Photos by Gregory Bojorquez
at Verizon Amphitheater, August 13
Props: He's plucky enough to ignore label bosses, put on a personal wish list of a festival and operate at a profit; large-hearted (or indulgent) enough to call out 9/11 and connect it to a tune from the dazzling new 18; forward-thinking and plain blessed enough to dig into the public domain — happily avoiding sample-clearance issues — and end up with the funky-fresh 2x-platinum-and-climbing Play. Plus, he speaks up to and overstands his fans. Oh Mobester, yer too much.
Side Dish: Our very own DJ Dan lost himself in a propulsive deep-house mix, but Dutch jock Tiësto clearly had the freshest, hi-NRGest and most melodic set. “He laid it down,” a gang-signing fan enthused. He even upstaged DJ John Digweed (!), who was nevertheless awesome. No doubt the nu-jack Tom Skinner hated following Tiësto, but his static beats bore the petulant air of not even trying. “That mix was bad,” growled the same sweaty fan.
Main Event: Las Vegas novelty act Blue Man Group mercilessly flayed their monstrous convoluted tubes like Taiko drummers on speed. The only problem is that the titular blue men are better suited to television, where close-up cams capture their Marcel Marceau/Harpo Marxlike humor. Sensing this, they compensated with a seven-piece backing band who kicked out actual songs, like Jefferson Airplane's “White Rabbit.” For an anticlimactic climax, they launched silvery streamers onto the front rows.
It takes moxie to head up one of the summer's main music festivals 33 years into your career. At 52, the Thin White Duke — looking dapper in an 1890s saloon-keeper kinda way — hit the stage like he was getting his first break, pseudo-upper-class charm seductive as ever. Save for the Lost-in-Nebraska anecdote, Bowie's banter had an endearingly inside-joke quality that came off as a series of non sequiturs to fair-weather fans. It's no secret he hates playing all the old hits, but the arch glam-rocker thoroughly enjoyed belting out '80s career savers “China Girl” and “Let's Dance,” even giving the crocodiles their fix of “Ziggy Stardust” for the encore. Overly modest, Bowie limited selections from the brand-new Heathen, a slyly smoldering album, especially the politically charged “Afraid,” where he wears his paranoia on his sleeve. “You should go get yourself a copy,” he winkingly said. “It's really quite good.”
Parting Shots: Will-call: braaagh! You stink . . . the usual concession stand/merch extortion . . . bathrooms only mildly gross as opposed to a health hazard . . . parking a breeze, no exodus gridlock . . . perfect weather . . . festival Web site claims gates open at 3:30, yet Dieselboy — the best drum & bass jock in the U.S — spins at 2:15. Thanks . . . Oh, and Moby, could you name-drop a few more literary figures? Guess that Time-Life 100 Greatest Books Collection really paid off.
There are more people wearing Tiësto T-shirts today than David Bowie ones, and this blond, wide-eyed college bro is sporting the most interesting selection. “Tiësto rules!” he yells. Tiësto is the new Dave Matthews. And three hours from now, as the projected name of Tiësto burns in gasoline flames, the crowd will fall absolutely in love, because the Dutch DJ likes to smile at them, likes to wave, and because his pitch-perfect mixing of boring trance records has those synthesized epiphanies and relentless bass pulses that will launch these kids into their favorite frontier: that space of tension without friction.
But at the moment, these Tiëstoholics and other kids of less severe substance abuse are only tolerating the Avalanches' treble-happy DJ set, which is all about friction and no tension: four turntables of cross-fader boxing featuring Ludacris vs. St. Germain, Duke Ellington vs. Gary Glitter, C+C Music Factory vs. the Police, and so forth. Because the Aussie collective's debut album, Since I Left You, is a bedroom-studio masterpiece and it's been proved that their live-show experiments just don't work, the two deejaying Avalanches (Robbie Chater and Dexter Fabay) are racing through their bargain-bin crates and dropping the shit with a loot-'n'-run hip-hop style as a way to approximate the sample-heavy groove of their recorded sound. “I don't care,” says a female Tiësto/John Digweed fan, “this still sucks.”
Over in the amphitheater, Busta Rhymes is wrapping up his party with one of his dumber songs (“Pass the Courvoisier”), and says to Bowie and Moby's early arrivers, “Motherfuckers, we got you!” The motherfuckers were frowning at the beginning of his show and now they're smiling, according to Busta, and that's making him happy. Sure, the crowd might have noticed that Busta's one of those rare performers who can delve into hip-hop clichés without falling into parody, and that his insane throw-down on “Break Ya Neck” can only be the work of a virtuoso. But in a few hours they'll totally forget about him, when they hear Bowie sing “Ziggy Stardust” with that perfect Ziggy voice we thought we'd never hear again, and when they see Moby cap off the evening with a sensory hemorrhage of supernova lights, vast aural grids, ecstasy flashbacks and “Feeling So Real.” It will always be a thankless job for the hip-hop artist on an Area tour, but Busta goes ahead and busts it anyway.
at the Universal Amphitheater, August 6
Some artists measure the pulse of the time in which they live; other artists seem to be inside the blood of time itself. Take Slayer, the veteran Southern Californiabased speedmetal quartet who released their last album, God Hates Us All, on September 11, 2001. The last time I saw these guys was on January 15, 1991, at the Sports Arena downtown; at midnight that night, probably not too long after Slayer closed their show with “Angel of Death,” the deadline that George Bush I, Congress and the U.N. had set for Iraq to exit Kuwait passed. Two days later, the U.S. began its air assault. So it figures, in some sort of poetically evil way, that Slayer's biggest show in L.A. since that night in 1991 takes place as Bush II officials are walking tall, rattling Chevron/Mobil/Texaco-emblazoned sabers and talking blockbuster sequel to Gulf War Part I.
That Slayer's music is so totally fucking appropriate to impending wartime is a point struck home relentlessly tonight. With original drummer Dave Lombardo back in the band, Slayer are all military precision, speed and accuracy; as a friend noted, Slayer formulated perfection years ago and are by now simply beyond any sort of criticism on a technical front. But with Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein and atomic explosions flashing on the video screen during songs like “War Ensemble,” Slayer's performance moved beyond cathartic entertainment into something somewhere between propaganda and tribal war dance. (The Brazilian band Soulfly, led by exSepultura founder Max Cavalera, had made this connection to indigenous American cultures explicit earlier in the evening; their set included both ensemble tribal drumming and choruses of “Eye for an eye for an eye.”) By the Slayer set's half-point, after 45 minutes of impossibly assaultive, immaculately mixed crunch-blast-scream music at high volume, the (overwhelmingly male and draft-age) audience seemed violently energized and absolutely suggestible — feeling barbarian, waiting for kill orders. By the time singer-bassist Tom Araya got around to barking, “Are you proud? Always be proud of who you are!,” I was half expecting to encounter U.S. military sign-up booths in the concourse at the show's conclusion.
Slayer once wrote a song called “Expendable Youth,” but who'd have thought that was a fate they wished for their own audience? I'd like to volunteer Slayer's four members — and Rick Rubin, Slayer's executive producer — for service instead. These guys are perfectly suited to helping America's war efforts: They're technically superproficient, fearsomely aggressive and absolute moral imbeciles. (Jay Babcock)
at Club Naked, August 16
The mixer reads 147.7 bpm as bass pogos off the walls and green lasers stab the fog in time. Exhibitionists are shoulder-tapped off the stage to make way for the micro-hotpants-and-pigtails pros in pink. Throngs of thong straps peek over hip-huggers, and guys shed their shirts to reveal shaved chests in sheens of wet. It's a scene rarely championed, but Club Naked and events like it represent a night of dancing for more people than spotlighted megaclubs and superstar DJ tours. Tonight's headliner, DJ Irene, has sold more mix CDs than any other American woman. Even at $40 a head, this is Friday night for the people.
E-music snobs need to face the cheese. It's an industry. It's performance art. But don't paint Irene with AM/PM nacho sauce. (Opener Thomas Michael played Euro-trance like it was 1999.) There's a fine line between camp and Cheddar. Irene has been on the underground side of the law for more than a decade, having held down a live-on-FM residency at Arena during its gay heyday. Her skills are unquestionable. She slaps down tracks and matches beats at first cue with the pitch controls down at full speed. Her mixes are long and funky in a West Coast style, even if her evolving sound is rooted mainly in the car-alarm hard house of England's late Tony De Vit. Irene's timing is impeccable as she blends on-bar until a new bass line kicks in and she grins that evil grin.
Critics blame America's homophobia for the slow success of post-disco dance. But those same writers would rather give up their Powerbooks than sweat to trance and hard house with this gay and straight mix of hoi polloi. Seems like the record-buying masses that made Irene's mix-CDs a 300,000-selling cottage industry don't have a problem with it at all. And that's the naked truth. (Dennis Romero)
MISTLETOE, SCIFLYER, THE NAYSAYER FIVER
at Spaceland, August 15
I arrived in time to hear the Naysayer make quaint sound incisive. Sad like empty houses, and oh so clever. I wanted to persuade them to rob a saloon with me, or at least a state liquor store. I'm trying to avoid the term “alt country” (I mean, what did they ever do to me?), but it definitely had something to do with sawdust and sorrow. I don't know if the subsequent band was Fiver or if in fact Fiver is just a myth parents made up to keep their children in line; I'm not one of the cognoscenti. Could have been Sciflyer for all I knew. Could have been anybody with collared-shirt depression. These kids were so emo I wanted to smack them — “emo” being upset over all the wrong things, very “You read my diary! You sunk my battleship!” Don't get me wrong, they sounded really angry. As do many emo bands. As does any child's tantrum.
Mistletoe played a short and taut set for the few kids lucky enough to stick around. Their EP Sorry It's Been So Long — which they were sweet enough to give away — is occasionally tame, the production all too stable. Their musical clothes sound too well-pressed. Job-interview music. Live, these boys tore that musical self to shreds. They just seemed so holy and street — I wasn't sure whether I should ask them who to kill or if I should take them home and bake for them. This was garage rock in all the right ways, Dad's shelves smashed, bicycles overturned, rock so loud and abrasive that the girl next door has no choice but to hear it. Since, after all, that was the whole point in the first place. (Russel Swensen)