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Vusi Mahlasela

A warm and compelling singer-songwriter of the sort that occasionally drop like pearls from South Africa’s apartheid heritage, Mahlasela is a favorite of both Nadine Gordimer, who gave him a guitar, and Dave Matthews, who gave him a record deal. He sings about loss and hope in a cool, clear voice that swoops up and down the octaves.

Tue., Feb. 22, 8 p.m., 2011

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Dave Matthews Band

By this point you know what to expect from a Dave Matthews show: hits, misses, jammy numbers made jammier. Over a decade and a half into a superstar’s career, though, Matthews still believes that familiarity needn’t equate to boredom, his or yours. With Australia’s John Butler Trio.

Fri., Nov. 12, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 13, 8 p.m., 2010

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FUNK ‘N’ ROLL

Helming a residency in a bowling alley is a daunting task, unless you’re Homer Simpson, but Soulive are the musical equivalent of two-tone shoes: quirky, dramatic, and probably soon appropriated by Marc Jacobs and marked up 400 percent. The NY jazz-funk organ trio has recorded with Talib Kweli and Dave Matthews, shared a stage with the Rolling Stones and Stevie Wonder, and released more than a dozen studio and live albums; given that Alan Evans (drums), Neal Evans (Hammond B-3 organ), and Eric Krasno (guitar) formed the group a decade ago, when they were all under 25, their chops are even more remarkable. Yell out requests from debut Turn It Out (2000) as you gutter-ball toward glory; the hip-hop-inspired percussion was some of the decade’s best. Today’s the mere third date of their 10-day stint.

Thu., March 4, 9 p.m., 2010

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METHOD TO THE MADNESS

Remember Supernatural, Santana’s 1999 comeback that wasn’t technically a collaborations album but motored on guest spots from Cee-Lo, Lauryn Hill, Eagle Eye Cherry, Dave Matthews, Eric Clapton, and the deathly, repining ubiquity of Rob Thomas (“Smooth”)? Yeah, now you do . . . sorry. The Crystal Method coerced just as many friends into cameos for May’s Divided by Night, but to decidedly headier effect; it’s their most striking and rock-based electro since 2004’s game-changing Legion of Boom. Unlikely clubbers Emily Haines (Metric), Jason Lytle (Grandaddy), Matisyahu, and many more gave solid hooks to the album—who will show up tonight? You, if you want to bop to one of the best live dance acts on Earth.

Sat., May 9, 7 p.m., 2009

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Dave Matthews Band+the Roots

The countless college gigs they did in the late ’90s make the Roots natural openers for fitted-cap patron saints Dave Matthews Band. Hell, after co-signing Asher Roth and hanging with Jimmy Fallon, who knows if they’ll ever go back to playing for rap audiences again. Oh well, the more people that hear the fuming, apocalyptic material they were doing on Game Theory and Rising Down, the better. Dave Matthews will be warming up for a summer album that, I swear, is called Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King.

Tue., April 14, 7:30 p.m., 2009

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Lake City Flooded With Twangy Tropes and Torpidity

Troy Garity has a rangy, lonesome-stranger body and pouchy eyes. He can boot a cigarette butt to the curb like a champ and fill a frame with the handsome, so-what lure of damaged goods; in a better world, and a better movie, he’d have the ladies sighing, the gentlemen nodding, and all parties clamoring for more. Instead, Garity brings little more than moves to Billy, the troubled baby-daddy and narc-anon member he plays in Lake City; added to the general torpidity and twangy tropes of this Southern family drama is the discomfort of watching a natural actor force it. As Billy’s mother, Maggie, Sissy Spacek fares a little better, if only because she’s had more experience bravely telegraphing through even the roughest terrain. After a nasty run-in with a drug dealer (Dave Matthews), Billy seeks haven at his family’s Virginia homestead with Clayton (Colin Ford), a surly young boy of uncertain provenance, in tow. Mother and son have an uneasy bond that should be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a movie in which a child’s room has been preserved and locked tight. That bond is examined, tested, and finally renewed following a violent denouement that bleeds any lingering patience you might have for this film right through your eyeballs.

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Not Giants in Those Days

After turning down a lucrative opportunity to interview Dave Matthews, I found myself regularly awake at night pondering why anyone would like someone so extraordinarily boring. So I consulted esteemed colleagues who argued that much of Matthews’s appeal lies in his sidemen’s instrumental ability: The jam bands fill a void left by punk, teen pop, hip-hop, etc. for listeners who want to hear skilled musicians play . . . real music.

I countered that the average ’60s soul or ’70s disco session player could groove circles around those Phish guys, but conceded that those generations of studio cats haven’t been properly replenished. Realizing this forced me to face something even scarier: All the punk and rap and indie and electronica that saved our souls and democratized popular culture has also rendered the popular virtuoso nearly extinct.

Of course there’s that multi-instrumentalist Dungen dude who overdubs himself into early-’70s psych-prog-folk-rock perfection, but he’s referencing a time when conservatory-trained chops routinely filled stadiums, a feat his undeniable Swedish brilliance will never achieve. And I’m not forgetting Coheed & Cambria, Mars Volta, and Opeth, who bring the bombast but too often forget the tunes. Even Porcupine Tree, once the purest nonderivative prog act since Yes sold their souls to Trevor Horn, now favor metal over mettle. Despite the nu-prog hype, truly progressive rock is deader than disco ever was. Or so it seems. The quintessential chops-worshipping rock genre, classic prog remains the ultimate guilty pleasure, which of course makes it ripe for an under-the-radar comeback in this iPod-fueled era, when an unhip indulgence is just a secret playlist away.

Of all the prog behemoths punk beheaded, Gentle Giant fell with the quietest, most undeserved thud. Despite 1972’s Octopus crossing over to the Jethro Tull crowd, this deeply British cult band found themselves without an American record deal when Columbia vetoed their “uncommercial” fifth LP, 1973’s beloved import-only In a Glass House, during prog’s biggest year. Changing labels for 1974’s The Power and the Glory, which presaged both the Sex Pistols’ anti-royalty wrath and Gang of Four’s extreme angularity, the quintet mustered a brief plateau of modest popularity that’s particularly impressive when considering the medieval weirdness of 1975’s Free Hand and 1976’s Interview.

Their live double album Playing the Fool should’ve made them huge in ’77, but punk changed everything. Whereas Genesis scored their radio breakthrough that year by going soft, Gentle Giant bravely punked out: The Missing Piece mixed streamlined prog with hyper rock rave-ups a year before the Police started mainstreaming that formula into the stratosphere. Old fans vanished, new listeners didn’t materialize, and subsequent bombs, 1978’s halfhearted Giant for a Day and 1980’s bland Civilian, destroyed the band. Bassist Ray Shulman eventually produced the Sundays and the Sugarcubes, while singer Derek Shulman took an A&R job at Polygram, where he helped define the ’80s by signing Men Without Hats, Tears for Fears, Cinderella, and good grief, Bon Jovi. This year, his DRT label reissued all of his old band’s albums circa 1973–78. Everything up to and including the live set should make Dungen fans cream.

What set Gentle Giant apart from platinum proggies was their striking absence of ego. Lacking a Peter Gabriel, Roger Waters, or Rick Wakeman, they instead plied ferocious ensemble dexterity. With his introduction on Octopus, drummer John Weathers unveiled a jazz-funk tightness that invigorated fellow members to disciplined extremes. Their brief solos blister, but their impossibly interlocked intricacies burn even hotter. Even their lyrics avoid indulgences like introspection or romance. Instead, they elaborate cohering album-long concepts that define the band’s best discs not as musically illustrated literary works but as explorations of mood and physical energy. Lyrics matter less than the voices of Shulman, tense and typically enraged, and keyboardist Kerry Minnear, who illuminated the quieter tracks with a detached tenor that accentuated the surrounding symbiosis.

Nowhere is this interactivity more startling than on Giant on the Box, a just- released live DVD capturing the band at their mid-’70s peak. Whether they’re laying down funky xylophone jams or swapping guitars and keys for recorders, violins, cellos, and saxes, or singing madrigals in pitch-perfect five-part harmony, or simply, complicatedly rocking out, Gentle Giant interact with possessed precision, and their renaissance-faire-ready outfits and equally ridiculous hairdos add another level of
filigree-crazed fun. Their excess is exacting.

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Film

Because of Winn-Dixie is a dog with pedigree. The source is a Newbery-honored children’s novel by Kate DiCamillo, and the director is the not inestimable Wayne Wang, catering to the exact opposite demographic as in The Center of the World. New to Naomi, Florida, 10-year-old Opal (AnnaSophia Robb) goes shopping for mac and cheese and walks out with a stray Picardy shepherd; impulsively, she names him after the store. Together, girl and canine bring joy to Naomi’s lonely hunting hearts: Miss Franny the librarian (Eva Marie Saint), whose only company is her books; Gloria Dump (Cicely Tyson), a blind, African American hermit whom Opal enlightens by reading Gone With the Wind; Otis (yes, Dave Matthews), a musically inclined pet shop owner with a checkered past; and Opal’s preacher father (Jeff Daniels), abandoned by an alcoholic wife. Unlike in Smoke, Wang can’t reconcile the various threads—the story seems awkwardly positioned between coming-of-age realism and whimsical fantasy. It’s difficult to know how to even process a scene where Matthews serenades his pets, including a parrot, a monkey, several rabbits, and a small goat. The animals are no less bewildered than the viewer.

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Cozy Jersey Fluffstress Offers Affordable Solutions for Better Living

On the godforsaken shuttle bus back to Port Authority from the Ikea outlet in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a couple of weeks ago, the stressed-out United Nations employee behind me expressed a preference for the whitebread soul sounds of Jersey-bred Toby Lightman over those of Lightman’s young English peer Joss Stone, into whose recent Irving Plaza show she’d unsuccessfully lobbied an industry friend for passage. Other industry friends in positions to know seem to agree with the lady’s assessment: Nile Rodgers of Chic plays liquid-crystal electric guitar and local beatsmiths Ming & FS contribute perfunctory scratching to tunes on Little Things, Lightman’s debut. And, “bonus track” or no, I assume the surprisingly supple cover of Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” that closes the album comes with Blige’s (and Sean Combs’s) blessing.

You’ll side with Lightman yourself if you like your pointlessly acrobatic oversinging wrapped up in the cozy acoustic strums and mildly enthusiastic student-union percussion of Dave Matthews frat-pop fluff. So most of Little Things is perfectly disposable, but “Devils and Angels,” the CD’s single, is the keeper: sassily girl-powered talk-to-the-hand laid atop chintzy, snake-hipped Middle Eastern minor chords, during which the University of Wisconsin grad capably wonders about the miseducation of Blu Cantrell.


Toby Lightman plays the Canal Room October 29.

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Big Baby Jesus

IMAX conjures those 19th-century panorama shows so popular before cinema itself, creeping canvases whose “brutal and enormous magic” offered up wish-you-were-theres for the would-be worldly—with the Pyramids replaced by Everest expeditions, Napoleon become Michael Jordan, and the Passion hot-swapped herein for a rock show. If you’re looking for Maysles grace or some Last Waltzing, look away. What you get is a muscular corpus of VH-Wonders in performance, connected by an integument of testifying heads, the ongoing threat of a Dave Matthews/Al Green collabo, and incidental music by that most incidental of musicians, Moby. And of course the ineluctable fetishism of the rock doc—though in this postguitar era, the camera shoots its wad on extreme close-ups of little plastic sliders going up and down the mixing board. Sexy.

The drama comes from demographic schizophrenia. The roster skews heavily adultward with a dash of hippie: Santana, Sting, snore. But the discourse seems preteen dreamy: starry “my first show” interchats, and the few expletives digitally deleted. IMAXimalism seems designed to compete with the immersive appeal of PlayStation; moreover, only kids like Kid Rock hold the screen’s silver acreage.

Framed by vid-clip structure, it all seems an advertisement—ostensibly for a retrograde vision of the R.O.C.K. lifestyle, as if we didn’t already have Almost Famous. But something stranger’s afoot. You may wonder why Macy Gray is consigned to gospel ditty “I Can’t Wait to Meetchu”; or why Matthews and the Reverend Al’s “Take Me to the River” is rigged as the flick’s money shot. Dude, what part of “Christian allegory” don’t you understand? This explains the absence of cussing (and groupies and dope) from our “All Access” romp; makes sense of the concert-as-conversion-experience yang. Sure enough, after the river baptismal, we are born again into a brief afterlife (formerly known as an encore) in which, according to the press materials, not-so-crypto Christian Moby “appears as a common man touched by and in touch with another, altogether different world.” Which means he closes the enormous spectacle with an aimless piece of mood music, here subbing for heaven. Magic.