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ARTHURFEST
at Barnsdall Art Park, September 4.

The two basses of Dos dodge the hornets of feedback; Mike Watt’s diminished
physique reminds us that even his four-string sounds thinner when whittled down
by Heat-Who-Cannot-Be-Named, so brutal hangs the sun. Only the redemptive power
of music relieves the hours we spend in withering lines, ants to the magnifying-glass
slaughter — yet the atmosphere remains friendly and communal, security level-headedly
answering questions and kind souls giving out sunblock at the faintest hint
of a lobster invasion. Nora Keyes plies her ear-splitting cackles and theremin-like
vocal melodies atop a vale of e-piano, singing of rocket surgeon Jack Parsons.
On the larger of the outdoor stages, Wolfmother inflict eardrum calluses, their
old Korg synth issuing forth a misty pollen of psychedelia; neither hair nor
flares can be denied as the bass-heavy groove suggests a homeless autumn following
the Summer of Love.

On the smaller stage outdoors, Viking Moses and guest dulcimeress Larkin Grimm
overcome technical difficulties, lowing onward about loss and belonging. Magik
Markers conclude their blistering noise-blues, inspiring fans to headstands
and riotous hoots in the Gallery Theater as lead singer Elisa Ambrogio attempts
to pierce the veil between this world and an uncertain hell, her voice eddying
out into forever on feedback waves. Outside, to the shepherding glint of the
setting sun, Becky Stark’s shimmer of acoustic guitars gives way to a version
of Yoko Ono’s “Sister, O Sister” with a choir that includes Paloma Parfrey,
Mia Doi Todd and Tara Tavi. Six Organs of Admittance follow Magik Markers with
guitar music so ornate, so beautiful and so spectacularly dull that it rivals
the sands of the lands from which its influences have been spirited.

Stefan Betke of Pole stirs the audience to much rocking in chairs with his Drunken
Monkey style of kung-fu dub, his beats lurching and retching but never missing
their mark. Outside, Sleater-Kinney greet the dusk with propulsively chunky
drums and declamatory vocals; elsewhere, the space-heating blues craftsmanship
of T-Model Ford breathes through the cooling greens. Down in the Theater, Masami
“Merzbow” Akita’s shrieking shards of laptop feedback plot a collision course
with eviscerating bass and the sound of broken glass. Finally(!), Sonic Youth
bring their tortuous art-pop to the outdoor stage. Amid old favorites and new
jams, the quintet pull a photographer onstage and wrestle with him; Thurston
Moore soaks his head in water and douses the crowd. The sun is now absent, but
the blast remains.

—David Cotner

BRIAN WILSON, THE POLYPHONIC SPREE
at the Hollywood Bowl, September 4.

As the Polyphonic Spree mass-cuddled their Elton John, Beatles and Beach Boys
tributes/thefts, it became clear that positivity and ecstasy ain’t quite enough.
“God only knows what you’re missin’,” warbled lead post-urchin Tim DeLaughter,
but we knew, too: depth. Nice flute, though. The two dozen robed choristers’
crusade to out-hippie the hippies was doomed here anyway — Brian Wilson and
his fans aren’t flower children, we’re dorks.

Blobbed center stage behind his keyboard, his hands often hanging in the air
or attempting preschool gestures to illustrate the words, Wilson showed what
kind of pop genius you’d lose if you always demanded charisma. Though the Beach
Boys, whose hits packed the evening, will always represent summer, the music
would suffer little if the lyrics were about textiles. The coiling and uncoiling
harmonies to “In My Room” and even “Fun, Fun, Fun” — this wasn’t composition,
it was the breath of God. Wilson’s crack orchestra turned out the layered arrangements
with dynamic sensitivity, and even jammed strong on “Pet Sounds.” Props went
out to Phil Spector (“And Then I Kissed Her”), Johnny Rivers (“Do You Wanna
Dance?”) and Chuck Berry (“Johnny B. Goode”). A swell new Xmas number jingled
forth. And Wilson made a righteous pitch for the hurricane victims.

Wilson delivered personal meaning, too. Smile, the epic struggle of his
life, came off newly organic, hitting peaks of emotional intensity, devotional
transcendence and swirling classicism. “Break Away,” written with his ogre dad,
felt pretty damn significant. On “Please Let Me Wonder,” Wilson’s electronically
enhanced voice pleaded, “Please forgive me for shaking” — no problem, Brian.
Best was the moment during “When I Grow Up To Be a Man” when he sang, “Won’t
last forever.” He wore the strangest, strangest smile.

—Greg Burk

THE KNITTERS
at the El Rey Theater, September 2

Twenty years has changed the Knitters, alter ego of L.A. punk favorites X; it’s
made them loud and fast and mean. Where once the group fell squarely in the
country-folk category, here the quintet showed its shit-kicking side. John Doe
and Blasters guitarist Dave Alvin started things off with two pretty ballads:
“Silver Wings” and “Crying but My Tears Are Far Away.” But as Doe noted, those
would be the last sad songs.

What followed was a set and double encore of cowpunk, drawn from the Knitters’
two albums, various X records and truck-stop jukeboxes. The band vamped it up,
bringing to mind various Western icons. The mute Alvin, in red ascot, was every
bit the slick city gambler; Doe, as a lanky deputy sheriff, kept him in line;
Exene Cervenka became a sort of Miss Kitty meets Ma Ingalls; D.J. Bonebrake
did his best bumpkin while beating out some of the fastest drumming you’ve ever
seen. Rounding it out on standup bass was Jonny Ray Bartel, who looked as if
he could find his way around a ranch.

The night’s high point was the expected crescendoing sing-along “Rock Island
Line,” but there was new stuff, too; especially appreciated was “Lonesome War,”
an eerie but uptempo Civil War story hinting more than a little at current events.
Helping close things out was a reprise of the Knitters’ standard bearer “Wrecking
Ball,” the tale of a man whose main thrill comes from stomping chickens to death,
but who has since graduated to cattle slaughter at Harris Ranch off Highway
5. “It’s nice to be back in our hometown,” Doe said. “We’ve been playing this
song all over the country, but no one knows where the fuck Coalinga is, so a
lot of the humor is lost.”


—Ben Sullivan

LA Weekly