Photo by Joe Dilworth
at the Wiltern, September 21
Dig the Buzzcocks? Then you’ll love Franz Ferdinand. Like hype? Then you’ll really love Franz Ferdinand. The band of the minute can do no wrong these days. They win every award they’re up for, including Britain’s Mercury Prize, and they’re nominated for the semiprestigious Short List. And their songs — well, if you like choruses that seem to fly at you like torpedoes, harmonies at light speed and spot-on musicianship, you’ll find nothing to complain about in any of the 11 songs on their debut album.
After openers the Futureheads, with their falsetto-wailing lead singer and magnificent drummer, the excitement meter in the Wiltern was nearly Beatlemaniacal. Teenybopper girls practiced their cheerleader moves in their seats, and T-shirts sold briskly. The line for pretzels was longer than the one for beer. Yes, most of the crowd were dropped off by their parents, a darn good sign for the future of rock.
They may wear their XTC and Bowie influences on their fashionable sleeves, but Franz Ferdinand got credit (and attention) for constructing intricate pop from the ground up, and ignorance is bliss. From the opening thwunks, the totally unjaded crowd hung on every note. Guitarist Nick McCarthy (it’s no surprise this guy is a classically trained pianist) played with virtuosic brashness, and suave singer Alex Kapranos added speed and power to every pop gem. For skinny guys who act kinda queeny, they play with a ton of muscle. The preteen girls next to me literally trembled at the opening notes to “Jacqueline,” and by the time F.F. tore into “This Fire,” both moms and sons were screaming along to “We’re gonna burn this city!” The only ones doing hard pop like this better these days are Supergrass.
When Franz Ferdinand first began three years ago, they declared their goals as 1) “to make girls dance” and 2) to be as famous as the Austrian archduke they named themselves after. Well, on Count 1 at least —
mission accomplished. But for all their triumph after just one album, the second one better be fuckin’ great.
at House of Blues, September 22
The early-’80s British post-punk scene was full of sonic adventure, and many a band — Siouxsie and the Banshees, Southern Death Cult, Bow Wow Wow — explored with gusto the grafting of tribal rhythms onto rock’s guitar-defined template. Though their fellow Banshees flew the gloomy-glam coop ages ago, Siouxsie Sioux and husband-drummer Budgie have continued to pursue multiethnic beats and imagery, arriving tonight with a show dominated by percussion.
Like a true diva, Siouxsie keeps us waiting nearly an hour, then her friends assemble without her: Budgie; a percussionist in full ceremonial breastplate; twin (literally) gal backup singers; keys; and a guitarist-bassist. A hypnotic rhythmic tattoo established, Sioux swirls on to yelps from this mixed-bag, mostly 30s crowd, her red-and-black robe and cockatiel hair part geisha, part Princess Leia. Svelte and still spunky, vogueing like some burlesque dervish, Siouxsie’s in fine fettle, utterly living up to her goth-goddess status.
Her newer material, which dominates the front of tonight’s set, is not as esoteric as rumored: While it’s drum-circle indulgent and sometimes wincingly melodramatic, there are songs and structure amid the stylings. Siouxsie’s voice, as ever, can begin a phrase or even a vowel as a menacing male lament, and mutate by line’s end into a shrill Medusa semi-yodel, a signature androgyny that demands and commands attention.
Nostalgia is satiated by subtly reworked versions of the Banshees staples “Kiss Them for Me,” “Christine” and the longtime cover fave “Dear Prudence,” but ultimately the tone and integrity of this performance are what linger. Nearly 30 years after she staggered onto the stage at London’s 100 Club (alongside one Sid Vicious), Susan Ballion continues to define herself as Siouxsie Sioux, cultured international icon, defiantly living out her adolescent daydream. And that’s punk rock, that is.
at the Greek Theater, September 22
A visibly hip late-30s dad and his early-grade-school son stood a little ways from the merch-table mob, eyeing the variety of T-shirts hawked in commemoration of the Pixies reunion tour, bantering back and forth like they were at a ballgame. Dad was trying to explain how the T-shirt that read “The Pixies Sellout,” with three months’ worth of tour dates listed below, was a fun consumerist double-entendre. The kid didn’t care for the joke; he just wanted the shirt that said “Death to the Pixies,” mirroring the group’s original 1986 poster. Even with alt-rock legends carrot-sticked out of retirement, it seems, what the parents don’t know, the little ones inherently understand.
It’s been a long time since listening to the Pixies was a secret passion; now it’s more a rite of passage. Their return isn’t a re-congregation of old mates so much as a celebration of all those who got on the bus in the meantime. At the Greek, most of the “hits” — whether the opening “Bone Machine,” the elegiac “Where Is My Mind?,” Kim Deal’s one-song revolution “Gigantic,” the shoulda-been-a-smash “Velouria” et al. — got better receptions than “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” their closest thing to a chart-topper, but hardly a peep was uttered for “Bam Thwok,” Deal’s crunchy new rocker about the wonder of radio (“watch it, here’s 50,000 watts of goodwill”), which sounded better than some of the all-time favorites.
The professionally chrome-domed boys in the band looked the part of elder statesmen, as did Deal, whose new haircut cast her as the cool new riot mommm on the block. Though they eschewed pointless big-rock formalities, they played “Wave of Mutilation” twice (“surf version,” y’all). The classic formula may have changed, but the kid went home with the T-shirt he wanted. Don’t they always?
at the Troubadour, September 21
Though the Jet-lagged garage-rock genre no longer flies first class, the Datsuns are still enjoying the ride. As their name implies, these Kiwi throwbacks are blissfully unaware that the ’80s and ’90s ever happened, plundering Led Zep, AC/DC, Thin Lizzy and the Who — via some disheveled Detroit disrespect — for a sound that’s barely their own but bristling with enthusiasm.
The Datsuns resemble your still-in-a-covers-band uncle, all unconditioned locks and too-tight threads, and have brought out the ironically cool retro-T-shirt brigade in numbers tonight. Their set leans heavily on their 2002 debut, The Datsuns — a disc that had the U.K. music press pissing their New Clothes — with just half a dozen from their new Outta Sight/Outta Mind. The fan faves “MF From Hell” and “Harmonic Generator” get faithful butts a-wiggling, but curious minds demand fresh fodder: “Messin’ Around” comes on with glam-pomp toms and vocal/guitar call-and-response; “Girls Best Friend” is the Datsuns at their most sub-Kinks melodic; “What I’ve Lost” is cunningly arranged nostalgia, while “Hong Kong Fury” is Sab/Zep hefty, as Darkness-esque guitarist Christian Datsun fully indulges his dinosaur-rock fixation between four-way chanted choruses.
Dolf Datsun’s semispoken vocals effectively wander around Robert Plant’s quivering wail, Christian’s ax agility is admirable, and the Datsuns deliver with a charming, raised-eyebrow sense of pantomime that thaws even the cynical L.A. set. Problem is, what was a rush of blood to the extremities over short sets two years ago is now a flimsy fabric of ideas stretched to see-through texture over 75 minutes. The Datsuns’ sound, old to start with, gets corpselike over the course of 16 tunes.
The Datsuns peddle pre-punk purism with heartwarming verve. But “genius”? They’d need a real thumbprint and more songwriting depth of field to merit that tag.
at Spaceland, September 21
As a rule, I prefer seeing bands that have already made a major impact on their local markets before they break onto the international stage — it weeds out a lot of bullshit. So when a Japanese friend who follows the Tokyo music scene said she’d never heard of the 22.214.171.124’s —
a J-girl surf-garage-rock threesome familiar to American audiences for their serendipitous cameo in Kill Bill, Vol. 1 — I prepared myself for disappointment. And when the band first kicked in, I was struck by the undeniable fact that musically the members couldn’t hold a tiki torch to local acts like the Blue Hawaiians, who have been creating surf-rock magic every godforsaken week for a decade at Lava Lounge. How were the drums? Moderately in-time. The bass? Ham-fisted. The guitar? Pretty sloppy Chuck Berry 101. The vocals? Alternately sharp or flat, and almost completely incomprehensible.
But fuck all that; the show was brilliant. From the 126.96.36.199’s’ original dirty surf tune “I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield” to their rollicking cover of the Shangri-Las’ “I’m Blue,” to an aggressively sliced, diced and julienned take on the Booker T. and the MG’s classic “Green Onions,” the entire set was an evangelical treatise on good music’s ability to transcend borders, languages, cultures and eras, and a crystal illustration of how rock plus the right amount of passion equals punk.
By the time the band kicked into Kill Bill’s “Woo Hoo” — whose entire lyric consists of the title’s brain-stemmed attempt at language atop the standard I-IV-V chord progression and hoary “At the Hop” riff (making a sing-along impossible to resist) — only the stewedest of prunes could resist the simple, manic rock & roll the 188.8.131.52’s had unleashed and the unchallengeable fact that Quentin Tarantino has excellent musical taste.
AUSTIN CITY LIMITS MUSIC FESTIVAL
at Zilker Park in Austin, Texas, September 17–19
Well into the Canadian collective Broken Social Scene’s alt-rock menagerie of songs about fags, lovers swapping spit and 17-year-old girls telling it like it is, I got word Friday from my buddy Parker, whom I was planning to hook up with while in town, that his wife had suffered a miscarriage. But all worries temporarily subsided with the positive vibrations emanating from a nearby stage via a white-leather-suited Toots and his Maytals, whose 1968 single “Do the Reggay” coined the genre. At the opposite end of the 15 acres of Zilker Park carved out between Town Lake and Barton Springs, pocketed by trees illuminated a mesmerizing shade of green, Ryan Adams worked a skeptical crowd with an unpretentious rendition of the Grateful Dead’s “Wharf Rat.” Local hermanos Los Lonely Boys closed day one with their poppy tejano blues; lead singer Henry Garza’s guitar work flowed, but lacked the grit to justify overheard comparisons to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s shredding. (Willie Nelson has taken the Lonelys under his wing; 30 years ago, he taped the first session of Austin City Limits, the PBS program whose producers put on the ACL Festival.) Yet no sign of Parker.
For the Saturday post-brunch crowd, that other troubadour from Minnesota, Mason Jennings, opened a 100-degree day with a wholesome jazz-folk approach that’s finally and deservedly finding fans outside the frat house. Next, Cat Power strayed from piano to guitar, the pose-worthy Chan Marshall eschewing her gorgeous originals for standards and improvisation, which was cool — she could sing Odysseus back home. Having purchased a straw cowboy hat (“fine Moroccan ware,” only $15!) to protect my deteriorating hairline, I looked the part for the honky-tonkin’ ’round the stage where Jimmy Smith, warbler of the Gourds (check them out tonight, Thursday, September 30, at Spaceland), spat barroom junk and funk like a maniacal drunk, shimmying a sweat-coated belly while embodying his city’s credo, “Keep Austin Weird.” Later, the new old-school face of Southern rock, Kentuckians My Morning Jacket, rollicked into “One Big Holiday,” drummer Patrick Hallahan evoking, as one fan put it, Animal from the Muppets, while front man Jim James careened about, chasing his hair like a cat after its tail. This day boasted a sellout crowd of 75,000; my friend Parker was still nowhere to be found.
The talent mix — feature acts on two main stages and two ancillary stages; singer-songwriters, bluespersons and gospel troupes sharing three others — was as quenching as the vodka tonic I concocted Sunday especially to enjoy Calexico and their sultry Sonora Desert horns and haunting Gypsy guitars. Exhausted from the heat and slogging across Zilkerland, I required copious food-and-beverage intake to endure the last day of 130 bands, one of which provided a signer for the hearing-impaired. Although utensils weren’t necessary for the finger-licking-good Stubb’s Bar-B-Q brisket sandwich I scored, I was nevertheless Spoon-fed by singer Britt Daniel, who sounded intermittently like early Elvis Costello — the latter himself milked it one stage over to delay Spoon’s start. But it was Wilco who gave birth to the ghost. Apparently clean and sober, Jeff Tweedy pranced around like a character in a musical, singing sans guitar before letting loose as if auditioning for Crazy Horse. And then, out of nowhere, a tap on the shoulder. I turned, saw Parker with his wife, and promptly gave them a hug the size of Texas.