Photos by Wild Don Lewis


at the Wiltern, December 9

Opening for a band of Muse’s caliber (and stage equipment) is
a challenge. So rather than try to rock harder, New York’s the Exit just turned
the Wiltern into their own personal garage; with their amps dwarfed by the technical
gizmos of the Muse stage rig, the three Exit lads just bobbed around happily
and frenetically, fancy light shows be damned. It’s been a long time since anyone
could say that a band sounds like the Police, but these boys are chips off the
Synchronicity block. The highlight was an all-out jam with three (count
’em, three) drummers, including Muse front man Matthew Bellamy, that was strangely
hard not to love.

Let’s be clear, Muse could come on plenty strong without their
fancy lights, too. Live, the diminutive Brit trio blow the Radiohead comparisons
out of the water. Not sure if we’re still in the era of deifying Radiohead at
all costs; anyway, Muse are at least equal performers. Bellamy seems to appropriate
more Jeff Buckley intonations when he bellows out his earnest, heart-wrenching
lyrics onstage, and the guitar lines feel straight out of Placebo or early Jane’s
Addiction. Throw in the pseudo-classical piano embellishments, and suddenly
you have a very complex creature.

The audience mood was high-energy and oddly emotional. Dancing,
crying, smoking weed, making out — listeners were inspired any number of ways.
By the end, the ritzy hall was reduced to a sweaty, frenzied mass, from goth
kids to blond Westside princesses. Although it’s hard to be sure, one could
guess that had the band stage-dived, they could have been carried to Santa Monica.

—Tatiana Simonian



at the Knitting Factory, December 5

As long as there’s life left in the chewed-up Boy Toy, there’ll
be a queen out there who thinks wearing a headset is cool. Madonna impersonators
come in all shapes and sizes, but you won’t find many like Mark Edwards, who
looks like he should be on a Harley wearing a T-shirt with “If you can
read this, the bitch fell off” printed on the back. But Edwards also happens
to be a fantastic singer, and the male tribute band he fronts, San Francisco’s
Mandonna, performs everything live.

Edwards — think carnival bearded lady — sauntered onto the stage
in Marie Antoinette garb, vogueing his heart out, and worked a set showcasing
Madonna’s early material. (Not even an impersonator can stomach rapping, “I
drive my mini Cooper/I’m feeling superduper.”) When it was time to get “Into
the Groove” and take a “Holiday,” Edwards — now think Hulk Hogan
— slipped into mesh pants and a feather boa (must be hard to do scissor kicks
with thighs that could put Hulk in a chokehold); for “Like a Prayer,”
he donned a priest’s collar. Listening to faux operatic climaxes while an attendee
yelled “Free Bird” was a religious experience much like staring at
a velvet painting of The Last Supper.

Even funnier was Edwards’ take on his idol’s more infamous songs.
He made it through the wilderness in a virginal wedding dress straight out of
Aardvark’s. Put a pillow under that dress and voilà — you’ve got pregnant
teen Madonna exhorting “Papa Don’t Preach” and even faking labor pains.
Would the real Madonna do that? Would the real Madonna walk up to your table
and ask you how you’re doing?

Boys may come and boys may go, but there’s a Marriott lounge out
there that needs to book these boys for New Year’s.

—Siran Babayan


at the Knitting Factory, December 8

Back in the mid-1970s, before Brian Eno was acknowledged as the
Architect of Ambient, helped produce a few rock masterpieces and evolved into
a respected art-fueled philosopher of modern life, he made four of the greatest
art-pop albums in the canon. Sadly, mainstream rock & roll history has filed
these records — Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain (By
, Another Green World and Before and After Science
— on a top shelf where only industrious seekers reach for them. Of course, those
who make the discovery end up pledging eternal allegiance.

Hence this evening’s communion between Enorchestra, a septet of
musicians from prominent Bay Area groups realigned as an Eno cover band, and
the 100 or so middle-aged fanatics relishing the opportunity to sing along with
rarely performed songs. “You guys are nerds!” noted bassist Seth Lorinczi
toward the end, a truism applicable to everyone involved.

Certainly bandleader/guitarist Doug Hilsinger, whose Eno-approved
song-for-song CD remake of Tiger Mountain with vocalist Caroleen Beatty
inspired the venture, got his geek on. Rearranging the synth-heavy pieces for
three guitars, two drums and no keyboards, Hilsinger unwound guitar solos that
brought classic prog-rock grandiosity to songs whose magic lay in layers of
understatement (lyrical, instrumental, melodic). Far more in keeping with the
Eno spirit was the orchestra’s nonstop erotic pulse and its gender-bending makeup.
Alongside five men, Beatty and guitarist-vocalist Sunshine Haire represented
the glam-femme Eno, who struggled against the solipsistic testosterone that
built so much big rock, while the staccato guitars and driving percussion created
the type of propulsive Kraut-funk (think Neu!) he favored, and allowed for some
hilarious Deadhead-style interpretive dancing in the audience. Such a display
may have frightened the punk rock out of the few gathered indie kids, but it
also served as a reminder that these grooves were pop first and museum pieces


—Piotr Orlov



at the Knitting Factory, December 10

The spike-haired underground insurgents were out on the floor
in their black stealth outfits: T-shirts, jeans, beat-up Vans, hooded sweatshirts
with every imaginable local punk logo sewn on them. First to serve were Against
Empire, a straight-up 1-2-3-4 crust-metal/punk band. The lyrics sounded really
hard, if you could decipher them in the midst of the fierce pit that welled
up. Next, Armistice changed up the look with lead singer-guitarist Norman in
a Winnie-the-Pooh outfit and bassist Patricia in her Tigger, too. No Disney
tales, though, just Wilmington refinery politics on “Ecocide,” and
social consciousness on “Mankind” and “Manufactured by the System.”

Before Resistant Culture’s tribal grind came a Native American
blessing: Ofelia Rivas, an O’odham (Pima) tribal elder, spoke passionately on
how the U.S. government is militarizing her people’s Arizona/Sonora land by
building a metal barrier “twice the size of the Berlin Wall” — an
appropriate introduction to Resistant Culture’s “Land Keeper,” a powerful
instrumental with lead singer Anthony on indigenous flute. Then the Little Bighorn
assault was mounted; on “It’s Not Too Late,” Anthony spat, “We’re
the past, we’re the future/We’re your nightmare in my dream/Your heroes are
my enemies/Your philosophy wants us dead!” The set peaked with the battle
cry “Man Against the Machine” as Katina scrubbed her guitar, a sweat-dripping
Rafa banged bass, and Ben hurled himself into sick, mathematical double-kick
drumming — it was a warrior unit that hit you, bam!, over the head with
a tomahawk. The energy was so intense, for an instant it felt like we were all
in the Badlands, riding with Crazy Horse.

—Ben Quiñones



at Avalon, December 7

When the roadie walked offstage — after erecting a solitary microphone
— and Sam Beam, the unassuming professor of cinematography–cum–Southern folk
poet who records as Iron & Wine, later came out all alone with his guitar,
I have to admit to being somewhat crestfallen: I would not soon be basking in
the goose-bump-inducingly gorgeous, Appalachian-family-style close harmonies
that Beam has recorded on two albums and several EPs with his sister, Sarah.

But I was also lucky to hear Iron & Wine in, if one can imagine,
an even less adulterated form than heard on Beam’s austere early recordings,
which hark back to when he was 14 and teaching himself Joy Division songs in
his Columbia, South Carolina, bedroom.

Beam’s voice rose well above his trademark Nick Drake–channeled
whisper on a spirited, Americana-ized take on New Order’s dead-soldier lament
“Love Vigilantes,” which bespoke both his new-wave roots and his mastery
of the medium of covers — Beam would also render delicate finger-picked versions
of Neil Young’s “Mr. Soul” and the Postal Service’s “Such Great
Heights,” and Iron & Wine arguably outdo the Flaming Lips on “Waitin’
for a Superman.” The rapt packed house was also treated to live reworkings
of Beam’s own songs, from alternate keys for some to inventive new arrangements
on others, including his lovely maternal paean “Upwards Over the Mountain.”

Early in his newfound calling as a troubadour, Beam admitted he
felt awkward playing outside of his bedroom, and here he was dwarfed by the
Avalon’s stage and enormous backdrop, against which were projected alternating
pastoral images that dovetailed nicely with the songwriting. Still, he performed
more confidently solo than in earlier shows with his sister and full band at
the Knitting Factory, where he was clearly dumbstruck by the audience’s enthused
response. Sam Beam now appears genuinely inspired by the growing legion of alt-country
acolytes, new folk hipsters and Sub Pop loyalists who have devoured his recordings
and come to pay him his due as a performer.

—Mark Hefflinger


It’s not traditional to make much of a fuss when somebody known
as “Dimebag” gets killed. Now a fuss is being made, for the wrong
reason of course: It’s certain that history will remember Darrell Abbott mostly
as the slob who got shot onstage. Musicians and fans, though, will have stronger
and better memories. Ask the younger metalheads whom they admired growing up,
and a few will say Black Sabbath, many will say Metallica, but almost all will
say Slayer, and tied with Slayer will be Pantera. From the ’80s till it closed
its gates in 2003, this was a band that played as dark as people felt, that
stood for power and pride, and the heart of its sound was the interaction beween
the Abbott brothers, guitarist Darrell and drummer Vinnie, who last year formed
Damageplan (headliners at the Ohio club where the shooting occurred). If you
listened to their rhythms, you quickly became aware that the surface simplicity
carried impact because of the way the group dragged and staggered the beat,
relaxing with it but taking control of it. This music was a metaphor for handling
oppression. And Dimebag’s effortless guitar work — heavy, spontaneous, sensual
and marked by the eerie squeals he executed like no one else — always told the
story. From the Texan’s peers, who invariably regarded themselves as his friends,
he drew huge respect for his art, along with the kind of loving testimonials
you can’t fake. Apparently he was a joy to be around.


—Greg Burk

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