|Photos by Wild Don Lewis|
Key Club, December 29
A prime Danzig experience can be biblically elemental, violent,
contradictory, poetic. Absurd to some, Glenn Danzig’s brow-knit hardness and
grievous sensuality are really about survival: You can’t fight through the dark
unless you notice that the light went out.
So he’s strong, and he lifts you. Never one to wallow in past
glories, Danzig paraded muscular armaments from recent years, including a fearsome
“SkinCarver” (“All the world must die!”), a corpse-prodding
“Black Mass,” the burdened dirge “Skull Forest” and a blindingly
inspirational “Black Angel, White Angel,” confident in the sanded
resilience his versatile voice has acquired with time. Bevan Davies and Jerry
Montano were worthy punishers on drums and bass; Tommy Victor’s jigsaw/noise
solo on “1,000 Devils Reign” was typical of his knightly axmanship.
Of course, when Danzig polled the hell-bent crowd (younger than you’d expect)
on whether they craved new stuff or old, the response was predictable. “Could
you let it go?” he crooned on a dynamic “How the Gods Kill” (1992).
No, and the stallionlike unmanageability of the classic sing-along “Her
Black Wings” was further reason to cling.
Metal is big now, but since punk is bigger, the loudest huzzahs
arose for the entry of Doyle, Danzig’s ’80s sidekick in the Misfits. Apollonian
of stature and blank of visage, the near-naked and dog-collared guitar chopper
wheeled blindly around the stage to the rampaging rhythms of “Die Die My
Darling,” “Hate Breeders” and a satisfying selection of other
Misfits nuggets before Danzig “put him back in his coffin.” The mob
Overamped run-throughs of the turn-of-the-’90s howlers “Twist
of Cain” and “Mother,” plus a Doyle reprise, merely gilded the
funeral lily of the best Danzig show I’ve seen. It wasn’t just the clarion club
sound, it was the energy and (dare I say) the warmth and even joy. Don’t expect
Danzig’s “retirement” to be permanent.
JOHN DIGWEED, THE KILLERS, JASON BENTLEY
Wilshire Boulevard, downtown, December 31
Nearly foiled by torrential rains earlier in the day, the “Giant
Village” event saw skies clear just enough so thousands of New Year’s revelers
could invade the pavement of downtown L.A. Men in black, accompanied by girls
who ditched the bunny ears of Halloween for New Year’s crowns, experienced electronic
music pouring from three stages located off three major streets. The sound was
phenomenal, managing not to intersect between simultaneously playing artists,
of which there were several; unfortunately, most of the planned visuals appeared
to be inoperative due to the weather.
L.A.’s own star DJ, Jason Bentley, laid down his usual blissed-out
grooves and flawless house under the Hope Stage tent, where the audience was
a mix of club kids dancing like Shivas and random partygoers engaging in public
affection. Bentley’s mix was so good, you might have had to reach out and touch
someone even if you weren’t on E.
An hour before midnight, electro-poppers the Killers took the
Grand Stage with commanding fury, storming through half a set of energetic originals
before giving the massive crowd their big single, “Somebody Told Me.”
The quartet’s songs were intriguing in an early-Bowie-meets-Fad-Gadget sort
of way — though aren’t lyrics about androgyny a bit clichéd these days,
boys? The Killers delivered a stellar performance; it’s incredibly hard to believe
this sound came out of Las Vegas. As the set wound down, the crowd assembled
around the countdown screen, hoisted cell phones and hollered under fireworks
as the New Year was ushered in.
Aside from controlled substances and fantastic people-watching
opportunities, a clear highlight of Giant Village was DJ legend John Digweed.
Oh, how the lightsticks came out when Digweed slid onto the decks of the Flower
Stage and illustrated, with a cool poker face, why he’s the king: He spins the
lushest mixes, and knows when to drop a beat. It was virtually impossible to
navigate the bodies packed tight to dance their brains out. As the crowd, stacked
thousands deep, throbbed in time, one thing was certain: Although everyone may
not remember just who or what they did that night, it was certainly a New Year’s
AUTOLUX, 400 BLOWS, THEE OUTFIT
at Spaceland, December 31
Let’s face it, like no year in recent memory, 2004 truly
ate a bag of dicks. With 366 days of misery and death to consider,
I approached Spaceland’s New Year’s Eve bash
in a particularly gloomy frame of mind. Honestly, ringing in 2005
with a rock show at this beloved bastion of bleakness seemed at first like one
of the most impotent gestures imaginable. Soldiering on, I hoped the transcendent
power of rock & roll would work some New Year’s magic on my woeful constitution.
The club, decked out in streamers and balloons, was packed with
an agreeable and not entirely predictable mix of impatient hipsters, oversauced
college types and sport-jacketed actors. From front-of-house all the way to
the smokers’ fishbowl aft, the crowd appeared sufficiently celebratory. However,
apart from a few revelers donning kitschy party hats, it was, y’know — the usual
(booze, blank stares, hookups, cigarette butts and fucked-up haircuts).
Thee Outfit, a laptop artist, opened. Though his pleasing glitch-hop
blips & burbles went relatively unappreciated by the rock-oriented crowd,
he deserves credit. Standing onstage alone, trying to get the New Year’s Eve
party started while looking like you’re doing nothing more than checking e-mail,
The club went from lethargic to electric as the mighty 400 Blows
lurched their audio assault into action, front man Skot Alexander and his bandmates
again proving themselves first-rate punk showmen. Reminiscent of Crime’s Frankie
Fix, at once fantastically agitated and bizarrely at ease, Alexander wore mirrored
shades and rocked a Nazi-cop vibe while peppering the band’s invective-laced
workouts with banter exalting friendship and encouragement for 2005. It was
hilarious, loud as hell and exactly what I needed.
Autolux, on the other hand, while proficiently striking a shoegazery
pose and making a few very pretty sounds, delivered a decidedly lackluster set.
Much hyperbole has greeted this band (chiefly within this very paper), but apart
from the drummer’s genuinely inspired playing, such fuss, as yet, is unwarranted.
—Arlie John Carstens
OZOMATLI, KINKY, JUANA MOLINA
at Walt Disney Concert Hall, December 22
Hosted by KCRW’s Nic Harcourt, this “A Latin Christmas”
extravaganza heated up the night like a holiday tamale. Experimental solo artist
Juana Molina provided the soft, smooth masa shell; the electro-pop band Kinky
added a kick of spice; and the local rap/salsa troupe Ozomatli topped it all
off with some rich, sweet mole. The juicy combination gave downtown’s premier
classical concert venue a true taste of Latino rock & roll.
In a floor-length red dress, Molina performed first. The Argentine
chanteuse’s graceful alto glided over shifting layers of sound, with loops of
synthetic beats thumping beneath guitar riffs and prerecorded backing harmonies.
Though famous in her native country as a former comic and TV star, Molina maintained
an intense veneer, cracking it only a few times — once barking like a maniacal
Chihuahua, and later telling the audience behind her, “I didn’t mean to
give my back to you!”
The entrance of the talented, sexy quintet Kinky was met with
shrieks from young girls and middle-aged women alike. The lithe guys from Monterrey,
Mexico, launched into a funky version of “Jingle Bells” before flashing
through their high-energy set. Percussionist Omar Gongora played standing up,
smashing a traditional set of drums while expertly pounding a pair of congas.
Floppy-haired singer Gil Cerezo, grinning and hyperactive, led the shimmying
crowd in yelling along to the group’s wah-wah–infused 2002 hit, “Más.”
But Kinky only swept the stage for Ozomatli. L.A.’s favorite hip-hop/rock
band throws a joyful shindig. “Dip/Dive/Socialize/Get ready for the Saturday
night!” shouted MC Justin Porée and rapper Jabu as the group’s eight
other members cheered the audience to its feet. “Saturday Night,”
from Ozomatli’s new Street Signs, is probably the best party anthem a
Disney Hall audience has heard. With the bass-hooked “Christmas 1985”
and the sing-along “Santy Claus,” the band gladly encouraged participation:
“It’s okay to clap between movements at this show,” said saxophonist
Ulises Bella, and the line between band and audience crumbled soon after. Chanting
“Ozomatli, ya se fue!” the group filed offstage, still playing,
and strode down an aisle, through the theater’s doors, down some stairs into
the foyer and out onto the street, surrounded by chanting throngs. The spark
of solidarity felt warm enough to melt the Disney Hall’s cold metal frame.
ARTIE SHAW, 1910–2004
Artie Shaw was a difficult man, but I couldn’t help liking
him anyway. He was so cantankerous that it often made me laugh out loud, but
his insistence on speaking the truth as he saw it was a rare and beautiful thing.
By the time I met Artie, 45 years had passed since he quit being
a jazz musician, and his house in Newbury Park was the silent environment of
someone who spent his days reading, and writing the fictionalized autobiography
that had become his primary focus. Music was still very much a part of his life,
however. It was one of the things we regularly argued about, and once — just
once — he took me upstairs to the library that housed his record collection
and played me a few of what he considered his best selections. It was fascinating
watching his face as he listened to these tracks he’d surely heard hundreds
of times. I’ve never seen anyone listen so intently, and he was clearly still
dissecting the performances, still finding passages that could’ve been improved.
Artie’s ability to hear unlimited potential in a given composition, in fact,
played a role in his decision to put down his clarinet. Yet, he said, “I
can’t help thinking like a musician — I wake up and there are chord sequences
going on. But it would kill me if I tried now, because I can’t play what I hear
in my head.”
Artie had been struggling against the indignities of declining
health for several years, and I think he felt he’d finished what he set out
to do when he died at his home on December 29. “There are things I’ve done that
are as good as it gets,” he once told me. “People are entitled to be judged
by their best, too, because everything else is accidents that happen along the
way. When a guy does something important, he deserves credit, because it’s hard
to do. You do it in spite of the world.”
To read Kristine McKenna's interview with Artie Shaw, click