Photos by Mark Hunter

One Night, Two Bands, Two Fans freak out!

M.I.A., LCD Soundsystem
at El Rey Theater, May 15

Before M.I.A. took the stage, DJ Diplo juxtaposed a thwacking bass pulse against televised images of Tony Blair and George Bush. The visuals had been cut up so that the world leaders seemed to be sycophantically complimenting each other in a sort of reverse Tourette’s — instead of sputtering profanities, Blair nodded and smiled obsessively; Bush blinked and said “freedom” like he had a tic. As the the sounds of “Pull Up the People” began to creep over the speakers, a cheer went up; the image of Bush and Blair slid back, revealing the letters “M.I.A.” on Bush’s podium. Then M.I.A.’s backup singer Cherry came out, in baseball cap and braids, followed by Maya Arulpragasam herself, in a shiny black sequined tracksuit and tank top, wild hair all over the place. She danced like a rapper, one arm and a couple of fingers in the air, stoically miming a gun to her head, talking little except to balance the sound. She was cool and relaxed; the crowd, its mean age closer to 15 than 30, seemed intensely focused. Kids sang along admirably with her split-register yodel when it was possible — “Hello? This is M.I.A. Will you plee-eez come-get-me!” — but most of the time they simply jumped up and down with eyes trained on the young woman from Sri Lanka via London, daughter of a terrorist, who used a Groovebox to set her jump-rope rhymes to the sound of gunfire and made it sound like a party in the safe zone. The set was barely 40 minutes, with little to distinguish it from the record save the live woman. But it was enough, and she knew it. Toward the end of her encore, M.I.A. shrugged: “I have only one more; I don’t have that much material, because I’m lazy.” She said it like being lazy is an achievement, a privilege. Arulpragasam is 28, but her rhythms reverberate with the protests of children who get served up as suicide bombers, who work 12-hour days picking cocoa, who wander the streets Bush and Blair turned into rubble. It’s a miracle — as if one of those strained voices has broken through with a long list of demands and enchanted the masses into hearing her out. “America,” orders M.I.A. “Quiet down! I need to make a sound!” We’re listening.

—Judith Lewis

After Mr. James “DFA” Murphy and Maya “M.I.A.” Arulpragasam met at this year’s SXSW festival, their fates were sealed, their mission crystal clear: They would tour together, dance-starved audiences would venture very near apeshit at shows, where they could finally cut loose from slack-jawed hipster apathy, and the fun (remember that?) would return to the concertgoing experience. Tonight found the mission moving along smoothly, with a crowd primed to freak out no matter what took place onstage. Fortunately, the goods were delivered.

Day-Glo politics were lurking beneath the veneer throughout M.I.A.’s set, but the main thrust was toward the party, not the preaching. She nonchalantly stormed though a compact and well-choreographed set, the vibe strictly house party and early-’80s hip-hop, Caribbean and jungle-flavored beats lustily rocking the crowd. Her singsong delivery was buttery and precise, and her P.E.-meets-Peaches style and persona easily won over an already conquered crowd, the screams for more threatening to drown out the music.

Fortunately, there was more, provided by the full-band dance-punk experience that is LCD Soundsystem. The unbridled energy and fury that Murphy and company hurled out at eardrum-splitting volume had all the snot and vigor of punk, while the incessantly stomping beats made it entirely impossible not to dance. Immediately whipping the crowd into a frenzy with his tambourine and Mick Jagger cock-strut stance, Murphy led his band though over an hour of fully realized and energetic jams. The DFA’s analog obsession rang out true and clear, as LCD’s version of the new dance music, which is actually the new rock, which is actually an updated version of the Clash’s “The Magnificent Seven,” took hold of minds and bodies. Weak knees and loopy smiles poured out into the street when it was all over, the carnage from a frenzied night of aural expiation.

—Jonah Flicker

at Tangier, May 13

Son of a New York doctor, Jack Elliott ran off to join the rodeo at age 16, right after World War II, and reinvented himself as an authentic cowboy bard fabled for his attention to detail. Tonight, in the overstuffed sweatbox of Tangier’s rug-strewn side room, the former Bob Dylan mentor and Woody Guthrie protégé holds court from his stool before crouching devotees and meal-munching suits. His songs could stand alone as stories, yet the wolf-haired and big-hatted Elliott introduces them with lengthy translations, and though ramblin’ less than usual, he does as much chatting as playing.

Once songborne, Ramblin’ Jack soothes and moves us, his voice like crumpled parchment — ember-warm and crackling in its lower register, straining like an irate neighbor in its upper reaches, yet capable of loitering sustain and elegant grain. His revered picking style is almost absent-minded; he strokes the strings as if scruffing the ruff of a favorite mutt. The songs — “Buffalo Skinners,” “Stewball,” “San Francisco Bay Blues” — take conversational turns, shadowed by instinctive six-string velocity shifts and occasional bizarre human sound effects.

Elliott revisits some of the crusty anecdotes heard on The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack, the career-reviving 2000 documentary made by his daughter Aiyana. Behind him, ornamental sidekick Curtis — a tie-dyed cartoon combo of Cheech Marin and Gandalf — rocks with laughter at punch lines he’s heard a thousand times, and patters along on air bongos.

Ramblin’ Jack captures the road miles, the regrets and his life’s cast of characters in vivid earth-tones and with wily wisdom. But his obligation to cowboy context and folk heritage seems like overcompensation. And please, Jack — less talk, more action.

—Paul Rogers

Undercover of the Night

Paris Hilton’s incessant catch-phrasing has made the word “hot” beyond meaningless at this point, but not for the jugs-lovin’ journos at Maxim. The men’s mag celebrated its latest Hot 100 list with a bash hosted by über-promoter Brent Bolthouse at the (hidden) Hollywood hang of the moment, The Montmartre, last Thursday. Predictably, the red-carpeted entrance was a cluster of cleavage, but the real eye-poppin’ parade was upstairs, inside the second-story dance spot, where bronzed babes in sequined tops competed for attention from the likes of blinger Houston, porcupine head Ryan Cabrera, party baller Dennis Rodman, and boob-tube thespians Topher Grace, Taye Diggs and David Spade, though the ladies seemed most “desperate” for Jesse Metcalfe, numero-uno listee Eva Longoria’s TV co-star. (We liked him better on the cheesy soap Passions.) Hottie No. 37 on the list, Nicole Richie, held court at what looked like the cool kids’ lunch table, near fiancé DJ A.M.’s setup, where she huddled with, of all people, her “simple” friend-turned-foe’s sis Nikki Hilton (not on the Hot list, but Paris is No. 20), plus a couple of guys from HBO’s Entourage and this swanky club scene’s new ironic It Boy, Efren Ramirez, a.k.a. Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite. Clad in geeky Western wear, the actor (whom everybody actually calls Pedro) later caused a scene on the dance floor, showing off some serious pop-locking moves and nearly beating out a bodyguard-braced Prince for biggest attention grabber of the eve. Hotness, like beauty, is obviously in the eye of the beholder.

Speaking of the B word, we trekked to the city that never sleeps last weekend for the grand opening of Beauty Bar Las Vegas on the more atmospheric if decidedly lowbrow Old Strip. The three-day affair offered live performances on B.B.’s ample outdoor patio by recent Interscope signees Giant Drag, sardonic sex symbol Har Mar Superstar (who better watch out for Pedro jockin’ his chicks when he’s in L.A.!) and hunka burning amore El Vez, attracting some off-the-wall, only-in-Vegas locals including a Siegfried look-alike who carried a plush white tiger toy the whole night, rude & tattooed regulars from the Double Down Saloon, plus an L.A. contingent including Women’s Wear Daily’s Rose Apodaca Jones, Spaceland’s Jennifer Tefft, and spin-sters Frankie Chan and Steve Aoki (the guy who, among other things, first unveiled Bloc Party to the U.S. with his Dim Mak label). Held in conjunction with the festivities for the 100th anniversary of downtown, the retro-style drinkin’ parlor is only the beginning of a planned rock & roll renaissance of the area. Owners Paul Devitt and Johnny Nixon (who’ve made Cahuenga a bona fide crawl with L.A.’s Beauty, Tokio and Star Shoes around the corner) tell us a live-music space and the migration of more L.A. and NYC club/bar impresarios are in the works. New York’s Hogs & Heifers (where famous gals have been known to jump on the bar and leave their brassieres behind) is next, with a grand-opening hoedown scheduled in a couple of weeks. Hee-haw Las Vegas!

—Lina Lecaro


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