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Live review: Black Dub has speed to burn

January 30, 2011 |  9:28 pm

Daniel Lanois' sharp new band displays power and finesse in this full-throttle show.

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If last year's self-titled debut by Black Dub hasn't received the widespread attention it deserves, Daniel Lanois has only himself to blame. This L.A.-based musician, best known for producing landmark recordings by U2 and Bob Dylan, led an action-packed 2010, publishing a memoir about his life in music and teaming with Neil Young for Young's album “Le Noise,” which is up for a Grammy next month. There was also a serious motorcycle accident last June that left Lanois with six broken ribs and forced him to postpone Black Dub's first tour.

Judging by the group's electrifying performance Friday night at the El Rey, Lanois should make more time for Black Dub in 2011: Here was a well-established record-industry insider channeling the seat-of-the-pants spirit of a band with something to prove.

Black Dub's music is built around Lanois' scrubby widescreen guitar, but its other voices are no less crucial. Drummer Brian Blade, a veteran of the jazz world who's played with Wayne Shorter and Joshua Redman, provides an ever-shifting groove. Bassist Jim Wilson (filling in on the road for Daryl Johnson) connects the sound to funk and reggae. And singer Trixie Whitley, daughter of the late blues star Chris Whitley, fires the sound with raw emotion; her hoarse soul honk probably hasn't changed since the day she discovered it.

The result on “Black Dub” recalls the experimental roots music of mid-'90s Los Lobos, with unconventional song structures draped by bleary instrumental textures. The group summoned plenty of sonic atmosphere at the El Rey, particularly in a couple of instrumental pieces; during one duet between Blade and Lanois, the latter caressed the strings of a pedal-steel guitar like a devoted lover. Throughout the show, a cameraman darted around the stage, transmitting close-up video images of the players' busy hands to a large screen.

The musicians weren't simply airing out their chops, though; Black Dub was equally devoted to velocity Friday, driving “Sing” and “Nomad” with a punky intensity that kept any sense of jam-band indulgence at bay. (For “Nomad,” as well as several other tunes, Whitley added to Blade's rhythmic thrust from behind a second drum kit.)

The energy peaked at the end of Black Dub's main set, with a noisy version of Whitley's song “I'd Rather Go Blind” and “Ring the Alarm,” which the band drew out to a kind of hurtling space-gospel epic. The players returned to the stage and encored with “Silverado,” a laidback reggae jam. But by then the cat was out of the bag: Lanois' motorcycle accident hadn't cured him of his need for speed.

-- Mikael Wood

Photo: Daniel Lanois at his Los Angeles home. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

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