The Other Polarizer

(top): Photo by David Gahr (bottom): Photo by Arlie John CarstensORNETTE COLEMAN, CHARLIE HADEN at Disney Concert Hall, November 12

"I hope you won’t be disappointed," Ornette Coleman whispered before his segment of the sold-out program. One of improv-isational music’s most extreme polarizers for 50 years, he knew what to expect. And it was an extreme evening.

Coleman’s old partner Charlie Haden opened with his own octet presenting Land of the Sun, romantic ballads mostly penned by the late Mexican composer José Sabre Marroquín. Veering from the stately first-take album selections, these versions came off smoother, swingier — less soulful. Tenor saxist Ernie Watts brilliantly overplayed his solos. Rising star Michael Rodriguez, on flugelhorn and trumpet, balanced fading-rose tone, emotionally charged phrasing and harmonic daring, while pianist-arranger Gonzalo Rubalcaba masked the surreal challenge of his own chordal superimpositions with delicate, flowing fleetness. Haden, eyes closed as he cradled his bass, gave the ship the deliberate guidance it demanded. Sun was pure gossamer beauty, and the audience was thankful.

Everything changed when Ornette Coleman, slim in pale suit and jaunty hat, took the stage to launch his quartet into a lid-on steamer stoked by Denardo Coleman’s intense drumming. Two acoustic bassists served complementary roles: beanpole Greg Cohen the hard-swinging motivator, rotund Tony Falanga bowing the lead lines that twined among the curving tendrils and caustic bursts of Coleman’s alto sax, trumpet and violin. There were precision start-stop drills, devilish hoedowns, heartbroken dirges, a few flat spots. (Total consistency is not the nature of Coleman’s spontaneous harmolodics.) Sometimes the fans breathed along, sometimes they forgot to breathe; a third of the subscribers dozed, cringed or piled for the exits.

Haden entered to anchor the quartet for a concluding meditation on Coleman’s devastated classic "Lonely Woman." After, the two embraced. Love, love. Standing ovation from the crowd’s remaining half. Tears in my eyes.

—Greg Burk

MORRISSEYat the Universal Amphitheater, November 11

How huge were the nine capital letters that spelled out M-O-R-R-I-S-S-E-Y in lights onstage at the Universal Amphitheater? Colossal enough to allow our hero — dressed in a priest outfit — to magnify his Elvis complex by at least double. Yes, Morrissey, for all the self-deprecation in his lyrics, really, really likes himself. And his audience — the most adoring since, oh, the baby Jesus’ — eats up his poppy angst like their 12-step leader’s at Unlovables Anonymous. Bonus: There’s "misery" in there somewhere!

Looking trimmer than he has in years, Moz opened the show with the Smiths’ 1984 classic "How Soon Is Now?," and the crowd — people who regularly go home and cry and want to die — sang along reverently. That plea for love was followed by "First of the Gang To Die," from this year’s topnotch You Are the Quarry. Obviously in good spirits, Morrissey -pretended to collapse during "November Spawned a Monster" and joked about how nobody notices him when he’s shopping at Ralphs. Most surprising was a lively version of Patti Smith’s "Redondo Beach," which maintained the original’s -reggae bounce, with Morrissey’s warm British vocals bringing a sophistication to the "looking for you-ew-ew-ew"s of the chorus. He’s undoubtedly one of the best enunciators in rock, and also has magnificent hand and wrist gestures, which every icon knows will be important when he’s carved in marble.

Old chestnuts, including "Everyday Is Like Sunday," worked well with new material, especially "Irish Blood, English Heart" — Morrissey has always sung for the ugly and the outcast, giving bonus points to those experiencing religious, sexual and national confusion. By the end of the show, his shirt had been thrown to the crowd; gladiolae were bestowed, and everybody went home happy, though no one would admit it.

—Libby Molyneaux


COHEED & CAMBRIAat the Palladium, November 4

Nine months ago, East Coast emo-proggies Coheed & Cambria played at Silver Lake’s cozy Spaceland. Tonight — after a major label and MTV could no longer ignore the word-of-mouth momentum of their sophomore In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 opus — Hollywood’s -gaping, 3,500-capacity Palladium is nearly full.

As a spoken-word intro tape fuels down-front hysteria, C&C’s four members saunter onto the stage and attack the signature segmented riff of "The Crowing," reduced by the Palladium’s acoustics to drums and Claudio Sanchez’s elfin, vibratoed vocals. The group’s anti-image — Sanchez’s unlikely mushroom cloud of hair, bassist Michael Todd’s mane pulled back beneath a baseball cap — leaves the focus on Coheed’s epic, multisectioned compositions and involved fantasy lyrics.

On paper, C&C are a commercial nonstarter: too technical and complex to be indie rock, too nerdy to be metal, not forlorn or pretty enough to be true emo. And though they’re animated (despite Todd being hobbled by a severely swollen ankle), their drab outfits and minimal posturing are the stuff of rehearsal rooms. Their 90-percent-male audience fervently embraces the dork side, singing along unprompted to the point where Sanchez lets them carry whole lines without him, and reproducing the massed "whoa whoa" backing vocals that are a Coheed trademark. Despite the twists and turns of C&C’s sound that brand it stand-back-and-listen stuff, small mosh pits and occasional crowd-surfers break the sea of heads.

The Silent Earth standouts "Three Evils," "A Favor House Atlantic" and the widdly "Faint of Hearts" are interspersed with older material within a consistent framework: twin buzzing ’n’ chiming guitars, constant shifts in structure, and Sanchez’s son-of-Geddy-Lee pleadings. Unlike Weezer’s geekiness, C&C’s is uncontrived, their library-rock leanings irony-free.

Coheed & Cambria are often ridiculed as a D&D soundtrack, so it’s glorious to see mainstream crowds relating to the band’s uncompromising, gorgeously escapist nerding instincts.

—Paul Rogers


THE CHAPIN SISTERSat Hotel Café, November 5

What with The O.C.–approved Death Cab for Cutie concert at the Wiltern, and God’s own Ted Leo & the Pharmacists testifying at El Rey, the day caused a lot of hand wringing and ticket scalping among L.A.’s indie-rockin’, singer-songwriter-lovin’ faithful. However, if bright lights and big stages aren’t so much your thing, arguably the best gig in town was over at the cozy (i.e., claustrophobic) Hotel Café on Cahuenga Boulevard.

Abigail and Lily, the daughters of popular children’s entertainer-songwriter Tom Chapin (himself the son of the great big-band drummer Jim Chapin, and brother to ’70s folk icon Harry), along with Jessica, daughter of filmmaker Wes Craven, wisely bill themselves as the Chapin Sisters. Having recently relocated to Los Angeles by way of the Long Island Expressway, the Chapins perform a hybrid of kitschy traditional country and contemporary urban folk, writing songs that smartly take their cues from an amalgam of the Kris Kristofferson, Carly Simon and Carter Family catalogs. And yes, while this could easily be called folk-pop or even folk-lite, it is not to be confused with the ilk of Jewel. No, the Chapin Sisters displayed some class, sass and originality.

Maintaining an upbeat, lighthearted air, they delivered flawlessly throated, angelic three-part harmonies on cheeky, miserable originals like "Kill Me Now" and "Drop Me." Between comically trash-talking their unsatisfactory love lives and tugging on beer bottles, they also offered up ironic covers of the Cure and Britney Spears tunes, as well as a reverent rendition of an old-timey Doc Watson classic. An appreciative full house predominantly composed of Ugg-booted women in diaphanous frocks (and the sensitive, khaki-panted boys who love them) clapped long and loud at the end of each number. Given such family lineage, and with word of mouth spreading fast, it’s hardly surprising that the sisters are showing such immediate promise.

—Arlie John Carstens


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