Photos by Wild Don Lewis
THE MUSICAL BOX
at the Henry Fonda Theater, December 3
The lamb lay down on Hollywood Boulevard as a sellout crowd, mostly white guys in their 40s and up, witnessed the Musical Box re-creating vintage Genesis. In line before the show, a few fans shared tales of actually seeing Genesis consummate their rock concept masterpiece The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway in 1974, before lead singer/Lamb architect Peter Gabriel left the band while on tour. They also discoursed on the profoundly sucky turn that drummer Phil Collins’ career has taken, while not letting cohorts Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford off the hook. Post-Gabriel Genesis titles like Abacab were uttered the way a French chef might spew out “Jack in the Box Chicken Cordon Blue Sandwich.”
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is the legend of Rael, a young Puerto Rican in New York City who passes out, has his heart removed, goes down a corridor, meets death, escapes death, meets the bulbous Slippermen, finds his brother John, gets castrated by Doktor Dyper, has his excised member snatched away by a raven, finds John again, almost drowns, saves John, then realizes he is John. Backed by the triptych of the original 1,140 slides, the band delivered songs that remained intense and searing thanks to the virtuosic musicianship of bassist Sébastién Lamothe (as Rutherford), singer Denis Gagné (as Gabriel), drummer Martin Levac (spot-on as a balding Collins), keyboardist Éric Savard (perfectly stony as Tony Banks) and guitarist François Gagnon (tucked away as Steve Hackett). Gagné’s every move and inflection were eerily similar to those of Gabriel-as-Rael, and he chewed the scenery with all the dramatic stoicism of the creator.
The intricate, soaring synthesizer solo on “In the Cage” — these guys use all the era’s exact equipment — was gripping. Rael chased the raven that flew off with his castrated package; the spinning “Lamia” cylinder took everyone in the crowd back to their ’70s headphones. After the 91-minute Lamb, the band came back to perform the dark nursery rhyme they took their name from, plus the Genesis classic “Watcher of the Skies.”
Harking back to an era when it wasn’t uncool to be a trained musician, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway holds up well. Though this kind of music, with its evocative bombast and literacy, may never be fashionable, it was written to move an audience — there’s nothing uncool about that. And judging by the turnout, there’s an audience hungry for it. The next natural stop should be the real Broadway.
THREE FILMS BY CAMERON JAMIE WITH LIVE SCORE BY THE MELVINS
at Royce Hall, UCLA, December 4
Moneyed housewives in $600 cashmere sweaters have long been the denizens of ornate concert halls, much the same way sweaty headbangers have always populated dank, beer-soaked rock clubs. Never did I imagine the two worlds would come together by way of UCLA and the Beverly Hills arts establishment, but that’s what happened when the Melvins teamed up with the Paris-based, L.A.-bred visual artist Cameron Jamie.
In 1984, drummer Dale Crover and singer/guitarist Buzz Osborne began the Melvins as an unmemorable Washington speed-metal band, and it could have ended there. But in a stroke of visionary genius, they slowed down their spidery riffs and blast beats to produce a soul-scraping cacophony of metal, hardcore and experimental-drone, alienating their hair-tossing fan base while inspiring fellow Aberdeen misfits Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic. Moving to San Francisco and then L.A., the Melvins have spent two decades dismissing all that “Godfathers of Grunge” hokum while doggedly refining their own dark architecture with a revolving cast of bassists.
The Melvins (with Kevin Rutmanis on bass and Tool’s Adam Jones on second guitar) performed original musical scores set to three of Jamie’s most recent short films, each exploring, with ill-omened intensity, the ways primal rituals confront the “civilized” world. Peeling the audience’s scalps back with their volume, they caught their breath only once, at the close of the extremely entertaining 26-minute Kranky Klaus, a disturbing tale of Yuletide mayhem set in the snowy villages of central Austria. For the second film, the Halloween spectacular Spook House, they wrenched 18 minutes of sheer noise terror from their instruments before seamlessly moving into a proper rock song to accompany the 18-minute BB, which explored the San Fernando Valley backyard-wrestling phenomenon. Here, in the acoustically perfect Royce Hall and in the company of many utterly baffled arts patrons (several with fingers jammed firmly in ears!), the Melvins finally came to embody the orchestra pit from hell they’ve strived so long to become. Bravo, gentlemen.
—Arlie John Carstens
at Avalon, December 1
“I know this is Los Angeles and all, but can you please turn off the smoke machine?” pleads Pinback’s Armistead Burwell Smith, and while the acrid stage haze could be just the collective exhalation of this all-ages, bongs-before-beer crowd, his so-unpretentious-they’re-pretentious band really do seem ill at ease in hipster Hollywood for the first half of tonight’s set of twinkling dream-pop.
Pinback are Smith and fellow multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Rob Crow, fleshed out live by three touring musicians who also casually switch roles. These San Diego indie darlings are all about sparse, intertwining arpeggios and pulsing chords, twin voices cracking and reaching above Casio grooves and lamenting keys, pearls of love and seas of loss. Their slacker anti-image is their image: Pinback are that quiet, bearded guy from your office I.T. department who listens to early Floyd and Eno, pines after pallid girls, and hides hash pipes from his mother.
The beauty of lo-fi acts like this is that they can faithfully reproduce their barely embellished recorded expressions live. “Non Photo-Blue” lovingly references that part of ’80s pop unplundered by the NYC skinny-tie brigade: the Police, Squeeze, Crowded House, Split Enz. This year’s breakthrough single, “Fortress,” retains a NyQuil-vague, written-in-rain regret on either side of its yapping, bass-meshed new-wave chorus.
Like Grandaddy and recent Radiohead, Pinback are a creeping life form, an unspoken friendship that’ll inhabit your stereo without conscious decision or formal invite, ’80s post-punk simplicity rinsed in endless-summer romance and moments-before-sleep psychedelia. They charmingly break rock’s totemic codes (bass — and even twin basses — are often used for polyphonic melody), avoiding the yawning chasm of snore-core with perky arrangements and seemingly inevitable melodies. Pinback are the unlikely aphrodisiac of a whispered confession — baby, talk nerdy to me.
KIIS-FM’S JINGLE BALL
at the Arrowhead Pond, December 3
With all the teenage girls running around, it really felt like I was back in junior high. The first two acts — JoJo singing her hit “Leave (Get Out),” then Christina Milian doing “Dip It Low” — were perfect for these cotton-candy surroundings.
When Maroon 5 came on, it felt like the real concert had begun. The quintet cranked out “This Love” and “She Will Be Loved,” and got political on the John Lennon cover “Happy Christmas (War Is Over).” Marilyn Manson . . . errrr, Ashlee Simpson followed. Don’t know what style she was going for with her goth outfit and Mick Jagger moves, but the lyrics to “Pieces of Me” said it all: “I am moody, messy/I get restless, and it’s senseless.” Alicia Keys, pimped out in black rhinestoned fedora with matching cane, started out funky with “Karma” and “Heartburn,” then slowed up on “You Don’t Know My Name” and “My Boo,” asking in the latter, “Should I tell Usher you said what’s up?” Keys showed her versatility on “If I Ain’t Got You,” sweatin’ on the piano with real soul. Avril Lavigne’s youthful hard-rock sounds on “My Happy Ending,” “Nobody’s Home” and “Sk8er Boy” made the little ones around me very happy.
Surprise package: local girl Gwen Stefani. In hair bow, vest, and shorts over leggings, like Madonna during Desperately Seeking Susan days, she looked exhausted as she sang her new “What You Waiting For?” and then, enlisting a backup drum corps, tried to show her rapping skills on “I Ain’t No Holla’ Back Girl.” The real rapper, Snoop D-O-double-G, showed up wearing his favorite color: a blue bandanna draped from his back left pocket, blue laces on his white Chucks. With a live band at his side — including sidekick “June Bug,” who can really dance, and Dogg Pound gangsta Daz — Snoop busted out some old shit: “Who Am I (What’s My Name?),” “Tha Shiznit,” “Ain’t Nothin’ but a G Thang.” “I know y’all like eggnog,” he proclaimed, “but my favorite drink is . . .” Handed a tall glass, he kicked into “Gin and Juice.” Pharrell Williams, with his ice-cube earrings and Ice Cream sneakers, took the microphone on “Beautiful” and “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” inciting the young ones to chant along in a “Snoooop” frenzy. As the crowd exited, Snoop returned to announce “the seventh wonder of the world, Mr. Stevie Wonder!” Stevie started to sing “This Christmas,” but the young listeners were long gone. A shame; perhaps it was bedtime.