Blackmore's Night photosby Wild Don Lewis
at the Wilshire Theater, February 5
Monks grab-assed duchesses in the aisles as Blackmore’s Night, the Renaissance-mewsick
troupe of former Deep Purple ax cleaver Ritchie Blackmore, paraded into ye olde
Wilshire Theater for revelrie surreale. The acid was less lysergic than uric
on this occasion, though, as Blackmore had arisen with a case of the gout. (Isn’t
that a Renaissance affliction?) “The good news is that he’s overmedicated,”
quoth singperson Candice Night, the radiant co-star of the festivities, and
Blackmore, despite Lady Night’s claims that he’d left his famously moody “preminstrel”
behavior behind, proved the reverse by pitching a vintage bitch-fit when some
mead-besotted boor kept demanding something like “Woke on the Squatter.”
The Darvon failed to dull Blackmore’s chops. Sensitive economy has always been
half his repertoire, and pressing 60, he demonstrated his current preference
for perfection over abandoned expression, cutting diamondlike showpieces on
semiacoustic guitars, lute and hurdygurdy (?yow!). His band, chock-a-block with
multifunctional singers/instrumentalists and a rip-tearing gypsy fiddler (dubbed
“Tudor Rose”), ain’t heard that Renaissance music is supposed to be quiet —
if there’d been drummers who whomped and romped like this “Squire Malcolm of
Lumley” in Shakespeare’s time, the industrial revolution would’ve arrived a
lot sooner. They all crowded the hay-bale-studded and castle-backdropped stage
in period costume — and you know Blackmore himself has never required thumbscrews
to get him into jerkin and buskins.
Congenitally sunny and clear, the beauteous and gauze-bedraped Night kept things
buoyant, seeming least at ease when forced to knit her alabaster brow, as on
the Joan Baez Judas Priest moaner “Diamonds and Rust,” though she quieted the
rabble successfully with the simmering balladry of “Ghost of a Rose” and wailed
out some real-no-kiddin’ soul melismas on the dyna-soar Purple classic “Child
in Time.” And lo, when she blew that little horn of hers, she did cause many
a gallant to perspire.
Blackmore’s Night summed up with Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”
Which, in context, was food for thought.
at the Knitting Factory, February 3
It’s appropriate that a chunk of this show’s door was earmarked for Sri Lankan
tsunami relief. M.I.A. (a.k.a. visual-artist-cum-rapper Maya Arulpragasam) and
most of her family fled that country’s civil war in her pre-teens, settling
in England and leaving her Tamil Tiger freedom-fighter father behind. Even more
fitting, she never explicitly mentioned either the benefit or the backstory.
Though Third World politics pervades her lyrics — her opening number began,
“Pull up the people, pull up the poor” — the on-the-cheap dancehall electronics
and multilingual chorus-chants in which they’re framed mean to catch both ear
and ass, whether you’re a Democracy Now listener or not.
On her debut album, Arular (dad’s nom de guerre), this mix is exciting
and prescient; the jagged single “Galang” may be the template for much global
pop to come. But given M.I.A.’s art-school background, it’s surprising that
she hasn’t arrived at a more individual live presentation than the usual combo
of MC, hype-man (okay, tall Grenadian woman) and DJ. Pre-show, Philly-based
Diplo blended the Cure’s “Love Cats” with Brazilian funk, but he was less inventive
behind M.I.A., closing nearly every track with the same video-game “explosion”
sound. Similarly, a brief DVD loop of animated maps, war planes and (of course)
tigers lost impact by the 40th go-round.
The live set had exactly two advantages over the disc. One was the inclusion
of tracks using uncleared samples, notably the Sanford & Son
based “Urqat” (now floating around online). The other was M.I.A. herself,
whose guileless, knock-kneed dancing was a far cry from the hypersexualized
choreography that accompanies much U.S. hip-hop; she was more than watchable,
at least until her physical energy gave way during the last songs. She may sing
“Like the PLO, we don’t surrender,” but tonight, she didn’t seem completely
ready to take her own form of resistance aboveground.
THOMAS FEHLMANN & GUDRUN GUT
at Bar Copa, February 6
Not all beats and DJ sets were created to get parties crunk, or to render its
dilated peoples so ecstatic they’re being pulled over at 5 a.m. But just because
a technotronic thump-thump-thump isn’t left running the cerebral cortex afterward
doesn’t mean that the experience is “lounge,” or “chill-out,” or any of those
cracker signifiers that actually spell B-O-R-I-N-G, or that it ignores inherently
molasses-paced, future-funky deviants such as dub or that funny little “rock-away”
(non-)dance that Fat Joe was peddling last summer. People of L.A.: Downbeat
can be a ruler, not just a cocktail-sipping soundtrack.
That, more than anything, was the lesson in the intimate joint rocking administered
in Santa Monica by experienced Teutons Thomas Fehlmann and Gudrun Gut. Back
in Berlin, Fehlmann (a two-decade-long participant in the digital-beat landscape
who’s collaborated with everyone from Eno onward) and Gut (headmistress of the
excellent indie-meets-techno Monika label) run a legendary monthly called Ocean
Club. And though thump-thump-thump is definitely part of Ocean Club’s modus
operandi, a grand, eclectic exploration of beats and deejaying tools is its
true guiding light.
Hence, Gudrun’s hourlong set — filled with fragments of oom-pah-pah overtures,
Coltrane-ish saxophone invocations and piano flurries, underpinned by Berlin
dub bass and various clicks and cuts — could remain progressively electronic
and keep the sway going without the use of traditional dance-section elements.
Within such a smorgasbord of sonics, she could drop the organ-break indie-disco
of ’80s no-hitters Cynical Teens, or the slow-mo techno of Michaela Melián,
and still have it make sense.
Fehlmann, on the other hand, was live-laptopping all the way, re-creating the
Dabrye-assisted, Dre-discovers-techno crunch of his recent Lowflow album. Soon,
though, his BPMs began a-creeping and a-creeping into the low 100s, and most
of the gathered had found enough of the groove that minor yelps of delight ensued.
Nothing too crazy, though.
BANG SUGAR BANG
at the Echo, February 1
Local-scene stalwarts Bang Sugar Bang have been called a female-fronted take
on the Jam. But while they’ve certainly absorbed the Brit mod masters — BSB’s
“The Machine Gun Song” recalls the Jam’s “Little Boy Soldiers”; “Kill the Radio”
has the whoah-whoahs of “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight”; “Where’s the
Fun in That?” borrows “Strange Town” ’s snare-fill punctuation — the trio wrap
it in a sense of fun alien to Weller & Co., skip the social commentary, and
infuse heavy accents of bicoastal American punk, from affected Blondie-isms
to anthemic X inflections.
Tonight, Bang Sugar Bang play their recently released sophomore album, Thwak
Thwak Go Crazy!!, almost in its entirety. The pop-pumped
songwriting of hubby-and-wife team Cooper (vocals/bass) and Matt Southwell (vocals/guitar)
is sufficiently seasoned to stake a claim past the influences, and the group
communicate the tunes with a second-nature verve three years in the making.
A crowd-pleasing band-of-the-people, BSB nevertheless possess inbuilt glamour
in the crimson-locked, glitter-flecked Cooper, all metal-chick flailing and
mouth-gaping, eyes-rolling orgasmic delivery. And the Cooper-Southwell vocal
banter — hers more angelic, his more conversational — covers multiple emotional
bases. Southwell’s tireless gurning and drummer Pawley Filth’s comical histrionics,
however, throw up a smokescreen of pantomime that sometimes obscures serious
melodic instinct and savvy arrangements.
Even while preaching to the choir — literally, during the mass-sing-along set
crescendo — here at the Echo, Bang Sugar Bang pour it on with rare passion and
panache; their labor-of-love attitude says punk louder than any Mohawk
or motto ever could. Thwak Thwak, X-raided and Jam-rammed though
it is, takes a stylistic vault beyond the group’s self-conscious debut, and
the songcraft and charisma are in place. This band can grace stages for as long
as they choose to.
. . . AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD
at Cinespace, February 1
Holy shit. As if it wasn’t enough to put out what will probably be considered
one of the best albums of 2005, Trail of Dead blew the lid off Cinespace. To
all the critical naysayers who think the band screwed their “indie cred” years
ago, the boys’ raw and sweaty performance sent a message: We don’t give a fuck
about you or your zine. It felt familiar, like old days watching Texas Is the
Trail of Dead know how to pull off the risky two-drummers technique. Skinsman/vocalist/guitarist
Jason Reece not only annihilated his kit but played it off the stage and into
the audience, handing cymbal and stick to people in the front row at one point.
Pushing mostly cuts off their new album — lyrically simple but profound commentaries
on the state of American music that happen to include string sections, some
Sunny Day Real Estate like hooks and a lot of distortion — Reece and front man
Conrad Keely lifted a crowded house that found fans standing on booths and crouching
in crevices. What made the performance unbelievable was how unchoreographed
it was, with band members running into one another, screaming into the microphone
hard enough to knock you over — hell, Keely sitting at the piano to play a perfect
Elton John cover when his guitar wouldn’t work. Despite the cacophony, the whole
thing managed to sound fantastic. And the band clearly appreciated their audience,
which wasn’t worn out after a mind-blowing, nearly two-hour show that left behind
a satiated crowd and a trail of massacred gear.