Back in the late ‘90s when hip-hop duo Black Star first surfaced with their only album, Yasiin Bey was still known as Mos Def and fellow Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli wasn’t really known much at all, other than his underground recordings with DJ Hi-Tek. That 1998 debut, Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star (which Hi-Tek produced), was a real game-changer, helping to launch Kweli’s career trajectory so far that he ended up collaborating with hip-hop royalty such as Kanye West and Pharrell Williams, as well as helping to kickstart the careers of others such as Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica. Over the next decade, Kweli and Bey continued to occasionally collaborate on projects like the 2000 anti-police-brutality EP Hip-Hop For Respect, and as Black Star they contributed to the 2001 Duke Ellington tribute Red Hot + Indigo and appeared on both Chappelle’s Show and Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. However, the duo never recorded a second Black Star album, and the last “new” track to surface was on Kweli’s rarities compilation Train of Thought. Until recently, their infrequent live performances averaged one every half dozen years or so, so their current tour, which brings them to Observatory North Park on September 28, will be a rare chance to see the influential politically inclined rappers and catch up with whatever causes or crusades they’re embarking on this time around the touring track.
Lawrence Rothman cites his influences as Tom Waits, Bryan Ferry, the writings of Sam Pink (comedic author of Rontel, Person, etc.), and the artwork of found-object and collage artist Mike Kelley. That makes sense once you browse a few photos of the guy, who has adopted wildly different looks at various times, including orange haired with face-tattoos, albino white-haired with a broom-sized goat beard, greasy dark-haired pencil-mustache gigolo, beaten and bruised hipster, and even full Elizabeth Taylor drag. His debut album released last year, The Book of Law, was produced by Justin Raisen (Sky Ferreira, Kim Gordon) and recorded in multiple L.A. studios with players from Warpaint, Autolux, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, as well as sporting vocals from Angel Olsen, Kim Gordon, Soko, and Ariel Pink. The video for “Oz Vs. Eden,” featuring guest vocals from Charli XCX, is a creepy American Horror Story–style haunted-house affair with Rothman playing one of his alter egos, Kevin (frequently seen with a giant butterfly in his mouth), negotiating his way around a creepy golden angel, a serpentine devil in the bathtub, and twin albino teenyboppers, to music that sounds like Sisters of Mercy as fronted by Marilyn Manson. It’s a little early in Rothman’s career to predict if he’s going to have as much or more success with the acid-goth look and sound than either the Sisters or Manson, both of whom also eventually tried on more personas than Sybil, but his willingness and ability to be both ugly and artistic will surely serve him well when he takes the stage at the Space on October 11.
Portland stoner metal band Red Fang has been on the cusp of stardom ever since the second of their four albums, Murder the Mountains (2011), reached number 25 on the U.S. Top Heatseekers chart, landing them on high-profile multiband bills like Metalliance (with Helmet and Crowbar), the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival (alongside Megadeth and Godsmack), and the Australian Soundwave Festival. Things really started popping after their January 2014 appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, where musical director Paul Shaffer sat in with the band for “Blood Like Cream,” but they still only managed to get their Whales and Leeches album up to number 66 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart. Last year’s Only Ghosts full-length peaked at number 143, without even a single to promote it. At least they’ve been able to keep their leather-gloved hands in the game on the road, where their comedic Spinal Tappish hard rock has found favor as openers for huge mainstream acts who genuinely seem to “get” the joke, including Opeth (who must have a likeminded sense of humor, having titled their album My Arms, Your Hearse after a lyric by frequently hysterical freak-folk acid rockers Comus) and Swedish melodic death metallers In Flames (whose Jester Head mascot isn’t as funny as their Duck Dynasty beards). Red Fang’s California Ghost Rush Tour hits the Casbah October 23.
Long Beach singer-guitarist Korey Dane was only 25 when he basically went right from the skate park into the recording studio to put together his Youngblood album with producer Tony Berg (Public Image Ltd., the Replacements), impressing many with his Dylanesque storytelling and gravelly Leonard Cohen-ish voice. His mixed heritage (Caucasian, Japanese, and American Indian) frequently played a role in the production, including the title of the album, which is his own Cherokee last name. Also at play was his interest in social causes, making for a folksy musical mix clearly formulated in the style of vintage Neil Young and, of course, Dylan. Dane’s followup, Chamber Girls, was recorded in the midst of a management change and a relationship breakup, and the result sounds more inspired by classic Bruce Springsteen and George Thorogood, with an arena-rock sheen but still with the personable presentation of a guitar troubadour rather than the pretense of an emerging rock star. Said to have been recorded in North Hollywood over an intensive 96-hour stretch and mostly self-produced (other than Berg again pitching in on one track), Chamber Girls shows so much growth and maturity from his first effort that it’s as if the Beatles went straight from “She Loves You” to “Penny Lane,” so it’ll be a treat to see him performing those tunes live at Soda Bar on November 19. Opening act Gold Star features L.A. native Marlon Rabenreither, who describes his music as “guitar-noir Americana.”
The San Diego Symphony just announced dates, venues, and featured performers for their monthlong It’s About Time series, curated by and frequently featuring UCSD music professor Steven Schick. “Working with several of San Diego’s performing arts organizations,” according to the announcement, “the festival is about the myriad of ways percussion music connects us to the world and to nature.” Among the likely highlights, Percussion Lovefest will be staged at Bread and Salt on three consecutive Thursdays early next year (January 11, 18, and 25), featuring both Schick and local drum star Duncan Moore for an entry in that venue’s adventurous Fresh Sound series. “As an international city, [San Diego] percussionists are as varied as its citizens,” says the press release, which promises the event will showcase “local percussion talent from jazz drummers to symphonic musicians to old-style marching music, from Brazil to Africa to the Americas.”