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DR. ART DAVIS QUARTET
at Catalina Bar & Grill, May 6.

This looked like a “How To Play Jazz” set — student
contingent in the audience, emphasis on history and fundamentals. Dr. Art Davis
has played bass with Coltrane, for god’s sake; you could hardly ask for a deeper
teacher. But the whole thing never quite swung.

Which doesn’t mean a load of wizardry wasn’t poppin’. The mood
was blanketed by the recent death of another great bassist, Percy Heath, whose
brother Albert (“Tootie”) manned the traps this night. Tootie proved
the life of the wake anyway, setting off dynamic bombs, whipping up a tornado
of polyrhythms on a Davis composition inspired by New Orleans funerals, and
laying down both an African-rooted hands-to-skins solo and a celestially elevating
cymbal work-up. Reedman Doug Webb, though he blew with polish and gusto on tenor,
soprano, clarinet and even stritch (the alto hybrid invented by Rahsaan Roland
Kirk), generated only Bic-level spark. Pianist Donald Vega was granted the solo
spotlight for a wondrous rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life”
— you’ll never hear its complex structure more coherently fanned out, or its
revelatory harmonies more sensitively illuminated. Elsewhere, his rather bland
improvisations contrasted with a spare, smooth comping style sprinkled with
nice little chunks of tart pineapple.

Smiling like the full moon, Davis acted as genial host and focused
educator, sticking mostly to the simplest of walking bass patterns and soloing
with an ear toward organization rather than expression. One thing he can’t teach
is that tone — as oaky, unveneered and true as a Pilgrim coffin. Was he all
there on this occasion? Judging by the way he consulted his timepiece during
one bandmate’s solo, probably not.

Wish I could’ve hung around; the second set is always better.

—Greg Burk


BRENDAN BENSON

at the Troubadour, May 4.

When Brendan Benson, during his brief late-’90s stay in Los Angeles,
tried to launch the same sort of cleverly direct power pop that had the kids
at the Troubadour Wednesday night literally screaming in adoration, it fell
largely on deaf, dumb ears, and Benson hightailed it home to Detroit. Interestingly,
when the White Stripes–approved Benson and his band zipped through a supercharged
set culled mostly from his new The Alternative to Love (V2) and his previous
One Mississippi and Lapalco, Benson earned the veneration seemingly
on the strength of his pop tunes alone, each of which stands as an encapsulization
of the best that ’60s-’70s pop has to offer. Interesting, too, how genuinely
charismatic Benson becomes onstage with his affably non-rock-star-ish demeanor
and serious focus on playing and singing. Even the appearance of Benson’s Detroit
buddy Jack White (the pair have recorded an album awaiting release) during “Good
to Me” didn’t manage to upstage him.

On disc, songs like “Cold Hands (Warm Heart)” are built
like Bach, emphasizing counterpoint among the guitars, keyboards, voices and
rhythm section, adding to the impact with abrupt key modulations and dynamic
shifts. Live, his superb compositions are played with that rare snap! required
to make such deceptively breezy tunes fly. Benson and his band did it with lean,
unfussy settings, often twinning Benson’s Gibson 335 with bandmate Dean Fertita’s
guitar and electric keyboard (and new-wave synth squiggles on the MTV2-aired single “Spit It Out”), in consummate balance with drummer Matt Aljian and
bassist Michael Horrigan. Sung in a clear, serviceable voice, Benson’s wry lyrics
about ex-girlfriends and A&R guys seemed a bit pedestrian. That same non-“poetic”
plainspokenness, however, was refreshing in Benson’s set-closing solo-acoustic
version of the lovelorn “Metarie.”

—John Payne

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
at the Pantages, May 2.

If Bruce Springsteen doesn’t really, truly embrace the jive he’s
shucking on his solo-acoustic tour, he deserves a smack.

On one hand, it’s all right to play mostly newer material, largely
from an album released just days before (Devils & Dust). Sure, a
couple more familiar bones — say, “For You,” “The River”
or even “I’m On Fire” — would have been great. But hey, the guy’s
got a record to promote.

What pushes the limits of rock & roll taste is when Springsteen
insists fans neither clap nor sing along, as he did at the first of two shows.
Eventually he gave the sign that it was okay to join in, but not before telling
a guy in the third row that his peculiar dancing was giving him the heebie-jeebies.

All that said, you do get the feeling Springsteen believes he’s
tapped a vein of truth and spirit that needs to be shared. At times, singing
crazy falsetto, Springsteen looked like nothing so much as a Muslim ecstatic,
and simply turned beautiful. The Devils & Dust tour isn’t cheerful,
but if you can achieve rapture while bypassing happiness, that’s what Springsteen
did. Beyond his writing, what comes across solo is Springsteen’s proficiency
on guitar and piano. Among the evening’s high points were “The Hitter,”
about a boxer who shortchanges himself; “Reno,” about a guy paying
for sex when he’d rather be with Maria; and “Jesus Was an Only Son,”
the crucifixion story with an emphasis on Mary.

Springsteen’s sermon centered on familiar themes of loss, hypocrisy
and desperation. The action impetus was less clear. After such an effective
tour of anguish, priming us for a call to arms, Springsteen suggested we support
our local food bank. Okay, Boss.

Monday night’s crowd was packed with actors, including Danny DeVito,
Rhea Perlman, Pierce Brosnan, Meg Ryan and Sean Penn. You gotta hope, for everyone’s
sake (but especially Springsteen’s), that the sanctity he demonstrated was more
than a hat tip to fellow thesps.

—Ben Sullivan


Fashion Plates and Bashin’ Skates

Ladies dumped by a guy with delusions of rock-star grandeur, bands
who’ve been unceremoniously dropped by your record label, and music lovers trying
to break into the industry with a minimum-wage job — designer Ali MacLean
feels your pain, and she’s created a clothing line, called “Rock Victim,”
just for you. The former “Gig Guide” girl on Indie 103.1 showed
off new pieces from her Rock’n’Role label last Saturday at the recently
reopened downtown art-and-party space Hangar 1018, parading strugglin’
but stellar stage stars from local bands, including the Prix, Circus Minor
and the Oohlas down the runway with reconstructed wearables bearing the
“Rock Victim” logo among others, all embellished with debauched excess-ories
like laminate necklaces and flasks. It was a dose of raunch and realism at an
otherwise surreal-ish event. Called Naked Lunch, the gathering also had
Counter Culture Couture’s rock frocks, groovy art (we liked the psycho-delic
stuff painted onto 8-track and cassette tapes), live tunage by the Sharp
Ease
and Dirty Little Secret, and indie dance sounds from DJ Paulie
(L Train, Ruby Tuesdays), who bade farewell to L.A. fans and friends
— he’s moving to NYC to work for AddVice, Vice mag’s music division.
A gang of gals who’re anything but victims, L.A.’s rough and tumblin’ roller
girls the Derby Dolls marked the last night at their digs near Chinatown
with a weekend match featuring two terrorific teams: the Fight Crew vs.
the Sirens. The bout attracted the tattooed-greaser and butch sets —
who all seemed to love KXLU DJ Reverend Dan’s punkish soundtrack, not
to mention the $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon. Pow-packin’ playas like Juana Beat’n
and Myna Threat threw treats into the crowd (we got smacked in the face
by a flying bag of doughnut holes), not to mention hard-as-hell body slams on
their opponents, but neither raging ramp vamp was victorious. After getting
a call from a mysterious derby hater, the fire marshal broke up the boisterous
fun and kicked everybody out before the first half’s climax. It might be all
about “skates, skirts, skills and scrapes” for these battling babes,
but now another “S” word has the league’s wheels spinning: shelter.
The eve’s announcer and D.D. dame Evil E, a.k.a. Else Duff (wifey
of the Flair’s Bruce Duff), tells us the ladies need a new Dollhouse
for training and games ASAP. Check out www.derbydolls.com to see how you can
help these hot-wheelin’ femmes keep the female roller-derby flame burning in
L.A.

—Lina Lecaro

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