Photo by Wild Don Lewis
at the Greek Theater, October 7
At their best, Scotland’s Franz Ferdinand are all finesse. They’ve greased it
with VIP-style sleaze. They’ve roughed it up for rock’s sake. But the strength
is in the craft of these classically trained musicians: prancing-then-militaristic
beats, razor chords that slice with precise menace, and the genteel, barfly
croon of the imperially slim, coolly intelligent Alex Kapranos. So when the
band quickly sawed through the typically elegant “Darts of Pleasure” with all
the grace of a lumberjack, the song felt less ripped open than ripped apart.
When Franz Ferdinand really stake their claim, though, they deliver. Almost
nationalistic displays of pride proved that this band considers itself an aesthetic,
conceptual unit, not just a band united by a few common musical tastes. Serrated
into four panels, the white flag bearing Franz’s signature flamed red and pink
for the aching suspension of “Auf Achse.” And the crowd was properly concussed
by FF’s calling card, the wickedly stomping “Take Me Out,” which was marred
only slightly by some errant guitar scribbling.
The new songs from their second album, You Could Have It So Much Better,
fared the best. Big, fruity near-power pop in the modes of Nirvana and Elvis
Costello, with rolling drums borrowed from Tom Tom Club, sounded ripe for a
little abuse. “Do You Want To” was an especially crystalline amalgamation of
late-’70s radio funk, ’80s big-hair camp and a good live thrashing. But it was
a shame to see so many tunes battered by an almost desperate need to appear
rock & roll — Kapranos even halfheartedly engaged in some Who-like equipment
destruction at the end. Their grace? Their impeccably dry wit? A bit more of
those would’ve been nice.
BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB
at the Henry Fonda Theater, October 8
The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club carried the effects-sodden, stoner-art baton
of the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine through their first two
albums. Then came a change of label, some drummer drama and this year’s Howl,
which finds the trio suddenly serving harmony-rich, mostly acoustic, bluegrass-flecked
Peter Hayes takes the stage alone, with guitar and harmonica, for “Complicated
Situation,” soon joined by his bandmates and a touring multi-instrumentalist
to exploit the meshed-vocal prowess that defines Howl. They nail the
gospel-warm, three-part incantation of “Shuffle Your Feet” with album-quality
accuracy, Hayes’ slightly shuddering timbre interspersed with bassist Robert
Levon Been’s more serpentine Britpop semi-sneer. When the two come together,
the effect is Haight-Ashbury heavenly.
Despite their shift in direction, when BRMC follow old material (the mini-classic
“Love Burns,” the ever-gorgeous “As Sure as the Sun”) with new, there’s considerable
commonality: They always had a penchant for strummy psychedelia and murmuring
bass lines, and their much-vaunted, fuzzed-out excursions were only part of
the equation. That their current influences are more American than Anglo — and
as much 1930s as 1990s — is detail rather than definition, mainly impacting
the vocals (more direct) and ambience (more organic and accessible).
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are proving that there always was genuine songwriting
and performance savvy beneath their erstwhile all-in-black skinny-boy cool and
shoe-gazer veneer. Rather than a revolutionary force, they’re faithful inheritors;
it wasn’t fad or fashion that sold this place out tonight.
at the Knitting Factory, October 10
Bettye LaVette represents the comeback story of the year, and listening to her
magnificent rasp is a cold-water-in-the-face reminder that the genre-Balkanization
of blues, R&B and rock has only debilitated all three. Slim and commanding,
stalking the stage with a presence reminiscent of Tina Turner, LaVette was clearly
having the time of her life: “It’s never been better than this,” she said, smiling.
Though she brought the house down repeatedly (especially with her unabashedly
blues-soaked renditions of Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow” and Lucinda Williams’
“Joy”), it was her bleeding-wrists version of “Just Say So” that almost brought
the room to reverent silence. Almost, because the song was given poignancy by
the laughing assholes on the room’s perimeter, by the clinking of glasses from
the bar and by the intrusive thumping of wack rap from the next room. It was
all a telling metaphor for a woman whose voice has fought for more than four
decades to cut through the clutter.
That fucked dynamic was only deepened when the four-piece band (kinda mediocre,
to be honest) left the stage, and LaVette, for her final number of the night,
sang an a cappella version of Sinead O’Connor’s “I Do Not Want What I Have Not
Got” that was both fragile and heavily weighted with grief, resolution and a
fierce transcendence. But the meathead doorman on the side kept opening the
door to the adjoining dance-club, flirting with the idiot chicks wandering in
The delicate, hypnotic spell LaVette was weaving never fully took hold as a
result. Someone should seriously be fired for that shit.