Live in LA

Photos by Wild Don Lewis

SLEATER-KINNEY at the Henry Fonda Theater, June 8 “I could go crazy trying to explain how songs fall from the sky into our laps,” wrote Sleater-Kinney’s thunderous drummer, Janet Weiss, on the band’s official blog a day before their latest and finest album, The Woods, hit the racks. Well, I could go crazy trying to explain why L.A. audiences are afraid to rip shit up to unfamiliar songs that do the very same. Sleater-Kinney was on at the Fonda, cranking through the mind-melting new anthem “Entertain,” the heart-wrenching “Jumpers,” the 11-minute epic “Let’s Call It Love” (with its coda of sorts, “Night Light”) and more, while the greater part of the throng just sat back and waited for “You’re No Rock ’N Roll Fun.” Ax goddess Carrie Brownstein — the second coming of Pete Townshend, all the way down to the shredded solos, indefatigable energy and Gibson SG — felt compelled to point out the problem: “This side’s thinking, while this side’s feeling,” she cracked, halving the audience into those who came to rock and those who came to . . . I don’t know. Sleep? Look good? Whatever the motivation, they eventually got jumping once S.K. trolled through its incendiary back catalog and gave old fans what they wanted, which was basically Dig Me Out’s “Words and Guitar,” One Beat’s “Oh!” and “Combat Rock,” and even Richard and Linda Thompson’s 1974 classic “I Want To See the Bright Lights Tonight.” Sure, everyone was screaming for the women to come back at the end, but it was too late. Corin Tucker’s cathartic howls and seductive coos, Weiss’ powerhouse percussion and Brownstein’s bugged-out energy were put to the test on The Woods, and if more of the audience would’ve done some homework, they would’ve been treated to a nonpareil performance. As it was, they were party to only an amazing show. Good thing S.K. is a touring machine: You can always catch this band on the rebound. Slackers.

—Scott Thill

JOHN DOE at King King, June 8 Even in Hollywood, it takes a lot to fill a club like King King at midnight on a Wednesday — doubly so when your fans skew more to their 40s than 20s. But X front man John Doe drew the crowd and kept them in high spirits in an unofficial record-release party for his latest solo album, Forever Hasn’t Happened Yet. Granted, Doe fans tend to be true believers, people who’d fall on their sword for a guy who’s shown as much integrity over the last 30 years as anyone in the music industry. For turning out, fans got a 20-song set that covered most of the new album, plus favorites like the Knitters-era “The Call of the Wreckin’ Ball,” X classics “White Girl” and “Poor Girl,” and one of Doe’s great under-heralded efforts, “Cyrano de Berger’s Back.” Forever isn’t a rollicking disc: There’s a lot of mood, melancholy, even anger. And where his first couple solo albums produced plenty of uptempo, immediately likable melodies and hooks, Forever takes its time, paying more attention to atmosphere. Fans at the show connected with it, but seemed to appreciate all the more the sing-along favorites Doe interspersed in his performance. Particularly strong was “White Girl,” in which guest singer Cindy Wasserman filled the Exene Cervenka role. Responding to the crowd’s enthusiasm, Doe quipped, “I like X too! That’s a pretty good band!” Doe’s voice seems to have limbered up some since the filming of X: Live in Los Angeles, the concert DVD shot last year at House of Blues; Wednesday, he showed more comfort with the higher ranges than displayed in that first-rate film and accompanying CD. For those seeking still more John Doe, keep your eyes open for a new album from the Knitters, X’s folk alter ego, scheduled for a July 12 release.

—Ben Sullivan

LENI STERN QUARTET, MARK GOLDENBERG at the Baked Potato, June 9 Gunslinging guitar bitch. Beaming raga sprite. Leni Stern can be both and more, and the fusionistic songwriter-singer proved it like Parker one more time when she slipped in to air some new songs. Musicians line up to jam with Stern, ’cause they get to pull out their whole bag. His Badness James Genus almost got a citation, though, appropriately scorching the fretboard of his five-string bass on the Crescent City funk of “On the Outside” but overfilling the yearning spaces of “When Evening Falls” and the plaintive pauses of “Let Me Fly.” Keyboardist Darren Johnson, conscripted on short notice, sweated joyously through the excitement of festooning fresh chords with bright electric lights — sparkly he was. Dude of dudes was Stern’s regular drummer Brannen Temple, who darted inside/outside, whispered and whapped with effortless dynamism; this Texan needs to be imported. Stern’s just-uncorked material was head-spinning. “Beauty Queen,” cloaked in a vocal of tremulous ambiguity, oozed with slimy soul. The heavy blues riffage of “Road to Hell” verged on metal murder — this German woman got fire. And a raga number based on the satanic Phrygian mode had the whole band churning a hole in the floor. Mercy! Guitarist Mark Goldenberg opened with a solo set (sometimes accompanied by Stern) wherein he wove lines so delicate and variegated that he virtually clothed the air in splendor. And his version of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” dripped with chords so beautiful and weird that even Brian Wilson would’ve asked for the recipe. Goldenberg joshingly complained about the PA music that preceded him, “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”: “Now I gotta follow Hendrix?” And Leni Stern’s band followed; he shoulda been crushed like a bug. Wasn’t, though.

—Greg Burk


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