Category: Live review

Review: Power 106 FM's Powerhouse at Honda Center

KendrickPowerhouse
Only one person got booed offstage at Power 106 FM’s sold-out Powerhouse concert at Anaheim’s Honda Center on Saturday night. Luckily for the show and its producers, it wasn’t one of the acts.

Halfway through the night’s nonstop lineup of hip-hop acts, the presiding DJs brought out a few local sports heroes, as they often do at Powerhouse. The Dodgers had won at Angels Stadium earlier that day, and before the host could even finish the phrase, “… From your Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim,” the hissing started. The poor Angels player, Torii Hunter, was only a few hundred yards from his home field and he suffered the wrath of unforgiving fans. Only the arrival of the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp saved the darkening mood and brought out a few cheers.

Perhaps L.A. Dodgers fans were in a mood for gloating. But the catcalls might have said something about this year’s Powerhouse and the state of local hip-hop as well. Unlike previous years, which leaned heavily on the insurgent dance-infused pop-rap that dominates today’s airwaves, this year’s Powerhouse was relatively orthodox and old school. With a bill heavy on traditional MCs such as T.I., Young Jeezy, Compton’s Kendrick Lamar and (in regal post-Coachella form) Snoop Dogg, the set suggested that L.A. rap fans, like L.A. sports fans, are interested in some tried-and-true success.

PHOTOS: Powerhouse 2012

The undercard at Powerhouse is rarely worth an early arrival, filled with mini-sets by relative newbies, but this year’s was an entertaining hot mess. Local upstart Kid Ink mined a Drake-ish singing-rapping hybrid style on his hit “Time of Your Life.” The DC rapper Wale, on a second round of fame after joining Rick Ross’ Maybach Music squad, has a refined snarl of a delivery — but he unfortunately spent most of his set turning his ire on his own DJ (even, at one point encouraging the audience to boo him — maybe that makes two jeering victims for the night). The cackling rapper YG reaffirmed his claim to the least classy morning-after anthem ever penned as he performed his hit “Toot it and Boot It.”

The important part of the night truly started at Lamar’s set, and the 25-year-old proved he’s at an interesting juncture in rap stardom today. In the ’90s and early 2000s, to be Dr. Dre’s protege was to get the keys to a mansion with a Champagne moat. But despite a full-court press from nearly every serious figure in hip-hop, Lamar is working to break through to pop stardom. But he lived up to expectations here, roughing up his vocals and taking victory-lap trots through the songs “A.D.H.D.” and “The Recipe.”

Young Jeezy and T.I., each unimpeachable stalwarts of rap radio for the last decade, elaborated their tales of Atlanta drug culture in different ways. Jeezy, who relies more on rapping than his blustery ad-libs on his latest, “TM:103 Hustlerz Ambition,” softened his imposing presence a bit on “SupaFreak” and “Leave You Alone,” on which he was joined by Ne-Yo. T.I. has always leaned poppier, and though he alluded to his recent gun-running woes (“I had to take care of some things first”), his set was elastic and snappy -- and his guest MC, the Australian expat Iggy Azalea, made a worthy novice arena appearance.

The show’s final third seemed to misplace its priorities a bit. Snoop Dogg, fresh off playing to 140,000 people over two Coachella weekends, has become the éminence grise of the Power 106 universe. He could quit releasing new music entirely for the rest of his Doggfather reign and still headline shows like this on the strength of his catalog and slithery cool alone. So it felt weird that Roc Nation’s J. Cole and the local newbie Tyga, each young MCs figuring out their aesthetic, could headline over him.

The latter’s Lil Wayne cameo helped his bona fides, and Tyga’s clattering tune “Rack City” is a hit in any decade. But these days, Snoop seems to be aiming past mere rapping into the rare air of cultural transcendence. That’ll play in any arena.

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Photo: Kendrick Lamar performs during Powerhouse, the annual summer show from the rap station Power 106 FM, at the Honda Center in Anaheim. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / For The Times.

Review: Nickelback at Staples Center

Nickelback
Nickelback has no official connection to the big-screen version of “Rock of Ages,” but on Friday night at Staples Center, it was hard not to think of the just-opened movie musical -- a flashy-trashy dramatization of the 1980s hard-rock scene -- as the hugely popular Canadian group powered through a concert equally rooted in the values of a bygone era.

Nickelback formed in the wake of such early-’90s grunge acts as Nirvana and Pearl Jam, yet its biggest songs always have harked back further, to hairy-chested hits by the likes of Foreigner, Journey and Night Ranger; there may be no greater defender of the modern power ballad than Nickelback’s frontman, Chad Kroeger, whose platinum-plated bulwark includes material he’s co-written for Chris Daughtry.

At Staples, Kroeger and his bandmates delivered many of those big songs -- “Someday,” “Far Away,” “How You Remind Me,” each a top 10 single -- in a big show full of the kind of arena-rock spectacle Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe commoditized a quarter-century ago.

There were flamethrowers and T-shirt cannons and silhouettes of naked ladies; there were a pair of moving walkways that made Kroeger and guitarist Ryan Peake look like harried travelers at LAX. And of course there was a smaller secondary stage (which in this case descended from the venue’s ceiling) designed to provide a close-up glimpse of these otherwise-untouchable heroes.

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Review: Grimes, Grouplove and more at Make Music Pasadena

Grimes at Make Music Pasadena

“Put your guns up,” singer Ashleigh Allard hollered at unsuspecting pedestrians making their way to the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf just off Pasadena's Colorado Boulevard on Saturday.

Her rock band, HOTT MT, is relatively young on the L.A. scene, so to grab attention at the Make Music Pasadena festival Saturday, she lured curious onlookers to stop and watch with the promise of free water pistols.

For bands such as Allard's, the day-long music event, which took place largely around Old Town's Colorado Boulevard and the Playhouse District's Madison Avenue, was a rare opportunity to reach potential fans at a festival that has become one of the region's more unique ways to showcase local music.

After passing out the water guns, she invited those who'd gathered around her tiny stage in a shopping alleyway to take their best shot as she skipped, hollered and sang to rough, groove-based rock 'n' roll. Finally, revelers at nearby Lucky Baldwins put down their pints to come have a look at the musical goofiness going down just beyond the pub's patio. Allard's ploy had worked.

Now in its fifth year, the Pasadena festival celebrates music at its most quirky, casual and community-focused. It's grown from an event that largely featured intimate, acoustic appearances in storefronts to one that can now draw artists with national appeal. This year, it ran from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and its main stages, of which there were five, were generally about a 15-minute walk apart.

Boasting 149 performances on pop-up stages, Make Music Pasadena is a large-scale event done on a budget. Ninety-nine percent of the artists appearing do not get paid, say organizers; headliners such as electronic artist Grimes and peppy local rockers Grouplove were expected Saturday to bring at least 20,000 people to downtown Pasadena.

With a budget of less than $200,000, according to co-organizers Josefina Mora, 31, and Kershona Mayo, 30 (both employed by Pasadena business improvement districts), Make Music Pasadena is a break-even proposition that relies on sponsors and the goodwill of local artists.

Grimes, whose real name is Claire Boucher, drew a large enough crowd around her stage on the corner of Colorado and Madison to make local law enforcement nervous. The fast-rising artist sold out the Echo earlier this year and will be back at the El Rey in October.

A temporary fence that had been erected as a photo pit separated Grimes from the audience, though the crowd kept pushing it closer to the stage throughout her set. One overly energetic fan did jump onstage, and Grimes laughed as the male fan danced nearby, even breaking song to tell security, “He can stay,” as he was pulled back into the crowd.

Just one year ago, when Grimes was still struggling for recognition, her soft vocals would disappear into one of the numerous moody layers in her music. On Saturday, her voice fluttered to the front of the mix, like an incandescent light beaming out of the shadows. She turned drum line marches into dance moves and sang, “I close my eyes until I see,” on “Be a Body,” as the music ricocheted around the parking garage next door.

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Live: Lil Kim good, not quite great at Key Club

The hip-hop diva's ambitious if erratic show was almost too much for the compact confines of Key Club.

Live: Lil Kim driven to give till it hurts

“I love all my female rappers, and I’ll represent for them forever,” proclaimed Lil Kim midway through her set at a jam-packed Key Club on Wednesday night. The diminutive hip-hop diva had just performed “Ladies Night (Not Tonight Remix),” complete with a surprise appearance by ’90s rapper Da Brat. Later, she brought former Death Row artist Lady of Rage on stage.

Her message of solidarity and guests of choice made a pointed statement in light of Kim’s ongoing beef with Nicki Minaj (more on that later), but Kim has always repped for women. Though the start of her career in the early 1990s saw her playing the moll in the otherwise male Brooklyn rap outfit Junior M.A.F.I.A, and the professional and romantic cohort to the late Notorious B.I.G, she’s also collaborated with the likes of Missy Elliott, Mary J. Blige, the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and, of course, the women with whom she remade Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade” — Christina Aguilera, Pink and Mya.

Minaj was never mentioned by name (a real queen doesn't even deign to give a rival that basic acknowledgment), and it wasn’t necessary to do so. The amped crowd sang word for word near the show’s end when Kim finally performed a scalding version of “Black Friday,” her Nicki diss.

But Kim’s defense of her queendom wasn’t limited to throwing darts at Minaj. In fact, she most effectively made her point the old-fashioned way: She put on a good — not quite great — show that proved she has no intention of quietly abdicating her throne.

Rolling out hit after hit, including those in which she dropped track-stealing cameos — “How Many Licks,” “Whoa,” “Big Momma Thang,” “Magic Stick,” “All About the Benjamins,” “Money, Power, Respect,” “Lighters Up,” “Crush on You,” and more — Kim put on a concert that was too big in both concept and ambition for the small Key Club stage. Though there was a massive drum kit and a keyboard onstage, most of the backing music was clearly prerecorded. The Janet Jackson-style choreography was executed by a small army of dancers who were clearly cramped by the confined space.

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Live: LMFAO has fun with debauchery

LMFAO's Redfoo and Sky Blu stay in character and play debauchery for laughs and fun at Staples Center as part of Sorry for Party Rocking Tour.

LMFAO
The members of LMFAO are nobody's idea of responsible citizens.

In the L.A. club-rap duo's first big hit, known on the radio as “I'm in Miami Trick,” Redfoo and Sky Blu lay out a lifestyle of cut-and-dried hedonism: “Drink all day, play all night,” they croak over a slithering synth-bass groove, “Let's get it poppin'.” It's a devotion to the pleasure principle that only deepened with last summer's “Sorry for Party Rocking” album, whose No. 1 singles — “Party Rock Anthem” and “Sexy and I Know It” — established LMFAO as A-list libertines.

Earlier this year, when Madonna required a spritz of next-generation intemperance for her Super Bowl performance, she knew whom to call.

Photos: LMFAO in concert at Staples Center

Redfoo and Sky Blu — the son and grandson, respectively, of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy — lived up to those low-down reputations Tuesday night at Staples Center, where LMFAO brought its Sorry for Party Rocking Tour to a full house peppered with fans borrowing Redfoo's garish retro-'80s look. (Think neon, leopard print and glasses that may not have contained lenses.)

Minutes into the concert, Redfoo said that the ratio of women to men in the audience looked to be about 8 to 4 — perfect, he decided, for an act that rhymes with “ratio.” Later, the song “Shots” climaxed with the frenzied raiding of an onstage bar by the duo and its dance crew.

For all its cartoon sleaze, though, LMFAO flashed an earnest, almost scrupulous side Tuesday that complicated what might've been perceived as brain-killingly simple.

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Live: The Beach Boys at the Hollywood Bowl

  Brian Wilson
The Beach Boys opened their show Saturday night at the Hollywood Bowl with “Do It Again,” and if that slow-rolling single oozed nostalgia upon its release in 1968, you can imagine the note it strikes today.

A three-hour marathon of good reverberations, Saturday’s concert — part of a world tour that extends through late September — reunited Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys’ creative genius, with his two surviving original bandmates, Mike Love and Al Jardine; the L.A. group’s current lineup also includes a pair of longtime associates, Bruce Johnston and David Marks, as well as 10 backing musicians and video-screen representations of Wilson’s late brothers, Carl and Dennis.

All those voices were working to reproduce the astonishing harmonic complexity of the Beach Boys’ music, which throughout the 1960s did as much as the Beatles’ to expand the notion of what pop could be. At the Bowl, where Love thanked the capacity crowd for “coming to our hometown reunion,” songs such as “Surfer Girl” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” condensed worlds of emotion into a few melodic phrases.

But the voices also were combining in an effort to channel the wistful optimism of the days before drugs, mental illness and a series of internecine legal conflicts drove the Beach Boys apart. Prior to this trek — which comes accompanied by a new studio album, “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” due out Tuesday — the group hadn’t toured together for “more than two decades,” as a note on its website asserts. Out on the road at last, it’s using music to restart a once-endless summer.

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Live: Santigold's retro party

Santigold performs in Los Angeles in 2012
If you closed your eyes during the sold-out Santigold concert at Club Nokia on Friday night, it was easy to feel like you were at one of those Flashback to the '80's! concerts featuring the ska-reggae-derived sounds of Britain's New Wave invasion.

It wasn’t just the thick party atmosphere, or the way the crowd roared in recognition at the start of nearly every song and then proceeded to sing along to most of them (even tracks off the singer-songwriter’s new album, "Master of My Make-Believe"). It was the music itself, a critically acclaimed amalgamation of sounds and styles that deeply echoes the music of the second British invasion. 

Backed by two stony-faced female dancers and a three-piece band (bass, guitar and drums, though the bassist and guitarist also shared keyboard duties), Santigold kicked off the show with “Go,” the first track off the new disc, and quickly settled into a set that seamlessly fused material from "Master" and her 2008 solo debut, Santogold. 

Comfortable and confident onstage, she was also fairly anonymous, a curious void at the center of her own party. Her voice was in fine form, and she amiably joined in the remedial choreography of her dancers (who at one point lifted vintage Salt & Pepa moves) but she evinced little personality, and between-song banter was largely variations of the generic “You guys are awesome!”

Her band, on the other hand, was fantastic. Though the songs in the set list often had a tendency to run together in sound-alike grooves, it was energetically put across by the three guys clad in uniforms that looked like a cross between safari gear and Cub Scout get-ups. Especially powerful were the galloping drums that echoed throughout the club space and set heads to nodding and bodies to gyrating furiously.

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Van Halen at Staples Center: Arena rock in its natural habitat

Van Halen at the Staples Center on Friday, June 1.

Arena rock was made for moments like this: a killer sound system with amplifiers stacked high onstage and hanging from support beams, all aimed at a hometown crowd. A master drum kit placed on a glowing pedestal; a microphone stand at the center of an acre of stage, awaiting a lead singer itching to scream. 

All that was missing at Van Halen’s eagerly anticipated return to Los Angeles on Friday night at Staples Center were the Bic lighters, feathered hair, and a fleet of Trans Ams cruising up and down Figueroa. Well, that and a sense of cohesion.

This rock scene was laid out before the four-piece, born in Pasadena in 1972, like a feast, one that was four decades, a handful of break-ups, three lead singers, three bassists, and some legendary animosity in the making.

ALBUM REVIEW: Van Halen's 'A Different Kind of Truth'

This was the first L.A. stop on the band’s highly publicized, expertly marketed -- and recently scaled-back -- reunion tour. Van Halen and its original lead singer, David Lee Roth, appeared at Staples to remind a hometown population how and why they erupted from the Sunset Strip to become one of the biggest arena rock bands in the world.

But aside from a few oversized rock 'n' roll moments -- an impressive late-set guitar solo from co-founder Eddie Van Halen, an odd but engaging Alex Van Halen drum solo, some funny Roth quips, and the sheer thrill of witnessing four really good musicians/performers onstage offering up hit after glorious hit -- Van Halen’s grand return never really felt like it got going. It was instead interrupted at nearly every key moment by lesser songs from the band’s recent album, “A Different Kind of Truth." 

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Live: The Clean stays youthful at the Echo

The Clean at the Echo review: The New Zealand band still packs energy, especially when it performs ‘Tally Ho.’

The Clean

When the Clean played its first number Wednesday night at the Echo, “Tally Ho” didn’t sound 31 years old.

That’s partly because there’s a Peter Pan, “forever young” quality to the song’s jangly-pop propulsiveness. The New Zealand band members were teenagers when they made “Tally Ho,” and they become teenagers when they play it. 

But it’s also because, for most ears, the song’s still a discovery. Even in its home country, the Clean is only an underground legend, and it’s enjoyed mere waves of cult success abroad.

In recent years, the Clean has been discovered by devoted Pitchfork-wielding connoisseurs, in part because taste-making indie label Merge (home of Arcade Fire and M. Ward) released its last album, 2009’s “Mister Pop.” The pogoing fans at the Echo sang along to “Tally Ho,” but it was probably the first time most of them had heard it live, considering the Clean has played only a handful of stateside dates in its lifetime.

Like the Velvets or the Feelies, two bands its intricately strummed sound references, the Clean is a small but important band.

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Shaggy, Alison Hinds, Tarrus Riley shine at JazzReggae Fest

Shaggy

Midway through her explosive set of modern soca music during the second day of the JazzReggae Festival at UCLA on Monday, singer Alison Hinds, her hair twisted in short purple dreadlocks and wearing spangled black short-shorts and matching top, took an informal census of the thousands dancing and picnicking before her. 

How many Jamaicans are here today?” she wondered, and a big burst of applause rang out. “Who’s from Barbados?”  -- another pocket of applause, similar in volume to when she then asked about the Trinidadians and Dominicans. When she polled for West Indians, a huge swath of the audience cheered. Caribbean currents are evidently strong in Los Angeles. 

Hinds, the self-proclaimed “Queen of Soca” -- a blend of American soul ("so") and Caribbean calypso ("ca") -- was one of the highlights of Day 2 of the UCLA-student-organized fest, and typified the day’s tone by merging the many rhythm-heavy sounds of the West Indies into one electrifying whole. She and the rest of the roster of the annual reggae day, part of a festival now in its 26th year, delivered an afternoon of Caribbean party sounds, of romance and worship music ranging from soca to reggaeton to roots reggae, lovers rock and beyond; much of it mixed into a blend that island-hopped to a new kind of fusion. (Sunday’s American-heavy bill featured, among others, the Roots, Booker T and the MGs and Gary Clark Jr.) 

PHOTOS: JazzReggae Festival at UCLA

Headliner Shaggy, born in Kingston, Jamaica, but relocated to Brooklyn, mutter-rapped in his thick patois over jumbo reggaeton beats -- at least when he wasn’t wooing the ladies with some mutter-crooning; singer Tarrus Riley delivered an updated, inspired variation of smooth roots reggae, one of the building blocks of all of the day’s performances. Laid back Bermudian American (born in New Orleans) Collie Buddz brought a rich, smooth blend of reggaeton and R and B to the stage, and former Black Uhuru singer Don Carlos offered classics from throughout his repertoire.

But, then, fusion is endemic to the Caribbean. Within both the oft-frantic soca dance beats and the smoother reggae music you could hear the fundamental Calypso rhythms birthed in Trinidad and Tobago nearly two centuries ago when French and British colonists immigrated with their slaves to the region. But you can also hear the influence of American R and B and soul music, and hip-hop, and Miami bass, and Colombian cumbia.

But mostly, you can feel the island culture and the openness that creates new styles. With the sun bearing down on the unprotected intramural field in the middle of UCLA's campus, each artist delivered tight, hit-laden 50 minute sets.

After early performances by Cris Cab and Kes the Band, Black Uhuru's Carlos, a devout Rastafarian whose songs of praise honored Jah and love, offered music from throughout his career both as a member of Black Uhuru and as a solo artist. On "Little Girl," about a young girl in love with Rastas (and their dreadlocks) despite her parents' protestations, he tackled lust and worship simultaneously, and on "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," he sang of the discrimination suffered among Rastafarians.

Hinds, of Barbados, rose as a soca artist with the group Square One, whose work in the 1980s and '90s hit throughout the Caribbean and gave rise to the singer's moniker as the Queen of Soca. She and her band expanded that title by adding many different accents. On her version of Square One's hit "Roll It Gal," she fused reggae, soca and R and B to create a message of female empowerment.

After a decent if unmemorable set by Bermudian American dance hall singer Collie Buddz, reggae vocalist Tarrus Riley, the son of early Jamaican rock steady vocalist Jimmy Riley, showcased the depth and enduring vibrancy of roots reggae. The classic Kingston sound of the 1970s, whose best known practitioner, Bob Marley, brought the peaceful, easy vibe of reggae to the world, rose to become one of the most influential genres of the era.

Riley's updated version of roots reggae featured bigger beats and washes of electronics, but the tradition was apparent throughout. Bassist Glen Browne, who has performed with Buju Banton, Sinead O'Connor and Jimmy Cliff, among others, offered steady, guiding bass lines; and a three-man brass section led by Dean Fraser, whose work in the '80s with Joe Gibbs, Sly & Robbie and Dennis Brown helped sustain the roots sound when the more explosive, scatter-shot rhythms of reggaeton were rising.

Reggaeton's massive success in the U.S., in fact, arrived when Shaggy hit here in 1993. The singer, whose keen understanding of the ways in which reggaeton could be the foundation for not only sexual boasts but gentle romance, helped soften what was at first an incendiary, and utterly alien, Jamaican sound.

Before Shaggy, the music was an abrasive underground Jamaican phenomenon. But as he illustrated on Monday, the stutter-step rhythm at its heart proved malleable for any number of tempos -- and, during its big second wave in the 1990s and early '00s, this beat nearly took over the world. The 43-year-old singer performed hits from throughout his Grammy-winning, multiplatinum career, and with each new rhythm the crowd continued dancing.

The highlight of his set came after a frustrating series of teases in which the singer disrupted the momentum to offer snippets of hit songs that he began singing (such as LMFAO's "Party Rockin' "), only to abruptly stop and move on to another.

He regained the energy, though, with one crooked smile and the smooth party rhythm of one his best tracks, a cover of the classic reggae jam "Oh Carolina." An ode not to the American region but to a girl "who rock her body and move just like a squirrel" (which is supposed to be sexy, apparently), he growled his way through the swagger-step beat while wondering on Carolina's ability to "swing like me grandfather clock" (again, he somehow turns this image sexy) and love him all night long. It's a one-of-a-kind groove, a rhythm that sounds so familiar but still so fresh nearly 20 years later.

But, then, as all the music on Monday emphasized, the song is built on such a sturdy foundation that it not only supports these kinds of variations and reinventions, but encourages every last accent, interpretation and wild, vivid rhythm. 

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-- Randall Roberts Twitter: @liledit

Photo: Shaggy performs during the the 26th annual JazzReggae Festival on Monday at UCLA. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

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