Wednesday, February 27, 2008

THE LAMPS live review

The Lamps at the Scene bar, live review, LA RECORD

Full disclosure requires me to state that the Lamps played at my birthday party a few years ago. And that they totally left the room throbbing with pleasure. Montgomery Buckles’ loud gruff voice and Tim Ford’s bouncy bass playing couldn’t have been more appropriate for a packed-to-the-brim room of inebriated young adults. Last Monday night at the Scene, Buckles, Ford, and drummer Josh Erkman took the stage after their future European tour partner Haunted George served up a big ol’ “Pile O’Meat,” but the atmosphere left me nostalgic for my birthday fun. The Lamps thrive in small sweaty basements that don’t have enough clearance for deep inhalations, and the Scene was a Glendale bar on a Monday evening—no more, no less. I was having a blast, though, despite Ford’s opening disclaimer that he doesn’t usually play in “shit mode,” a statement inspired by the unremedied muddy amp feedback apparently left by George’s accomplice Jimmy Hole. Roth took the mic for “Bob the Cat,” a track off their In The Red full length, and Buckles commanded the Lamps’ spasmodic thigh-slapping noise for the remainder. In The Red describes the Lamps as “mongoloid frenzy music,” and when Buckles is straining every vein in this throat to screech out the lyrics to “Eliseo,” the primitive implications are definitely perceptible. Word of advice: book this band for your next party. If you’re lucky they’ll say yes. I’m almost thinking about pushing my birthday up in the rotation just to get the Lamps back where they belong: drunk and smothered by a large mass of happy sticky people.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Monday, February 18, 2008

BLACK LIPS live review

Black Lips at the El Rey live review, LA RECORD

The Valentine’s Day Black Lips show was all about LOVE. Teenage sweeties in the audience pushed their way forward to shove homemade valentines into the hands of guitarist Ian St Pe, and there were a surprising number of brave young things who climbed onto the stage explicitly to throw their arms around singer Cole Alexander. Drummer Joe Bradley played with a glowing heart, fastened out of rope lights, inside his bass drum, and Jared Swilley was courteous enough to use his forehead multiple times to bounce back a communal beach ball when it floated his way—until, of course, he smashed it with his foot and threw the deflated carcass back into the crowd. The most endearing part of the evening was Alexander’s chivalrous rescue of a young pink-haired girl —he rushed in to pull the offending arm of a large security guard off of her so she could continue to crowd surf in peace. Actually, throughout the night Alexander—not a large man but certainly a brave and loyal one—had to run to the rescue of so many manhandled kids that his face started to harbor wrinkles of sincere frustration, almost as though he wanted to apologize for subjecting his people to this kind of lame treatment. It did seem like an incredible waste of manpower on the side of the El Rey. When I first heard that the Black Lips were scheduled to play this venue, I was worried. I thought that the space was a) too big and b) not really their style—those who have seen the Black Lips previously would know that hanging chandeliers and candlelit dinner tables aren’t exactly the optimum setting for their cyclonic live show. But the venue ended up being completely and almost uncomfortably packed—due, most likely, to the constant radio play of their 2007 single “Cold Hands.” And as far as the El Rey not being their style, well, I should’ve known from last October’s wild performance at the Troubadour (and the video footage of their gig in Tijuana) that the Black Lips have the power to turn proper community social halls into dens of public masturbation and pleasurable group aggression. Nothing short of shackling each of their eight feet to the floor would prevent the Lips from hijacking control of their performance space, and that power lies in both the strength of their material and their collective adorable charisma. They played a rotating waltz of garage, doo-wop, and southern-punk songs off their last three albums and didn’t lose steam until perhaps their encore performance of “Veni Vidi Vici,” when Alexander’s voice was audibly strained. Exempting the occasions the Black Lips are thrown out of their own shows for lewd behavior, there is nary a band that can guarantee such an enjoyable night out.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

BLACK LIPS feature

Black Lips music feature, LA WEEKLY

Black Lips by Daniel Arnold
There's a good chance that none of these cuties is wearing pants.
Photo by Daniel Arnold.

In a just world, the Black Lips would be as popular now as the Beatles were in their 1967 pre–White Album era. There are four of them, median age 25, and all are known for being cute (one-upping the Beatles). Each member has a unique, identifying personality: Joe Bradley is the quietly handsome, steadfast drummer. Cole Alexander is the pretty-faced, potty-mouthed front man with the vomiting problem. Ian Saint Pe is the smiling guitarist with the full gold grill and the numerous visible tattoos. And Jared Swilley is the bass-playing preacher's son, eternally decked out in short shorts, and occasionally a Freddie Mercury-thick mustache. Like the other quartet, the Black Lips released a massive amount of work early on in their career; the current tally is four studio albums, two live albums, 14 singles and four split 7-inches. And they have an upcoming movie project with Springboard Films, titled Let It Be.

Apparently, the film title is an allusion to the 1984 Replacements album rather than the Beatles' final opus, but the trailer alone provides bountiful comparisons to Richard Lester's 1964 classic A Hard Day's Night, from the mockumentary style to the self-referential script to the inane journalistic questions. Their onscreen band is called the Renegades, which was the name of Alexander, Swilley and Saint Pe's pre–Black Lips band. During a recent phone conversation, Bradley explained that they suggested this moniker to the filmmakers because the script's original band name, the Buck Privates, was less than thrilling, but it's clear that the movie's major theme — making it in the 1980s DIY-era post-punk world responsible for spawning bands like Sonic Youth and Husker Du — finds a kinship with the Black Lips' arduous self-made career, just as A Hard Day's Night depicted the Beatles' frustration with their frantic lifestyle.

A career trajectory such as the Black Lips' seems to bear the imprint of a seasoned record-company impresario, but when I asked Bradley about the existence of a puppet master, he wanted to be clear that their Vice Records G.M., Adam Shore, is no Brian Epstein or Colonel Parker: "Vice provides a lot of opportunities for us, but we know that the hard work won't be done by anyone but ourselves," says Bradley. "We won't ever be forced to do something we don't believe in." There's evidence to support this assertion: Even though much of their time seems spent tumbling, spitting, cursing half-naked, the young men in the Black Lips seem completely self-aware, evident in their sly, upturned grins and sideways glances during interviews (check the hysterical off-the-cuff interview the band did with iFilm at the 2007 SXSW festival).

But their damn good musicianship seems to be eclipsed by all the press they're getting about all the press they're doing. Documentary videos are available of the Black Lips making interview videos after posing for Rolling Stone photo shoots. Perhaps it's a dose of lingering survivor's guilt from the loss of an original band member, Ben Eberbaugh, who was killed by an asshole drunk driver in 2002, that drives them to nonstop heroic displays of rock & roll stamina. Or maybe it's just a desire to succeed: As Bradley told The New York Times in March of 2007, "I ain't makin' no tortilla sandwiches no more for no yuppies."

As collaborative songwriters, the Black Lips have grown tenfold since their self-titled 2003 Bomp! release. Their newest album, Good Bad Not Evil, is a stylistically wondrous record that begins with experimental garage rock, thrives on Southern roots influences and ends on bare choral harmonies. The catchy, bouncy way with which the Lips perform songs on topics of colossal weight — death in "How Do You Tell a Child That Someone Has Died," religious warfare in "Veni Vidi Vici," natural disasters in "O Katrina!" — is incredibly intelligent. It requires an innate understanding of human emotion to successfully reflect on pain so cutting and transform it into party music without losing a shred of integrity. Sure, it's fantastic to be named the hardest-working band at SXSW, but most press coverage regarding the Black Lips gives their tired feet and blistered fingers more acclaim than the increasingly impressive content those sore appendages have been producing.

Unfortunately (and not surprisingly), the Black Lips' October appearance on Late Night With Conan O'Brien didn't create the same effect as the Beatles' performance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, and there's very little to be done about that. America will probably never unite around a single band that way again; the market's too fragmented. But the lack of unity does make it significantly harder for bands like the Black Lips, and can lead to more focus on the work schedule than on the actual work. "I'd like to think the Beatles had it a lot easier than we did, because the market wasn't so saturated then," says Bradley. "Those types of media outlets were freshly opened for bands. The Beatles were some of the first people to get up and do that circuit. We have a lot more to work against. Plus, the Beatles didn't have to worry about journalists constantly asking questions about them pissing on each other." True, but they did have to answer a shitload of questions about their hair.

For readers picking up the L.A. Weekly on Thurs., Feb. 14, the Black Lips play tonight at the El Rey with Pierced Arrows. Doors open at 8 p.m.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

ANAIS NIN short feature

Hammer Event: Anais Nin Reading pick in LA Weekly

Turns out, Nin was an Angelina. There's a good article on her L.A. days by
Lucinda Michele on Metroblogging here:

Anais Nin would have been 105 this year, and if all the hype is anywhere near accurate, she probably would still be fucking. Every time I overhear or participate in discussions involving Nin, the conversation inevitably turns smutty. Granted, she did submit herself as a cultural galvanizer of female sexual liberation at a time in Europe when there was very little female-authored erotica available; but I've always believed that those diary entries concerning coital relations between her and her father were at best a metaphor inspired by her studies of Freudian psychology, and at most a pretty lucrative insurance policy for keeping her legacy eternally sensationalized. Rumors gold or pyrite, Nin was a powerful and courageous literary figure who happened to make many younger friends during her aging years in Silver Lake. Electronic-music pioneer Bebe Barron, writer and educator Deena Metzger, architect and environmentalist Eric Lloyd Wright, and writer and founder of Center of Autobiographic Studies Tristine Raine are four of these younger friends, now grown-up, who will honor the underdeveloped persona of Nin by reading passages from her work and telling their personal stories about, but not limited to, Nin the publisher; Nin the printing-press operator; Nin the college lecturer; Nin the mentor; Nin the friend. Don't worry, though — sex will surely come up in conversation. Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood; Tues., Feb. 12, 7 p.m. (310) 443-7000.

Anais Nin in Silver Lake

CRYSTAL ANTLERS record review

Crystal Antlers Until the Sun Dies/Swamp Song 7-inch review, LA Weekly

Crystal Antlers | "Until the Sun Dies"/"Swamp Song" | BackFlip Records 7-inch

The A-side of Crystal Antlers' newest release, "Until the Sun Dies," is the safer of these two songs — it sticks more to a dirty-guitar-dominant form with front man-bassist Jonny Bell's vocals switching between the larkish and the belted; it is the B-side's "Swamp Song" that really tears up and showcases exactly what Bell and his bandmates have to offer: unashamed, unafraid, gritty hot-mess melodies that take cues from the Stooges, Joe Cocker, Screamin' Jay Hawkins (rest his soul) and Ozzy Osbourne. "Swamp Song" begins in the midst of a high-intensity power-chord argument taking place "under moldy green, downstream, and under willow trees" between Bell and an unknown second party over the apparent state of his soul; after two minutes, the song builds to a deceptive cadence and dumps out after the break with an Aleister Crowley organ and bass line that hones Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi's work on Sabbath's "Electric Funeral" (and many other Black Sabbath songs from 1970 or '71). But the Antlers aren't really a heavy metal band. Our generation browsed in haberdasheries of vintage and contemporary influences, and Crystal Antlers are no exception to this stylistic conglomeration. A young band based out of Long Beach with only two 7-inch releases under their belt, Crystal Antlers have displayed prowess that has propagated support from erudite local media (District Weekly, L.A. Record) and will be graciously blowing their hot mess all over the northern stretches of the Southland to ring in 2008.