THE SEX PISTOLS, DROPKICK MURPHYS, THE REVEREND HORTON HEAT at the Greek Theater, September 6
“It’s a psychobilly freakout,” Dallas rockabilly preacher Horton Heat sang, earnestly enough — the only problem being that, after 50 years, his brand of rockabilly isn’t all that freaky or psychotic anymore. Backed by drums and a standup bass, the reverential reverend scratched out rootsy guitar lines that were properly twitchy and nervous, if largely derivative, despite occasional lovely embellishments like the spectral plucking that adorned the intro and outro of “Galaxie 500.” Boston’s Dropkick Murphys represented a different brand of traditionalism, cranking up Woody Guthrie’s ever-timely “Gonna Be a Blackout Tonight” with a pulverizing punk revisionism à la the Real McKenzies. Laced with pipes, bagpipes and mandolin, the Murphys’ melodies tend to come off like “Auld Lang Syne” as sung by “yo-ho, yo-ho”–bellowing pirates. Sounding and even looking like former Blood on the Saddle singer Annette Zilinskas, guest vocalist Stephanie Dougherty, decked out as a winsomely wholesome bobby-soxer, provided sweetening on “The Dirty Glass” and a rowdy remake of “If I Were a Carpenter” that underscored the connection between cowpunk and Irish folk.
The Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten announced humbly, “The queen is dead — all hail the king,” referring of course to himself, in front of a crowd that included onetime dead-queen-documenter Morrissey. Despite ushers’ visible concern over the slam-dancing in the aisles, Rotten egged on the revelers with class-warfare broadsides. (“This is the Greek, and all the millionaires in the hills are listening. Let’s make some noise!”) Introducing the set, Rotten declared, “Peace and love and all that crap. I think you know who we are,” before guitarist Steve Jones launched into the foreboding riff of the abortion-gone-wrong spectacle “Bodies,” still bloody and sinister after all these years. Rotten substituted “Baghdad” for “Belsen” on Sid Vicious’ black-humored “Belsen Was a Gas,” and merrily sang a verse of the Doors’ “Hello, I Love You” during a propulsive “Submission.” “Seventeen” dragged a bit, but the Pistols have always been slower than other punks, creating a mood of seedy danger through swaggering, deliberately delivered power chords instead of fast tempos. “You lot need clues for everything,” cheerleader Rotten chided the kids, stirring up applause for the closing encore of “Anarchy in the U.K.” and “Problems,” which climaxed with Jones’ clever, extended stutter-step strumming. Rotten, naturally, got the last word: “We are not worthy, but you make fucking sure that you are.”
LOS LOBOS, CAFÉ TACUBA, KINKY at the Hollywood Bowl, September 7
Picnic baskets, wine, cheese and KCRW fans up front. Ice chests, Corona beers and the Mexican masses all the way in the back. That was the layout for “Latin Roots and Rock.”
The Monterrey quintet Kinky kicked off the show with a blend of traditional Mexican music and heavy electronic beats. On “Do U Like It,” keyboardist Ulises Lozano and bassist Cesar Pliego (in his signature Stetson) put out a sound that made you feel like you were at an Eastside house party with hundreds of your friends dancing.
The highlight of the night had to be Café Tacuba. Lead singer Rubén Albarrán, wearing a pastel-blue suit, a hot-pink shirt (think Wham), a white tie and white shoes, got the energetic set going when he dedicated the song “Ingrata” to the Mexican masses on top, who went crazy. During “La Chica Banda,” Albarrán decided to pay them a visit; mike in hand, he made his way up, got mobbed by screaming young women and had to be rescued by security. The band had the kids literally running through the aisles in a crazed conga line for “Las Persianas,” and said goodbye with their now-signature four-man-synchronization modified pop-lock dance moves.
The moon was out when East L.A. veteranos Los Lobos took the stage. The mood quickly mellowed, and pipe-passing was in full effect as Davíd Hidalgo and César Rosas had to ask the crowd, “Are you there?” The Grammy-winning Wolves are tighter than ever, but it took such cover hits as Vicente Fernández’s “Volver, Volver” and Richie Valens’/the Rascals’ “La Bamba”/ “Good Lovin’” to really get the crowd going. Café and Kinky came out for a huge cumbia party set to “Cumbia Raza,” and the baton of “Latin alternative” music was passed. (Ben Quiñones)
BURNING SPEAR AND THE BURNING BAND at House of Blues, September 4
For someone who said he was giving up touring, Winston Rodney has a funny way of showing it. In the midst of playing 50 North American dates in 10 weeks on the heels of an arduous European stint, the man known as Burning Spear and his cohorts set up shop on Sunset Boulevard. Jamaican time was in effect, as the group went on more than an hour “late.”
Spear and the Burning Band played many classics — including “Jah Nuh Dead,” “Old Marcus,” “Slavery Days,” “The Youth” — as well as tracks from his durable new disc, Free Man. The set pacing varied little from previous shows, but consistency is what Spear offers and what his fans want. Despite the popularity of digital dancehall and the diminished influence of Rastafarian ideals, Spear has kept a full band on the road for years, continually praising Jah and punching holes in Babylon’s materialist façade. The Burning Band’s trademark air-cushion groove levitated the dance floor with uplifting horn fanfares, unwavering drum-and-bass riddims, bubbling keyboards, tack-sharp guitars and deep-dish dub. When given a chance to solo, trumpeter Glen Williams blew cool and blue, then segued to mariachi blare, while lead guitarist Cecil Ordonez embodied shred and swing.
Moving from mumble-chant to growl-shout to birdsong-whistle, the ever-enigmatic Spear relies on aphoristic repetition and simple-truth lyrics, using his gruff croon and uncanny timing like an added horn or rhythm instrument — he often seeks refuge in his percussion set after a vocal turn. When the ageless soul messenger bellowed Marcus Garvey’s name or asked if we remembered the days of slavery, his anguish and conviction still resonated. Once again, the graybeard from St. Ann’s delivered the goods; fans filed out into the early-morning air well-skanked and trance-sweaty. (Tom Cheyney)
NOBODY, BREAKESTRA at Temple Bar, September 5
Though Elvin Estela has a DJ’s credentials, that’s not what Nobody — Estela’s sunny psychedelic vision — is about. Passionately cavorting and banging a tambourine as often as he pored over decks, Estela whipped up miasmas of analog/digital saturation that transported this shaggy love child as much as us. Thanks to a swinging, versatile trap drummer, the crew (drawing for the most part from the hypnotic new Pacific Drift) never lost the head-nodding cadence of hip-hop, even when the shimmering textures reached critical density. To their credit, Nobody et al. rendered a Zombies tune (!) unrecognizable, but the guitarist’s request for a “Dewars rocks” just didn’t fit with the paisley frippery.
Where Nobody could shoegaze with the best in Britain, Breakestra is the proud voice of America’s inner cities. The band, one of those outsize groove collectives, moves between genres with the ease of a medley. There were literally no pauses between the James Brown preacher frenzies, marathon Afro-pop workouts, thumping funkdowns and horn-stabbed rave-ups, as these styles coalesced into one big sweat-soaked jam. At times the band cleaved a bit too close to the classic Motown vinyl that inspires them, and while the reverent references were never less than energizing, the set at times came dangerously close to cover-band territory.
The individual musicians made such considerations secondary. The guitarist was lost in the mix, but you could savor the Manzarek-worthy lounge histrionics of the organist, the trumpeter’s film-score-caliber clarions and a Tina Turner–style songbird who jumped onstage for a few sex-drenched numbers. Leader Miles Tackett demurred from abusing the microphone, encouraging his band to show off their skills instead; every harmonic convergence needs a prime mover. (Andrew Lentz)
XZIBIT, DEFARI at Club 1650, September 6
Even off-duty motorcycle pigs and a Farrakhan-looking bouncer detail couldn’t put a chill on Rhyme Night. As a personal reminder of how he came up, once a month Xzibit hosts this series to expose new talent in front of radio personalities and label scouts — a terrific way of keeping our ear turned to the streets. In tonight’s case, the streets were the sun-baked avenues of the Inland Empire, as shout-outs to San Berdoo and Riverside got the majority of fists in the air.
Far from some amateur parade, the unsigned hopefuls were mostly slamming. Marcia Brady (“been rapping since she was 5”) and FEXX (two beefy dudes rocking Sennheiser wireless microphones) were as stylistically fresh as Xzibit’s own ruff-neck flows, which he dropped on us between the unknowns. Draped in Gale Sayers’ No. 40 jersey, Xzibit did a yeoman’s job of big-upping West Coast hip-hop, squashing rumors (“Fuck what y’all heard, that I’m dead or in jail or whatever”) and fomenting civil disobedience (“Free Ras Kass”).
Featured guest Defari — formerly of the Likwit Crew and currently a high school teacher in Inglewood — equaled the self-promotion talents he displayed at the Power 106 battle last weekend: “If you’re feeling Odds and Evens, say, ‘Hell mutherfuckin’ yeah.’” But gearwhores appreciated how keen he was on the automobile-centric nature of the lifestyle: “Even if you all don’t have the latest system,” he said, referring to the bass units stuffed into car trunks, “buy it anyway.” Still, he was generous to a fault, repeatedly plugging the upcoming CD by his DJ, E-Swift. And not wanting to steal the shine from what could be the next MC du jour, he did only a handful of cuts before vanishing, leaving us hungry. (Andrew Lentz)