Photos by Wild Don LewisPSYCHEDELIC FURS
at House of Blues, January 28
Of all the recently reanimated ’80s acts, the Psychedelic Furs are among the most credible. The textured Brit atmo-punks retain a convincing figurehead in front man Richard Butler, have reunited their core lineup (including Butler’s bassist brother Tim and guitarist John Ashton), and know which side their bread’s buttered on — sticking to greatest-hits sets and avoiding radical interpretations.
Tonight’s politely bobbing, clean-cut crowd is massaged with back-to-back minor classics, low-rent theatrics and solid delivery distinguished by Richard Butler’s parched proclamations. In this most corporate of settings, the Furs’ songs — visceral mantras given a dusky Velvet Underground veneer — traverse the pond, the years and a generation with impressive ease. Twenty-five years on, the Furs are still instantly recognizable: Tim Butler’s spinal bass-ics, Ashton’s superprocessed guitar drapes, and Richard Butler ambling between John Lydon’s dismissive, gesticulating sneers and David Bowie’s squinting elegance. Only their signature sax injections are absent, replaced by off-the-shelf keyboard chiming.
“Into You Like a Train” opens with menacing insistence, and “President Gas” — after two technical-hitch false starts — manages to sound similarly urgent. Richard Butler is a performer for whom no onstage moment is trivial, ultra-aware of himself, all eyes upon him: flipping from Silver Surfer poses to high-wire hamming, slack-stringed marionette mime and semi-shamanic squatting. Slim, besuited and removed behind dark glasses, he remains iconic, as the trouser-tugging front-row 30-somethings testify.
Though best known for the perky movie tie-in “Pretty in Pink” (included in the encores), the Furs are at their most evocative during bleak excursions like “Only You and I” and “Sister Europe,” Richard Butler’s stripped lament well suited to last-goodbye despair and monochrome alienation.
More satisfying than spectacular, the latter-day Furs nonetheless prove that the original era’s tunes and talent have outlived the empty slogans and iffy hair.
RICHARD DIVINE, EDIT, BUS DRIVER
at Little Temple, January 29
Bus Driver’s blistering flows were too rapid for tonight’s most attentive hip-hop students, despite the local MC’s nerdy debating-society look. Though the crowd seemed unsure whether this last-minute b-day bash for Edit was a dance party or a candlelit lounge, Driver made damn sure they got a heapin’ helping of truth.
Most folks receive gifts on their birthdays, but Edit was all about giving: chopped-’n’-screwed boom-bap with nitrous boost when you least expected it. Things took a more populist turn when the jock, rocking headset and ball cap, mashed up Kelis’ “Milkshake” with other pop detritus — blends as skilled as Z-trip’s, but with a strictly enforced no-guitars policy.
In his Slayer T-shirt and military flattop, Atlanta’s Richard Divine looked more like a jarhead on furlough than laptop punk’s original gangsta. His two-hour set started out with colliding syncopated rhythms — a steroidally enhanced doubles Ping-Pong match, if you will. He’d go on like that for, say, 30 seconds before plugging in a sound card here, threading in more drums there. “It’s so . . . random,” my unimpressed buddy said. Suffice it to say he and I are no longer on speaking terms.
Just when you thought the set would devolve into drill-’n’-bass headbanging, Divine radically downshifted into these superhot electro breaks — dude, why’d you wait till 1:30 to break that shit out? Fearing he would betray the rivet-heads in the house, he soon reverted to the high-BPM blitzkrieg. Yet on the eve of Iraqi elections, in the wake of tsunamis and Condi Rice equivocating her way into a new job, Divine’s postmillennial tension sounded just right.
FRANÇOIS K’S DEEP SPACE
at the Spider Club, January 29
Two things that DJ purists and hardcore trainspotters might’ve found striking about François K’s Deep Space gig in Hollywood’s Saturday-night zoo: The first was that the 51-year-old dance-music legend used a laptop instead of records to choreograph the evening; the second was that he treated a house full of beer-spilling yahoos to the kind of expertly eclectic set old-school cognoscenti yearn for. To pile on the irony, the yahoos barely took notice of either.
Seeing the G4 Mac loaded with Traktor DJ software was a shock. The New York based François Kevorkian is one of the clubbing community’s links to its halcyon past — having manned the booth at Studio 54 and the Loft during the disco days, remixed half the ’80s, then set house on a return pilgrimage from rave hedonism to broad-minded spirituality at his turn-of-the-millennium Body & Soul parties. This man’s backspins once took on the pageantry of an old priest’s communion; though his aesthetics have evolved alongside the beats, watching him cue tracks by drag-and-drop signaled a new era.
At Deep Space, the new dub- and mixing-board-centric party François is touring, this embrace of the digital made perfect sense. It gave greater options to his audio tweaking — the layered echo aftershocks, for instance, continually blossomed into sonic booms, turning one Joe Budden boast into a wizardly roar from Oz. The updated tech also helped François slide in and out of rhythms — like the junglist “Amen” he Lego’d with a Biggie Smalls track as effortlessly as “da doo” fits with “ron ron.” At 1 a.m., he dropped the Stones’ “2000 Light Years From Home,” Bill Wyman’s bass providing a tenuous pulse to a befuddled frat-house-grope dance floor, before escorting the groove to the doorstep of some beautiful piece of Detroit-sounding techno, still not caring who was the wiser.
THALIA ZEDEK, VISQUEEN
at Spaceland, January 28
Seattle’s Visqueen formed in 2001, but the clean trio of guitar, bass and drums sounds straight out of the ’90s, a tightly wound purist act with all the visceral subtlety of spearing a fish. Equal parts sweet and sour, Visqueen wisely let their marbled slabs of rock candy stand alone, indulging only in refreshingly organic frills like Rachel Flotard’s fret slides: Channeling Eddie Van Halen, the tip of her pink tongue poking out of her Cheshire-cat grin, Flotard rode the neck with cackling delight. With the Muffs’ Ronnie Barnett on bass, it seemed especially right when his bandmate Kim Shattuck, dressed in gas-station jacket, bowling shoes and slightly overgrown Bettie Page bangs, hopped onstage and joined Flotard on Sunset on Dateland’s “Manhattan.” Though Visqueen’s formula sometimes invites complacency, few live acts offer such contagious, chugging glee.
On one of the coldest nights of winter, puffy-eyed Thalia Zedek blew in, accompanied by a band who seemed ready to bolt under Spaceland’s white-hot lights. In fact, Zedek and her crew seemed ready to take on a much darker place — likely the last bar on the edge of the habitable world. With her androgynous voice and her stark, sad songs that slowly strangle a pinhole of light, Zedek seemed to harbor the kind of ancient mysteries only ziggurats and Gypsy clowns possess. Perhaps not in on the secret, most of the crowd ignored Zedek and her slashing, owl-eyed violist, David Michael Curry. With her wounded eyes shut, her presence almost apologetic, Zedek seemed, even in her most burning, plaintive moments, a little too close to the name of her 2001 solo effort: Been Here and Gone.
DIANNE REEVES, MISA JUSTA
at Walt Disney Concert Hall, January 29
Time was when jazz mass would’ve rung the same as sacred orgy, but thanks to the historic efforts of Duke Ellington, Lalo Schifrin and a few other brave hearts, the term is no longer oxymoronic. Plus, a certain Ramón Gutiérrez del Barrio (an Argentine like Schifrin) premiered a jazz mass in 1954 and landed a love letter from the pope for his trouble. So his son Eduardo, known for his work with Caldera and EWF, thought he’d take a flying forte at his own swingin’ liturgy, grafting on a feminist subtext (Mary Magdalene warn’t no hoor!) and snaring Dianne Reeves as lead warbler.
Packed in orange satin, Reeves began the program with mostly jazz — “In a Sentimental Mood,” “Afro-Blue,” “Green Chimneys” — gently wowing us with her effortless intervalic leaps and getting inside our heads with the champagne fizz of her high sustains. Soprano saxist Paul McCandless, flutist Hubert Laws and trumpeter Terence Blanchard were all better than fine, especially Blanchard, whose delicatissimo phrasing and reluctant mock courting with Reeves adroitly skirted the low end of show biz. But the real guts poured from Peter Martin on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass and Greg Hutchinson on drums, first-rate rhythm expanders all.
The Misa Justa (Righteous Mass) featured all the foregoing (except with Billy Childs dethroning Martin), plus a floor-dragging white gown for Reeves, a full chorus and the entire L.A. Phil conducted by William Henry Curry. How you gonna swing all that? Not too briskly, though the music was an elegant, ponderable mix of modern complexities: a querulous Kyrie, a distracted Gloria rising to simple unity, an uncertain Credo diverted by Reeves’ Arabic flights yet evolving through an exorcistic crisis of faith into resigned devotion. Oldsters dozed on each other’s shoulders through the reverent Sanctus till Reeves clearly, humbly sang her Agnus Dei for peace. Against all odds, jazz has become more respectable than religion.