Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Live review: Ladyhawke at the Troubadour

if there’s any consolation for bitter music fans stuck in town while SXSW rages on in Austin, it would have to be the stream of bands that stop in L.A. on their way either to or from Texas. Case in point: Tuesday night’s show at the Troubadour by New Zealand blog sensation/’80s revivalist Ladyhawke.

It was a quick warm-up gig before facing the indie elite for three shows at this year’s SXSW, including Perez Hilton’s much-discussed "One Night in Austin" showcase Friday night, and one that singer Pip Brown and her bandmates definitely needed.

While there are countless new acts pillaging the '80s for inspiration, Ladyhawke’s ace is that she emulates songs and artists that most serious rock fans consider hopelessly uncool. From the booming drums that Phil Collins made famous to piles of analogue synthesizers, Brown’s music captures FM radio circa 1985 perfectly. Early singles such as "Back of the Van" and “Paris Is Burning” sparkle with the same teen dream drama of prime Bananarama and Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America.”

But Ladyhawke’s L.A. debut opened with a sputter, not a bang. Brown and her pinup-ready all-boy band took the stage and kicked into a moody instrumental opener amid a sea of fog, only to have a technical issue with her monitors force them to stop. They started again — and stopped. Brown unceremoniously took off her guitar and fled the stage.

After a few minutes of roadies frantically trying to remedy the situation, Brown returned and apologized to the sold-out and supportive crowd. Shielded by voluminous bangs and her guitar, she was finally able to charge through a couple of songs from her self-titled debut album, but it was obvious she wasn’t having much fun — yet.

As the band persevered, the show started to come together. The bouncy melody of “Manipulating Woman” prompted dancing down front, which only spread with the poppy march of “Dusk Till Dawn.” Brown has a knack for writing insidiously catchy melodies, deftly combined with a thick, dance-rock pulse not heard since Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” album.

Tossing out non-LP B-side “Danny and Jenny” for the hardcore fans, Ladyhawke wisely saved the best for last, closing with the killer one-two punch of “Back of the Van” and “Paris Is Burning.”

By the time she encored with her latest single, the uptempo Pat Benatar homage “My Delirium,” any earlier technical transgressions had long been forgotten. “Thanks for putting up with all of that,” Brown smiled at last. “It was worth it to finally play L.A.”

It was a touch of the SXSW “experience," in SoCal instead of Austin: Catching a new band still finding its legs, stumbling toward that first big dance, and somehow making it work.

(Originally published on L.A. Times)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Prince announces LOtUSFLOW3r details and three L.A. shows on March 24

Hardcore Prince fans have been all a-twitter lately, with the Purple One releasing three new albums (“LOtUSFLOW3r,” “MPLSoUNd” and “Elixer,” the latter the debut from current protégé Bria Valente) through an exclusive deal with Target.

Much of Prince’s recent online activity has stemmed from the launch of his latest Web venture, the customarily mysterious So far, the site has only offered a handful of teases, such as snippets of new songs “Disco Jellyfish” and “Colonized Mind," but little else.

According to the latest press release, the site goes fully live on March 24 as a subscription-based portal, offering fans access to the new music, as well as unleashing a torrent of extremely rare concert footage from his entire career. Ranging from early shows to his already-mythologized appearance at Coachella 2008, Purple People who ante up the annual $77 fee can download all three of the new albums and all of the requisite goodies that come with them (lyrics, photos, etc).

But for L.A-area Prince fans, March 24 will be especially juicy, with the artist planning on performing no less than three different shows in the city at three different locations, and with a unique band at each stop. Details are promised on over the days to come.

Prince’s promo blitz continues after the 24th. He'll appear on "Tonight Show With Jay Leno" as musical guest for a three-night stand beginning March 25, returning on May 28 to perform on Leno’s penultimate show as host.

This is not the first time Prince has dabbled with a subscription Web service -- his NPG Music Club lasted five years and closed in 2006.

(Originally published on L.A. Times)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Live: Cut Copy's blizzard of Oz

Cut Copy was just full of surprises during its recent two-night stand in L.A. After having the LAFD unceremoniously shut down a beyond sold-out gig at the Music Box @ Fonda on Tuesday night, the Australian dance mob wisely moved the whole operation to the much larger and more comfortable confines of the Club Nokia downtown for the second show.

Any danger and lawless excitement of the previous night’s proceedings was drastically muted by Club Nokia's plush “new car smell.” Still, Cut Copy and their able support acts worked just that much harder to fire up the impressive crowd, which packed the main floor all the way to the bar and well into the balcony.

Matt & Kim’s spastic nerd-punk missives went over well with the bobbing heads down front, thanks to rapid-fire rhythms and over-caffeinated charm (not to mention a well-placed cover of '80s pop-metal nugget “The Final Countdown” by Europe).

Fellow Australian DJ Knightlife played a somewhat wobbly set of digital dance re-edits on CD, picking up steam with the In Flagranti remix of the Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue” before settling into a straightforward, thumping, rave-approved groove.

But the night was all about Cut Copy, which is proving to be the most formidable Australian export since INXS.

Cut Copy ably combines an inherent penchant for pop melodies with infectious dance beats (and an encyclopedic knowledge of the dance-rock greats that came before them), and their nuanced sound kick-started the crowd almost immediately. Led by freshly bearded singer Dan Whitford (who made a sincere apology for the previous night’s debacle), the act plied the crowd with sunny, Split Enz-meets-Daft Punk pop-hop (“Feel the Love”) next to pristine, '80s-tinged synth-pop seduction (“Hearts on Fire,” “Lights & Music”).

But Cut Copy, performing as a four-piece, was most impressive when the act all but abandoned its comfort zone to dig into “So Haunted,” pulling out guitars to bash out a discordant dirge of shoe-gazing chords more reminiscent of Sonic Youth or Nirvana than New Order. But the magic happens during the song’s chorus, which sparkles with layered harmonies that could've been left over from Electric Light Orchestra’s “Out of the Blue.”

Given the rapturous response when the foursome finally took their bows around midnight, it’s clear they'll need plenty of space when they eventually find their way back to town. They've earned it.

(originally published in the L.A. Times)

Dan Auerbach: Black Keys singer goes solo and gets primal

If Akron, Ohio’s Dan Auerbach sounds particularly groggy during a recent phone interview, it’s for good reason. The Black Keys singer/guitarist just survived a 30-hour drive straight through from Minneapolis to Seattle for a gig on his current solo tour, which hits L.A. at the El Rey on Saturday night.

“Man, I felt like we were in Montana for-ever, he moans woefully. “We had to get a second bus driver, because we’d already burnt out the first one on this tour, and the guy deserved a break."

Auerbach is touring in support of his recently released solo turn, “Keep it Hid." Instead of moving away from the organic Midwestern blues that marks his day job, with drummer Patrick Carney, in the Black Keys, Auerbach has expanded on the template, creating an album that explores the outer reaches of classic rock and vintage blues.

At what point did you decide to do a solo album and tour?

I just had this block of free time and a bunch of songs I’d recorded, so I decided to just go for it. It’s really nothing deeper than that.

I’m intrigued by the album title of “Keep it Hid.” It has an underground, almost outsider feel.

Part of me just thought it was a cool title. But also, I’ve been recording on my own without Pat since I was 15. I’ve just never had the opportunity to release anything. I’ve thankfully been too busy writing, recording and touring with the Black Keys. It definitely took over, so in a lot of ways a lot of these songs and ideas have literally been hidden.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had two different women mention how much they like your solo album. Do you think there’s a sensual quality to your solo work that might not be so apparent in the Black Keys?

We definitely did it for the ladies (laughs). I don’t know, man. I’m definitely attracted to music that I think could be considered sexually motivating. I’m in love with that primal beat and wild-man sound. Songs like “The Prowl” and “I Want Some More” are so jungle and completely primal. It’s the same reason I’ve always loved artists like Junior Kimbrough and Alice Coltrane. Music that’s circular and hypnotic.

You did some really interesting things when sequencing “Keep it Hid.” It sounds like you were going for a classic album feel.

Absolutely, yeah. I thought about it once we had all of the songs together. I really wanted it to flow. The idea was for it to be a headphone album. I don’t find many new records where the songs flow like a movie. It’s not even like I’m especially fond of old records just because they’re old. I gravitate towards music that sounds timeless.

A common thread through many of the live reviews on this solo tour is how much fun you and your backing band (San Antonio’s Hacienda and My Morning Jacket’s Patrick Hallahan on percussion) are having on stage.

Yeah, it’s a blast. It’s insanely fun. With the album, I wanted the songs combined to equal something greater than its parts. It’s sort of like that on stage. Together, we’re creating something bigger than ourselves, and it’s just really great. Everyone is completely into it.

What’s it like being on a big tour without Patrick?

I’ve never done a tour without Pat. So this is a totally new experience for me. There are six people on stage. Everybody is such a great musician, and we can re-create every little sound from the record. I’ve never been the kind of person that wants to perform a record note for note. I usually find that boring. But with these guys with me, we can capture all of the subtle nuances.

What do you have planned once this U.S. tour is finished?

This band is going to tour Australia and Europe. I’ll come home for a couple of months, and then Pat and I go into the studio to start the next Black Keys record. We’ve got some festival dates this summer, both solo and with the Black Keys.

It doesn’t sound like you do very well with down-time.

Well, yeah. It’s a blessing and a curse. I don’t know what it is, man. I pretty much think about making music constantly, so why not just do it? I’m sure there will be a day when I wake up not wanting to play music. But until then, I’m just going to keep plugging away.

(originally published in the L.A. Times)