Category Archives: Live Reviews
I’ve been a huge fan of the Tuareg nomad group Tinariwen ever since somebody put a copy of the album Aman Iman: Water Is Life in my hands about seven years ago. Their fusion of American-style psych-rock guitar with the loping grooves of West African folk music was mesmerizing; the layered guitars seemed to swirl around each other like dust devils, evoking the vastness of the Saharan Desert and the heartache of life in a war-torn part of the world.
Tinariwen tours often enough now that I’ve had many opportunities to see them, but somehow I never quite got around to it. I think part of me was afraid their live show couldn’t possibly live up to my mental image of the band, way out there in deserts of northern Mali, jamming far into the night around a campfire on a stolen generator.
Well, there was no desert sky or campfire at the Belasco Theater, a new/old venue in downtown Los Angeles that recently reopened after a major renovation. But the stately old Gothic/Spanish theater, a former burlesque house opened in 1926, was a surprisingly fitting place to experience Tinariwen’s music, which has its own kind of grandeur and sense of history to it.
Tinariwen has been around long enough that their de facto leader, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, is too old to tour. But the rest of the band’s core remains intact, and their newest member, a handsome young dude named Sadam Iyar Imarhan, ably fills in Ag Alhabib’s guitar parts and many of his vocals. At the Belasco, he shared guitar and vocal duties with veteran members Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni and Alhassane Ag Touhami, while younger Tinariweners Elaga Ag Hamid, Eyadou Ag Leche and Said Ag Ayad backed them up on rhythm guitar, bass and percussion, respectively.
I had expected to hear layers upon layers of interlocking guitars, but to my surprise, the “frontmen” mainly took turns, each singing lead vocals and playing lead guitar for a song or two while the others stood to the side and sang backup vocals (or, in the case of the charismatic Ag Touhami, danced his ass off). At first, this disappointed me a little—I wanted a guitar army! A Phil Spector of the Sahara wall of sound! But I quickly realized that each player’s leads were so intricate that they would have been lost in more complex arrangements. All of them play beautifully, but I was especially entranced by new member Imarhan, who adds a little rock ‘n’ roll to the band’s mesmerizing sound. There were a few times where he and bassist Ag Leche (who plays a Fender bass upside down and left-handed, like a badass) locked grooves and I thought the mostly mellow crowd was going to start freaking out like they were at a My Morning Jacket concert.
The Belasco has great sightlines, so I was able to wander around and get some decent photos from nearly every angle. Obviously, in their traditional robes and turbans, Tinariwen are a visually arresting band, but watching them live, you forget about their appearance pretty quickly. What you’re left with is the music, which is some of the most hypnotic you’ll hear from any part of the world.
Tinariwen recorded their latest album, Emmaar, not far from L.A. in Joshua Tree. They’re actually back there tonight at a little desert nightclub called Pappy and Harriet’s. Now that must be an amazing place to see them. Maybe next time.
The rest of Tinariwen’s 2014 tour dates are listed after the photos. Whether or not you’re a fan of so-called “world music,” I highly recommend checking them out. I know we say this a lot of this blog, but there is truly no one else like them.
Tinariwen 2014 world tour:
21 APRIL 2014 – PHOENIX (AZ), US : MIM MUSIC THEATER
22 APRIL 2014 – EL PRADO (NM), US : TAOS MESA BREWING
24 APRIL 2014 – NEW ORLEANS (LA), US : HOUSE OF BLUES
25 APRIL 2014 – LAFAYETTE (LA), US : FESTIVAL INTERNATIONAL DE LOUISIANE
26 APRIL 2014 – LAFAYETTE (LA), US : FESTIVAL INTERNATIONAL DE LOUISIANE
29 APRIL 2014 – CRETEIL, FRANCE : MAISON DES ARTS DE CRETEIL
30 APRIL 2014 – LUXEMBOURG, LUXEMBOURG : ROCKHAL
03 MAY 2014 – CHELTENHAM, UK : CHELTENHAM JAZZ FESTIVAL
04 MAY 2014 – BELFAST, UK : MARQUEE FEST, CUSTOM HOUSE SQUARE
05 MAY 2014 – BRISTOL, UK : ST GEORGE’S
06 MAY 2014 – LEEDS, UK : OPERA NORTH
10 MAY 2014 – UMEA, SWEDEN : MADE FESTIVAL
27 JUNE 2014 – GLASTONBURY, UK : GLASTONBURY FESTIVAL
28 JUNE 2014 – CORK, IRELAND : CORK OPERA HOUSE
29 JUNE 2014 – WESTPORT, IRELAND : WESTPORT FESTIVAL
01 JULY 2014 – DUBLIN, IRELAND : NATIONAL CONCERT HALL
03 JULY 2014 – SAINT ETIENNE, FRANCE : FESTIVAL DES 7 COLLINES
04 JULY 2014 – AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS : PITCH FESTIVAL
11 JULY 2014 – BARCELONA, SPAIN : CRUÏLLA BARCELONA
12 JULY 2014 – AIX-LES-BAINS, FRANCE : MUSILAC
18 JULY 2014 – CARHAIX, FRANCE : LES VIEILLES CHARRUES
19 JULY 2014 – SOUTHWOLD, UK : LATITUDE FESTIVAL
23 JULY 2014 – BRECON, UK : THEATR BRYCHEINIOG
24 JULY 2014 – CARDIFF, UK : SAINT DAVID’S HALL
29 JULY 2014 – WESPORT, UK : WESTPORT FESTIVAL
01 AUGUST 2014 – SAINT-NAZAIRE, FRANCE : LES ESCALES
07 AUGUST 2014 – GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN : WAY OUT FESTIVAL
08 AUGUST 2014 – HELSINKI, FINLAND : FLOW FESTIVAL
09 AUGUST 2014 – NR. WINCHESTER, UK : BOOMTOWN FESTIVAL
13 AUGUST 2014 – FRAISANS, FRANCE : NO LOGO FESTIVAL
15 AUGUST 2014 – ESCOT PARK DEVON, UK : BEAUTIFUL DAYS FESTIVAL
16 AUGUST 2014 – TRUYES, FRANCE : FESTIVAL COSMOPOLITE
23 AUGUST 2014 – CHARLEVILLE-MÉZIÈRES, FRANCE : CABARET VERT
24 AUGUST 2014 – SAINT-CLOUD, FRANCE : ROCK EN SEINE
30 AUGUST 2014 – NAMUR, BELGIUM : LA FÊTE DES SOLIDARITÉS
31 AUGUST 2014 – NR. SALISBURY, UK : END OF THE ROAD FESTIVAL
I was still a good two blocks away from The Satellite, where I would be attending the camp-pop explosion that is Leslie Hall and her band Leslie & The LYs, when I spotted my first pair of gold spandex booty shorts. It was the first clue that a.) this show was going to be a people-watching bonanza and b.) I had clearly under-dressed for the occasion.
I needn’t have worried about the second part, though. The whole message of Leslie Hall’s goofy, celebratory music is that we’re all fabulous, no matter what size our asses are or what we chose to clad them in when we left the house. Yes, there were shiny and sparkly Leslie fans in abundance inside The Satellite—but some of us were just shiny and sparkly on the inside.
The show began with a knowingly awkward, low-budget video about Leslie and her sidekicks time-traveling into the future on a quest to obtain the Golden Beats. (No, I’m not telling whether or not they succeeded—no spoilers! You’ll just have to go to the show and see for yourself.) Then Leslie emerged, resplendent in gold and macrame, and launched into “Blame the Booty,” the first of several songs about her “lower regions,” as she delicately put it.
Nothing else about Leslie Hall is the least bit delicate, which is what makes her so awesome. She’s a big, loud Midwestern gal, with a personality at least 10 times larger than her dress size. During and between songs, she worked the crowd with banter that would put any stand-up comedian to shame, over-sharing about everything from her flat ass (“If you bring a pillow to a three-hour movie, I feel you”) to her crafting addiction (“When you need to rent one of those storage units and you’re still in your twenties…”).
Her stage set was, as she put it, “Vegas-style production at Midwest prices.” It started out just looking like some stage flats draped in gold fabric. Then her backup singers rotated the whole thing sideways to reveal a bedazzled Leslie visage, which then split in two to reveal her whole band. The effect was pretty delightful considering the whole thing probably fits in one of those little U-Haul trailers.
Leslie & the LYs are touring in support of Songs in the Key of Gold, a dance remix collection of Leslie’s greatest hits. (Remember how fantastic it was when that used to be a thing? I still have the Billy Idol dance remix collection on cassette somewhere and I stand by that purchase 100%.) This was good news for us because it meant that Les was there to play the hits and play them for maximum danceosity. Although I suspect that’s pretty much what she does on all her tours.
The only real break in the action came when Leslie invited several fans up on stage for a little gem sweater fashion show. The girl who won—who did indeed have a pretty spectacular sweater—was so excited I thought she might start shrieking like a nine-year-old at a One Direction concert. But she managed to hold it together enough to dance along to “Craft Talk,” the best-known of Leslie Hall’s many musical paeans to the art of bedazzling.
There was a tribute to Leslie’s cat Shania, “#1 Cat in America,” which was also an excuse for her to have audience members pass up their cell phones to share their cat pictures. (I immediately regretted that I switched wallpapers awhile back and no longer had this to share.) That number also featured a set of giant cardboard cat legs that rose up behind the stage while someone pretending to be Shania squeaked into an offstage microphone: “Hi, Mom! I hid inside your luggage!”
In lieu of a conventional encore (“We don’t have any more songs,” Leslie said apologetically. “Besides, it’s Monday. Don’t you all have lives? Jobs?”), she and the LYs led the crowd in a little impromptu post-show dance party. “This is the dance started it all!” she declared over Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” busting out a move she called “scooping the driveway.”
At the very end of the show, her minions rotated the backdrop again to reveal a toll free phone number. “I do check my messages,” she assured the crowd, before heading backstage to soak her feet and have some pizza: “I need to float these feminine ankles in the old Epsom bath.”
The song that maybe best epitomizes the Leslie Hall mojo was her finale: “Shazam I’m Glamorous”: a call-and-response anthem in which Leslie entreats her fans to tell her she’s glamorous—and of course they do, fervently. And every time they do, her face scrunches up with delight and she squeals “Thank you!” with complete sincerity. The positive feedback loop between Leslie Hall and her fans is a beautiful thing to behold. I think we all left the show feeling a bit more glamorous—even those of us who were only sparkly on the inside.
I gotta be honest: I have no frame of reference for reviewing a Kyary Pamyu Pamyu concert. I had never been to a J-pop show before, unless you count Trippple Nippples, which I don’t. Where the Trippp Nippps are clearly trying to be a little edgier and more “arty,” KPP is gleefully, blissfully, unironically out to sweep her audience away under a raging torrent of cuteness. It was quite possibly the most ridiculous show I have ever been to, and definitely one of the happiest. If you walk out of a Kyary Pamyu Pamyu concert wearing a frowny face, you need to adjust your meds.
So is KPP fairly typical of a J-pop show? I have no idea. All I know is not since the ’90s heyday of candy raving have my eyeballs been bombarded with such a colorful display. Oh, and the music was pretty good, too. Even though it was all just a pre-recorded backing track, including most (all?) of the vocals. You don’t go to a KPP show because you want to hear an extended version of the piano solo on “Mottai Night Land.”
There was a set that looked like the bedroom of a giant toddler. There were Oompa-Loompa-like backup dancers. There was a dancing rabbit and a dancing bear. There was an inexplicably bizarre video interlude, to cover for one of Kyary’s many costume changes, that featured her playing poker with a bunch of scary-looking Americans and posing next to a motor scooter like a kawaii James Dean. There were not, sadly, any of the dancing fuzz-monsters from the “Invader Invader” video, but they did throw in that song’s dope-ass dubstep breakdown—and in case you’re wondering, yes, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is still totally adorable, even when dancing to dubstep. Her adorableness defies all logic and the basic laws of the space-time continuum. All the kitten videos on YouTube contain less cumulative adorableness than a single KPP dance move. I can’t explain it, but it is so.
The crowd was almost as much fun as the show, full of elaborately costumed J-pop fans of all ages, races and even styles—there were more than a few goth/steampunk dolls in attendance, sprinkled amidst the expected packs of girls in frilly pink princess dresses. I tried to snap a few pics but when you’re a middle-aged guy at a J-pop show, you have to be careful about who you point your camera at. Fortunately, others with more balls and better cameras were there, too.
My arms are still tired from doing the “Fashion Monster” dance, so I’m going to stop typing now and just leave you with a couple more photos. As you can see, we got there late and our seats weren’t the best. I did try to capture the energy of the crowd in that one shot, though. Yeah, people were really into it.
“We’ve played some serious shitholes on this tour,” Matmos‘ M.C. Schmidt said Monday night. “But this is not one of them.”
The man did not fib. The Masonic Lodge at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery is a gorgeous space with high vaulted ceilings, great acoustics and extremely uncomfortable chairs. Chairs aside, it was the perfect space in which to soak up the many bizarre sounds put forth by M.C. Schmidt and his partner, Drew Daniel, who were there to perform tracks from their latest album, The Marriage of True Minds, as well as a few old favorites.
Matmos put on a much more entertaining show than you might reasonably expect from two dudes hunched over a couple of folding tables festooned with cables, laptops and vintage synths. Aided by members of their opening band, Horse Lords, on guitar, drums and woodwinds, they cranked out a pretty diverse and dense wall of sounds, including some made by objects one doesn’t normally see at a concert, much less one being held at a cemetery. But more on that in a sec.
Horse Lords—like Matmos, a Baltimore band—set the tone with some highly percussive post-rock that was punctuated Andrew Bernstein’s gloriously noisy, looped saxophone riffs. They weren’t quite as unhinged as Baltimore’s last great noise merchants, the late lamented Ponytail, but you can see where they have the potential to seriously fuck up some shit. No surprise Matmos invited them to serve as both opening act and touring band.
When Matmos took the stage, they were a study in contrasts: M.C. Schmidt looked like a tweedy liberal arts professor, while Drew Daniel was decked out in full punk/industrial/leather daddy regalia, wearing a studded leather Merzbow jacket that probably had several Japanoise fans in the audience wiping drool off their chins.
They began the set with “Very Large Green Triangles,” the lead single (if Matmos has singles) off The Marriage of True Minds. In case you haven’t been keeping up with our many Matmos posts, True Minds is the duo’s possibly serious, possibly tongue-in-cheek attempt to create an entire album using extra-sensory perception: They stuck test subjects in an isolation chamber, then tried to transmit the album to them telepathically. Then they recorded the subjects’ descriptions of what they were seeing and hearing in their isolation-chamber mind-movies and built songs around samples of those descriptions. So “Very Large Green Triangles” is based on a test subject talking about, well, seeing very large triangles. With me so far?
To evoke their mind experiments in a live setting, they had Horse Lords guitarist Owen Gardner narrate “Green Triangles” while wearing opaque glasses and giant headphones. I think we got the extended-due-to-technical-difficulties version of the track, because M.C. Schmidt kept fidgeting with the onstage sound board and making “What the fuck?” faces for about five minutes before his keyboard would emit any sound. Sucked for him, I’m sure, but it actually turned the song into an even cooler, more epic jam than it is on record.
They followed that up, fittingly, with their cover of the Buzzcocks’ “E.S.P.”, in which Drew Daniel did a nice job channeling his Merzbow jacket into a throat-shredding lead vocal. Side note: Turns out it’s very hard to head-bang while wearing glasses. Drew kept having to hold his hand over his Warby Parkers to keep them from flying off into the audience, where they no doubt would have been used to barter him out of his Merzbow jacket.
I thought they might play more stuff from True Minds, but instead, they went right into “Lipostudio” from their surgery-sampling 2001 album, A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure. To recreate the liposuction sounds from the studio track (“recorded right here in Los Angeles!” M.C. cheerfully noted), M.C. Schmidt blew what appeared to be a duck call and a small flute into a bowl of water. The effect was both cooler and grosser-sounding than you might expect.
Next came the balloons. Oh, the balloons. I’m not sure what album this track was taken from, but it was hilarious and totally magical. If there is such a thing as a balloon maestro, then M.C. Schmidt is surely one.
Did I mention the visuals? Ah, the visuals. These guys know how to keep an electronic music show interesting. Then again, they’ve played with Björk, so you’d expect nothing less.
Matmos finished their set with a song from their 19th-century-folk-inspired album, The Civil War, which was a jaunty way to finish the show. There was whistling and something that I think was an autoharp. Until you hear them string together songs from throughout their six-odd-album career, it’s easy to forgot how insanely diverse Matmos’ catalog is. It could all easily be the work of four or five completely different groups.
Drew and M.C. wrapped things up with one of those encore-but-not-really moments when the band makes like they’re going to leave the stage, but then just mills around for a few minutes before someone finally grabs a mic and asks the usually rhetorical question, “Do you guys wanna hear one more?” (Just to be clear: I love when bands do this. Fuck the encore, stay up there and keep playing, dammit!) In response to Drew’s query, “Lounge or disco?”, the crowd wisely and lustily replied, “Disco!” So we got treated to a little Matmos-style thumpy-thumpy before having to walk back through the cemetery to our cars, which was a nice way to end a memorable evening. It would’ve been more memorable if we could’ve actually danced instead of just rocking back and forth in those uncomfortable chairs, but let’s not get greedy.
P.S. Many thanks to our buddy Phil for supplying the additional photos. And to Gary for the extra ticket. And to everyone who helped score me a seat in the second row. I am telepathically transmitting warm fuzzy feelings to you all.
Is there any band on the planet better-suited to putting on a Christmas concert than The Polyphonic Spree? Do I even have to answer that? This is a band that, even in non-Christmas mode, radiates so much joy to the world that they practically levitate off the stage. Slap a few Santa hats on them, and the joy is so intense you could probably weaponize it and have the entire nation of North Korea doing the “Gangnam Style” dance in the streets. So it’s about time that they finally released a Christmas album, Holidaydream, and took their semi-legendary annual Holiday Extravaganza concert on the road.
The first stop of the Holiday Extravaganza (Holivaganza?) tour was right here in Los Angeles this past Thursday night. Held at the usually dark and clubby Henry Fonda Theatre, it was a kid-friendly affair with unconventional opening acts (a magician, a children’s book author), people in Santa suits and giant snowman and reindeer costumes running around the crowd, printed programs with song lyrics, and a decidedly non-rock concert vibe. One friend of mine brought her seven-year-old daughter, who was happily tear-assing around the venue with another little girl with blinky lights on her shoes. At one point I spotted Spree frontman Tim DeLaughter in the audience, chillaxing and enjoying himself as much as everyone else. It was like being at a church social that just happened to have a full bar with six beers on tap.
The Spree played an early, holiday-themed set for the families and kids; then, after a couple of other musical acts (YouTube-famous folkie Gustafer Yellowgold and the punk-rock-meets-Blue-Man-Group racket of Street Drum Corps), they returned for an extended “rock set” that included old Spree standards like “Soldier Girl” and “Light & Day/Reach for the Sun.” Both sets featured balloon drops, confetti cannons, and loads of rowdy singing along—along maybe not as much singing along as DeLaughter was hoping for when he invited a bunch of the kids up on stage and launched into “Feliz Navidad.” Turns out most little kids whose parents have dragged them to a Polyphonic Spree concert don’t know the words to “Feliz Navidad.” Note to Tim: Try “Jingle Bells” next time. That’s every seven-year-old’s “Sweet Caroline.”
To the Spree’s credit, they didn’t stick to the obvious, feelgood Yuletide classics. Yes, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” and “Joy to the World” were practically meant to be played by an 18-piece rock orchestra, and they were suitably grandiose and exuberant. But an eerie, slightly atonal version of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” was also one of the highlights of the holiday set, as was the “Town Meeting Song” from The Nightmare Before Christmas. I also loved that they turned “Silent Night” into a harp solo so beautiful, it actually made you forget that “Silent Night” is one of the dreariest, most dirge-like Christmas carols of all time.
The latest incarnation of the Spree has been stripped down to a comparatively lean 18 members—or so my program tells me. Actually, I only counted 17 people onstage, but maybe the second guitarist was out sick or something. Even minus a French horn or two, they still managed to pump out quite the wall of sound.
The highlight of any Spree set, for me, is their electrifying cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium,” and the version on this tour, accompanied by a pink balloon drop, does not disappoint.
The only part of the show that was even better than “Lithium”? The milk and cookies they handed everyone in the lobby on their way out. Can all bands start doing this now, please?
The Polyphonic Spree Holiday Extravaganza is only playing four more cities: Chicago (Dec. 11th), Philadelphia (Dec. 14th), New York (Dec. 15th) and Dallas (Dec. 22nd). If you’re lucky enough to live in one of those places, go. What else are you gonna see this time of year? Mannheim Steamroller?
Sometimes, we here at TWBITW gots to pay the bills. So my full review of Peelander-Z’s pre-Halloween extravaganza at L.A.’s Bootleg Bar can only be read on LA Weekly’s West Coast Sound blog, whose editors were kind enough to compensate me for going to the show in exchange for telling their readers how frickin’ awesome it was. And it was pretty frickin’ awesome, but for all the gory details, you’ll have to visit LAWeekly.com.
Meanwhile, here are a few more photos from Saturday night’s show, plus more Peelander-Z tour dates after the jump. If they’re coming to your town, you really should go see them. How many bands do you know with a unicycle-riding squid?
Remaining Peelander-Z tour dates:
10/31 Dallas, TX @ Club Dada *
11/01 Shreveport, LA @ Fatty Arbuckles *
11/02 Austin, TX @ Red 7 FunFunFun Festival, 1230AM
11/03 Austin, TX @ Yellow Stage FunFunFun Festival, 755PM
11/04 Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live *, w/ Anamanaguchi
11/05 Lafayette, LA @ The Feed & Seed
11/06 New Orleans, LA @ One Eyed Jacks *
11/09 Atlanta, GA @ Drunken Unicorn *
11/10 Nashville, TN @ Mercy Lounge *
11/11 Knoxville, TN @ Cider House *
11/13 Tallahassee, FL @ Rehab *
11/14 Orlando, FL @ The Social *
11/15 Tampa, FL @ The Orpheum *
11/17 Gainesville, FL @ High Dive *
11/19 Wilmington, NC @ The Soapbox *
11/21 Washington, DC @ U Street Music *
11/23 Brooklyn, NY @ Knitting Factory *, Brooklyn Vegan Presents
* w/Electric Eel Shock