Deerhoof, Fallou Dieng and Gnarls Barkley, Hollywood Bowl, July 27
Photos by Timothy Norris
Rhythm wrestled with rock last night at the Hollywood Bowl in a perfectly programmed bill that showcased three different notions on the interplay among percussion, guitar, harmony and the human voice. It was a feast for the ears, as the artists on the expansive Hollywood Bowl stage performed fantastic gymnastic leaps of sound and vision. If this were the Olympics, Sunday was the floor exercise: instrumentalists from across the world moved across the from flip flops to back flips to twists and somersaults, each offering his or her rhythmic routine. (It was as awe-inspiring as overly-long mixed metaphor!) No doubt cognizant of a recent trend among American indie rock bands in citing an interest in African music, the evening's programmer, Johanna Rees, seemed to use the Hollywood Bowl stage as a display case: It's all interconnected. Rhythm is the tapestry; melody is the design.
Deerhoof is one of the most interesting and invigorating bands in America right now, a jagged, angular four-piece (beefed up from their recent few years as a trio) from San Francisco who creates musical puzzles that fit together will expertly engineered precision. Singer and bassist Satomi Matsuzaki's pretty falsetto drifted over a double-guitar tangle generated by John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez (who used to play together in this great Minneapolis band called Colossamite), while drummer Greg Saunier delivered beats like Keith Moon having an epilectic fit. Each played his or her instrument with percussive bursts, tossing out melodies that spun along like a red rose swirling through a gray tornado.
Senegalese singer Fallou Dieng was a late fill-in after compatriot Youssou N'Dour cancelled, but any notion that Dieng was an afterthought was quickly dispelled as he and his nine-piece band presented their take on the amazing West African musical tradition. With four percussionists, two keyboardists, bass, guitar and Dieng on vocals, the band presented complicated rhythms that would explode Vampire Weekend's fingers. “Is everyone happy?” Dieng asked at one point. The band sure was.
Halfway through Dieng's set, his dancer glided out, an intense smile on his face, his body covered with lightweight, flowing shirt that looked like Homer Simpson's mumu. The skinny dancer then started doing this smooth, graceful move as the percussionists issued exclamation after exclamation. The dancer then started doing what I wrote in my notes as being an “uncontainable boner dance.” He'd squat, put all the excess cloth between his legs, close them and then thrust his pelvis, causing all the material to spring forth in front of him like he was carrying John Holmes' package. He did it over and over again, and the kids in the crowd couldn't stop laughing. (Vampire Weekend should hire this dude.)
“I'm acting cool, but I'm actually very excited,” confessed Gnarls Barkley singer Cee-Lo Green, he of the Al Green croon and the Oliver Hardy body, halfway through the band's Hollywood Bowl debut. He and co-founder Dangermouse arrived in sparkling blue tuxedo jackets and proceeded to deliver a solid, if seldom truly explosive, show. With Green out front standing and Danger sitting beside him like an organist at a church recital, the pair, backed by guitar, bass, drum and keyboard, offered a sound that was more rooted in the rock tradition than either of the openers.
Green is a funny guy, and between each song he offered some sort of dry witticism to the crowd. At one point he said, “What are you looking at?! Are you looking at me?” And then, after “Storm Coming,” from their breakout album St. Elsewhere, the singer began to introduce his next song: “I don't want to do bore you with this shit, but I have to do this next song. I'm contractually obligated to do this song. They'll lock me up if I don't.” The band then began the memorable opening melody to “Crazy,” a song that Green and Mouse seemed have already accepted as the biggest hit they will ever have. (He later said he was just joking, but a part of him surely wasn't.) And even if that's the case, it's quite a song, and it probably bought Green that jumbo diamond watch that sparkled inside the Bowl.
After an encore, the band returned to perform a beautiful version of Radiohead's “Reckoner,” and Green's voice filled the hillsides until it overflowed and poured forth across Hollywood as if a wave washing away the dirt and dust.
Gnarls Barkley's Setlist:
Gone Daddy Gone
Just a Thought
A Little Better
Save My Soul