L.A.'s dark side

Midnight Movies bare the grit of the Sunset Strip

Just as many Angelenos surely paint San Francisco as a fog-ridden vortex crawling with hippies, a lot of folks here in the Bay Area remain convinced that Los Angeles means little more than sunshine, surfers, and superficiality. So who's right? Neither, to be fair. Take LA: insist that it's all shiny and sparkly, and you're skipping over the seedy and sordid bits of the city's history (also known as "the good stuff"). What about James Ellroy, Raymond Chandler, film noir? And what of the darkness and disillusionment of the Doors and Love? There's a whole other side to LA where the sun never shines, bless its murky little heart ...

Midnight Movies emerge from the creeping shadows of the City of Angels like a pack of Philip Marlowe acolytes, but here's the kicker: picture them setting up camp on the Sunset Strip, roosting among the rebels and the riots of its '60s to '70s heyday. Their sophomore release, Lion the Girl (New Line), is a quintessentially LA disc in the same sense that one of the band's main reference points, the Velvet Underground, will be forever identified with New York: both celebrate their hometowns' geography of grit with a language that's equal parts unsettling and alluring.

Many of the inevitable VU comparisons stem from vocalist Gena Olivier's brooding alto, which bears a striking resemblance to that of the Velvets' Teutonic ice maiden, Nico. Broadcast's Trish Keenan also comes to mind, but Olivier brings considerably larger doses of warmth and a broader vocal range to Midnight Movies' electropsychedelic garage racket, along with the slightest hint of a Gallic lilt that reimagines Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier as a postcomedown California Girl. And if we're going to throw one more touchstone into the mix, Midnight Movies share a spirit with Liverpool's Clinic — thanks to the organ squalls, primal rhythms, and bristling guitars of Ryan Wood, Sandra Vu, and Larry Schemel.

Truth be told, only two albums into their career, Midnight Movies sound like little else. Whether wafting ghostly sunrise lullabies on classic 4AD–worthy "Dawn," love-nesting away in a morning-after haze to murmurs of "You're all I want to know" on the glockenspiel-twinkled ballad "Ribbons," or launching into fuzz overload with convincing foreboding on "24 Hour Dream," Olivier and her fellow proponents of psychedelic garage noir arrive with a singularly bewitching vision of their LA. "We warp and swell and bend," she sings on "Souvenirs"; in listening to the spectral storytelling on Lion the Girl, I see what she means.


With Nico Vega and the Gray Kid

Sat/21, 9 p.m., $10


444 Jessie, SF

(415) 625-8880


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