March 1-8, 2006

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Photograph by Diev Hart
Dayz and Confuse: Matisyahu rocks the Civic during last week's Bob Marley tribute.

Mūz: Santa Cruz Music Notes

Are You Finnished?

By Bill Forman

If you never had the opportunity to see Nick Drake or Nico live, than the next best thing was catching Mi and l'Au's performance last Wednesday at the Attic. The Euro-couple (Mi's Finnish, l'Au's French) once put up a wandering Devendra Banhart on their couch, only to end up signing to the same label as him (see, that's karma for you). Shortly thereafter, they abandoned Paris for a cabin somewhere in the woods of Finland, where they wrote the songs featured on their recent self-titled debut for Swans frontman Michael Gira's Young Gods label.

Mi started off the set alone, looking for all the world like a brought-to-life Nick Drake straight off the cover of the Bryter Later album. The comparison follows through in the music, with many of his songs conveying a beautiful austerity that could make Drake's Pink Moon album sound ornate by comparison. After a few songs, l'Au wandered onstage. Her ex-model figure camouflaged by a thick sweater and long skirt (which nevertheless revealed finely turned ankles), she joined in with her own acoustic guitar as the two set out on their darkly quirky musical journey. While Mi is the more fluent guitarist, l'Au is the far superior vocalist. Pitched an octave or two above Nico, her voice is every bit as haunting as the German chanteuse's and as pure as Vashti Bunyan's, whose psychedelic folk must surely have influenced the duo. Throughout their set, the couple was the epitome of onstage introversion, preferring not to address or even look at their audience until absolutely necessary (i.e., the closing pitch for CDs on sale in the back). All of which might be mistaken for aloofness were it not for the curious warmth that lurks at the center of their resolutely sparse musical musings.

Israel Vibrations: OK, that's weird: Just as I'm getting ready to write about last week's Santa Cruz Dayz shows, what should come on BBC Radio 6 online (well worth checking out, by the way, for proof that government-sponsored radio can be far superior to its corporate counterpart, providing you have the right government) but the new studio version of Matisyahu's "King Without a Crown." Previously available on the Hassidic reggae singer's Epic debut, Live at Stubb's, the infectious "King ..." is reprised on the Bill Laswell-produced Youth album, which hits stores on March 7. Local reggae fans got a preview of several tracks last Thursday at the Civic as Matisyahu warmed up the stage for Gregory Isaacs (who was, of course, godlike). Anyway, while most of us aren't ready to sign on to the idea of Matisyahu as the Second Coming of Bob Marley, there's no question that White Plains, N.Y.'s gift to reggae is an impressive songwriter and excellent performer (a fine beatboxer as well, but these days, who isn't?). Yet, midway through his set, a nagging thought entered my mind that, for me, took some of the pleasure out of his performance. (Warning: the musically sensitive may want to skip the rest of this item.) And that thought was how, dancehall and beatbox departures notwithstanding, Matisyahu's music may have more in common with the music of The Police than of his Jamaican idols. The Second Coming of Sting? Please, Jah, say it ain't so. As for Michael Franti's set the following evening, I could go on for days. But, from the looks of it, all of you were there anyway.

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