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When the Music’s Over

Photo by Gregory Bojorquez

"THE 21st CENTURY DOORS" at the Universal Amphitheater, February 7

Doors keyboard shepherd Ray Manzarek assured us that it was all about the music, but no. It was also about saving the planet; about real live feathered-up dancing Indians; about video projections of war dead and Nixon and trip-o-delic oil squoogles. The effect was like a preview of the next Disney theme attraction — Hippieland, a place you like to revisit but don't want to live. Singer Ian Astbury: "Are we goin' to war??!!" Audience, squirming: "Uh . . . no?" Moreover, it was about frequent thanks to some guy named Jim Morrison. (The promoter?) And it was about ignoring the anti-tour lawsuit by John Densmore, the Door Who Wasn't There.

The music was pretty good anyway. Manzarek tinkled prettily on "Riders on the Storm" and wonked wretchedly on "When the Music's Over," his hideous "scream of the butterfly" effects scraping lowest asphalt. Touring bassist Angelo Barbera was the solidest thing onstage. Drummer Ty Dennis, substituting for the broken-armed Stewart Copeland substituting for Densmore, contributed to a stiff, undynamic overall feel — not his fault, since the Doors' weird brand of Spanish blues requires marination. Astbury, disguised in leather, wig and shades, tried out a whole range of visual impressions, from his Steve McGarrett Undercover (A+) to his Val Kilmer (C-), while baying serviceably though not sensitively. Bandleader imitations were offered by Astbury ("The music lives!"), Mr. Interlocutor Manzarek ("Turn off the fuckin' head, feel the music!") and even MC Jim Ladd ("The ceremony is about to begin!"), but something or other seemed missing . . .

It wasn't Robbie Krieger, who was on fire. Much improved from olden days, he's perfected a rocking, blasting guitar tone that he pushed to the brink of spin-out, injecting spirit into the night's best moments: a heavy "Wild Child," a blue-mean "Maggie McGill," a jazz/rock/reggae "Light My Fire" interpolating the Wailers' "Get Up, Stand Up," and a cruisin' "L.A. Woman," the one song every guy in the band obviously loved (but did we really need that horrible video with John Doe in it?). Note to Krieger's loved ones re his tiger-print shirt and camouflage cargo pants: Please don't let him go out like that.

The audience — from old fans like this reviewer to curious plutocrats squiring the kind of fake racks you'd ogle at a Crue concert — wanted badly to lose itself and mostly succeeded, pouring over the security and onto the boards to dance along with the closing "Soul Kitchen." Learn to forget.

METRIC at the Silverlake Lounge, February 5

"Welcome to the Metric anti-vanity show," announced the group's lead singer Emily Haines. "We're Metric, and the smoke machine is off. I brought something to read if anyone wants to, a little bit from Einstein." The group launched into a set filled with wordy, new wave-style rock songs. Haines' voice had a post-coital allure, though her lyrics had more to do with the complications that enter relationships after the sex has stopped. The songs were propulsive, effective and unadorned. James Shaw's guitar work was free of tricks. The rhythm section's parts were inherited, not invented. All the players were assured enough that they served their purpose: acting as an effective punch line for Haines' swiveling hips.

From the start, it was clear she was the star of this show, a high-powered ingénue intent on landing a new record deal, and making audience members swoon. (The group's debut was supposed to come out in September 2001 on Restless, but has been delayed indefinitely as the company restructures.) She was google-eyed and wiry, her dancing so intense one feared her hips might pop out of joint. At times, though, Haines seemed overly self-conscious. "Now that your wallet is all lit up," she sang, "I can't feel anything, my dreams are too tight." She then reached into her pockets and strewed dollar bills onto the stage. The gesture felt confident yet uncomfortable, too hammy by far for the Silverlake Lounge's tiny stage. "So I start throwing out money," she said afterward, "and then I realized, wait, I can't afford this."

Haines' voice is a fabulous instrument — one moment smoky and redolent like Portishead's Beth Gibbons, the next girly and vacant like No Doubt's Gwen Stefani. "Dead disco! Dead funk! Dead rock & roll!" she screamed as the band's final rave-up climaxed. She grabbed one of the two synths to her left, tore it from its rack, and the machine crashed down at her feet. Both synths had failed to work during most of the group's performance. She was obviously upset. But fixing that will certainly cost more than a couple of bucks. (Alec Hanley Bemis)

PRINCESS SUPERSTAR at the Echo, February 7

What with all the tarty 'tude and ghetto-fab gab she spews on record, we expected New York rap nymph Princess Superstar to show up in foxed-out finery at the Echo last Friday, but the blue-eyed blond DJ/MC was lookin' almost demure. Attired in a plain black getup and truck-stop baseball cap, the Princess seemed to be taking an intentional back seat to the music, preferring to work her wiles with her wax instead of her sex. That's not to say that she didn't whip up a nice 'n' nasty vibe. In fact, the trendy striped-T-shirt crowd at Synthetic (the Echo's Friday electro night) went from new wavey robots to grinding freakazoids from the moment she started to spin her opening selection: a techno-ized version of Khia's cunning linguist anthem "My Neck, My Back . . . (Lick It)" beat-matched into JJ Fad's "Supersonic."

The late-'80s minitruck rides continued with Salt-N-Pepa's gem "Push It," which made us long for the verbal skillz of the star herself (the rhymes on her current disc, Princess Superstar Is . . ., have a buoyant old-school charm and ball-busting bravado that recall early S&P). We finally got our wish when, midset, the Stellar One took the mike and rapped to her comely club hit "Wet! Wet! Wet!" Unfortunately, though it may be her most explicit tune (she actually moans lines like "I can make your cock go higher than the hair on Kid 'N Play" with a straight face), it wasn't the best example of her astonishingly swift word-flow talents. Though she stayed at the decks for another hour, melding new and old hot tracks including Berlin's "Sex," Felix da Housecat's "Silver Screen Shower Scene," Beastie Boys' "Girls" and the Noriega's Neptunes hopper "Nothin'" (a mix that inspired devil-horn hand signs and even a few flicked Bics in the crowd), it didn't make up for the chintzy one-song rap performance. Superstar obviously knows how to shine, but on this eve she was more tease than temptress. (Lina Lecaro)

ERASE ERRATA, YOUNG PEOPLE, CIRCUIT SIDE at the Smell, Saturday, January 8

A handful of firecrackers, set off inches from your face: That's what Erase Errata felt like. Jenny Hoyston's lyrics could have been about cybernetics or Chee-tohs, but her delivery — half Kathleen Hanna, half Mark E. Smith — and fitful trumpet blasts came through loud and clear. As did the rest of the band, especially with Chicago-to-East Bay transplant Weasel Walter (of the Flying Luttenbachers) on second drum kit. (He's a temporary, as-available addition, according to their merchperson.) Unlike many bands appropriating moves from '78-'79 post-punk, their skittish rhythms and Sara Jaffe's no-tone guitar work less as calculation — Moving Units, anyone? — and more as their natural tools. Obvious inspirations Dog-Faced Hermans couldn't have been more forceful in their heyday.

If Max's Kansas City had actually been in Kansas, the house band might have sounded like Young People. Strong as Erase Errata were, this was really the local heroes' crowd — tonight was their last show before several months on the road, and guitarist Jarett Silberman's birthday to boot. They've expanded their stylistic reach since last year's debut CD; one newish song burst from an "After Hours" lope into undiluted thrash, and "The Lord" is a too-brief exploration of a Nuggets-worthy riff. But Katie Eastburn's vocals were no match for the Smell's weak PA; by contrast, Jeff Rosenberg's chant of "We are all-knowing" sliced through the squall with ease. Solid, but not the triumphant sendoff it could and should have been.

Openers Circuit Side play nearly wordless and seemingly unironic prog-metal, long on creamy distortion and short on repetition; a wholly mystifying choice of genre, especially given their cover of "Radio," formerly of Olympian anarchists the Need. Their scrupulously polite stage manner contrasted appealingly with their instrumental machisma, but not enough to make their Melvintallicisms comprehensible, much less convincing. (Franklin Bruno)

MINIBAR at Café Largo, February 4

Not too long ago it looked like Minibar might end up another casualty in the series of record industry expansion/contraction cycles forever chasing market trends. After spending a half-million dollars on their album Road Movies with Grammy Award-winning producer T-Bone Burnett, Cherry Entertainment's parent company, Universal Music, decided to divest itself of the band, because — in the words of Minibar lead singer Simon Petty — "it just wasn't 'shiny, happy people' enough." But instead of returning to their native London, Minibar decided to record another album on the cheap, and turned up at Largo to promote copies of a taster EP, The Unstoppable.

Petty, whose voice evokes a young Peter Gabriel, sang well-crafted, almost anthemically catchy songs that only occasionally shared the downcast lyrical face of his alt-country brethren. Minibar lack the kind of hard-hitting sound necessary to breach the fine cheesecloth of commercial radio playlists, but that criticism misses the point of the band, who are attempting to catalyze an endothermic reaction, not an explosive one. With three-part harmonies drifting over Malcolm Cross' sensitive drums, Sid Jordan's intuitive bass meanderings and Tim Walker's beautifully spacy lap steel, Minibar perfectly achieved their artistic vision at Largo — a desert in bloom.

Petty humbly acknowledged the challenges Minibar face forging ahead without major label support. "We did the impossible," he sang on the EP's title track, "can we do it again?" In the end, their classic sound may never pull the right dollar signs to catapult them onto the world stage as superstars. But to the packed house at Largo, watching a performance that can only be described as flawless, they already were. (Liam Gowing)

(Photos by Gregory Bojorquez) LOS AMIGOS INVISIBLES at the Conga Room, February 6

Whether you ask the guy with the Kramer hair, the two-fisted Amstel-drinking muscle boy or the blond with Shakira-like tresses and earrings the size of hula hoops, they'll tell you the same thing: When Los Amigos Invisibles flipped the switch, the party was on, and on. Following a combo DJ/live-band set strategy, the New York-based Venezuelans created a seamless hedonistic flow; guitarist José Luis Pardo did double-duty as DJ Afro, headphones creasing his follicular poof as he slammed down a dance-flammable selection, including a Latin-house remix of "Soul Shakedown Party" in honor of Bob Marley's 58th birthday.

The full band first lubricated the sold-out room with a half-hour miniset of "Arepa 3000," "Domingo Echao" and other loungeables, gently swinging morsels that singer Julio Briceño suggested might make "you wanna kiss her cheek." Once the six amigos returned for the booty-shakin' main event, it didn't take long for such sweetly romantic sentiments to be swept aside in a tidal surge of hormonal abandon. Los Hermanos de Caracas showed the sangre de salseros on "Calne" and "Llegaste Tarde" and got down with some neo-boogaloo on "Cuchi-Cuchi," but the disco-funk groove thang was the primary party favor. "La Vecina," "Amor" and new fave "Ease Your Mind" shined up the mirror ball, their straight-time thump-thump stoking the fires of boy-girl bump-bump. Ultimately, nothing more serious than having a real good time came to pass, but these invisible friends demonstrated that sometimes escapism in the pursuit of happiness is no vice. (Tom Cheyney)