A guest appearance by a '60s pop icon and a confrontation between a singer and a customer provided the jolts on Tuesday at the Troubadour, where 4AD Records opened a six-day showcase of its distinctive acts.
The London-based record label is stereotyped as a haven for moody, ethereal music, and, with a catalogue that includes such groups as the Cocteau Twins and His Name Is Alive, it has to plead somewhat guilty. But then you have such groups as Tuesday's headliner the Wolfgang Press to mess up the formula.
The English band is part Roxy Music and part Velvet Underground, transforming classic soul music into arch, ironic art-rock with an R&B; edge. Singer Michael Allen is firmly in the Bryan Ferry mold, but more the smug twit than the wounded romantic, and his low, rumbling croon lent the songs an ominous, reptilian tone.
It was catchy and creative, but it wasn't until the encore that the place went nuts. That's when Tom Jones came out to do two songs that the group wrote and produced for his upcoming album.
Why would this underground crowd embrace a veteran mainstream sex symbol so heartily? Maybe it was the sheer incongruity of the partnership. In any event, Jones sounded powerful and spirited on the Al Green-style soul number and the gritty rock song that closed the show.
Following the new group Air Miami, the second-billed Red House Painters crafted relentlessly autumnal pieces that built in intensity to the breaking point. The San Francisco group was as doggedly slow and moody as ever, but the playing seemed more dynamic than at its last headlining appearance here, and leader Mark Kozelek certainly livened things up.
At one point, he stomped off the stage in reaction to a technical problem, and toward the end he stopped the band in mid-song to berate a listener who had shouted something during a soft passage. Lesson of the day: You don't have to be a passive introvert to play introverted music.