatic show made it seem odd that Spaceland wasn't filled to suffocating capacity. If these guys were from England, people in L.A. would be tripping over themselves to see them play. Despite minor tuning delays, the songs went off without a hitch. Front man Anton Newcombe's smooth voice floated over the plethora of guitars, bass and drums with an arcane sense of ease, and perhaps ego. The Massacre are definitely not the kind of band who purport to be the guys next door; there is a definite sense that when they're onstage, they're aware that they're good -- and, quite frankly, they are. (Tätiana Simonian)
ROBERT RANDOLPH & THE FAMILY BAND
at House of Blues, July 12
Mere minutes before headliner Robert Randolph's band came onstage at HoB, my gal and I found a place to sit upstairs, directly underneath those ghostly plaster busts of Charley Patton and Blind Boy Fuller -- both great-grandfathers gazing down from the ceiling onto the night's proceedings, dashing the atmosphere with History. Appropriate, because what the evening announced was a new species: gut-level, raw, preachin'-gospel blues ferociously amped and supercharged into an unstoppable, high-speed-energy assault of unrelentingly loud, piercing pedal-steel bottleneck noise, dosed with funk and bone-shaking throb that left the feet 'n' entrails buzzing, the ears useless, the brain spent. The old folks started it, but what the hell would they make of this?
Randolph bounded onto the stage -- a muscular dude in shirtsleeves and bowler hat -- like an MC from the Holiness Church, shouting Jo-o-o-o-oyy! and pulling off piercing, whipsaw-twang licks on the pedal-steel that thrilled up the kids before the band (bass, drums, churchy gospel organ) jumped into a deep-down funk groove that shook one's cells for the next two hours. The greatest moment of the long night came when Randolph brought on his friend and mentor Calvin Cooke, an older gent, placid of face (and strongly resembling King Oliver), who sat in a chair and played his electric in the genuine bottleneck style, taking the noisiest-ass gospel jam I've ever witnessed into a climax of unrelenting, shrieking high-end scrapes on the upper frets as Randolph fed into the din on his acoustic. It was absolute genius, it was transfixing and bewitching, and all I could think and feel, being in that presence, was: This is it -- I surrender -- this is the real thing -- the sacred and the nasty -- church meets the devil -- look at him play, so calm. God damn! (Tony Mostrom)
DIMITRI FROM PARIS
at 1650, July 13
Yes, it's an absurd fact, but DJs also give encores, and boy, is the crowd demanding one now. The floodlights are on, the last drop of alcohol was served a half-hour ago, and the man with the mustache is backing away from the decks, bowing his head good night as the club gets ready to unplug. Qu'est-ce qui se passe, Dimitri? It's now Bastille Day -- break loose. Just one more record so we can burn off that last ounce of Ketel One in our blood. One more record for our dreams in case we don't get laid tonight. One more record for yourself, dammit: Just look where you're standing -- on the verge of sending this whole dance floor of hard-working kids (how else did they afford the ludicrous $30 cover?) through the roof simply by dropping a needle at the right spot at the right place at the right time, and you're saying you're not going to deliver this easy moment for your own god-is-a-DJ ego?
He heard that. He's decided to play on. Allez, Dimitri! Just reach into your crate and grab any record. Of course, these aren't just any records, are they? Where did you find this wonderful version of Black Masses' "Wonderful Person"? And quit joking -- you knew from the beginning the Cleptomaniacs' "All I Do" (stolen from Stevie Wonder, of course) would be the last record, because it's too damn perfect for a crowd that wants to go away singing. "All I Do/Is think about you . . ." A great final hour, considering that his track selections up until then were often typically hard Saturday-night beats; somewhat missing were the disco breaks and le funk of his Respect sets, and the breezy Brazilian melodies and rare garage cuts of his Playboy Mansion notoriety. Mixing was topnotch, though, and so was the flask of Ketel One that easily recouped the $30 cover. (Tommy Nguyen)
Dimitri from Paris
(Photo by Gregory Bojorquez)
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JORMA KAUKONEN & BLUE COUNTRY
at McCabe's, July 6
There's a crossroads, not far from the one where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for supernatural musical prowess, where blues, country, ragtime, classical and Tin Pan Alley meet to create the quintessential American music from which sprung jazz and rock. It's a democratic music in its heart if not on the surface, and immune to race, with universal themes of love, loss, death, oppression and depression. Jorma Kaukonen is a master of American music who's worked chronologically backward. The pioneering psychedelic guitarist of the Jefferson Airplane returned to his roots in Piedmont and Rev. Gary Davisstyle acoustic blues with Hot Tuna. His new album, Blue Country Heart (Columbia), is a collection of blues songs originally performed by white country artists.
At the early show at McCabe's, Kaukonen & Blue Country (dobroist Sally Van Meter and mandolinist G.E. Smith) tore through a set of songs from the new album as well as black blues classics to which the guitarist has given his signature over the years. Without changing style or technique, Kaukonen proved there's no substantial difference between the Delmore Brothers' "Blues Stay Away From Me" (white country blues), Rev. Davis' "Death Don't Have No Mercy" (black blues) and "Good Shepherd" (traditional gospel arranged by Kaukonen during his Airplane days). Kaukonen's warm, unflashy voice conveys heartfelt sentiments with no regard for purism. His fingerpicking is simultaneously deft and as roaring as the trains he so often sings of.
"I don't think anyone can bend a note like that guy can," commented Van Meter after one particularly gut-wrenching Kaukonen string-wringer. "It hurts," was Jorma's mock-annoyed retort. Van Meter and Smith held their own. Though sans rhythm section, when all three were riffing at once, the music seemed to rise and hover in midair while never losing the tightly locked groove. More than a flag or a pledge ever could, it reminded one of the authentic heritage that makes America great. (Michael Simmons)