Pop Goes July

Recommended this week: The Raconteurs at the Wiltern (Thurs., July 20) and Pop Levi at Safari Sam’s (Wed., July 19). Unfortunately, I’m bored of talking about the overhyped Raconteurs, and will remain so until they begin to live up to their potential as songwriters . . . Pop Levi is an unknown and rather intriguing new arrival to L.A. from Liverpool, who comes to us with no hype, and no record, even. (He just signed to Ninja Tunes.) His homemade pop music (mostly to be heard on MySpace) is whimsical and yummy, with titles like “Blue Honey.” Other shows: Dressed as wig-wearing 18th-century aristocrats, playing metal- and glam-inspired classic-rock jingles (“Let Them Eat Rock,” “Rabble Rouser”), Boston’s Upper Crust aren’t any good, really, as a band. But as pure mindless entertainment, they may have something to offer (Spaceland, Fri., July 14) . . . The indelible, indestructible Pat Benatar plays the same night at The Canyon — and speaking of indestructible ’80s ladies, Cyndi Lauper proves she is still potentially relevant ,Tues., July 18, at the Pacific Amphitheater . . . And get this: According to our spies, Agent Orange play the flipping Lava Lounge (Fri., July 14) — yes, the tiki place with the two-square-foot stage (gotta love those secret warm-up gigs . . .) (Kate Sullivan)


{mosimage}Uni & Her Ukulele at Amoeba Music

Consider the ukulele — which, roughly translated, means “jumping flea” — developed in Hawaii by way of Portugal and wielded ably now by Uni, a petite and soulful singer who is to wacky sexiness what the nitroglycerin dot is to firecrackers. Channeling the spirits of Tin Pan Alley and Joni Mitchell, she’ll unveil songs from her new album, My Favorite Letter Is U (Unicornbread), with her electrified ukulele, Sally Luka — think B.B. King’s Lucille, but with the personality of a fierce kitten. If all you know about the ukulele is Tiny Tim or that kid on Google Video who rips through “Classical Gas” on his uke, you owe it to yourself to have your mind properly blown forthwith. You think you’ve got it bad? Try living off the royalties to “Classical Gas.” (David Cotner)

The Go-Go’s, Morningwood at the Greek Theater

Has it already been a quarter century of getting gone with the Go-Go’s? It seems like it was only yesterday that bassist Kathy Valentine was still fronting the Textones with Carla Olson, and that fearless drummer Gina Shock came out from behind her drums at the Fleetwood one night in the late-’70s to deliver a well-aimed kick to the head of a misbehaving giant skinhead, who sank back into the pit in utter humiliation. While 2001’s underrated God Bless the Go-Go’s CD was a charming return to action, the Go-Go’s have seemingly settled into their role as an oldies act, the perfect endless-summer “Vacation” combo, with Charlotte Caffey’s iconic, surf-style guitar riffs, Jane Wiedlin’s little-girl harmonies and Belinda Carlisle’s still-charismatic purring. It should be a long time before Morningwood and effervescent singer Chantal Claret hit the oldies circuit, although such tunes as the shimmering “Nth Degree” and the strutting “Jetsetter,” from the New York band’s self-titled debut CD, already sound like they’ll be nostalgically catchy 25 years from now. See you then. (Falling James)


The Brat, Los Illegals, Angela Flores, Quetzal at Tia Chucha’s Café Cultural

When Angelenos think of East Los, punk rock is probably not what comes to mind. But the Eastside had a prominent punk scene back in the late ’70s; I recall punk rockers alongside cholos at Stevenson Junior High and Garfield High School. While bands like the Germs, X, Black Flag and the Minutemen got most of the L.A. punk acclaim, barrio bands Los Illegals (with muralist Willie Herrón) and the Brat (with Rudy Medina on guitar and singer Theresa Covarrubias) were playing high-energy Chicano punk shows at the Vex, dealing with issues such as immigration, poverty and gangs, and creating a punk movement in East L.A. for future generations. Authors David Reyes and Tom Waldman will read from Chicano Rock and Roll: 1980–2006, and the art of Diane Gamboa, who chronicled the Eastside punk scene, will be shown. 12737 Glenoaks Blvd., No. 22, Sylmar. (818) 362-7060. (Ben Quiñones)

Insect Surfers, Davie Allan & the Arrows at Safari Sam’s

Praise be upon the Insect Surfers, one of a mere handful of performers dedicated to the noble and endangered instrumental form. Celebrating 20 years of nonstop whammy-bar hijinks, riptide riff-dealing and lysergic wipeouts, these stalwart guitar-slingers have established a punk-intensity, Dick Dale–scale brand of surf insanity so successfully that at one point they even won a Lava Lite endorsement (thanks to their standard practice of topping amps, à la Liberace, with the roiling novelties), and that kind of insinuation into pure pop culture is rare indeed. The Insects are teamed tonight with biker-fuzz instro godfather Davie Allan & the Arrows, a player whose shockingly raw yet subtly expressive guitar style definitively broke the Ventures-Wray-Eddy mold, circa ’68. The show’s guaranteed to be a nonverbal brawl of the first order. (Jonny Whiteside)

{mosimage}Bobby Brown, En Vogue, Bell Biv DeVoe, SWV at the Greek Theater

In terms of musical nostalgia, you could do much worse than digging into the forgotten realm of late-’80s/early-’90s R&B, back before the high-tech sounds of producers like Timbaland and the high-melisma vocals of singers such as Beyoncé came to define the form. Love Timbo, love Beyoncé, but there’s something I miss about the relatively low-gloss feel of that vintage material; the records almost sounded like they could’ve been made by your neighbor or your classmate — not some untouchable diva whose hair costs more than your house. Tonight, catch up with four of the era’s hitmakers: Bobby Brown, reality-TV damaged but still in fine voice according to last year’s Damian Marley record; funky divas En Vogue; Brown’s New Edition bandmates Bell Biv DeVoe; and new-jack swing ladies SWV. (Mikael Wood)


{mosimage}Ray Davies at the Wiltern

The Kinks’ Ray Davies has always been one of pop music’s most conspicuous voyeurs, whether he’s seeing the world float by while “Sitting in My Hotel” or charting that grand old “Waterloo Sunset” with a simple, immortal shuffle of chords and wistful harmonies. He even watches his own life with a strange sort of detachment on “The Tourist,” a moody blue tune from his new solo album, Other People’s Lives (V2), that swirls with ambivalent feelings about New Orleans, where he survived after being shot during an attempted robbery. “The Getaway (Lonesome Train)” also evokes the Crescent City, simmering in a swampy stew with a lazy feel similar to John Fogerty’s “A Hundred and Ten in the Shade.” Other People’s Lives is basically another great lost Kinks album, perhaps more reflective than rocking (nearly dying can do that to you), although Davies does flash his famous dry wit while attempting to make peace with his “Next Door Neighbour” and resoundingly answering the silly musical question “Is There Life After Breakfast.” Echoing his former flame Chrissie Hynde, he muses, “Time is the avenger/but why should we just surrender to it?” Why indeed. (Falling James)


The Rakes at the Troubadour

Just a couple of years after emerging in London, the Rakes are bringing their urgent-yet-lived-in, grubby and sometimes sarcastic pop to the U.S. The Rakes continue the Jam’s sideways-looking social commentary, Blur’s all-the-lads-together sing-along street-corner haranguing, and even Madness’ almost-nursery-rhyme catchiness. Their skewed songwriting savvy is underlined with trademark question-and-answer vocals, persuasive unison passages, squirts of squiggling guitar and ominous bovver-boy bass beneath Alan Donohoe’s chatty timbre. Lyrically, the Rakes’ breakthrough single, “22 Grand Job,” equally evokes The Office and the Streets — yep, Brit as all hell. (Paul Rogers)


Hypnorituals and Mesmemusical Miracles with Jana Hunter, Feather, Entrance, Nobody & Mystic Chords of Memory at El Cid

In which, over the course of five nights, one sees and hears soleros and banderos of what has been called the New Weird America, a.k.a. freak folk, as programmed by the reigning current arbiter of all such things, Devendra Banhart. With an emphasis on the acoustic as imagined in yonder Kentucky hills — or more likely the misty-morn forest-fern bits from someone’s parents’ Led Zep or early-’70s progressive-rock albums but with an equal tendency toward musing on the striving scope of said prog and the unfettered expression of avant jazz or English heavy-rock (Groundhogs, say) — Devendra’s handpicked artists demonstrate how we’ve come circling ’round again, unbroken in ’06, with no quick fix but many exotic licks and poetic eccentrics, making sounds and singing words that inflame the mind’s eye rather than pummel with pure politics. Various lineups are running Tues., July 18, through Sat., July 22; see listings for complete info. (John Payne)


{mosimage}Camera Obscura at the Troubadour

Led by Tracyanne Campbell, Camera Obscura often gets described as a distaff Belle & Sebastian since the two Scottish bands both craft delightfully melodic pop tunes. Camera Obscura’s new album, Let’s Get Out of This Country, is such a glorious affair that all the B&S comparisons should recede into the shadows. Campbell has sharpened her already advanced skills as a keen observer of relationship vicissitudes. When she knowingly references two cult-level confessional singer-songwriters (Lloyd Cole and Dory Previn), she isn’t doing it just to be hipster cute but to draw appropriate thematic associations. The group’s exquisite chamber-pop arrangements enhance Campbell’s lovelorn lyrics, but it’s not all genteel twee as the robust blue-eyed soul of “If Looks Could Kill” bears out. Making such gorgeous music, Camera Obscura shouldn’t stay obscure for much longer. (Michael Berick)

The Church at the Henry Fonda Theater

In 1988, eight years into their career, the Church scored their only Top 40 hit with “Under the Milky Way,” and label Arista’s taste of first blood put the burden of expectation squarely on the band’s shoulders. Thankfully, by then, the band had already found their unrivaled niche of ethereal guitar-based rock, and their astounding prolificacy afforded them room for experimentation. While they often chose the artistic road over the predictable one (Priest = Aura or bassist Steve Kilbey’s own Earthed), the Church never faltered. This year, the band delivered their umpteenth album, Uninvited, Like the Cloud. With their trademark, summer-tinged romps and complex, spacious milieus, the band’s excitement is contagious. So, when this primarily “electric” band embarks on an acoustic tour, it simply adds another layer of intrigue to this already otherworldly group. (Devon Williams)


John Sinclair, Michael Simmons at Fais Do-Do

With all the woe humanity is suffering, it’s hard to point out the worst mess but, spiritually, the Katrina debacle and destruction of New Orleans weigh heavily. This bittersweet “Night in New Orleans” features NOLA-documentary screenings, plenty of grooves, and a full musical set from one of the rock & roll underground’s most intriguing forces: White Panthers founder and former MC5 manager John Sinclair. Sinclair’s witheringly forthright, radical perspective makes him just the cat for the occasion, and the presence of L.A. Weekly contributor/country-music insurgent Michael Simmons adds even more underdog appeal. Simmons’ mid-’70s Texas honky-tonk blitzkrieg, leading the wildly jumped-up combo Slewfoot, found him sharing more than stages with the likes of Billy Joe Shaver and Kinky Friedman, who characterized Slewfoot’s sound as “metallic hillbilly cocaine bebop.” Expect tears, fun and fury. (Jonny Whiteside)

{mosimage}Mavis Staples at the Santa Monica Pier

Mavis Staples’ extraordinary career has spanned almost the entire spectrum of the American popular musical vernacular. From her youthful 1950 start with her revered gospel family band, the Staple Singers, through her 1969 visit with the MGs’ Steve Cropper to Stax/Volt to a 1977 collaboration with soul shaman Curtis Mayfield to her 1989 sojourn in Prince’s Paisley Park, she’s managed it all, spiritual and secular, with a healthy, downright irresistible dose of the sanctified gravity that lies at the very foundation of blues, jazz and rock & roll. It’s gospel, baby, the fiery testament of good news that imbues every Staples performance, and that is a power you just cannot beat. When you can get it for free, with the Pacific Ocean as backdrop, the choice is clear: luxuriate. (Jonny Whiteside)

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