Category: Preview

Richard Thompson on performing his 'Cabaret of Souls' (featuring Harry Shearer as the 'keeper of the underworld')

Richard Thompson-Cabaret Gary Friedman 

British guitarist, singer and songwriter Richard Thompson has a long history of examining the many facets of the human heart, mind and body in songs of keen intellect, scathing wit and often through a prism of deep skepticism about the nature of the human beast.

He delves deeper than ever into that territory with “Cabaret of Souls,” a grand-scale work that will have its West Coast premiere Friday as part of the UCLA Live! 2010-2011 season. Thompson will be joined at the performance by comedian-actor-musician Harry Shearer, Welsh singer-songwriter Judith Owen (who’s also Shearer’s wife), percussionist Debra Dobkin, bassist David Piltch and woodwind player Pete Zorn, most of whom also participated in the premiere performance last year as a commission for the International Society of Bassists' convention in Pennsylvania as a showcase for bassist Danny Thompson [no relation]. They’ll also be aided by 12 string players from the Idyllwild Arts Academy in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Pop & Hiss sat down recently with Thompson, whose new album "Dream Attic" has been generating largely glowing reviews, for a question-answer session exploring how a piece like "Cabaret of Souls" comes to life, and how it has developed since the first performance last year.

P&H: How would you describe “Cabaret of Souls”?

Richard Thompson: I’m still trying to figure out exactly what it is. Most accurately, it’s probably an oratorio -- a folk oratorio. There’s a huge demand for those these days. [He laughs.] It runs about 80 minutes right now. It’s not a song cycle; it’s a bit more. But it’s not quite an opera, it’s not a musical and it’s not a musical play. I'm glad to say it’s kind of its own form -- it’s not like other things. For most purposes, this is a whole new world here.

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Usher talks 'OMG' tour, filling Michael Jackson's shoes and why he won't perform forever

L9vpltnc Usher has one thing on his mind with his latest tour: leaving his audiences saying, "OMG."

“That’s the whole point. You know, with an incredible record, I wanted to also leave a great impression. Live performance has always been my thing. It’s my purpose to master and capture the moment every time I have you connected,” the 32-year-old says of his tour, which hits Staples Center on Thursday.

“I wanted to make sure [the show] was state of the art. I wanted to make sure that in comparison to the other shows that are going on around the world, you get the type of experience that leaves you saying, ‘OMG.’ ”

The "OMG" tour, aptly titled after the will.i.am-produced smash from this year’s “Raymond v. Raymond,” marks the Atlanta native's (born Usher Raymond IV) return to arenas, his first big-budget spectacle since 2004’s “Truth Tour.” The trek supports the platinum-selling disc, which followed a bitter public divorce and launching of his protégé, pop phenom Justin Bieber, as well as the recently released companion EP “Versus.” Both discs were seen as critical comebacks after the lukewarm reception of 2008’s “Here I Stand.”

Raymond, always the consummate performer, said he was looking to up the ante with this tour. And judging from Pop & Hiss’ glimpse at his Anaheim show Sunday, he has. The futuristic-themed high concept show is heavy on the theatrics. Between hovering atop a platform suspended 50 feet above the audience, high-flying acrobatics and, of course, impressive footwork, he pulls off quite a show.

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Party and puke with slapstick pop-punkers the Mean Jeans on Saturday at 5 Stars Bar

Mean-jeans small 
A couple years back, Portland’s irreverent trio Mean Jeans splattered the punk rock scene like a meatball sub hurled at a wall during a cafeteria food fight. Derided as derivative Ramones knock-offs by some, and hailed as tuneful and hilarious pop-punk geniuses by others, the band has steadfastly stayed true to its party-hardy cause over the course of a handful of seven-inch singles and one outstanding long-player from Dirtnap Records. Saturday night they’ll spread their tongue-in-cheek gospel of PBR tallboys, ripped jeans, cold pizza, backyard keggers and wasted skater culture at their Los Angeles debut at downtown’s 5 Stars Bar.

Visually, the three pop-punk pranksters –- Billy Jeans on guitar, Jeans Wilder on drums and Howie Doodat on bass –- conjure up a presence that’s a cross between Scooby Doo’s Shaggy and Jeff Spicoli, Sean Penn’s iconic surfer-stoner from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Sonically –- with a catalogue of gloriously lowbrow and highly danceable songs like "Let’s Pogo B4 U Go-go," "Stoned 2 the Bone" and “Party Animal” –- the Mean Jeans toss all seriousness out the window in favor of surprisingly well-wrought, relentlessly melodic, foot-stomping party anthems.

The band members took time earlier this week to answer a few questions via email in advance of their first West Coast tour. “We formed as a two-piece in the D.C. area in late 2006,” wrote Jeans Wilder. “Me and Billy Jeans were wrapping up a rap album amongst other things, and we decided to start playing even stupider music ... the song ‘Party Animal’ came out of that first jam session, and the rest is mystery.”

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72 Hours: Florence + the Machine, Mavis Staples, Bear in Heaven lead weekend show lineup

Pop & Hiss looks at the weekend's top gigs.

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Thursday

Walter Meego @ the Echo. This onetime Chicago-based threesome is now a Los Angeles-residing five-piece, and the Echo gig should serve as a sort of coming out party for the act's deeper, more fleshed-out synth pop. Early peeks at the band's forthcoming album still present a club-ready sheen with choruses fit for a roller rink party, but the sci-fi soundscapes have a live-band anchor, allowing the colorful, cartoon-friendly sounds to take a more atmospheric approach. The Echo, 1822 W Sunset Blvd. Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 day of show.

Gary Numan @ the El Rey. Prefer your synth-pop without a dash of Echo Park irony? Then head to the El Rey to see one of the architects of the genre. Tickets remain for this look back at his breakout 1979 album, "Pleasure Principal," in which keyboard-upon-keyboard created a "Tron"-like world of retro-futurism. The El Rey, 5515 Wilshire Blvd. Tickets are $33, not including surcharges. 

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Last-minute gig planning: Paul Weller, cranky and cranking out tunes

Old man crankiness has a way of warming my heart. Paul Weller's "Wake Up the Nation" is a record full of sharp quips, nasty turns of direction and a general sense of ADD-like restlessness. There's plenty of bile, but this is bitterness at its most charming, such as when the 30-plus-year rock vet is snarling that you need to "get your face off the Facebook." It's the little, everyday annoyances getting under Weller's skin, and with 16 tracks clocking in at about 40 minutes, "Wake Up the Nation" captures the sound of blowing off steam. 

It's not all perfect. At times, the minute-and-a-half snippets feel more like fragments than actual songs, and one can get whiplash from the album's jerks from '60s rock 'n' roll to Goblin-like horror film viciousness to cheery, baroque psychedelics. But bless the fact that Weller is still hungry, and no one can question whether the onetime leader of the Jam and Style Council still has hellraising passion. Just watch "Fast Cars, Slow Traffic" above. With its scruffy guitars, deranged keyboards and rhythm that sounds as if it's sputtering out, Weller turns crabbiness into something quite glorious. 

He's in Los Angeles Wednesday for a gig at the Wiltern (3790 Wilshire Blvd). Tickets start at $33.50, not including surcharges, and are still available

-- Todd Martens

72 Hours: Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, Janelle Monae, Hard Haunted Mansion among the weekend's best concerts

The weekend's top shows.

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Thursday

Corinne Bailey Rae @ the Avalon. A Grammy darling after the bouncy coffeehouse soul single "Put Your Records On" introduced her to the world in 2006, Rae returned this year with a far deeper, complex and less comfortable album in "The Sea." Jazz and soul are a jumping off point, but Rae's exploring emotional torment here. Songs such as "Diving for Hearts" resist easy classification, packed with late night pianos, unexpected phrasing and jarring surges of guitars. The Avalon, 1735 N. Vine, Los Angeles. Tickets are $27.50, not including surcharges. 

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Garage rock that roams beyond: Mark Sultan, Friday at Spaceland

Mark Sultan-2 Canadian rock 'n' soul powerhouse Mark Sultan presents a tough exterior, but deep down he’s a sensitive soul.

If he’s irritated with an audience, he’s not afraid to show it. During an April performance at Spaceland, the singer -- who loathes two kinds of audiences, scenesters and hard-line garage rockers -- admonished a lackluster concertgoer with a copious, curly mohawk, "What, am I bothering you, fro-hawk?" But when a crowd is, said Sultan in an interview this week, “giving forth their attention, you feel responsibility, not because ‘Oh, well, they paid their money and they’re fans.’ More like ‘Oh, these people are letting their heart open up to you,' so you should do the same kind of thing.”

Speaking via phone from Halifax, Canada, the relentlessly creative singer discussed his career, the frustrations of being pigeonholed as a mere garage rock artist, and the joys of a diverse audience in advance of his Friday show at Spaceland.

“I’m not a big fan of labels, as you can imagine,” said Sultan, whose sound has occasionally been labeled "doo-wop garage." His first solo album in three years, “$,” was released in April by Last Gang Records, although he's kept busy in the interim with an array of projects, including the recently disbanded King Khan & BBQ Show (an irreverent, internationally acclaimed two-piece composed of him and his longtime friend and current Vice Records star), the Almighty Defenders (a boozy, gospel-flavored melding of the talents of Sultan, Khan and members of the Black Lips), and his greasy, no-frills rockabilly band, the Ding-Dongs.

He has a deep appreciation for R&B, doo-wop, Italian movie music, prog rock, punk and psychedelic, among other genres, but “the garage rock community,” as he says in disparaging tones, hasn’t always been receptive to his ability to liberally inject his compositions with wide-ranging and surprising combinations of these influences. “It’s like a bunch of faceless geeks who are elitist the way 'Star Trek' fans are elitist,” he said. “I like other things… and I will insert those things into my set, I’ll insert them into my albums. I’m not ashamed of it and I’m not bound to the criticisms of some guy that’s only listened to the Sonics for 10 years straight.”

Some listeners have complained about the sprawling length of some of the songs on “$,” which only served to raise Sultan’s hackles further. He purposely put “Icicles,” a slow-building, eerie 6½-minute epic, as the first cut on the album to “weed out the critical nerds. They’re not going to get past that song and they won’t be able to listen to the record... I really wanted that to be there as kind of an evil opener.”

But the album, perhaps Sultan’s most ambitious and textured effort to date, is well worth the trip. The 13 songs on “$” are bound together by Sultan’s darkly poetic lyrics, experimental instrumentation and powerful voice -– one of the most distinctive in the garage rock genre because of its soulful, aching poignancy. More nuanced and lush than “The Sultanic Verses,” his last solo record for In the Red Records, “$” is a sometimes abrasive and sometimes morose expedition into a sonic world that is a heady combination of the sinister and the divine.

Speaking of making the album, he said, “I was just more into... adding more instrumentation and more experimentation to the actual core of the song. Or if I had an idea, I’d just want to explode it and see where the fragments lay and then connect them somehow.”

He may have alienated the garage rock elite with his refusal to adhere to the restrictions of the genre, but Sultan still lays claim to a surprisingly diverse audience. When he last swung through L.A. in mid-April, the crowd was a healthy mix of young and old, male and female, and some decidedly non-garage rock types. “I’m glad to see a cross-section,” he said. “Like last time in L.A., these two hippie-looking dudes baked me a big apple pie with a pentagram on it, and we were all eating pie after the show, and I was like, ‘That’s awesome.’ I love when people actually get something from the music and there’s actually a modicum of love. Some people get my goat and some people make me angry, and I can be a real [jerk]  sometimes, but ultimately, deep down, I’m a nice person and when someone shows love to me, I’ll show it right back.”

Take Sultan’s song “Status,” from “$,” for a spin here:

Mark Sultan-Status

-- Jason Gelt

Mark Sultan at Spaceland, 1717 Silverlake Blvd., Silver Lake, Friday at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door.

Photo: Mark Sultan. Credit: Last Gang Records

New tribute album celebrates unsung Detroit R&B star Nolan Strong

Nolan cover small Music legends as diverse as Lou Reed and Smokey Robinson have sung the praises of Detroit vocalist Nolan Strong, and yet his star remains tarnished and dusty 33 years after his death. Next Tuesday's release of "Daddy Rockin' Strong: A Tribute to Nolan Strong and the Diablos" will rectify that omission, dishing out 13 modern interpretations of the dirty, doo-wop-flavored R&B that, for a time, made Strong one of Motor City's biggest stars.

"When it comes to Detroit music, Nolan deserves to be mentioned alongside Motown, Iggy Pop, the MC5 and the White Stripes," said Rich Tupica, whose label, The Wind Records (itself named after one of Strong's biggest hits), will release the compilation. 

Strong and his backup band, the Diablos, were barely out of high school when they signed with Fortune Records in 1954. Thanks to the family-owned label, which magnanimously recorded everything from lowdown local blues to bouncing polka ditties, Strong and the Diablos charted nationally with "The Wind" and scored a No. 1 local radio hit with "Mind Over Matter." The good-looking, charismatic Strong was soon tooling around town in a brand new Cadillac, hounded by smitten female fans and hunted by jealous boyfriends.

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Neil Finn: A crowded house expected for Largo solo shows

Neil Finn solo 9-2010

Crowded House wraps its two-month North American tour with a final stop tonight in Denver. But lead singer and songwriter Neil Finn won’t let any dust settle after the performance: He’s heading back to Los Angeles, which he calls “an old home away from home,”  for a pair of solo concerts this weekend at Largo at the Coronet.

“Having done three or four months of Crowded House shows,” he told me Thursday, “it sounds very appealing to dip into my other repertoire. I haven’t done as much of that as I’d like to do. There’s a freedom, and an intensity, playing solo that I really enjoy, and I’d like to do more.”

While fans should rightly expect generous samplings from his three solo albums and perhaps a song or two from either of the two Finn Brothers albums he recorded with big brother Tim, Neil said he’s not by any means closing the door on the Crowded House songbook.

“The great thing about it is because it’s just me, I can go anywhere, so there probably will be a few Crowded House songs,” he said. “They’re fresh enough from having done them on tour, and doing them as solo things is also quite appealing.”

Because Finn has carved out a reputation as a a songwriter’s songwriter, one who has crafted some of the catchiest pop-rock songs of the last quarter-century, I couldn’t resist asking how he responds to some of the popular and critical reaction to Crowded House’s latest album, “Intriguer.” One writer, I mentioned to him, suggested, “It seems that Neil is no longer interested in writing anthems like [the group’s 1987 breakthrough hit] ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over.’ ”

“That assumes I was ever interested in writing anthems,” he said with a chuckle. “I never really thought about it like that. It turned out that that one in particular, and a few others, took on another life because they became hits. I never knew when I wrote it that I was writing an anthem. I just knew I liked the song, and that I was very happy with it.

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'The Scenesters Run LA': a week of music and film starting Friday

Scenesters-music-poster-banner A tedious joke about a tired topic claims that the "only good hipster is a dead hipster." If that's the case, then the corollary implies that "The Scenesters Run LA" will be a good time.

After all, the week of events being held at the Downtown Independent  theater is billed by its promoters as "14 bands. 7 awesome evenings. 4 dead hipsters. 1 hilarious whodunnit."

Curated by comedy troupe The Vacationeers  and Funny Ha Ha, the online home of music journalist Chris Martins (disclosure: Martins is a friend and an occasional contributor to The Times), the weeklong series is held in honor of the theatrical run of the "Scenesters," whose one-line summary describes it as a music-inspired black comedy/murder mockumentary set in Silver Lake."

The film was voted "Best Comedy" at the Hollywood Film Festival and most interesting of "Slamdance." Considering the subject and scenes depicted, it is a reasonable bet to expect a candlelight vigil for the Silver Lake Walking Man, an encomium to the virtues of intelligentsia, and sundry monologues from "A Streetcar Named Desire," sponsored by Cafe Stella.

In more concrete news, each night of the event -- which runs from from Friday to Aug. 26 -- features performances from well-regarded local bands. Friday commences with a secret guest with a penchant for white-boy funk, and a performance from Sister Mantos, who are described as "lo-fi mutant disco--" which presumably means aliens recording Donna Summer covers on four-track. The rest of the schedule can be found at Martins' blog and includes performances by, among others, Spirit Animal, Le Switch, Slang Chickens, Big Search (Matt Popieluch of Foreign Born's solo project), and Lord Huron.

There will also be a secret performance Sunday night featuring an emissary from the Low End Theory world who has been creating much noise with his recently released debut album. Those looking to escape the Sunset Junction heat would be well-served to check it out. And in case you were wondering, the person who killed the hipsters was Coldplay.

Download:
MP3: Spirit Animal-"Ants"

MP3: Le Switch-"How We Imagined It"

-- Jeff Weiss
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