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This Little Underground 

Life’s good right now, lovers

click to enlarge Phoenix’s ample Franco-pop ruled the week
  • Phoenix’s ample Franco-pop ruled the week

Life’s good right now, lovers. Concert calendars are fat, Magic fever’s back and the weather, she’s a-gettin’ there. After about seven weeks straight of devouring this huge buffet of concert porn with crazy Katy Perry eyes and all, I’m still going. Instead of spent, I’m actually energized by both the shows and the attendance and stamina of audiences. Despite the bonanza, there’ve been healthy, often capacity crowds for nights on end. There’s a real buzz on the street and it’s sent a loud, clear message to the big touring acts – many of whom played here for the first time – and to the people who booked them. Still another month of it, so giddyup.

The beat

MGMT (Oct. 25, Hard Rock Live) was pretty decent live, and actually managed to be more traditionally psychedelic on stage than on record – double points for throwing the Orlando Magic logo into their visuals. They drew maybe the most deafeningly enthusiastic crowd this season. And, man, I still love that song “Kids.”

Massive Attack (Oct. 27, Hard Rock Live) was, well, massive. They rendered their sonic tonnage with lots of players and two live drummers. Unlike the energetic but thin set by co-headliner Thievery Corporation, their thick, deep-diving sound was worthy of the big room. Filling it visually was an amazing lighting rig that alternated between sleek patterns and scrolls of provocative, timely headlines. There’s something weirdly reassuring about seeing what is essentially an atmospheric after-hours act retain enough prestige a decade past their prime to pack out a venue this size. Such dense, cerebral music garnering a fan base broad enough to bring out even the yahoos is proof of either God or the imminence of the apocalypse.

But of all the big attractions, Phoenix (Oct. 26, House of Blues) was the week’s best. The reigning kings of Franco-pop may have finally arrived on the wings of a following built on their songs’ appearance in the Lost in Translation soundtrack and a prominent car commercial, but they’ve been producing some sterling music for a decade now. With their peerless instinct for tune, conciseness and immediacy, I’ve spent years loudly asking why everyone isn’t nuts for this band already, so it’s great to see them finally blow up and get their due.

Live, their highly clarified pop purity was joyfully executed. Moreover, it was a grand show with real stagecraft involving theatrical gestures and light choreography that was electrifyingly creative. Topping it off was singer Thomas Mars’ eager crowd interaction, which led to a finale that impelled him to descend into a sea of fans that virtually swallowed him with only his neon orange microphone chord as a lifeline. It was basically a stadium-sized show packed into a medium-sized room.

Once upon a time, Kings of Leon weren’t an indie rock band. You probably weren’t into them then, but it was good stuff. Well, Missouri’s Ha Ha Tonka (Oct. 28, Back Booth) has some of the Kings’ old Southern grit. Add in their own sweet flow and you’ve got a group with far more taste and heart than the average country rock band, one that convincingly balances ruggedness and soul. And despite their genuine rock power, they actually captured the crowd in a whole-room clap-along on a song featuring only four-part harmonies, a mandolin and foot stomps.

Headlining was the ever-improving Rocky Votolato, who actually pulls off the plaintive and openly emotional thing without being too adult contemporary. Apparently, that’s a hard thing to do.

Like Chuck Ragan for sensitive indie types, Votolato’s a modern troubadour in touch with the spirit and soul of old-fashioned lonesome folk. And his emotional honesty is the kind that typically commands a devoted following. If your music makes me feel like driving in the middle of the night with the windows all the way down, alone and a little drunk, then you’re doing 
something right.

Ontario bangers Keys N Krates (The Social) were next up. Live remixers par excellence, these total party bringers keep the hop nonstop like few can. Crafting a very live and active take on the mix-and-mash style, this trio consisting of turntablist, keyboardist and live drummer is maybe the most organic remix crew I’ve seen yet. With the synchronicity of a tight band, they bring legit live craft to the dance medium, which is no small feat.


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