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Photo by Wild Don Lewis

HIDDEN CAMERAS, HEY WILLPOWER

at the Echo, February 11

Newbie Frisco dance-popsters Hey Willpower are living proof that
we will freak it to anything as long as you don’t call it electroclash — even
if that’s precisely what it is. Bespectacled keyboardist/programmer Tomo, in
a Star Trek–looking top, activated preprogrammed jingles while singer
Will (formerly of Imperial Teen) dropped cosmic karaoke, and Hey Willpower got
their swerve on as if coming out of the closet was as painful as a day at the
spa. “I want to be your windowpane,” gushed Will, flirting coyly with
Tomo. And “Don’t our dancers look hot?” he inquired re his solid-gold
steppers, who were getting primed to bust Le Tigre–like choreography. “Don’t
you want to fuck them?” Oh, behave, Will!

When the Echo’s habitués began hushing one another after
Toronto’s Hidden Cameras took the stage, it meant the jejeune shimmy-fest was
over and an important art-pop band had arrived. After an inauspiciously solemn
beginning, lead Camera Joel Gibb became perhaps the only indie-rocker in history
to request “more viola in the monitor.” But it was a telling glimpse: These technically sophisticated chamber-pop experimenters need premium acoustics to pull off their fragile fusion of hopped-up hillbilly spirituals and twee-pop fizz. For the most part, the Cams replicated the clarity
and precision of their CDs; even the xylophone pings and choruses of d-doo-doo-doo-DOO-DOO-doos
pierced through the sustained orch-punk crescendos.

Like many metropolitan Canadian artists, Hidden Cameras exude
a subtle superiority to Americans and especially to plastic Angelenos. “Do
people work for the weekend in L.A.?” Gibb cracked, as if he were in working-class
Winnipeg. Nevertheless, Gibb’s repeated urgings of “Let’s see you all dance”
pointed to a desire to maintain the crunky hedonism, and he even kicked it up
by unleashing a Chris Isaak–worthy yodel at the conclusion of a double-encore
set. It’s moments like these that bring about cease-fires.

 

THE ZUTONS

at the Troubadour, February 10

If it were 1969, Liverpool’s Zutons could have played Woodstock
and flourished. They have that same warmth, that sincerity, that wide-eyed spark
and skilled musicianship redolent of the ’60s before Altamont purportedly ripped
everything into sneering, violent bits. Call it a hippie vibe, or something
better: a joyful, communal shout of rock & roll.

Playing to a sold-out house and Mr. Morrissey himself (demure
in a balcony), the Zutons gloriously showed that spot-on harmonies, groovy melodies
and memorable guitar riffs are not dead. Launching straight into the twangy
intro “Zuton Fever,” the band barely paused between songs, jumping
seamlessly between swampy folk and high-energy garage rock. Singer-guitarist
David McCabe’s clear, deep voice sounded even better than on record; in fact,
the band’s overall mix — from sexy lead guitarist Boyan Chowdhury’s treble-seeking
crescendos to saxophonist Abi Harding’s center-stage bursts — showcased one
of the best Troubadour sound jobs in recent memory.

Especially amazing was Harding, a shimmying, long-haired lynx
who sang along to almost every song, in between using her sax as an uncompromising
third guitar. Bassist Russell Pritchard grounded slower acoustic numbers such
as “Confusion” while pounding out sweet, heavy lines in feistier songs
such as “Pressure Point” and the anthemic “You Will, You Won’t.”
He synchronized with drummer Sean Payne perfectly; even their Mars Volta Afros
shook in unison. As the crowd ecstatically clapped in time, the Zutons dove
into “Don’t Ever Think (Too Much),” a Top 20 U.K. hit with a lingering
I-told-you-so chorus.

No hipster jadedness or brooding theatrics dampened the Zutons’
forward drive. After ending with a 10-minute Mediterranean garage medley, they
bowed in line — arms wrapped around one another — like the Creation might have
at some point in their careers, or maybe even like the Beatles.

—Solvej Schou

KANYE WEST

at House of Blues, February 9

The Navigators and Escalades on Sunset Boulevard slowed to a crawl
to check out the blaring giant screen deployed to advertise this sold-out show.
American Express Jam Sessions went way out: blue carpet, lights, cameras, plasma-TV
action.

First up were the beneficiaries of the Jam Sessions’ music-education
programs, some Santa Monica elementary-school kids playing funky jazz. Then,
wearing a Christmasy sweater, John Legend took the stage and sat down to his
weapon, the piano. A nice dresser and an even better singer, he killed on selections
from his debut album, Get Lifted. “This song is about cheating,”
he said of “She Don’t Have To Know,” blurting out afterward, “But
she usually finds out” and ripping into “#1.” The sweating really
started when he got up and sang his smash “Used To Love U”; accompanying
himself beautifully on piano on “Ordinary People,” he really showed
why his stage name is Legend.

Kanye West came out lookin’ like Marvin Gaye in beanie and Adidas
warm-up jacket. With his signature “Jesus piece” hanging from his
neck, he got the crowd going and the women shaking that thing with “The
New Workout Plan” before duetting with John Legend on Common’s “Baby
I’m Selfish” and getting freaky on “Spaceship.” Common and Talib
Kweli made an appearance on “Get ’Em High”; Kweli, in green Army hat
and matching jacket, blew on his hit “Just To Get By.” Everyone sang
Common’s “The Light”: “I will be by your side/There is a light
that shines.” Just as the surprises seemed over, out came Grammy winner
John Mayer with his Fender guitar as West kicked into “All Falls Down”;
West mixed his DJ A-track with some old R&B including Al Green on “Slow
Jamz.” The encore was “Jesus Walks.” “God show me the way,”
West sang angelically, and the diverse crowd danced like they were in heaven.

—Ben Quiñones

CALARTS NEW CENTURY PLAYERS

at REDCAT, February 4

Modern string-quartet music can be as fierce, ominous and devilish
as today’s news. Tonight, a 1970 George Crumb exorcism inspired by Vietnam lit
the historical flamethrower, and new works by Yusef Lateef and John Zorn burned
down the village.

The opening Bismilah dashed wildly across Dr. Lateef’s
enormous range: unsettled, whirling rhythms; coy swooning; tart, semiclassical
stops and starts; a fury of fugues. It really seemed like four unrelated works,
but with these kinds of all-saturating harmonies — low and dark, or high and
scary — it hardly mattered. An African-robed Lateef looked pleased when he rose
from the audience to acknowledge the response to his string-quartet debut, and
pleased he should’ve been.

Zorn’s Necronomicon raised more hair than a horror movie.
The youngish though experienced stringfolk (Mark Menzies appeared in all three
composers’ segments) surmounted the challenges of a treacherous score that had
them switching madly from bee-wing bowing to dense pizzicato episodes, gorgeous
sustained chords and superdelicate fingerings. Who other than Zorn writes for
extreme high notes like this? Who else could get a quartet sawing so hard that
bow fibers were flying everywhere and the clouds of rosin dust rising aloft
made the players look as if they’d caught fire? Yet the feel was often beautiful,
sensual and somehow not tense. Zorn took his bows from the rear. He exists!

By contrast, Crumb’s Black Angels came off as quaint as
the Geneva Accords, though Zorn would’ve been the first to acknowledge his influence.
The hee-haw plucking and bowing, the unsubtle dynamic contrasts, the gimmicky
chanting, the auxiliary gongs and goblets — it never quite cohered. Of course,
Crumb was the only composer who didn’t have a chance to drill the corps, and
that makes a difference.

—Greg Burk

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