Monday, September 04, 2006

let there be rock

standing in the middle of the wiltern last wednesday night, engulfed in the maximum rock'n'soul inferno that is the motherfuckin' bellrays, i felt cleansed. bathed in the white-hot fury of their old-school spontaneous-rawk-explosion-style approach -- hallelujah! in true mc5 fashion, the music can go from driving funk-flecked rock to punk-powered intensity to freeform jazz that nearly falls apart before your very ears ... but always manages to make it back from the brink. main songwriter/guitarist tony fate, bassist bob vennum, and drummer craig waters shifted gears expertly -- and loudly, but never even approached drowning out lead singer lisa kekaula. a force of nature in a skimpy black halter dress and sparkly high wedge sandals, she belted out "tell the lie" and "pay the cobra" and other numbers from their new have a little faith -- which demonstrates their ever-widening musical vocabulary while reliably tearing it up -- along with detroit-soaked classics like "sister disaster" and "have a little faith in me." she prowled the stage like an impatient tigress, her massive afro towering over her head like the 13th wonder of the world. and she took us to church, kids, demanding that we enjoy ourselves -- for our sake. "it's not for us," she exhorted time after time, sweeping her arm to indicate all they had laid at our feet -- the band, the energy, the music. "it's for you ... help us help you let loose ... etc etc."

after a while, few resisted. she called, we responded -- it was as simple as that. ooo mah soul. i was renewed.

all of that was, to some, mere prelude to the main rockin' event, the first-ever u.s. show by australian punk legends radio birdman. in fact i was mainly along for that ride, as 00soul was reviewing the show for citybeat (out thursday). our pal kim cooper was really psyched, as were many other true believers and interested observers. while recognizing the significance, i didn't have as much invested in the show. but it is always cool to see a veteran band as vital as RB still is. the original, older members seemed leather-tough -- not hard or mean, but well-worn yet still standing up. sadly, for one unfamiliar with most of the tunes, such as myself, the muddy sound and other tech problems made some details hard to discern. but it was enough to be there to hear it, and i left feeling fairly giddy under the power of the rock.

let there be music

this eventful week actually started the day before, on tuesday, when we attended the first of the foo fighters' three nights of "afoostic" (groan) shows at the pantages. i'll be reviewing that in CB this week as well. but suffice to say that FF fans are so nice and polite, and the vibe inside the pantages was mellow and generous despite the cramped conditions in the lobby due to the crunch of converging lines for merch, drinks, and snacks.

rare though this configuration of the foos was, rarer still was a much smaller and more fleeting event that occurred outside. for the first time ever, i had a conversation with danny shades. a well-known figure to those who frequent concerts, he's often seen somewhere near a venue. anyway, i walked past him on my way to meet 00soul outside the theater, and he spoke to me, as he does to most everyone who passes by. hey, a guy's gotta advertise somehow. i politely replied and he reflexively said, "well, have a good time tonight. not that you need me to tell you to have a good time; you'll probably have one anyway." the light had not yet changed, and so i turned and said, "well, it is work, ya know." he didn't seem to follow, of course; how would he know what i meant? he said yeah or something, then added that i looked familiar. i said i thought he knew my boyfriend; he didn't know the name, but i'm sure he'd know the face. then he said he'd like to know me, y'know, just as a person ... huh. for some reason i simply shook his hand and introduced myself. now, i said, you know me. and then i think i surprised him a little by saying, "you're danny, right? i know you." he said yes, and i said, "everybody knows you, when they need to, right?" and he answered, "yeah, that's right." and then the light changed, and i took my leave and crossed the street.

let there be lunch

friday was 00soul's birthday, so i drove him to santa barbara for tacos at la super-rica, as is the tradition for 12 years now. we ended up having one of the best times yet. the weather was lovely, our pace was very leisurely, we indulged ourselves shamelessly, and we had no drama (as in vehicular) whatsoever. i was a little nervous beforehand b/c butch hasn't been on a road trip since the incident. it would be the first test of the new radiator as well -- a serious one, what with temperatures in the valley reaching near 100 at midday. we debated taking the scenic route but decided on the 101 and took off around 12:30. we could not have had better luck on the road. it was hot indeed, especially through the west valley, but traffic was merely slow at points rather than at a standstill, and we soon passed through the valley's oven and into cooler ventura county.

along the coast just south of SB we encountered some thrilling tendrils of chilly fog, ghosts of precipitation threatening a bright blue sky, temporarily blotting out the sun, but fading quickly as we neared our destination. we parked outside the restaurant at about 2:30, pretty excellent time. i was starving! the line was not too terrible, although it took a long time for the food to be ready. well, we ordered a lot; i had more tacos than ever and stuffed myself -- had to surrender the last marinated pork taco to 00soul, but i did it gladly. he had his fill as well, and then we rambled over to state street and the james joyce pub. we spent a pleasant afternoon imbibing -- him, various irish whiskies, me, cazadores & tonics -- and chatting with the bartender, munching peanuts, talking amongst ourselves, and people-watching.

we got some coffee across the street later on, sat on a bench and drank it in the deepening twilight, watching people pass by and also a hummingbird siphon nectar from some kind of spiny bright red flower on a nearby tree.

then it was back to the beast. top down, jackets on, we departed around 8. the trip back went even more smoothly and probably could've been made in under 90 minutes, except for a brief slowdown due to a pair of accidents outside ventura -- there wasn't much traffic, but it all had to merge first right and then left, which created confusion as well as congestion. but really, how fucking amazing is it that we managed to avoid anything like horrible traffic on the friday of labor day weekend?

let there be peace

then last night it was off to the gibson for a dose of hip-hop soul. mary j. blige sold out the house. my report on that will be in tomorrow's l.a. times, but i don't think it's revealing too much to say that i'm still thinking about the show and wishing i had a little more time to really crystallize my thoughts. i've written a lot of mjb album reviews, and other things, and i always find myself really respecting her style. not just her musical craft, which is often innovative and usually up-to-date, but her genuine way of weaving herself into her songs.

over the years, the "queen of hip-hop soul" has gone from sexy street urchin to serene spiritual seeker -- simultaneously inspiring fans to examine/fix/change their own lives and rallying them to support her in her darkest and brightest moments. she has attained a measure of balance, but, as she reminded us many times during the show, it ain't easy to keep an even keel. at one point she went off on quite a tangent in that regard, telling us it's hard work to stay centered, but she'd rather suffer in the process of getting better than suffer and stay the same. her emotions seemed to overcome her, and she even shed tears.

were they real? does she do that every night? it's hard to say. it certainly felt genuine in the moment, and maybe that's all that matters. so many pop stars of all stripes -- bands, vocalists, rappers, singer-songwriters, from R&B to metal -- seem to get over on the slimmest of "connections" to their listeners. sure, fans are always gonna love the objects of their admiration unconditionally, but mjb inspires a near-evangelical loyalty ... and she seems to deserve it more than most. the tropes of her genre are ubiquitous -- even she loads her albums with guest stars, skits, etc., etc., and the show was full of sing-alongs, guest turns, pyrotechnics, etc. -- yet somehow the cliches never touch her. despite all of the trappings, she is as real in her own way as the bellrays or dave grohl (except with more costume changes ... and better clothes!) -- and that counts for a lot in these soul-deprived days.

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