Worth the drive

Dengue Fever

One of the great hidden histories of international pop music is Cambodia’s psychedelic rock scene of the late 1960s. Before Pol Pot’s four-year reign of terror completely paralyzed its culture, the country was home to an enclave of groups who faithfully emulated the style of American one-nugget wonders while regionalizing the sound with distinctly Asian vocal melodies. A handful of scarcely annotated compilations have managed to document the past, but Los Angeles’ Dengue Fever aim to embody it in the present tense. This isn’t just a bunch of Western hipsters indulging in some obscure foreign fetish; organist Ethan Holtzman and his guitarist brother Zac loved the stuff they heard while visiting Cambodia so much they wanted to replicate it as authentically as possible — they even sought out a genuine Cambodian pop star to sing the tunes in her native Khmer. Originally, the group was content to mostly perform covers. On their sophomore record Escape From Dragon House, the band got more ambitious, writing all their own material. The elements that made their self-titled debut one of L.A.’s local gems are still present — swirling Farfisa organ, fuzz-covered guitars, squealing sax and singer Chhom Nimol’s haunting, high-pitched voice — only now played with heightened confidence, more muscle and slightly darker tones. Dengue Fever plays Tangier in Los Angeles on Feb. 23.

Tangier, 2138 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 666-8666


Ragga Muffins Festival For its 25th installment, the annual Ragga Muffins Festival — the nation’s most acclaimed reggae concert celebrating the birthday of Bob Marley — has packed its two day bill with one of the most star-powered lineups in its history. Topping the first night, on Feb. 18, is the legendary Gregory Isaacs, joined by the even more towering figure in the history of Jamaican music, the beyond-legendary Lee “Scratch” Perry. Other spectacularly important names include Alton Ellis and Horace Andy. As for the new jacks, there’s Michael Franti & Spearhead (pictured) — a live band if there ever was one — and dancehall sensations Richie Spice and Norris Man, among several others. The Feb. 19 date features perhaps the oddest headliner to ever appear at the festival: Hasidic reggae-rap-rock star Matisyahu. Joining him are veterans Freddie McGregor and, naturally, the Wailers, as in, “Bob Marley and the … ” It shouldn’t be forgotten, throughout both days, that the event is meant to serve the memory of one of pop’s great human rights advocates and inspirational leaders. Enjoy the show at the Long Beach Arena, but make sure not to leave without first absorbing the message.


Wolfmother Australia is more known for baby-eating dingos than wolf mothers, but the appropriately named Wolfmother is out to change that. It’s also out to puts its home country on the map as a haven for howling, monstrous power trios. The curly-haired threesome plays hard-as-bricks, 1970s-invoking rock á lá Led Zeppelin, with riffs as huge as mountains and vocals that can collapse an oak tree. Surprisingly, though, the band started out doing delicate folk songs. It wasn’t until they began experimenting with their formula that they discovered their inner beasts, and that people responded to their throwback fury better than their retro fragility. Currently the biggest thing Down Under, Wolfmother is beginning the motions of stomping across the world, devouring the puny mortals unfortunate enough to find themselves in their path. Their foot touches down in Los Angeles twice this week, first at Spaceland in Silver Lake on Feb. 13, then the next night at Cinespace in Hollywood.


The Willowz If Patti Smith guitarist/garage rockologist Lenny Kaye puts together a “Grandchildren of Nuggets” compilation — that being the hypothetical third installment to his legendary collection of regional one-hit wonders — the Willowz would almost certainly find a place on it somewhere. Formed in decidedly un-grimy Anaheim in 2002, the young quartet nonetheless scrapes up quite a fuzz-covered racket, with a sound echoing their skuzzy forebears and adding a post-millennial suburban outlook to the proceedings. They managed to attract the attention of the brilliant music video director Michel Gondry, who commissioned the band to perform on the soundtrack to his feature film debut (his first movie was actually Human Nature, but we’ll just pretend that didn’t happen). Big things followed, including having their third album Talk In Circles named one of the top 100 best records of 2005, but the group has remained small — just as a good descendent of the Nuggets lineage should. The band begins a month-long Monday night residency at Spaceland on Feb. 6.








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