From Russia with Love: Auktyon's avant-rock

The latest wave of introspective songsters (Feist, Kate Nash, etc.) sounds so very fastidious, all glaringly shiny-pleasant with studio sheen. So it's incredibly refreshing listening to the latest offering from Mia Doi Todd, Gea (on her own City Zen label). Primarily acoustic with lovely chamber music arrangements for guitar, harmonium, cello, oboe, and bass, Gea recalls the earliest works of Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, and John Martyn. Todd has a supple, resolute voice — she sounds like an adult woman, not a precocious little girl — with lyrics drawing parallels between emotional intimacy and aspects of nature. She writes songs about the human spirit, with its capacity for noble heights and desolate depths. Hear for yourself when Mia Doi Todd opens for Jose Gonzalez on Thursday, March 27, at the Fillmore at 8 p.m. Admission is $25.50; call 346-6000 or visit www.thefillmore.com for more info. — Mark Keresman

Even though Ray Davies' Working Man's Cafe opens with one of the rock legend's canniest topical tunes, his most recent album comes off as a bit of a disappointment following his proper solo debut, 2006's Other People's Lives. Over the four-bar blues shuffle of "Vietnam Cowboys," the former Kinks frontman bemoans globalization's accelerating pace, the song's flinty rock bite meshing nicely with his caustic wit. Unfortunately, the rest of Cafe lacks that spirit. Where Lives bristled with tight, well-written songs packed into dynamic arrangements, Cafe limps along. The keen laments from rock's original grumpy old man are musically inert, lacking hooks, heft, and memorable choruses. The CD is heavy on overproduced ballads and midtempo cuts, with actual rockers few and far between. With Cafe, come for the lyrics — don't stay for the music. Ray Davies performs on Friday, March 28, at the Warfield at 8 p.m. Admission is $39.50; call 567-2060 or visit www.livenation.com for more info. Chris Parker

What does Mikhail Gorbachev have in common with New York's improvisational elite? The answer is Auktyon, a Russian avant-rock band that, thanks to Gorby's transformative rule, hit a fresh nerve with Soviets during the glasnost era. On Auktyon's new album, Girls Sing, American luminaries like John Medeski and Marc Ribot add zippy keyboard and guitar leads to Auktyon's syncopated drum rat-a-tats, galloping bass, squealing reeds, and trademark honking tuba. A thick language barrier stands between us and the Russians, of course, but even if some lyrical meaning may be lost, the music's jazzy and elastic enough to sway opinions (and bodies) on its own. Experience an entirely different form of '90s nostalgia when Auktyon takes the Rickshaw Stop stage on Sunday, March 30, at 7:30 p.m. Admission is 835 rubles (that's, uh, $35); call 861-2011 or visit www.rickshawstop.com for more info. John Graham

In the first three minutes you spend listening to an Ellul song, you'll think: This track would have made Paul McCartney 10 million dollars in 1970, so why doesn't it sound derivative today? The group stays away from retro pretensions with a little Rufus Wainwright lilt and some Little Wings crooning. With songs mainly comprising the vocals and multi-instrumentalism of Joel St. Julien and Joel Brown Tarman, Ellul blends electro glitches and reverbed acoustic guitars into glossy folk-pop. Ellul opens for the Good Lake Proposal on Sunday, March 30, at the Make-Out Room at 8 p.m. Admission is $7; call 647-2888 or visit www.makeoutroom.com for more information. — Hiya Swanhuyser

 
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