Sunday, June 28, 2009

I love you, Steve Albini.

The Zombies (with the Yardbirds) at the Wiltern. June 27, 2009. Los Angeles, CA.

It can be a bit frightening to see reformed bands for fear that their concert comes off similarly to a county fair appearance, where everything's more electric than it ought to be, easily giving away the band's age. I feel like this is a recurring theme here. What the Zombies have going for them that the Yardbirds don't is that they are working with new members with whom they've had ties – whereas the Yardbirds are essentially a new, younger band (that happens to feature Jim McCarty and Chris Dreja), the Zombies are working with bassist Jim Rodford (Rod Argent's cousin, Pete Quaife's replacement in the Kinks and a could-be Zombie from the band's start), as well as his son Steve on drums.

This show became an odd arena rock spectacle upon the inclusion of Argent's “Hold Your Head Up,” when the soft-spoken Colin Blunstone sort of took on a supporting role to Argent as star (this would happen again at the show's encore). Blunstone in fact was a great contrast to Argent, who frequently took over speaking duties to point out the legend in the band's 40-year old hits, and the value placed upon them by the likes of British mag Mojo. In fact, were it not for Blunstone, the band would possibly be lacking for charm these days – it is his voice, like Ray Davies' at its highest, still reasonably breathy and fully as sweet at its most subtle, that keeps the Zombies from sounding stale with the addition of heightened volume and power.

Yes, the large size of the Wiltern meant the bang of Steve Rodford's drums was too prominent for the sweeter songs. Argent's Hammond was a bit indulgent at times, as were Keith Airey's guitar embellishments added to, for instance, set conclusion “She's Not There,” which would have benefited from a touch less electricity. And perhaps the bluesy “Mystified” was their county fair moment.

But then, a few songs into the set, which had begun with “I Love You,” the band took care to play a cluster of songs from Odessey & Oracle (“A Rose for Emily,” “Care of Cell 44,” “This Will Be Our Year,” and “Time of the Season”), and Blunstone's uncomfortable steps and timid snaps briefly came to a halt when he showed perhaps some accidental passion, bending his knees in and throwing his arms out excitedly, as though he truly felt the anticipation in “Care of Cell 44,” and it was clear then that Blunstone is what makes the band so unbelievably lovely, even 45 years from their inception.

The Zombies - The Way I Feel Inside
The Zombies - Beechwood Park
The Zombies - This Will Be Our Year
Purchase the Odessey & Oracle 40th Anniversary concert DVD.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Art Brut at Spaceland. June 17, 2009. Los Angeles, CA.

I've often been wont to liken Art Brut to a pop-rock version of fellow Brit the Streets, placing Eddie Argos' not-quite-singing next to Mike Skinner's not-quite-rapping, blunt and conversational storytelling acting as the core of the music in each case. “Emily Kane” could make you smile and wince the same way “Fit But You Know It” did (they still do), and after being told all about the girl at hand, you can't help but both root for and pity the man behind the story. And as with Skinner's work, it's not necessarily the likeable but not-so-standout music that serves as key, but the narration, chatty and embarrassingly honest.

Live, however, the story's a bit different. Argos' banter is such that even if it's been recorded four years ago, it still sounds like a fresh argument into the microphone, but on stage the remaining band also turns out to be much more necessary than previously thought, and it becomes suddenly apparent that Art Brut is a protest band of the best variety. They're fighting a peaceful fight, protesting against saccharine music that's been regurgitated ten times over for a musically ignorant and receptive audience. They're protesting against irony, against contrived coolness, even drummers' stools (drummer Mikey Breyer stands up to show off his red pants while he plays).

My sex is on sex is on sex is sex is on fire. Am I human or am I dancing? What does it mean? It means nothing!

They really do hate pop music. But they're pro-happiness, somewhat ironically and then not. They smile when they play, and guitarist Jasper Future, also in red pants, even wears a face not unlike that of a stupid-happy dog when he's next to Argos.

Argos pointed out during this, their second night of a three-date run at Spaceland, that we, the audience, should all form bands because – look at us! – we're so happy. And they did all look so very happy. While playing lots in particular from their first and newest records (Art Brut vs. Satan was just released in April), Argos took a break to tell us, mid-song, that we should form bands because it's fun, and to keep records in record shops, and that DC Comics makes him want to rock out. Are you ready, Art Brut? No metaphors, no sleazy dancing, no puckered mouths (see: Los Angeles). Just genuine smiles and authentic stories.

Oh! But opener Tall Hands involved lots of bounce and one divine moustache not to be ignored.

(Yes, I know these are so four years ago, but I love them so.)
Purchase the new one, Art Brut vs. Satan.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pushing 26...60...70...


The Fly - Twilight Sad `Walking For Two Hours` FlyTV In The Courtyard on MUZU.

Second: The Sonics are coming to Echo Park!!!
Purchase a ticket or ten. The band itself is nearly fifty years old! Hooray for Tacoma, Washington.

The Sonics - Shot Down
The Sonics - Strychnine

Third: I typically get a bit sad when I see members of old, fantastic bands go the solo route – you've got people like Ray Davies, who've aged well but spend a lot of stage time reiterating that goddamn it, we were the British Invasion – or old, fantastic bands attempting to recreate a heyday (god only knows where to begin, here). Former Strangler Hugh Cornwell sort of dabbles in both categories, his solo shows and live recordings partially filled with hits from his previous band, and in fairness, his solo work not nearly as thrilling or creative as the work he put out with them in the '70s and '80s.

But then, he's aged awfully well, particularly useful as a comparison point – having retained both looks and voice – and he's not slowed too drastically at all, unless you look to his lackluster live versions of Stranglers songs. It would be completely okay if he chose to retire “Nice 'N Sleazy,” really. On the whole, though, it's with optimism that I mention his upcoming American tour dates, in promotion of Hoover Dam, his 2008 record which has just been released this last week as an American LP (and which is also available on his
website for free download).

Cornwell still sings like a proper gentleman, at least through a distance artificially created in the studio, but there's some good guitar fuzz here; as for specifics, “Within You or Without You” rolls and stomps along, “Philip K. Ridiculous” is a twisting instrumental that reminds a bit of his solos with the Stranglers, and “Banging on at the Same Old Beat” is what it sounds, with a bit of a retro-by-way-of-current-Los Angeles style. Okay, so it's not a perfect ten. But it's decent enough, and if you live in the east, or in Europe, he puts on a swell show.

Hugh Cornwell - Philip K. Ridiculous
Hugh Cornwell - Banging on at the Same Old Beat
See him on tour.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Anti-Flag - The People Or The Gun

Alright, so they have a tendency to spread the message of community via occasional dumbed-down maxims (see “War Sucks, Let's Party!” off 2006 effort For Blood and Empire). And yes, this liberal punk band, one self-proclaimed pro-community, pro-equal rights, is a bit hypocritical for promoting the sale of its new record at Target, the CEO of which is a known Republican who donated to the Bush campaign in 2004. Much as I appreciate the messages they get across – agreed, if we allocated our trillions to health care and education rather than war, we would be in a better place – and much as I appreciate that they're donating some of the proceeds from recent album pre-sales to Amnesty International, I'd be more impressed if they found a means that better meshed with the words they preach.

To be expected, you don’t visit a band like Anti-Flag for its musical creativity – there is none to be found. Justin Sane’s bitch-bitch-whine-whine vocals are somewhat hardened by Chris Barker's barks and growls, and the band’s rock style, L.A.-meets-Boston (by way of Pittsburgh, natch) is formulaic by now. What Anti-Flag does offer are lyrics relevant to now, even addressing this year’s bailouts (“I’ve seen a lot of bailouts in my life/but why is it I never see a bailout for the homeless and the poor? We’re so fucked!”), and the importance of taking responsibility when the government won’t (“we are the one/united under none,” from the anthemic “We Are the One”).

By far, the hardest hitting track here is opener “Sodom, Gomorrah, Washington D.C.,” rounding out a list of cities run by sin, destroyed by God, breathlessly likening the powers that be to “sheep in shepherd’s clothing.” Though Anti-Flag is a bit poppy in the vein of modern punk, it’s the fire in this song that’s so desperately lacking from much of the genre of late, not to mention the band’s own catalog; that in mind, The People or the Gun loses strength after its initial three minutes, if only by contrast.

Anti-Flag - We Are the One
Anti-Flag - Sodom, Gomorrah, Washington D.C.
Pre-order The People or the Gun