This is the first time I've ever written about Kim Lenz and Her Jaguars, who play the Foothill on Friday night. Errr—oh, that's right, pardon me—the name has recently been changed to Kim Lenz and the Jaguars. Anyway, the reason I never commented before was because I wasn't sure I trusted the idea of this band enough to praise them or disliked them enough to slam 'em. The band's self-titled debut album was soooo self-consciously retro that I smelled trendiness and poseurism no matter how much my ears told me they'd gotten the music right—at least they'd gotten it right in a sort of generic, Sun-rockabilly, echo-drenched, live-to-one-track mono way. The band had the primitive thud of, say, Billy Lee Riley and His Little Green Men, if not the hellfire attitude and blastoff chops of, say, Gene Vincent's Blue Caps or Johnny Burnette's Rock & Roll Trio. As for Lenz's act, her vocals were phrased more along the lines of Vincent—with all kinds of huffing, heaving, panting and carrying on—than her self-professed hero, the relatively well-behaved Janis Martin.
This was a good thing because where Vincent seethed with sex, style and menace, Martin was the picture of generic rockabilly suckage (keep them nasty letters coming, folks, but you know damn well Martin has never been in a league with Wanda Jackson, Lorrie Collins or even Rosie Flores, for that matter). I also credited Dallas resident Lenz with the Texas fortitude to write a batch of solid (if invariably derivative) songs, rather than going the easy route by playing a shitload of done-to-death covers like so many rockabilly A-1 units.
When I finally saw Lenz live last year, I was pretty much convinced I was on her side. She held a pitch and commanded a stage like a real pro, and she had the crowd eating out of her hands. A new lineup of Jaguars—particularly young hotshot guitarist Nick Curran—played a lot harder and fancier than the band that had recorded the album, even if it was a wee bit smoother and politer than I would have liked. In Lenz's retro world, lack of volume and demented energy are assets to be striven for rather than shortcomings.
This particular generation of roots cookies seem to have studied reruns of old shows like Ranch Party and The Country Show; they even ape the silly '50s white-bread gentility that hallmarked the era's TV audiences. So sue me if I always preferred guys like Vincent and Burnette, who wanted to beat you up, slash your tires and have butt-sex with your sister.
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Anyway, what can I say? Pop music "cultures" of every flavor piss me off, as they are by nature elitist, exclusionary and incredibly stupid. And rockabilly is no exception, even if I love the music. I hate it that if you're rockabilly, you're not allowed to like reggae. If you're a punk, you're not allowed to like country. If you're a swing kid, you're not allowed to like blues. Et cetera. Me, I pretty much like everything that's done well and has integrity. Kim Lenz and the Jaguars do it well and have integrity—I've made my mind up. But when I go see 'em, I might part my hair down the middle and wear a Ben Folds Five T-shirt just to irritate the yokels, anyhoo.
Another solid act from Dallas graces the area Friday night, as MIKE MORGAN & THE CRAWL play the Blue Cafe. Eye patch-sportin' Morgan writes mud-funky rockin' blues tunes and plays some tasteful (if less than spectacular) guitar riffs, but it's vocalist/harpist/songwriter Lee McBee who captures my attention. Singing like a cross between Otis Redding and John Fogerty, McBee—along with such like-minded fellows as W.C. Clark, Tommy Castro and local heroes Barrelhouse—seems determined that soul music should never die, even if they have to steep it in blues to get anyone to listen. The Blue Cafe performance is a CD-release party for a greasy gem of an album that calls to mind such disparate figures as Slim Harpo, Roy Head, Freddie King and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Check 'em out, and try to sneak a peek under that eye patch, if you get a few in you. I'm dying to know whether the damn thing's a put-on.
Okay, so BOB DYLAN and PAUL SIMON are at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim on Sunday night, and I'm wondering if I'm being a traitor to my generation when I categorically state that this does not give me wood. Like most kids growing up in the late '60s, Dylan and Simon meant a lot to me—more than musically, even, as they helped strengthen a generation's resolve and outlook through their lyrics, their stances, their sheer intelligence and leadership qualities, blah-blah, woof-woof, honk-honk, tweet-tweet. But, hey, that was 30 looong fuckin' years ago. I ain't 10 anymore, I don't harbor hero worship for anyone this side of Roy Jones Jr., my idealism was flushed down the crapper when Ronald Reagan was elected president, and, critical hosannas for recent output aside, I don't think either of these gents has released an interesting album since before I graduated from high school. Last time Dylan came through this area, didn't he have Van Morrison with him? Now that I would have paid to see because Van Morrison gets more Van Morrison-y every year—with an always-startling vision, genuinely soulful music and his legendary asshole-ishness. Dylan? Well, he hangs out with Charlton Heston, who any counterculture hero should realize is [Sam Kinison voice] THE FUCKIN' ENEMY!!! Then there's Simon, who comes off like George Costanza pretending to be a Negro. Boring. Go away. Both of you. You make me embarrassed to be old.
Kim Lenz and the Jaguars play the Foothill, 1922 Cherry Ave., Signal Hill, (562) 494-5195. Fri., 9 p.m. $10; Mike Morgan & the Crawl perform at the Blue Cafe, 210 The Promenade, Long Beach, (562) 983-7111. Fri., 9:45 p.m. $8; Bob Dylan and Paul Simon at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, 2695 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 740-2000. Sun., 7:30 p.m. $35-$125.