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The Best Concerts to See in L.A. This Week

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Monday, December 23

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L.A. trio Vum just released Psychotropic Jukebox, an album that sounds perfect at the time of year when it feels like night really does last forever. Singer Jennifer Pearl sounds like the only person on the planet who's awake on songs that take the barest, bleakest moments of bands like Suicide, Spectrum/Sonic Boom and Silver Apples and sink deeper and deeper, making for music that's less minimal than simply irreducible. KCRW's Henry Rollins has been playing tracks by Vum -- originally a duo of Pearl and keyboardist Chris Badger, now reinforced with drummer Scott Spaulding -- since they coalesced some years back, and now Vum's last Echo residencies give you a chance to learn for yourself what select initiates already know. Namely: The darkness before the dawn is the best part of the whole day. --Chris Ziegler

Woody Allen & His New Orleans Jazz Band


If there's one thing that gets Woody Allen's pulse racing faster than thinking about "a Swedish airline stewardess and some handcuffs" (to borrow one of the comedian's old gags), it's jazz. And not just any kind of jazz. Allen revels in that old-time jazz from New Orleans, playing Pied Piper on clarinet as he fronts his longtime band of similarly retro-minded musicians. His group is actually from New York rather than the Crescent City, but they nonetheless evoke the swinging merriment and melancholy of the early Dixieland era. Allen would be the first to admit that he's not a radical innovator on his instrument, but his fervent passion has helped keep this music alive for a new generation of fans, whether he's playing onstage with his lively combo or filling the soundtracks of his films with melodies by his heroes. --Falling James

Thursday, December 26

Bruce Forman's Cow Bop


Internationally acclaimed jazz-guitar veteran Bruce Forman is a tough, tenured, hard-bop hero, not to mention a monster improviser and a master arranger, composer, author and educator. He has worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson and Barney Kessel; he openly decries what he refers to as "the Wynton Marsalisization of jazz" ("You're just supposed to sit and scowl and play stuff at the audience") and he currently, perhaps to some curiously, devotes most of this formidable jazz juice to his Western-swing throwback combo, Cow Bop. ("Put Bob Wills, Bird and Diz, Django, Wes, Patsy Cline and Peggy Lee in a closet for a weekend," Forman said, "and you end up with Cow Bop.") With his devastatingly able spouse, Pinto Pammy, on vocals, it's a dazzling exercise in jazz communication wherein folk, hillbilly and Tin Pan Alley tunes get the complex, chewy, bumping "free-range Western bebop" treatment that's unique unto Forman. Genuinely brilliant, way-out West stuff. --Falling James

Heller Keller


This is the fifth year that the Smell has hosted its annual Riot Grrl Xmas Carnival, which always serves two noble purposes. Not only is it a benefit for the Downtown Women's Center, which provides assistance for the homeless, but the show also clears the ears of the surfeit of junk-food seasonal music that passes for holiday fare. Heller Keller will smash all thoughts of jingling bells and cheery sleigh rides with superfast, supershort blasts of rude, hard punk rock, as lead singer Rachel Birke attempts to cram a lifetime of absurdity, confusion and rebellion into minutelong anthems like "Raised by Wolves" and "Shitty Guitty." Yet when the local sextet's furious collisions of guitars, drums, bass and trumpet are stripped away, Birke reveals herself to be a quietly spellbinding chanteuse of ancient and eerie folk-roots balladry. With Girl Fry, Smelveteen and Anus Kings. --Falling James

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