Photos by Wild Don Lewis
JUNIOR SENIOR at the Viper Room, May 28
“We wanna take you to outer space! We wanna shake you, the human race!” Hail the rallying cry of Danish duo Junior Senior, because summer heat plus a zesty beat should make you move your feet, and the world needs some sweaty relief. Denmark, with its Carlsberg beer, blond ambition and smoky clubs, isn’t simply a tiny country epitomized by Viking ships, Hamlet, pastries and seasonal depression. Yes, garage-heads the Raveonettes unearth the minor-chord grit of Scandi life, but straight boy singer/guitarist Jesper Mortensen (Junior) and gay boy singer Jeppe Breum (Senior) slap some drunken relish onto that dirty wound and call it a dance craze!
One listen to Junior Senior’s punkified ’50s disco-pop opus D-D-Don’t Stop the Beat (Atlantic) produces raging hip movements; seeing the band live creates a sing-along orgy. “If you want to die, you want to die in the Viper Room!” proclaimed Senior on Wednesday night. Midway through the band’s L.A. debut, the tall, soaked, happy-face-pin-sportin’ Senior hugged Junior so tightly that the petite player’s Fender Mustang gave him shocks. Aided by drummer Yebo, a bassist and two backup singers, the boys layered yelps and harmony on the Brit chart-topper “Move Your Feet,” distorted go-go chant “Shake Your Coconuts” and B-52’s-style party anthem “Dynamite.”
Junior exuded a blue-eyed hotness worthy of his retro-fit riffs. “Boy Meets Girl” and “C’mon,” with their circa-’68 “Mony Mony” jangle and punches, also rode high on waves of surf and soul. The call-and-response tune “Chicks and Dicks” answered to audience whoops and screams, while Senior and backup singer Laursen fused covers of “Twist and Shout” and Salt N Pepa’s “Push It” into a freak-groove medley. Junior Senior want you rigtig ful (rightly drunk) and feeling positively pisse godt (piss good).
QUETZAL, BURNING STAR at the John Anson Ford Theater, May 31
Latino L.A. celebrated two 10-year anniversaries this Saturday — the UCLA student hunger strikes that forced the creation of a Chicana/o studies department, and the birth of Eastside troubadours Quetzal. Of course, the events are related: Grainy footage screened before Quetzal’s set at the Ford showed them strumming for the starving during those days of dissent. They’re still at it a decade later, their subversive son sounds continuing to flower the conscience and eardrums of all who listen.
Prior to Quetzal’s enchanting performance tonight, however, there was an opening set by local outfit Burning Star, whose hip-hop worldbeats motivated body shaking usually experienced only during religious visions. The septet didn’t play tunes so much as transmit tantric trances: keyboard flourishes and guitar dervishes accompanying three drummers whose rhythms originated from the primordial recesses of the soul. Even the distraction of three belly dancers slithering across the stage during one raga could not dim Burning Star’s incandescent wonder.
But this was Quetzal’s night, and the group did not disappoint, leading off with four dancers Morse-coding the furtive passion of “Planta los Pies” by stomping on the wooden-floor instrument called a tarima. From here the group’s all-points Afro-Carib percussions, solemn violins and heir-of-the-East-Los-sound ax arpeggios overpowered the small venue. Best was the brother-sister powerhouse of Gabriel and Martha González, simultaneously challenging and nurturing each other’s volcanic voices toward the heavens as they shepherded Quetzal through a too-brief retrospective that included the pretentiously powerful “Sing the Real,” charming Zapatista-inspired cumbias and a slew of selections from their upcoming release Worksongs. A decade ago and today, Quetzal practices music too rarely found in this country — politically progressive while sonically superb — and the joyous filled the Ford’s aisles in appreciation. (Gustavo Arellano)
SILVERCHAIR at the Henry Fonda Theater, May 27
Aussie trio Silverchair scored a huge hit with the Nirvana-tinted “Tomorrow”
in 1995, while still in high school. Since then, despite increasingly accomplished
output, they’ve gradually dropped off mainstream radar. Yet here they are, packing
the Fonda for two nights with a diverse and devoted following, some of whom
slept overnight on the sidewalk to ensure prime position. And Silverchair do
not disappoint the faithful, clutching and caressing them through a lengthy,
occasionally self-indulgent set.
Mainman Daniel Johns boldly opens proceedings at his piano with the plaintive “After All These Years,” his vulnerable vibrato chiseling through the Beatlemania yelps and bellowing PA. Guitar in hand, and joined by his bandmates (plus two touring keyboard players), Johns sets the tone for the evening with “World Upon Your Shoulders” from last year’s epic Diorama disc: ambitious melodic majesty and heady falsetto escapism, with tasty tandoori undertones recalling Zeppelin’s more exotic adventures. Sadly, tonight’s ham-fisted mix bruises Diorama’s butterfly wings, an apocalyptic, arena-rock drum sound savaging the material’s subtleties. Even with five musicians, Silverchair struggle to realize Johns’ sublime cinematic vision: The momentum ebbs and flows uncomfortably, and repeated instrumental workouts are more gluttonous than glittering. But all this is overridden by the band’s grinning enthusiasm, their prog-rock tendencies counterbalanced by punky irreverence. Johns — dandy in open white shirt and black cravat — calls the shots, lost within his work and firing off solos with shameless ’70s bravado. Silverchair focus on Diorama’s crafted compositions, which, with the album a year old, are already received as classics, and, in a remarkable display of integrity and self-confidence, skip “Tomorrow” altogether.
Silverchair have burrowed into a “career band” niche that supposedly no longer exists: They’re thriving on quality songwriting, authentic delivery and stylistic single-mindedness, which — even without airplay — appears to be here to stay. (Paul Rogers)
PETE YORN, GRANDADDY at the Wiltern, May 29
Pete Yorn’s Music for the Morning After glistened with a wistful tint,
acoustic strings in place of veins — a breeze could strum him into song. The
record worked. But the follow-up and supporting tour find him . . . too much
himself. Too much the guy who made sad sound nimble. The problem? You can’t
have a one-off twice. Day I Forgot’s wide-eyed mourning repeats itself
into mere slurry.
Yorn’s bombastic presence is a tiny man shouting. Songs big as Texas without so much as a scuff. The old songs expose the new as failures of nerve and expose Yorn as Springsteen without a boulder-size heart; in fact, Yorn sounds like there’s nothing in his chest except wadded cellophane. Even signature songs like “Lose You” come off as deception — passion as gimmick.
Grandaddy opening? Absurd. Grandaddy are a prelude to the angelic. Their new record stumbles from lab to landscape, the agony of becoming machine now the pain of still being human. The record’s a skinned knee. Discolored. Yet even the darkest songs have a new, checked-pulse warmth, vocals sweet as pressed flowers. But not without fury — the vocals are plaintive because something is missing. Grandaddy are a car swerving into oncoming traffic — because nowhere is the place one has to go. But Grandaddy leaving after six songs? Left me staring at the stage like the other side of the bed. Staring at the receding is Grandaddy. And Grandaddy leaving the stage is skin going blue. (Russel Swensen)
FU MANCHU at the Troubadour, May 31
It’s a rare thing to go to a show in West Hollywood where most of the crowd
seems to have driven up from OC. Girls with flowing golden hair, young dads
in Hang Ten shirts and surf rats struggling toward adolescence gave the Troub
a home-game coziness. And the sonic milieu responsible for this? Imagine that
Ozzy grew up riding the heavies off Dana Point or that Blue Cheer weren’t so
blue, and you’d approximate San Clemente’s Fu Manchu, the hookiest “stoner metal”
band on the planet.
Just don’t assume Scott Hill has an attitude. The Fu singer-axman might have Tom Petty’s native-son-via-Evan Dando hunk thing going on, but he’s not much for small talk, even with a crowd as adoring as tonight’s. “How y’all doin’?,” “This song is from —,” “Thanks for comin’ down” and a brief plug for the double live CD coming out in July (“Just thought I’d let you know”) was about it for the banter. That’s ‘cause Hill lets his Marshall stack do the talking, and the subjects ranged from UFO-buff/muscle-car-obsessed material from the early In Search Of all the way to 2001’s California Crossing. And while Hill and lead guitarist Bob Balch’s execution is as focused as a laser, don’t confuse that with wankiness (Balch isn’t a technique geek) or acid-fry space-outs (Hill kicked out Balch’s predecessor for that very reason). Rather, the pair burnt through the standards like an old married couple long familiar with each other’s habits.
Though Fu can come off humorless, you have to wait for tunes like “Weird Beard” to see how much the band relish camp. Hill stretched that midsong caesura so long you thought the tune was over — then the refrain “Weeeiiirrrd beeeeaaaard” came crashing in like an epiphany. And while multiple covers at another band’s gig would come across as set-list padding, the Fu get away with it because the host song gets a full makeover, and these ditties — including Van Halen’s “D.O.A.” early on and Black Flag’s “Six Pack” in the encore — were almost unrecognizable until the choruses. Those’re my boys, all right: insidious as a contact high. (Andrew Lentz)
LOVE WITH ARTHUR LEE at Royce Hall, May 30
Much of the crowd appeared confused by the difference between Royce Hall and
a typical Sunset Strip nightclub. For instance, since the concert was clearly
billed as Love’s first-ever local performance of the entire 1967 psychedelic
masterpiece Forever Changes, was it really necessary for the heathens
to boorishly request songs from other albums throughout the set? (Especially
since leader Arthur Lee generously bookended the evening with several old hits.)
Did Brian Wilson have to fend off inane shout-outs for “Little Deuce Coupe”
during his similar live revival of Pet Sounds? “I love you, Arthur!”
a dude kept yelling, breaking the fragile spell after “Between Clark and Hilldale.”
“I love you, too . . . considering the circumstances,” a bemused Lee replied.
Love’s fans have always been excessively neurotic and protective — they seem
to genuinely believe that Mr. Lee will lose focus without their constant requests
and patronizing advice — but they should remember one of the first rules of
heckling: Shut up, unless you’ve got something to say.
Despite these and other distractions (it look the soundman about 15 minutes to get a decent mix), just about everything came together eventually, after Love warmed up with a trio of non–Forever Changes tunes (“My Little Red Book,” “Orange Skies” and “Your Mind and We Belong Together”). The earnest young Swedes in the string and horn sections were obviously true Love disciples instead of mere hired ornamentation, sounding especially lovely on the mournful cello swoops of “Andmoreagain” and the icily sinister layerings of the surreal anti-war ballad “The Red Telephone” (“a song more appropriate to today,” Lee said, in reference to Iraq). Just about everything was perfect . . . except Lee’s uncharacteristically erratic voice, possibly the unfortunate result of recent heavy touring. Guitarist Rusty Squeezebox’s intuitive harmonies smoothed out some of the rough spots, and thrilling, rare guest turns by early Love guitarists Johnny Echols and Jay Donnellan (on “Singing Cowboy,” newly spiced with the Swedes’ funky, boxy horn retorts) saved the night. (Falling James)