|Photos by Wild Don Lewis|
GANGSTARR, C-RAYZ WALZ, EL-P, 4th AVENUE JONES, PLANET ASIA
at the Henry Fonda Theater, August 30
While Los Angeles’ flagship hip-hop station Power 106 is hardly a mainstay of forward-thinking rap, there’s no doubt that on its Wake Up Show, DJs Sway and King Tech consistently capture the spirit of freestyle competitions, and it was the excitement of discovering new blood that fueled tonight’s 2,000-capacity sold-out show (this with nary a drop of alcohol in the house). In truth, the excitement was about glimpsing Gangstarr dropping bombs from The Ownerz, their first joint in over four years and, according to DJ Premier, “not that bubblegum microwave shit you hear on the radio.” Guru, in his calm, urbane monotone, kept crowing, “We’re the resurrectors of the New York sound” (whatever that means), and the rafters shook accordingly. But in addition to unnecessary a cappellas, including one in which Guru referenced his newfound sobriety, it sucked that Gangstarr skipped the string-driven “Soliloquy of Chaos” from ’92’s still-dope Daily Operation. Moreover, the pair’s affection for the crowd and positive ’tude had an aftertaste of charity: “We doin’ this for free, y’all,” yelled Premo.
But the fresh crown goes to C-Rayz Walz, the latest hype from Def Jux Records — too bad label prez and “first white rapper taken seriously” El-P only joined him for a cameo. Most anomalous was 4th Avenue Jones, a self-described “hip-hop-rock-soul” outfit that would have rocked harder had they not reminded us constantly of their guitar-band credentials, and anyway, what’s up with the cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? I dug Planet Asia most, especially after Asia — invoking the dirty South — broke some crunked-up boom-boom over our backs; the S1W-type bodyguard/eunuch figure onstage (arms folded, looking hard) was a nice touch of P.E.-style theatrics. Also excellent work from Battle Monkeys and Killafornia, breakdance crews that made painful body contortions look balletic.
The evening’s raison d’être — 16 battlers whittled down by four rounds of 30-second heats (with four judges and the audience-o-meter for tie breakers) — got started around 2 a.m. Black, white, Latin and one Asian cat spat for the gold, but it was a shame so many taunts dealt with race and apparel choices (that the best y’all can do?). Forty-five minutes later, it was down to the Inland Empire’s Poseidon vs. gangly great-white-hope C4. In a cruel reversal of the 8 Mile moment that seemed imminent, C4’s second-round boos meant Poseidon walked off with the two-grand prize and left 909 heads feeling strong.
DAVE GAHAN at the Wiltern, August 25
Finally putting his own words in his mouth, Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan took the Wiltern stage supporting his first creation as a lyricist, Paper Monsters, a to-hell-and-back journey of a man whose once drug-weathered heart stopped beating for several minutes. The album is good, good enough not to be wasted live on restless beer hounds — the dirty drinking ditty “Bottle Living,” the Cure-ish bass delight “Hidden Houses” and the beautifully atmospheric “Stay” are better appreciated in your room at home.
It wasn’t a lost-in-the-lyrics trance, though, that kept these hands from taking too many notes, but the sexual energy barely contained in a pair of pants tighter than the butt from Basildon wearing them. Soaked by the third song and still skinny as the mike stand, Gahan’s as much a singular symbol of D.M. as the jagged Anton Corbijn rose that adorns Violator. The dreidelish spinning, the Jaggeresque hip-swaying and the overhead hand clap were all classic Gahan, like it was Rose Bowl ’88 all over again. Even amid serious talk of leaving the band after years of singer-songwriter frustration with wordsmith Martin Gore, he stayed faithful to the oldies: “Question of Time” is a rarely played must-dance gem, while the screeching, bluesy “I Feel You” and the mournful “Walking in My Shoes” are underrated tunes that were lost in the alternative world of ’93.
Gahan can never get holier than on “Personal Jesus,” and when he said, “Reach out and touch faith,” his disciples did, over and over again. No surprise that he ended the show with the favorite closer (almost entirely sung by us, of course) “Never Let Me Down Again.” Do the same for us, Dave; D.M. is the last of our generation. (Siran Babayan)
BOOKS ON TAPE, LIBYTHTH, MONOSTADT 3
at the Parlour Club, August 31
Another Rollerderby Superstar salon, here opened by twilight assassins Monostadt 3. An excoriating rhythm stick hits out from Robert Price’s assorted bent circuits and synths, complemented by Priya Ray’s violin poking out of the scree. “Oh, that sucked!” comments a disgruntled audience member. The withering drum scrawl of Harry Pussy co-founder Adris Hoyos nearly disables the episodes of Land of the Lost and Shindig screening on a wall and rattling along in fast-forward at times, as the DJ’s death-hop twists the death nerve, a reconceived soundtrack.
Books on Tape, a.k.a. Todd Drootin, twists and gyres while poring over an assortment of processors and guitar pedals that are essentially a smorgasbord of drum breaks and disemboweled beats. Gingerly twisting dials and pecking at his equipment like a fussy child at supper, Drootin shoots speed-metal guitar lines with tranquilizer darts, slowing them to 8 rpm even as the overamped sulfur trail of the high-hat wends its way through dancers and head-nodders. It’s faintly reminiscent of watching an autistic root for his favorite AFL team, or the release by the Gerogerigegege called “Shaking Box Music (You Are Noisemaker),” wherein a metal box is filled with blank cassettes and nothing more. Frantically, Drootin batters the pedals like congas in this night at the house of knives, detonating for an audience that is at turns appreciative and mystified.
Sitting intently at an electronic-MIDI drum kit, Libythth (secret identity: Qrqyt Ixoteptek) natters the predawn hours away, his compromised computers and synthesizers cementing his title as master of the dissonant consonant — shattered and shivering beats effected by an infrared response unit working like a theremin with merely the slightest movement of his head. (David Cotner)
BURNING BRIDES, THE FLASH EXPRESS at Spaceland, August 13
After three straight years promoting their 2001 debut, Fall of the Plastic Empire, Burning Brides could probably have done without this final tour stop. Let’s face it, opening for Audioslave’s North American juggernaut and kicking out the jams with Perry at Lollapalooza must have made this little postscript for a less-than-capacity crowd at Spaceland seem a little anticlimactic. But you wouldn’t have guessed it watching the Philadelphia trio tear through their set. As always, drummer Jason Kourkounis and bassist Melanie Campbell provided a rock-solid slab of rhythmic flooring above which front man Dimitri Coats performed his perfectly pitched balance of hook-laden, melodic vocal lines over furious punk guitar chords and old-school metal riffs. And though he thoroughly thrashed his voice on an apoplectic “Stabbed in the Back of the Heart” and the stoic cock-rock of “If I’m a Man,” it still rang out sweet on the band’s most contagious track, “Arctic Snow,” whose verse built with the kind of cross-cutting vocal line Kurt Cobain used to favor and exploded into full flower with a pop chorus that could leave the Gallagher brothers green.
The Flash Express, another power trio with a sound firmly rooted in the blues revivalism of late-’60s Britain, served a tasty if atavistic appetizer. Though singer-guitarist Brian Waters’ tired lyrics (“I called the doctor and asked him what to do!”) and smug delivery (“Gonna flush you down the toilet . . . yeah!”) occasionally threatened to curdle tunes like the band’s theme, “Ride the Flash Express” — a self-promotional ploy dangerous for any group that doesn’t include Davy Jones — it was impossible to resist drummer Lance Porter, who played every tune with the limbs of an octopus and the heart of a lion. (Liam Gowing)
XO, PARTY OF ONE at Spaceland, August 1
Just when you thought there wasn’t room for another guitar-drums duo, XO emphasized yet again that you don’t need a bass to rock out. This was Sabbath-kissed deep-rockin’ sludge à la Jucifer with role reversal: Bean Babasoloukian rumbled her toms with meaty fills and a sexily sloppy backbeat, while Bryan Moon strangled his fretboard good when he wasn’t screaming like a liquored-up banshee. Sparking off each other in a deceptively elaborate courtship dance, they achieved moments of real magic.
It’s hard to get blown away by indie rock today, but the Minneapolis trio Party of One showed there’s hope yet. Science-nerd singer Eric Fifteen, butch-cherub bassist Terrika Kleinknecht and yeoman skin pounder Geoff McCusick whipped up an impossibly rich tapestry of noise that veered into baroque synth sparkles as prancy as late-period Stranglers, or droning orch-pop crescendos that made the shoegazer sound of yore seem fuddy-duddy — think Milemarker with technical mastery. PoO never failed to suck in the eight or so people present, though if you think Midwestern uplanders are polite and folksy, you’ve seen Fargo too many times, because these wiseacres took sarcasm to a whole new level. (“I missed XO because I was eating, but I’m sure they were fabulous.”) Fifteen, last of the great misanthropes, might have gone too far in declaring, “We like to play this song whenever embassies blow up,” but a champagne-popping “La La-La La” chorus (and a one-song encore of “Shotgun Funeral,” their catchiest tune) proved he did in fact wish to give us some relief from the cruel world. (Andrew Lentz)