(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.
at 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.
COHEED & CAMBRIA
at 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
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.
THE CHAPIN SISTERS
at 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