|Photos by Wild Don Lewis|
AMON TOBIN, JOHN TEJADA, DNTEL at the Henry Fonda Theater, September 26
If no one’s in the venue, does Dntel make a sound? Seriously, though, this kid’s experimental textures were wasted on the five or six people who bothered to show up on time at this KCRW-sponsored event. It was a missed opportunity for Dntel — a.k.a. Jimmy Tamborello — because while Life Is Full of Possibilities may come off flat on CD, it all starts to make sense in 3-D space. “This doesn’t sound anything like the Postal Service,” one annoyed patron said, referring to Tamborello’s side project. “Is he always like this?” But just when the evening seemed a washout, John Tejada’s pile-driving beats got this party crackin’. Tejada, who records for a zillion labels and whose mom is a noted opera singer, might be 4/4 at the core, but tonight he embellished to the nth degree, layering ever more exotic vines onto his techno trellis.
Around midnight, Amon Tobin gave a lesson in advanced jungle: an impossibly thorny whirl of syncopated skitter-pop backed by Doppler-effect bass drops that were felt as much as heard. Working behind a semitransparent triptych of screens — on which sundry engineering schematics and the odd zodiac sun were projected — added to the reticent Brazilian Brit’s mystery. But he seemed to rush through the signature tunes (e.g., “Verbal”), cramming them medley style as though he were embarrassed by the obviousness of this choice. Wish Tobin had dialed back the intensity once in a while as well to let these byzantine tapestries breathe. Sure, the convoluted beat-downs fed the kids’ rage jones, but they evaded any hint of how scrumptious — yes, scrumptious — this guy can be. Tobin encored with a Slayer/NIN–esque mash-up, his patented sense of humor better late than never.
RADIOHEAD at the Hollywood Bowl, September 25
Radiohead’s recent teetering along that ill-defined line between artsy and fartsy is amplified to an uncertain stagger in the live arena. Performing before a capacity throng of almost Deadhead devotion, the Brit quintet seem obliged to faithfully revisit their more accessible moments, yet simultaneously exploit their unquestioned credibility to roam roughshod into self-indulgent experimentalism.
It’s a credit to Radiohead’s confidence that they focus tonight on the new Hail to the Thief, opening with a Lion King rendition of their current single, “There There,” whose triple-barreled tribal tattoos muster definition and velocity beneath main man Thom Yorke’s signature whimpering. Yorke, resembling a disheveled Clay Aiken, holds effortless nerd-declared-cool court at center stage, whether flutter-eyed and bobble-headed at the mike or indulging in drum-circle freak-out jigs around his bandmates. His voice engages regardless of the cacophony or caress surrounding it: desperate and bleak in his regular register, otherworldly when launching frequent falsetto orbits. Embellished by a sometimes apocalyptic acid-head light show and a strip-club backdrop, the brace of “Airbag” and “Paranoid Android,” from 1997’s lauded OK Computer, are a reminder of how hypnotically Radiohead’s stars can align: ominous, cyber-blip bass lines, anesthetizing injections of acoustic guitar, and detached vocal pleas, building to Jonny Greenwood’s string-wringing, effects-drenched crescendos. But explorations of more recent android-friendly material suffer in this setting. “Myxomatosis” in particular descends into a bass-heavy quagmire, naked of entertainment value but for some emperor’s new clothes.
Radiohead are the Gen-Y Genesis: Long ago burst from the conventional guitar-band cocoon, they’ve butterflied into multi-instrumentalist yet pop-aware progsters, an unlikely intersection of Bread and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Tonight’s lengthy set and the patchy but palatable Hail to the Thief suggest that Radiohead, while drifting between stations, will never betray themselves, however disconnected the results may become. (Paul Rogers)
KROQ’S INLAND INVASION at the Hyundai Pavilion, September 20
Funny how KROQ allots a grand stage like Hyundai Pavilion to the very bands of yore the station has now relegated to its flashback-for-fogeys nooner hour: the Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, Duran Duran and the Psychedelic Furs, here paired with their current suckling babies Hot Hot Heat, Interpol and Dashboard Confessional. The seed of every worthwhile British band of the past 15 years has sprung from the Bunnymen, whose Ian McCulloch, the epitome of cool, puffed cigs through the band’s set, in finest form on beauties like “Bring on the Dancing Horses,” “Cutter” and “Seven Seas.” Still don’t get the Violent Femmes, but it only took one word — “Daaaaaay,” sung straight through the nose — from singer Gordon Gano to get the blisters in the sun to rise and shine. Not as bright was Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon, too preoccupied with his malfunctioning mike to give us full attention. But thanks for the “Careless Memories,” video montage, and for having a real saxophonist play on “Rio.” Riding the newer new wave were the catchy carnival keyboards of Hot Hot Heat and the nervy paranoia of Interpol’s guitar, as penetrating as singer Paul Banks’ cold, unblinking stare.
Once the mild winds kicked in, so did closers the Cure. Starting with the drip-drip-drip of “10:15 Saturday Night,” they proved they should get more credit for their bass inventions (“A Forest,” “Primary”) and for Robert Smith’s lyric romanticism (“Pictures of You”). For every boy who does cry and every girl with China-doll bangs and a parasol, Smith has been there since 1979. And so has that tumbleweed for hair. Loyalty and longevity, though, are virtues that elude KROQ. While introducing the Cure, DJ Jed the Fish thanked the audience for supporting this kind of music. Too bad we can’t say the same for his boss. (Siran Babayan)
EVAN DANDO, RHETT MILLER, CONSONANT at Avalon, September 25
For those who haven’t braved the revamped, renamed Avalon: It’s the Palace you know and tolerate, gussied up with op-art carpeting, comfier balcony seating and annoyingly blocked-off VIP areas, though what VIPs were expected on a Miller-sponsored weeknight, I can’t tell you. No points whatsoever to venue or promoter for forcing Consonant onstage, unbilled, at an insulting 7:30, preventing a still-gathering crowd from discovering Mission of Burma co-founder Clint Conley’s passionately wise new songs.
The lengthy acoustic set by Old 97 front man Rhett Miller mixed band material, songs from his 2002 solo album, The Instigator (an uneven bid to fly the alt-country coop), and a few unrecorded numbers. But without the 97’s tough backing, Miller overcompensated, hacking away at breakneck speed and headbanging — he’s got the locks for it — as though something were happening up there that just plain wasn’t. Best in show: “The New Kid,” an incredibly bitter meditation on fame (“You’ll get carried away/You will be replaced”) with a sweeping, Smiths-worthy chorus.
Miller needed a band; Evan Dando could have left his at home. His show-closing spot was loose but affecting, especially on the Hank Williams–simple “Why Do You Do This to Yourself?” and the Lemonheads’ featherweight “Into Your Arms.” But the earlier electric portion was rife with the midtempo monotony that made people justifiably sick of “alternative rock” in the first place. Guitarist Chris Brokaw (also of Consonant) managed a few fiery leads, but he was outmatched by a profoundly uninventive rhythm section and Dando’s disengaged vocals. It’s great that Dando — who could tell Miller some Next Big Thing stories — has survived a decade of drugs and seclusion, but if his second act’s this dull, it’s no victory for his fans. (Franklin Bruno)
WEEN at the Wiltern, September 24
You’ve got to love a band that, on the 22nd song of its set, with a half-second guitar-riff cue, gets an audience of 3,000 singing — completely unbidden — the words “A child without an eye/Made her mother cry/Why ask why.” You just do, right — even if it’s a love that’s more begrudging, chuckling “Okay, nowwwww I get it” admiration than instinctive insta-lust. Ween is that kind of band: The further you go, the more you know how good they are. How great they are. ’Cuz you can’t dig where they’re at, the absurdly high level of their craft, until you’ve heard their range and depth, which tonight unfolds across two dozen–plus songs. Hastily scribbled show notes (“Jimmy Buffett . . . greatest electric-guitar riff ever . . . sensitive male super-power ballad . . . Crazy Horse crunch-stomp . . . King Crimson angular malignance . . . Bette Midler histrionics . . . endless anthemic Seger sap . . .”) describe an eccentric hophead’s mixtape made from parents’ records, or a high school prom gone horribly weird, rather than an epic performance by a plain-clothesed New Jersey five-piece with no light show to speak of, playing in a large room with boomy sound. But here they are, Dean Ween and Gene Ween and two other guys and none-more-underrated drummer Claude Coleman (miraculously recovered from a horrific car accident just a year ago), mounting a fake hit parade for the men and women who own Mr. Show Season IV bootlegs, who believe in sitting down on the couch for what you believe in. Tonight is the latest episode in a never-ending, always-expanding in-joke, made by genuine-genius musicians busily gobbling Pop whole and painting absurdly funny new parody-pictures from the resulting vomit/void action. Think Uncle Zappa, not Weird Al. And don’t ask why. (Jay Babcock)
POLE, I’M NOT A GUN, PHTHALOCYANINE at the Silent Movie, September 24
The drums and electric guitar of I’m Not a Gun offset much DJ laptopping from Phthalocyanine while Robert Drummond’s projected mirage of 10 years’ worth of past post cards from Green Galactic actions shambles through the night. A laptop delivers snowfallen rhythm lines moving like glass along the sibilance of the cymbals and disparate images of Southland landscapes. The places undoubtedly have changed across the years, seemingly immutable but for the smaller details, much as electronic music has been seen as a beast evolving and mutating — a beast seeking poise and reserve even as it occasionally remembers that it is, in fact, a beast.
Stefan “Pole” Betke’s ever-sliding panoply of slow computer sterility plays out alongside silent-film passages — yet here is the sooty rhythm of dub, a New York saxophone and an occasional but regular chime. Things are made sterile because man forces nature’s hand. Things are cold because man feels the lack of warmth. Betke, perhaps realizing this implicitly, sways and bobs with his own rhythms, at bliss and shaking his head at the flow of silent images across which he is often projected. The dub beat is cut into halves and thirds within its natural cadence, and there comes a point at which the beats stretch out, languidly becoming comfortable in their own skins even as a rash and echoing planet of melody eclipses them. Pushing the knocks and reverberations from one end of the spectrum to the other, Betke succeeds in slowing the frantic trip down electronic music’s lonesome freeway, where the brake pedal of the automobile is ably replaced by the infinite-repeat button of the compact-disc player. (David Cotner)