Photo by Alicia J. Rose

at Spaceland, January 18

Two-thirds into their set, Decemberists front man Colin Meloy slung his guitar around his back, bandmate Chris Funk did the same, and the two staged a mock guitar duel. Both were solid though not virtuosic, and it came together more as a joke than a standoff. “I was Ralph Macchio to his Steve Vai,” Meloy said, referencing Crossroads, a post–Karate Kid vehicle that featured Macchio as a Juilliard grad playing against Vai to free a blues musician from his deal with the devil. Typical Decemberists: No pretentious conceit is safe.

Meloy concentrates on nautical themes, using archaic language to sing of pirates, legionnaires, gypsies, prostitutes and “chimbley” sweeps — all jauntily dissolute. Every vocal tone is clear, every syllable subject to his precise yet peculiar enunciation. The instrumentation is vest-pocket orch-pop. Meloy’s clean-toned guitars are ably supported by his bandmates’ turns on melodica, standup bass, lap steel, keys and, most notably, Jenny Conlee’s passionately played accordion.

Though indie fans have picked up on a similarity to Belle & Sebastian and Neutral Milk Hotel, the show made me envision the Decemberists as an anti-Doors. Where the Doors were apocalyptic and macho, the Decemberists were egoless and fey. The comparison also implies affinities, though, such as incantatory momentum and theatrical presence. (Funk wore a sidelong conductor’s cap and chomped a cigar throughout.)

The band’s previous L.A. appearances drew lightly, but this night they sold out the club, a line snaked around the corner, and they concluded with three encores, beginning with an accomplished Big Star cover and concluding with the band’s equivalent of “The End.” Where Jim Morrison had Oedipus and Dionysus, Meloy had a trip up “California One”: “Come join the youth and beauty brigade/Nothing will stand in our way.”

Their energy bordered on the dangerous; only the Coast Guard can save us.


at the Henry Fonda Theater, January 16

Spaceland Productions gave electroclash fans a special treat last Friday — a quartet of technology-linked bands whose performances segued from one to the next like the tracks of a giant concept album exploring the integration of man and machine.

Dance Disaster Movement electro-evangelist Kevin Disco immediately embraced the power of the automaton by looping strangulated guitar chords and shock-therapy synthesizers over drummer Matt Howze’s infectious beats, so he was free to breakdance through the audience and perform his own epileptic version of the Robot. Seksu Roba offered a titillating in-flight movie that perfectly complemented the futuristic duo’s trippy blend of sequenced “Pleasure Vibrations” and sci-fi theremin, a tricky instrument manipulated with stunning human sensitivity by Roba mastermind Sukho Lee. Musical anomalies Self strayed from the formula with almost completely live performances, but made the evening’s themes explicit, lamenting society’s “subliminal plastic motives” in “Superstar,” then celebrating its modern conveniences in their techno-plosive finale “Joy, the Mechanical Boy,” an ideal prologue to the headliners.

But the crowd — already whipped into a frenzy by a tripartite conspiracy of KXLU, KCRW and KROQ — needed no introduction to Ima Robot, whose combination of punk soul and new-wave machine seemed to achieve critical mass the very instant the quintet hit the stage. When the supremely catchy “Dynomite” lived up to its name — with mosh pits exploding into boxing rings and one young fan blasting through the Fonda’s tight security in a death-defying stage dive — it looked like the man-machine might actually destroy us. But after Ima Robot’s own “Ziggy Rotten,” Alex Ebert, exhorted the audience to “love one another,” all was forgiven, and the only thing electroclash fans could say as they walked away to their black Jettas was “That was fucking awesome.” (Liam Gowing)

Luis Güereña, 1959–2004

Of the three charismatic lead singers in the punk-ska collective Tijuana No, Luis Güereña — who died at age 44 from an apparent heart attack at his Tijuana home early Sunday, January 11 — was the group’s clown-prince provocateur and rebel conscience. While Teca Garcia had a more majestic voice, and Cecilia Bastida sang the sweetly melodic, ska-flavored hits, it was Güereña who always stirred the pit with fierce hardcore blasts such as “Illogic World” and “Gringos Ku Klux Klanes.” Much like his friend Jello Biafra, he leavened his radically leftist barbs with wicked humor, stomping around the stage in an Uncle Sam top hat. But he also showed the soul of a poet, whether decrying war in “Amputated Town” (“I watch my friends flying, turning into steaks”) or exploring the many contradictions of border-town life on Contra-Revolución Avenue, which fused elements of reggae, heavy metal, hip-hop and salsa by guest collaborators Kim Deal, Fermin Muguruza, Kid Frost, Fishbone and the Bad Brains’ H.R. into a psychedelic masterpiece.

Güereña spent as much time performing, recording and living in L.A. (even rooming with X’s John Doe) as he did in his hometown. He was instrumental in setting up the first punk-rock gigs in Tijuana in the early ’80s, before starting the band Chantaje at the end of the decade. Chantaje soon morphed into No (the “Tijuana” was added because another group had already registered No), and Güereña, a natural ham, quickly warmed to his role as a punk Pied Piper, followed by every street urchin from here to Chiapas, where T.N. played Zapatista benefits. Among other things, he was a champion tennis player; he told me he used to climb the gates at San Diego country clubs at night to practice. Luis never did like walls.

—Falling James

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