TELEVISION, ELENI MANDELL
at the Henry Fonda Theater, September 30
An aw-shucks-humble Eleni Mandell expressed surprise that Television’s audience was so patient during her opening set of quietly confessional ballads. She needn’t have worried. Backed only by subdued upright bassist Ryan Feves and her own insistently chipping guitar, Mandell made for a distinctly austere — and pleasant — contrast with Television’s dense thickets of guitar. She proudly wore her bohemian-punk influences on her sleeve, or rather on her white X T-shirt, leering conspiratorially with each railroad-spike-certain downstroke on “Pauline,” invoking a sense of luridly menacing Exene/John Doe atmosphere. She slowed things down on the languid idyll “Dutch Harbor” and a sweetly respectful, spare interpretation of Merle Haggard’s “I’ve Got a Tender Heart,” her breathy cooing barely rippling the glassy stillness before Television’s impending electric storm.
“It’s pretzel time,” an amused Tom Verlaine announced, tossing snacks into the front rows in response to some desperate song requests from the madding crowd. And it was pretzel time all night long, as Verlaine and especially Richard Lloyd twisted up some gorgeously fiery lead guitar during epic workouts “Little Johnny Jewel” and “Marquee Moon.” Mr. Lloyd casually flicked off the intricately snarled curlicues of “Calling Mr. Lee” as if he were absently swatting at flies, and the quartet’s surprise encore of “Psychotic Reaction” — despite a bit of stiffness on the double-time rave-up — was bookended by improvised instrumental passages in which Verlaine and Lloyd masterfully manipulated their volume controls to create moodily pretty shape-shifting waves. And these famously surly bandmates were having more fun than usual. As a pregnant silence and audience expectations gathered mass at one point, Verlaine seemed stuck for something meaningful to say. He glanced across the stage at Lloyd and burst out laughing for no real reason, all the tension dissipating. For that moment, at least, it really was all right not to think twice.
AESOP ROCK, EL-P, 2 MEX, AWOL ONE, BUSDRIVER, PIGEON JOHN, THE PROCUSSIONS at the Troubadour, September 27
When a crew comes all the way from Colorado to throw down in WeHo, you know the shit’s serious. The Procussions, an enjoyable threesome of b-boys who embroidered their tag-teaming flows with choreographed wit, were a startling reminder of rap’s playground/street-corner roots. More diverting, though, was the “tease” among 2 Mex, Busdriver and Awol One, trading off on the microphone while the turntablist adapted the 1s and 2s to each MC’s respective style: the jazzy-scat vibe of 2 Mex, the stripped-down adagio of Awol One, and Busdriver’s boom-tic/tic/tic-boom. That said, substance trumps form every time: the head-nodding crown goes to Busdriver.
The Kangol-rocking Pigeon John — calling out every South L.A. burg from Carson to Cerritos — definitely bumped the energy a notch but struck a weird chord when he said, “I love you all, but at the same time I hate you.” Check out his upcoming Pigeon John Is Dating Your Sister, and you’ll hear how not all styles in south L.A. County have to ape the doo-wop of Ugly Duckling or the watered-down funk-izzle of Snoop.
Aesop Rock and his mentor El-P got fists feverishly pumping until 1:30 a.m. While Aesop’s twisted flows were the night’s showpiece, the Def Jux honcho couldn’t resist ribbing his star rapper: “Yo, Aesop — who owns the company?” The pair of motor-mouthed underground New Yorkers weren’t shy about challenging attitudes, parsing profundity via DJ Big Wiz’s uptempo swing, or getting their politics on: “If you elect Schwarzenegger,” said El-P, “I promise I’ll never come back here.” In a moment reminiscent of guitar-solo solemnity, Aesop blistered through a freestyle that opened a window on his fleetness of tongue. He wasn’t merely bragging when he said, “You’ll need to keep playing Bazooka Tooth at least a month, cuz there’s no way you’ll get it the first time.” (Andrew Lentz)
INTERPOL at the Hollywood Palladium, October 1
While providing mild musical engagement and prime people-watch fodder, this was one of those shows where a night at home with the album, a six-pack and a lava lamp could’ve been as satisfying. Interpol competently delivered tunes from last year’s inspired Turn On the Bright Lights and some older ditties, but offered little embellishment or enthusiasm.
Interpol, though essentially a meeting of the Smiths, Bauhaus and Joy Division, never quite descend into the minimalist yet stifling Eraserhead desolation of J.D. The Palladium’s often cruel acoustics were admirably tamed right from the opener, a sluggish “Untitled” bathed in suitably ethereal lighting. Paul Banks’ vocals divided their time between a dusky Richard Butler rumor and sudden, pleading Peter Murphy proclamations. Deadpan melodies were kept afloat by talking guitars, wandering Peter Hook bass lines and occasional backup vocals from a touring keyboard player. Bassist Carlos D. had his clammy Crispin Glover look down, but his white blazer and skinny tie were an incongruous cartoon next to his bandmates’ understated guy-from-the-office anonymity. Only guitarist Daniel Kessler made any effort at true crowd connection, visiting the stage lip while resuscitating some potentially dull passages with his twinkling arpeggiated counter-melodies.
Like their album versions, “Obstacle 1” and “PDA” embodied the joy of propulsive pop and ominous undercurrent; “NYC” was a funereal bore; and “Say Hello to Angels” must have drawn the Smiths’ lawyers to the phone pronto. Pluses and minuses aside, this sold-out show was the place to be tonight, and the mixed audience — goth-spattered due to Interpol’s vague AFI/Depeche appeal — while not overly animated, were noisily enamored of the ’Pol. But, hey, lava lamps have never been cheaper, and there are no beer lines at home. (Paul Rogers)
THE RAVEONETTES, STELLASTARR, KITTENS FOR CHRISTIAN at El Rey, October 2
The Raveonettes’ latest, Chain Gang of Love, is the kind of disc that makes you want to punch the pedal to the metal, stogie drippin’ from yer lips, rays of sunshine gleaming off black shades. It’s strikingly stylish and sexy in an old fashioned, hot-rod-flick sort of way. And though the Danish duo are obviously fixated on ’50s/’60s aesthetics, busting out Beach Boys– and Phil Spector–derived melodies in all their ironic feel-good glory, they love chaos, too — the Jesus and Mary Chain fuzz factor that burned through their debut EP remained a fervent force live.
Maybe that’s why openers Stellastarr and Kittens for Christian, with their dark, new-wave-ish flair, seemed a good match. Everybody wants to be Robert Smith these days, and these two outfits evoked a Cure-like dreaminess/dreariness in varying degrees. Kittens took a weirder, heavier approach (no surprise, since they’re on the new label from System of a Down’s Serj Tankian, who watched from the crowd like a proud papa). New York’s Stellastarr showed more promise, though, with a charismatic tension that recalled Joy Division and a vulnerable, high-pitched vocal energy akin to the aforementioned Mr. Smith’s — plus, singer Shawn Christensen has the perfect long-bangs hairdo.
Eighties decadence flashed as brightly as the strobes at the Raveonettes’s show, and though flaxen-locked bassist/singer Sharin Foo did thank Psych Furs’ Richard Butler midset, she and partner Sune Rose Wagner proved that when you’ve got good chemistry, it doesn’t matter what period you reference. They also gave props to Johnny Cash and Gram Parsons, and covered Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly — whose “Everyday” wrapped up their encore with a ribbon of innocence and seduction. (Lina Lecaro)
CAVE IN at El Rey, October 5
The beauty of Cave In of late has been their very stylistic confusion: Since signing with a major label, they’ve predictably had their sound molded into more concise, song-oriented and radio-friendly fare, and apparently turned their backs on the hardcore rage of their previous indie releases. Yet there’s a delicate transitional joy to savor in their RCA debut, Antenna, which offers intelligent, often Lennon-McCartney-tinted contemporary hard rock, packaged in still mildly challenging arrangements.
Unfortunately, tonight Cave In mostly chose to ignore Antenna — an album they’ve often semi-apologized for — and perversely mined their back catalog instead. Whether this was to pander to a perceived “harder” crowd (they were opening for pop-metal flag bearers From Autumn to Ashes) or just a rebellion against Antenna’s perhaps externally shaped gems wasn’t clear — but either way, the results were not fun. “Inspired,” one of Antenna’s highlights, only underlined the mediocrity of what followed: revisitations of older material that were high on angst and energy but low on melody, particularly when bassist Caleb Schofield assumed strep-throated vocal duties. Between-song segues of art-noise indulgence only added to the rehearsal-room air before Cave In launched into an extended take on Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” that would’ve been more at home at Paladino’s.
It’s an irony that this band of unusually gifted songsmiths should retreat into generic musclecore and bedroom cover tunes: Give respect if they’re doing what their hearts dictate, the opposite if they’re trying to placate a cliquey crowd who’ve nettled them with “sellout” barbs over Antenna. Cave In can be one of the most exhilarating and ambitious guitar bands on the circuit (as at the Troubadour in April), but tonight the trucker caps outnumbered the tasty tunes, and their set suggested a sad and cynical cowering before the hipsters. (Paul Rogers)
TIM BURGESS, THE STILLS at the Troubadour, October 4
People go on about Tim Burgess and his recent conversion into an alt-country cowpoke, but in his heart of hearts he’ll always be a 24-hour-party person. Oh, this Charlatans front man and his band’s rootsy idioms were convincing enough, despite inorganic segues from hayseed Americana to psych-tinged rave-jams. Regardless, there’s no denying the band shone when they channeled the spirit of Manchester circa 1990, and much of the energy came via an expatriate Brit crowd, including indie-film star Tommy Flanagan from Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher. Making sure that pudding-basin coif never got mussed, Burgess was every bit the Mod fop: “This look bettah or worse?” he inquired, donning a pair of shades to hide those, er, dilated pupils.
When the Stills, a much-hyped export from Montreal, took the stage close to midnight, sporting, like Burgess, disheveled ’dos that must have taken hours to perfect (and Dave Hamelin’s aqua-colored drum set — including a 12-inch deep snare — is just too damn cool), there was a brief glimmer of hope that the second coming of Sloan was imminent. (A guy can dream, can’t he?) Though they’re an indiscreet mush of the Smiths, Stone Roses and late-period Blur — a little bit glam, a little bit gloom — the Stills hurdled romanticore blandness, in keeping with the rush of their Logic Will Break Your Heart (out October 21 on Vice), which vaunts “Allison Krauss” and the synth-dappled finale “Yesterday Never Tomorrows.” Even if they’re a bit hobbled by their influences, an inchoate lusciousness threading through the bigger-than-the-sum-of-its-parts set was discernible. For these newbies, it’s only a matter of time. (Andrew Lentz)