It was sometime Friday when the mutiny occurred. The people occupying promotional booths at the Latin Alternative Music Conference (LAMC) had listened to the symposium’s mediocre double-disc compilation for too long and came to the conclusion that sabotage was necessary. Nearly every stand in the Beverly Hilton’s moldy conference room quickly volunteered a CD of a favorite L.A.-based band, and those infernal LAMC records were surreptitiously replaced with scratchy indie productions. The floor soon rumbled with approval for local Latin alternative music — but who wanted inspiration here? Certainly not the LAMC organizers, who quickly returned the audio to the status quo.
The sonic suppression neatly sums up this year’s LAMC, four days of panels, workshops and shows that functioned as a corporate-sponsored excuse for music-label scalawags to get sloshed and discuss business safely away from the smelly rockero masses. Sad, really, because many of the LAMC activities would have been better appreciated by run-of-the-mill fans.
Local loves Los Abandoned and Go Betty Go solidified their status as Next Big Things during the opening-night Indie Showcase, GBG lead vixen Nicolette Vilar in particular showing how a peek-a-boo red bra strap can be as much of a musical statement as a screech. Lumpy chilangas Las Ultrasónicas’ too-brief set at the Friday Acoustic Showcase revealed a Gipsy-Kings-play-Lil’-Kim sense of song. “Maybe ustedes can shut your mouth and listen to us or suck on it,” the drummer (built like a Humvee) growled. Las Ultrasónicas then strummed into their infamously wonderful “Vente en Mi Boca” (“Come in My Mouth”).
Open-to-the-public events included Venezuelan sex funksters Los Amigos Invisibles on Thursday at the Santa Monica Pier, and two California Plaza presentations — Kronos Quartet and the Nortec Collective on Friday, and a Saturday-eve Plastilina Mosh/Jumbo/Volumen Cero free-for-all with P. Mosh and Jumbo covering “Mr. Roboto.” Domo arigato for the freebies, LAMC overlords, but shouldn’t all the concerts have been like this?
Everybody’s favorite crazy rockero uncle, El Tri front man Alex Lora, emerged from his sarcophagus long enough on Friday to ramble about accepting payola and having played “Los Rolling” a couple of centuries ago. And the prune’s solo mumblings during the Thursday-night La Banda Elástica Awards fiasco at the Mayan was a reminder of why atheism persists.
In addition to the Friday fun, local renegades organized two separate but unrelated hoi polloi counterattacks — an all-Spanish ska showcase at South Gate’s decrepit Allen Theater Friday night that saw headliners Las 15 Letras inspire a near-riot with their jumpy surges, and an Eastlos-centric slate at the Knitting Factory’s AlterKnit Lounge held in direct competition to the official Indie Showcase. Songstress Lysa Flores hosted the latter with her acoustic cries, while Los Villains turned off their double-drum mortars to whisper some folkloric punk. As for closers Ollin, any group that can rockabilly-out a reference to City Terrace, recall the displaced families of Chavez Ravine, and chirp a rendition of “The Wearing of the Green” that can cause all of County Cork to cry deserves the world’s blessings.
LOLLAPALOOZA at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, August 16
“Next year you’ll all bring cell phones!” Not exactly the call to arms you might expect from one of alternative music’s most subversive bands, but then Jane’s Addiction aren’t the group they used to be, and the guy touting the wonders of text messaging from the stage, Perry Farrell, isn’t the same dread-headed freak he was when he started Lollapalooza back in ’91. Farrell’s then-innovative melting-pot party exuded an organic, whimsical and even volatile communal atmosphere that had nothing to do with technology and everything to do with diversity. Who can forget the Siouxsie Sioux/Nine Inch Nails/Ice-T bill from the first tour? Lollapalooza 2003, sponsored by X-Box, lacked the same kind of magic, but there were moments of fun and fury.
A Perfect Circle’s dramatic angst cast a rapturous spell, but the supergroup, which currently boasts James Iha (ex–Smashing Pumpkins), Twiggy Ramirez (ex–Marilyn Manson) and singer Maynard Keenan (Tool), was a bit too somber under the afternoon sun. Incubus’ grooveful melodies suited the bikini-topped crowd better, with singer Brandon Boyd’s shirtless bongo solo giving swooning gals an opportunity to bust out their Shakira bellydance moves. Even more evocative of the old fest’s spirit, Audioslave were also the rawest. Though their music lacks the danger of Rage’s, their set didn’t lack passion, especially during a curious but amazing cover of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” If the tune wasn’t already headed for classic-rockhood, it is now.
“Jane Says” is another anthem destined for a VH1 Countdown show, and when Jane’s Addiction fell into it at the close of their set, it was almost like old times. Up to that point, the performance had been a sexed-up spectacle featuring gyrating “Lolla girls,” cyber-industrial set décor, and Farrell (looking way too Lux Interior in a vinyl catsuit) and David Navarro (shirtless of course) vamping about. It was shticky and high-tech, but when a band’s on the comeback trail, guess they have to try it all — even if they know better than anyone that nothing’s shocking. (Lina Lecaro)
SONIC YOUTH, NEIL HAGERTY AND THE HOWLING HEX, DEAD MEADOW, ERASE ERRATA at El Rey, August 17
Only a crank wouldn’t be down with the Don’t Knock the Rock mini-festival and its loosey-goosey philosophy of convening like-minded artists who ordinarily wouldn’t perform together. While the interstitial avant-garde films we were promised were screened across town at the ArcLight, there was a whole ’nother kind of excitement: No sooner had Erase Errata finished their art-damaged deconstructions than a VW bus rolled up under the marquee, and like pie-throwing political subversives, out sprang Friends Forever (not billed, they just showed up!), treating this comfy stretch of the Miracle Mile to a free session of grating noise, sparklers, a semi-inflated raft, and other violently hurled objets de roq concerte.
User’s guide to Dead Meadow: 1) Ingest entire contents of parents’ medicine cabinet; 2) Enjoy the shit out of ’em. Wish people had been feeling them more, though. So what if Dead Meadow don’t write hooks? No one does this psych-drone deep-space guitar-sojourn thing anymore. The short-&-sweet award goes to Neil Hagerty, who, now long free of Royal Trux’s junkie chic, only gets better in pursuit of the ultimate roadhouse stomp — a Muddy Waters boogie meets Frisco flower-child noodle-poodle that’s pure fire. Funny that Hagerty and the Hex kicked off with the coal-miner elegy “Rockslide,” a tune that makes for a splendid denouement.
No one can accuse Sonic Youth of riding Hollywood’s dick, even though dear friend Rosanna Arquette introduced the band: “Fourteen years ago, David Bowie played Daydream Nation for me for the first time, and I was like ‘Oh, my god . . .’” Forget Tinseltown, as it wasn’t long before blandly dressed beanpole Thurston Moore casually announced, “This is our anti-Schwarzenegger song.” While he didn’t bust out the violin bow he’s been known to slice at his pickups with, he and Kim Gordon did unusually cruel things to their guitar and bass respectively. Delicately sidestepping their Zeitgeist-defining catalog cuts, the band used the bulk of their selections as mere platforms for frenzied unfurlings of tripwire-tight groove. Two generous encores later (the second dovetailing with “Teenage Riot”), the assembled votaries grasped that no matter how simultaneously inward-outré Sonic Youth get, there’s always a destination. (Andrew Lentz)
ZOHAR at Skirball Cultural Center, August 14
SIDESTEPPER at the Conga Room, August 15
London has long been a breeding ground for multiculti beat crazies. Two inventive collaboratives, Zohar and Sidestepper, came to town last week for an unofficial globotronica sound clash. While they share a flair for creative knob-twisting and a love of dub and other hot-climes musics, Zohar’s downtempo Middle Eastern vibe veers toward the spiritual, while Sidestepper’s electro-Colombian breakbeats zero in on the libidinous zone.
The two groups played venues that couldn’t be more different. Zohar looked out over the family-friendly Skirball crowd to see great-grandmas nodding to the beat in the evening heat next to babes in the arms of swaying young moms. Kibbutzim hippies and middle-aged daddies bopped beatifically as sampled cantors and muezzins floated over slightly chilled riddims. Augmenting the spectral disembodied voices, live singer Zena Edwards brought a brooding neosoul intensity, her pleas for peace resonating wonderfully in the center’s cultural-bridge-building environs: “Let’s get up to get down for unity/An international family affair.” Still, Zohar’s one-off U.S. debut (they had to return to Jolly Olde afterward) never came as close to penetrating the veil of the unseen as their trance-laden recordings do.
Courting a narrower demographic, the Conga Room focuses on more secular things — bailamos, muchachos y muchachas! — and Sidestepper nailed those values. Blissed-out Brit bandleader Richard Blair keyed the bass lines and triggered psychotropical loops. Fellow electronicist Humberto Pernet’s prodigious Afro was a study in perpetual motion as he summoned horn and keyboard samples. Diminutive singer-dancers Erica Muñoz and Janio Coronado never stopped shimmying, shaking and salsafying, Coronado’s classic Colombian tenor expressing the universal yearning for a good time. Drummer-percussionist Kike Ariyela expertly navigated the eddies of programmed beats, while smiley baldhead Ivan Benavides added rhythm-guitar scratches and additional vocal oomph. Their set was nothing short of electrifying, a sweat-drenched cumbiatronic testimonial. (Tom Cheyney)
NOE VENABLE, JENNIFER TERRAN at Highland Grounds, August 16
Not everybody can be both scary and vulnerable; Jennifer Terran (pronounced tearin’) can. The scary part is her voice, which spirals into regions so high you fear she’ll disappear or crash, and lately it has acquired a diamond-dust edge that can saw through a stack of hearts, first of all her own. Which is why her voice is also the vulnerable part, but equally torn are her lyrics, even when the protagonist is the ripper (“Mad Magdalene,” assassin of a record exec): Here’s a woman who identifies with trout (“trying, like I do”). Playing electric keyboard all alone, Terran pulled her set list out of a hat, which isn’t destructive to “pacing” since her songs are so varied, some of the best proving to be ones she hasn’t yet released — a simple moon song, and a dramatic Russian epic bolstered by a drum machine and featuring one of her specialty ascendant bridges. Terran is a truly original artist, currently making inroads in Europe and reluctant to leave Santa Barbara for the evils of Los Angeles. Can’t blame her.
Also on the road was Bay Area songwriter Noe Venable, though she has augmented her usual bandmates Todd Sickafoose and Alan Lin with L.A. percussion master Dan Morris, and has attracted a coterie of Angeleno musician fans (tonight Nels Cline and Carla Bozulich). A wispy waif growing red hair down to her knees, Venable leans toward a sort of Celtic Zep thing, her ensemble morphing into a counterbalanced hurdy-gurdy unit as she bangs on acoustic guitar and sings in a piercing lilt about being fearlessly lost; on top of that, she can pull off a talking-blues rap, pure rhythm. She weaves that old spell, no getting around it. “I’ve never responded to elfcore before Noe,” Bozulich was heard to observe. Later she amended that: “enchanted elfcore.” (Greg Burk)