Damien Jurado/Songs: Ohia/Map
Koo's Art Cafe
Wednesday, Nov. 29
Riverside's Map were both intriguing and not, plopping down some of that slow, sad, dreamy shoegazer stuff, only without the feedback. That their songs had cheesy titles like "The Smile Summer Forgot"—which sounds like the name of a bad made-for-TV movie in which a friendship that developed while school was out ends when one of the characters is killed off by cancer—did not help their cause. But we admit to enjoying their spacey, sad guitar tones and texture-adding trumpet bleats. Their CD, Teaching Turtles to Fly, is even more focused, colorful and atmospheric, with a glint of '60s California pop running beneath—pretty, in that Nick Drake/Velvet Underground gimme-some-heroin sort of way.
Songs: Ohia, on the other hand, were flat-out lousy, mostly a guitar duo—that night anyway—whose pretentious, overlong set was begun by one half of the pair who proceeded to burn both time and our ears with a self-indulgent instrumental that really got the crowd involved—if you consider a roomful of people checking their watches, shuffling their feet and exhaling non-complimentary sighs "involved." When his partner in pain joined him, they wound up yelping flaccid, unmoving, melody-deprived tunes about blood, trying hard and dead crows—or was that dread cows? But we did clearly hear the line about how "we got no second chance in this life," which worked great for us because we can respond thusly: "Nor in this review, pal."
Damien Jurado, meanwhile, was our savior, a brooding Seattle folker whose scared-little-boy voice and ghostly picking proved both moving and heartbreaking. Seriously: people didn't move or even breathe much, perhaps fearing they might disrupt the aura of warmth seeping through Jurado's fretboard, something valued on this frigid eve. He played a Nirvana cover, "Something in the Way," which made perfect sense—if only to shore up the argument that all Northwest musicians are this fantastically, beautifully dour.
The Monkeywrench/The BellRays/The Flash Express
Friday, Dec. 1
And who the hell are the Flash Express? Only one of the best bands we've seen in quite a while; only a band who make slogging through weeks upon weeks of teenage sound-alike punk acts and hapless rap-rockers worth all the trauma; only a band who freely acknowledge that there was a lot of good, heavy music being made in the years between the MC5 and the Pistols, and it wasn't called "metal," either; only a band who show that you can play hard, loud and angry without being "punk" and come off just as powerfully, if not more so. The Flash Express are merely another great rock & roll band, one more of the kind we don't seem to see much round these parts anymore. They're an LA trio blessed with an excellent, intense, rubbery-armed drummer —his elbow joints had elbow joints!—and a turbo-charged guitarist who made the band feel a little like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, but not jokingly so. They had plenty of superb little R&B accents coursing between their power riffs, too, which proved that they know their historical roots. The Flash Express were like a big, crunchy swath of aural perfection, a live-action reminder not only of how rock music oughta be done, but how it could still be.
The BellRays are everything the Flash Express are, only triple-timed. In a rock & roll surfer's beach festooned with untreated, poo-flavored waste water, the BellRays are the music's Great Purifier. Lisa Kekaula's sing/ howl and Bob Vennum's guitar grandeur sculpt a sonic slab that'll get you believing in the holy power and the glory and the majesty and the sheer mortal terror of rock music again, and lord, did we need summa that on this night. Lisa was a fiery priestess, a writhing, finger-pointing, sweaty, soulful shrieker, even on the holiday tune they did, a cover of the old chestnut "Merry Christmas, Baby." The BellRays are such a rejuvenating band that listening to them is like hearing sound for the first time. So if you don't see the BellRays next time they play OC, not only do you hate music, but you also must've been born without a pulse—they really are thatamazing.
The Monkeywrench are Mark Arm and Steve Turner from Mudhoney, filled out with three other guys. Naturally, the Mudhoney sludge was in full effect—side project or not, that's a pretty hard sound to escape. But Arm, in particular, seemed a lot more hepped-up and inspired than he's been for Mudhoney gigs of late—he had all the energy of Iggy, full of flails and feedback, while the band threw down a load of these weird-but-cool, demented, not-very-well-hidden psycho-blues licks. In a lot of ways, the Monkeywrench were even better than the band that spawned them—a good sign if Arm and Turner one day decide that their regular, full-time band has run its course.
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