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The Other Lode

Thrown in two large spaces–one located “under the tressell” [sic], the other “around the box”–joined solely by a single small doorway (remember Maxwell’s Demon?), Other Music’s densely packed Web-launch party at the Chelsea Arts Building last Saturday showed how entropy can be deferred, even celebrated, but never obliterated. Because any time the challenging and/or exhausting sounds in one room flagged, overamped, or turned downright ugly, hundreds of human molecules would attempt to pass through into the other chamber with no Demon in sight to separate them either by temperature or zip code.

Perfect moment one: Exiting the trestle space while Arto Lindsay’s band is laying down some truly block-rocking bossa nova, then circumnavigating the box (a four-sided chamber with projections playing across the outside and X dealers within) just as British sonic deconstructors Stock, Hausen & Walkman let their own bossa-nova vinyl decelerate to zero rpms. SH&W, whose name conflates the granddaddy of electronic music with a Britpop production committee (and whose latest record consists of “Good Vibrations” played at one rotation per minute), eviscerated the tyranny of the beat with an earsplitting, gut-twisting set of musique sufficiently concrète to inflict serious brain damage.

Autechre’s mission was to meet SH&W’s arrhythmic challenge and morph it into something vaguely danceable. Perfect moment two: Their set’s peak, which suggested that the secret history of rave music begins in the late ’50s with a confused bachelor’s simultaneous renditions of Babatunde Olatunji’s “Drums of Passion” and Perrey-Kingsley’s electronic masterpiece, “The In Sounds From Way Out!” Perfect moments three through whatever: Jim O’Rourke’s down-home feedback, simultaneous remixes of Autechre’s set, the realization that some people can and will dance to anything, Plaid’s oddly distorted yet strangely accessible ear candy, and DJ Wally efficiently depleting the show’s energy and emptying the room with deafening techno that suddenly sounded more than a little worn around the edges.–Richard Gehr


Tangled Web

Other Music’s Web site launch party somehow resembled an online session: too much information, too many links, and too much time spent downloading (that is, waiting to pass through the slim portal connecting the two rooms). However, overt references to the Web were mercifully absent. Instead, projected films, dank, rusty beams, and massive sound systems lent the event a murky, ravelike ambience.

Like the Web, the evening began with more chaos than order. Black-clad, face-painted Byzar erected a half-built wall
of rumble (world’s loudest mimes?). And the pained squeals emerging from Jim O’Rourke’s laptop early in his set weren’t intentional, judging from the frown on his face and the small mob with flashlights rummaging around behind him, frantically pulling wires. A woman approached O’Rourke, asking, “When is the next act on?” O’Rourke: “Now.” Woman: “Who is it?” O’Rourke: “Me.”

The confusion got sexier when Arto Lindsay and band swung into Brazilian funk-croon punctuated with DNA-damaged guitar slashes; totally out-of-place, it sounded great. Meanwhile, Stock, Hausen & Walkman orchestrated the shrieks of a billion dying lines of code, stabbing them with mangled samples; appropriately hyperreferential and digital-age, it sounded boring.

Finally, headliners Autechre took control, shaking random data down into intricate patterns of perfect meaning as they shook the room. Live, the British duo with the search-engine­optimized name run a masterfully constructed back-end database on a platform of sequencers and samplers, creating hard-bopping electrodisco that captures the rapture of New Order circa 1983 and beams a scrambled form to the present. But there’s a bug in the bass-bin: too much input force-fed through a narrow bottleneck of bandwidth makes the machine language hiccup, generating a lag that’s an Autechre trademark. Anticipating where the next slur will trip up the beat is a game both talented and terrible dancers can play. Do the robot to Autechre, find truth in inaccuracy: machines are only human, they make mistakes too!

Again, for a Web parallel, check out the ambitious, high-tech, and glitch-riddled othermusic.com site, still under construction.–Sally Jacob


Focal Points

When Joshua Redman wasn’t soloing last Thursday at Florence Gould Hall, he headed into the shadows and did some left-foot, right-foot moves reminiscent of Monk’s onstage prancing. Both spectator and cheerleader, the saxophonist observed his new band devising its own identity and rah-rahed its most exemplary fabrications. In the process he brought a bit of informality to a somewhat clinical venue. And perhaps more importantly, his mess-around served as a partial antidote to the self-consciousness that flecked the evening’s program.

Most of Redman’s work is limber. Much of it is spontaneous. His sixth Warner Bros. record, Timeless Tales (For Changing Times), is especially interactive, fraught with sensitive exchange and clever tunefulness. Several of these attributes were obvious on Thursday. There was ardor: “Dialog” generated a billowing cloud of collectivism that found Josh and crew–pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Reuben Rodgers, and drummer Greg Hutchinson–pursuing the ecstatic hosanna Albert Ayler discovered in “Ghosts.” And there was precision: Redman proved he was editor enough to sculpt his lines into testimonies that boasted both gossamer wings and boxing gloves. But the band’s probing was hindered by an italicized feeling of performance, making parts of the show seem a scripted recitation. Even the set’s mightiest moments leaned more toward “gee whiz” than “holy shit.”

This sterility may be the result of elaborately arranged material: Timeless Tales is a record that succeeds because of the way the band interprets well-drafted blueprints. Maybe it’s simply because a more eloquent ensemble (Brian Blade, Brad Mehldau, and Larry Grenadier) cut the disc. The studio take of Joni Mitchell’s “I Had a King” teems with minute maneuvers–a hunt ‘n’ peck fantasia with a quicksilver flow. On stage its preciousness filled the air, as if the tune was played by instrumentalists, not improvisers.

That said, their discipline accommodated loads of robust ploys. Redman opened “Summertime” with a solo pronunciation that had enough overtones and dissonance to fit right in at Tonic or the Alterknit. And Hutchinson was sage in taking Goldberg to the wrong side of the tracks during a feisty “Love for Sale.” With natural elocution and deep feel, Redman floats the thesis that jazz can be both esoteric and glib. On his fiercest nights he’s made it so. But this show felt like it was sponsored by Rand McNally–somehow focus became a foe.–Jim Macnie


International Style

Mondo-hip Japanese minisongstress Kahimi Karie crossed her legs and leaned over the back of a center stage stool Saturday night at the Fez. To her left, mentor Momus–the Anglo Serge Gainsbourg of the Casio clubpop set–plinked and plonked and flipped the start switch on their shared computer. To her right was French Momus associate Gilles Weinzaepflen on second keyboard and lead cheekbones, who set the tone of the evening with an opening act involving spoken French vocals over deliberately twee preprogrammed accompaniment and much fine posturing. Karie addressed the audience in broken but engaging English. Then Momus questioned and cajoled his star. She argued back with an impishness that suggested this pupil-professor bickering happens all the time, while Weinzaepflen flashed silent, knowing grins between kissy faces. Although Momus characterized the banter as a “Sonny and Cher in the 21st century kind of thing,” it was much more My Fair Lady.

Although she’s an icon of retro-futurist chic back home, with a hit commercial, several CDs (sampled by a recent Minty Fresh U.S. compilation), and years-old ties to Japanese maestro idol Cornelius, last week’s shows were her first performances ever, anywhere. Her voice high and breathy, Karie nevertheless radiates a sophisticate’s cool that complicates her squeaks. Whether singing in English or French, she’s removed from the language, estranged from the melancholy melodies by her childlike chirp even as she honors several cultures of oddball auteur songcraft. Referencing ’60s shutterbug swinger David Hamilton, at least one song by the Fall, and her own cuteness (“It’s so nice to be a beautiful girl,” goes one song), Karie is too perverse to be anyone’s puppet. “I am a kitten,” she peeped in tandem with a chorus of analogue synth meows. Who could argue?–Barry Walters


Floppy Boot Camp

The rule is that you can either just call them Caroliner, or you can say Caroliner Rainbow and then add a whole lot of words. So: Caroliner Rainbow Starlight Balance Consumers Waving Necessary Ankles dolled up the Knitting Factory’s stage in a delirious vision of playroom decor Sunday night, crisscrossed the place with enough black lights to give a bear sunburn, and tumbled themselves onto stage in bulbous head-to-toe costumes designed to make them look as nonhuman as possible. The San Francisco band’s front man, keyboard masher, and only constant member, Grux, for instance, had a getup involving some kind of hypertrophied bull-demon Beanie Baby as a codpiece–at one point, he used its limbs for a spontaneous midsong puppet show.

Caroliner is deeply indebted to Captain Beefheart’s revelation that as long as everybody knows what they’re doing, regular meter and tonality are just frippery, and the band seemed to be more or less in control of its crumpled, tubercular grooves. The fact that Grux was gurgling and whinnying through a thick papier-mâché mask meant that not a single word was comprehensible, though of course comprehensibility is far from the point. A band that operates on logic this obscure (questions of the what-the-hell? variety tend to get answered with double-talk about a 19th-century singing bull), and whose visuals are as important as its sound, can smack a bit of an MFA thesis. But Caroliner’s been at it for more than 10 years, and they’re serious about their ridiculousness. During the encore, as the band bumped like a square-wheeled car, Grux ceremoniously unfolded a tall, decorated box, stuck it over his mask, picked up two enormous, equally decorated donut-shaped cutouts, and slowly spun them around his wrists. The crowd cheered: it was clearly some kind of climactic ritual, and it didn’t matter that nobody knew what
it meant.–Douglas Wolk

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Hard Bop

Dwayne Burno had an awed look on his face for most of the second set Thursday night at the Vanguard. He was stationed right behind his boss, Roy Haynes, and the drummer’s every flam and fillip made the bassist wince: “Ooh, that shit’s nasty.” The 72-year-old percussionist is a stimulus monger, delivering his lines with a volcanic imposition even when ching-chinka-chinging in support of the youthful colleagues he keeps on retainer. At one point an extended cornet passage by his son Graham turned wobbly. Dad righted it with the flick of a wrist and the crash of a sock cymbal. Whenever Haynes hits his drums, certitude and declaration are in the air.

With its uproar usurped by ’60s new thing and ’70s loft lingo, bop’s status as an insurrectionist idiom is sometimes forgotten. That notion never leaves Haynes’s mind. Like his new Dreyfus disc, Praise, the Vanguard set united hard-swinging tempos and classic themes, indicating the main stream is where he does business. There were no rules broken or conventions upended; the quintet’s designs were club-gig commonplaces, rife with first-me, then-you soloing schemes. Theoretically tedious, right? But as saxist Ron Blake got sweaty with elaborate r&b motifs and pianist Dave Kikoski dedicated himself to an evening of vehement romping, the group signified authority and distinction an other way: by playing the hell out of every tune.

On “Inner Trust” the leader shouldered all the flailing action of his crew while simultaneously issuing them warnings and challenges. There’s a diabolical choppiness to his expert sense of time, and his mallets and brushes continually stirred the pot, even during a piece refined enough to accommodate Ornette and minuet. Haynes has made a career of virtuosic impudence, pushing Bird into fleet offensives in the early ’50s, and driving Trane toward unholy rapture a decade later. Here his provocations were virtually quantifiable: every caustic splash and gleeful thud caused his assistants to dig in a bit deeper.

With guys like Tony Williams and Art Taylor gone, jazz drumming is at a loss for a flamboyance that attracts rather than repels. With charm and humor, Haynes plants the flag of sophisticated aggression in the ground of every hill he climbs.—Jim Macnie



A Run for Your Money


There were a lot of superstars in the house Sunday night at Tramp’s, but it was Run’s house. Don’t get me wrong, before the “old” guys restored our faith, we got plenty of ’90s hip-hop: “Hey, sound man” whining, mysterious equipment fuck-ups, interminable waiting, and unadvertised “bonus” opening act Sunny Black. Elusive producing genius Large Professor put in a good 20 minutes with his crisp rhymes and oblique funk, but his show was all too new-school: Why did he complain we couldn’t hear him? We could. Why did he bitch that “The Mad Scientist” was “supposed to” come out on Geffen when it did, two years ago? We forgot these questions when he closed with Main Source mainstays “Fakin’ the Funk” and “Looking at the Front Door.”

At midnight, out of the blackness came the blackness—Jam Master Jay in trademark black fedora, black T-shirt, and black leather suit, hyping us up, making us beg for our heroes. Showbiz was in the house and not a moment too soon. DMC is leaner and meaner, Run’s got a few extra pounds, but, oh my, what a difference a mission makes. BOOM! “King of Rock”! BLAOW! “Rockbox”! VREET! The greatest hip-hop act ever? Hey, Chuck D and I think so. In 1983, they brought hard beats, empty space, and yelling to rap music, fast-forwarding the genre into a five-year burst of creativity sustained by the realization that you can rap about any subject over any sound. And it gets deeper the harder you lean on their songbook—no bitch rhymes, no gun talk, an early turntablist, and the rock-in-my-rap Reese’s that’s never been bettered.

Run ran the show, doing a light-speed a cappella that brought the crowd to its toes (we were standing already), name-checking “Krush Groove,” and making sure we knew the turntables were “turned on.” His m.o. was more Motown than Rawkus, leading us swiftly from “Sucker MCs” into a freestyle over “The 900 Number” and then into “Here We Go” and “Beats to the Rhyme” in under 10 minutes. More than half the songs ended on the downbeat with a unison stab and the lights going dead, some thing that takes, um, a few rehearsals. (NOTE TO HIP-HOP PERFORMERS—LOOK UP “REHEARSE”.) DMC didn’t shout, oddly, or even rap audibly, but when he took his shirt off, it was obvious he hasn’t been eating donuts since “Down With the King” dropped in 1993. (Run said a new album is coming out next year on Arista—”We aren’t on Profile any more. We went from the pit to the penthouse.”) And DMC looked awful cool standing there in his Cazals, arms folded. Pure Las Vegas hokum? Nostalgia? Crystal Ship? Maybe, but it felt more like a challenge to current hip-hop to stand up, make its name, and claim a voice that doesn’t depend on envy, fear, or titillation for its volume.—Sasha Frere-Jones

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Ware It’s At


David S. Ware got signed to Columbia earlier this year. All it took was two decades of high-energy, high-quality free jazz, and 14 years behind the wheel of an NYC cab. You thought rockers had it tough.

On Sunday, the tenorman—towering, impassive, dressed in a blue wizard’s robe—stepped into as much limelight as an avant-gardist can expect: a packed house at Fez. His all-star support—Matthew Shipp on piano, William Parker on bass, Susie Ibarra on drums—set up a hypnotic, gently swinging vamp. Ware grooved with them, extended into swooping melody, which he fragmented into a series of furious runs, before blowing it all up into one massive, unwavering scream. One by one his band dropped away from the groove. Ibarra went first, hammering the beat out of shape; then Parker and Shipp grew busier and more abstract. Ware sat down, and the three of them pounded and whispered together for 20 more minutes.

For the rest of the night, the band pushed in every direction (including, at times, nowhere). Ibarra clanked gongs, played her brushes against the air, and engaged Parker in brisk rhythmic chatter; Shipp spread chaos and receded to find lyricism. It was jazz that swallowed all aesthetic distinctions. The quartet’s new album, Go See the World, does the same. Bluesy and experimental, it shatters the classic Coltrane sound into new possibilities.

Can this penetrate Uptown, or the mainstream? Unlikely, but there’s something here for everyone. Ware goes for extreme sounds, but he also reaches for beauty. On Sunday he led the band through “The Way We Were.” He shredded it, turned it in side-out, then came back to give Hamlisch’s poor little melody a blast of soul. If he can do that, he can cross any boundary.—Steve Tignor



Clowning Achievement

Those of us who love Chris Knox have learned that we have to put up with certain idiosyncrasies—like the fact that he doesn’t know how most of his own songs go. Sunday night at Tonic, the New Zealand pop godfather had lyric and chord sheets for every number, which didn’t prevent him from blowing a chord every minute or two, stopping, cursing, cracking some jokes, groping for the right notes, and picking up at whatever peak he’d left off.

As a solo artist (much more than with his long-running duo Tall Dwarfs), Knox is obsessed with pulverizing the mystique of performance. This is why he starts every show by changing into his shorts on stage, why he ceremoniously announces his drum-machine settings, and why his audiences need to watch out for bodily fluids. A new arrangement of “Voyeur” became an excuse for Knox to molest everyone within his headset mike’s radius; one unlucky bald gentleman got his head licked.

Most of all, he scribbles all over his own work’s polished surfaces. Aside from a couple of death-obsessed new ones that he played straight, song after song flew off track so that Knox could riff about opening for Jonathan Richman, mock his own lyrics and arrangements (“Imagine bag pipes!” he cried), or make up a new American national anthem (“The U.S.A./Is a really really really really really really really good country”). His greatest hit, the immaculate love song “Not Given Lightly,” derailed right before its climax into a speech about its discographical history, then a gleeful self-parody about how much money it’s made him, and finally a long, improvised jingle about Tonic’s need for a liquor license. Knox is a born entertainer, and it’s not like his clowning isn’t a treat. But his songs deserve more of his respect.—Douglas Wolk



Let’s Get Serialist


Dear Beck:


In this document, “Searching High and Low: Long-Term Marketing of the Telephone Plastic,” commissioned by you, DGC Records, and Viacom, the Consulting Group likens your arc to that of David Byrne, who led the group Talking Heads, and now performs as a solo artist. In this Appendix, please find the conclusions of a Committee dispatched to Mr. Byrne’s recent show at the Knitting Factory, to anticipate the hidden landmines as you grow your brand.

Mr. Byrne performed with the Balanescu Quartet, a serialist string group from Romania, and three musicians (bass, singer, programmer) of indistinct ethnicity. The singer was resplendent in divergence, revisiting and revising nearly every phase of his career in only a dozen songs.

To recap, Mr. Byrne began his arc with high-art castings of low-art elements, including covers of “1, 2, 3, Red Light,” an appreciation of K.C. and the Sunshine Band, and an enforced association with Jon Bon Jovi’s cousin. After his acclaim on the cover of Time magazine, the low elements waned. His current set thrived when the low elements were most apparent: less in his covers of Cesaria Evora and Karftwerk, and more in a version of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” which clashed teenage desires with the Quartet’s harsh, staccato melody lines, and in a reprisal of “Memories Can’t Wait,” which the Committee agrees describes a bad experience with LSD.

[


Sneaky calls at the back of the room for Mr. Byrne’s early, impactful songs suggest that you can anticipate a lifetime of requests for “Loser.” As Mr. Byrne introduced a song he wrote with the Brazilian art singer Caetano Veloso, a fan shouted, “David Fuckin’ Byrne”—we again commend the Client for choosing to market under a mononym.

In conclusion, the Group recommends that the Client maintain a high/low ratio not lower than 30:70 and not higher than 55:45, and recommends against returning Time magazine’s calls.

    On behalf of the Committee,
    Rob Tannenbaum

 

P.S. Mr. Byrne wore a collared, four-button turquoise suit in a retro-thrift style. The Group will forward the designer’s name and media contact within three business days.

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Your Right To Party

“Okay folks, I’ve had a couple of suggestions for how to deal with this. Maybe we could take a vote?” a flustered Captain John Codiglia of the Manhattan South Task Force announced over a bullhorn last Sunday, hoping to cajole the 400 or so boisterous ravers and activists who jammed traffic at Broadway and Astor Place for two hours during the city’s first-ever “Reclaim the Streets” party. “Fuck that! Giuliani sucks!” shot back a kid in neon fake-fur and multiple piercings, who was dancing to throbbing Goa trance blaring from a generator-powered sound system.

Patterned after the Reclaim the Streets dance parties in Europe–one of which drew 20,000 to Trafalgar Square last May–Sunday’s loosely organized protest against Herr Giuliani’s “Quality of Life” crusade began at 2 p.m., when about 150 people assembled at the Astor Place cube. Before the cops could radio for help, protesters blocked off Broadway and set up a 22-foot, Earth First!­style tripod of aluminum poles, which a 25-year-old New School student named Louis Colombo nimbly scaled.

Horns blared as performance artists and fire breathers danced through the bewildered throngs of Sunday-afternoon shoppers, hundreds of whom joined in. The scene was dominated by young, mostly white students and ravers. Many brought boomboxes to pump up the mix, which was broadcast over 88.7 FM via a mobile transmitter set up in a van, far from the prying eyes of police.

Scores of police vans, paddy wagons, motorcycles, tow trucks, a cherry picker, a half-dozen mounted police, and the now obligatory helicopter were called in to quell the crowd. But despite the heavy mobilization, no one could figure out how to clear the streets without toppling the tripod. Eventually, Colombo slid down one of the poles and was arrested for disorderly conduct, along with 12 others. Many in the crowd seemed only vaguely aware of the protest’s freeform agenda–which included everything from the privatization of public spaces and the bulldozing of community gardens to the crackdown on sex clubs and barroom dancing. “We want to show them that we own the streets just as much as the real estate people and the cops,” said 18-year-old Makis, who was doling out vegan soup. Moments later, his shopping cart was seized by police.–Sarah Ferguson


Chemistry Set

Guillermo Klein meandered from his electric piano during a particularly delicate piece last Tuesday at the C Note–seems the level of lilt was off and he wanted to give the guys in his Los Gauchos big band a bit of extra direction. With cigarette in mouth–his tobacco smoke is ubiquitous enough to seem integral to the group’s chemistry–the balding 29-year-old fluttered his left arm in a move that was half conduction, half ballet. Signifying fluidity, he was a demanding boss: the syncopation prescribed by his chart was elaborate.

Klein’s music is defined by such dichotomies, and its glories depend on how resourcefully the contradictions duke it out. Los Gauchos isn’t a soloist’s domain. Saxist Tony Malaby rocketed toward Pluto during one tune, but Klein’s 10-member team is more attuned to voicings than vamps. The Buenos Aires native began composing at 11, and his melody-strewn, omnitempoed orchestrations declare it doesn’t all have to stem from Thad, Mel, and Gil. The pianist tells interviewers he wants to get close to blues, but the music avoids idiomatic designs. There are, what, 12 or 13 big bands doing business in town these days? Klein’s doesn’t sound like any of ’em.

Feral and fractious, Los Gauchos has the energy of garage rockers. Four percussionists rattled out rhythms, and, bumping up against a couple pieces of brass and a front line of saxes, the polyphony was addictive. Big bands turn into science experiments when their machinations are in high relief, but here the bonding was nuanced–especially when the ensemble coordinated itself to weave through a spooky ballad whose inner dirge was expressed by the leader’s craggy, Tom Zé­esque vocal. Perhaps more than anything else all night, it clarified Klein’s commitment to forging an experimentalist’s identity. ” ‘Take the A Train’!” some rube bellowed as I was walking out the door. ” ‘A Train’?” grinned the pianist. “Ha, ha . . . I don’t think so.”–Jim Macnie


Whirl Music

Introducing the Turkish whirling dervishes and musicians of the Mevlana Culture and Art Foundation at City Center last Friday, Shaikh Kabir Helminski seemed intent on sucking all the fun out of watching sufis spin gracefully counterclockwise for what eventually felt like a really long time. “We are not performers and this is not a performance,” declared the foundation’s American representative, without so much as a nod to René Magritte. He went on to note that rather than entering a groovy trance state, the dervishes were actually performing the “service” of conveying God’s spiritual juice to the audience.

With venue, staging, structure, and ticket price all belying Helminski’s declaration, the unvaryingly sober and low-key show got under way with a recitation of verses by Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, the mystical 13th-century poet whose increasingly fashionable stanzas of love-ecstasy leave me, I must confess, cold. (How fashionable? Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s upcoming “digital opera,” Monsters of Grace,takes Rumi’s verses as its libretto.) “You are like water and we are like millstones,” went one verse God-groveling enough to make me reach for my Nietzsche. The medley of Turkish pieces performed by the 13-piece Mevlevi Ensemble was charm itself, however, and concluded with the arrival onstage of three women “turners,” apparently a first.

The second half of the evening was devoted to the Sema ritual, credited to Rumi. The seven-part ceremony began and ended with a stirring Koranic recitation delivered in a haunting nasal baritone voice by blind Kani Karaca. The accompanying music–endlessly ornamented arrangements of Turkish flutes, lutes, zithers, drums, and voices–included unusual nine- and 13-bar rhythmic patterns that provided more flow than beat. Seven Turkish dervishes in wide, white skirts and camel’s-hair hats bowed to the two onstage shaikhs, slowly raised their arms over their heads, turned their right palm toward heaven and their left toward the earth, and spun on and on and on. When the Sema was over, much of the audience practically ran for the exits.–Richard Gehr


Strum Warning

Six of the world’s best ukulele players came together last Thursday at Symphony Space to honor the wooden box with nylon strings and its contribution to 20th-century Americana. Unfortunately, the happy little instrument the Ukulele Masters came to celebrate was overshadowed for most of the night by a forced professionalism. The beauty of the uke is in its distinct, familiar, “plinka plinka plinka” sound. The artists, however, in trying to justify the instrument when no justification was necessary, took the highbrow road. Lyle Ritz and Buron Yasui played plenty of Rogers and Hart–complete with bass solos–but not once did they (or anyone else) offer up “Little Grass Shack.” Instead, renowned slack key guitarist Led Kaapana offered up a humorless “Killing Me Softly,” while host Jim Beloff played “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” with as straight a face as possible (and, trust me, Jonathan Richman he’s not).

The second set featured a few Hawaiian tunes by Kaapana (whose excellent voice suggested Neil Sedaka with rocks in his throat), and his coupling with Bob Brozman, ex­Cheap Suit Serenader, made for sweet picking; sadly, the two took turns on ukulele, never actually dueting. When Brozman held up his guitar and said, “Just think of it as a big uke with strings,” it was a bit of a cheat.

Rhino’s new release Legends of the Ukulele is smart enough not to take itself too seriously. You get Tiny Tim playing “Tiptoe,” natch, and some amazing performances (check out Roy Smeck wailing on “Uke Said It”). The record benefits from a healthy goofiness that was sorely missing most of Thursday night. When five of the Masters capped the show by strumming away on “Aloha Oe,” accompanied by a saw player, it was the sweetest moment of the evening–a peak that could have been reached much earlier with a lot more plinka plinka plinka.–Frank Ruscitti


Myth Mash

It’s a sign of the moment that the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion have made an album that’s heavily dependent on studio electronics, and a sign of rock’s resilience that they’ve translated it back into chip-free raucousness. At the Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night, their set peeled away the song forms of the new stuff like a leather jacket, making way for the band’s usual vamp-to-vamp surge: Spencer frenching the mic, Judah Bauer scratching his guitar like his baby’s back, Russell Simins aiming his bass drum straight between everyone’s hips.

Simins is a breakbeat hero, a philosopher king of the snare and kick, a groove drummer so wily you could read the Starr Report over his beats and he’d draw its secret rhythms out. (“Calvin,” a crumbly sample collage on record, hangs together live thanks to his Velcro backbeat.) He’s got the dinkiest, dryest-sounding kit around, and he whacks the bejesus out of it, stuttering like a tape splice or opening fire like a needlegun. When Simins set up the rolling and tumbling pattern of “Greyhound,” Spencer-as-star deferred to Spencer-as-emcee and backed out of the way.

Spencer’s stage persona, down to the Deep South accent that’s as ludicrous as Mick Jagger’s or John Fogerty’s, comes from the swaggering self-invention of early rock and electric blues, but the big lesson he’s learned from his heroes is to dispense with irony altogether. You can blow up your myth-bubble as big as you want as long as you don’t try to break its surface, but you cannot get away with yelling, “I wanna make it all right!” five times in a row by way of introducing a song to a crowd of NYC hipsters unless that is what you mean. And he does. “I feel so GOODA BOUTA PIECE A’ TRASH!” he blurted halfway through the finale with absolute conviction, just as Simins was raising his stick to crash back in, and he went on to shout all the song titles on the not-yet-released Acme as if they were hits already. They might as well have been.–Douglas Wolk

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Boombox Babies

I was No. 11. Before I could decide if participating in a show I was to review was or wasn’t ethically dubious, I was propelled by a crowd current onto the stage at Wetlands, where the Flaming Lips were conducting their 19th ”Boombox Experiment” on Sunday night. A woman shoved a Ziploc bag full of tapes in my face as lead Lip Wayne Coyne encouraged each of my fellow 39 volunteers to ”be a trooper,” by which he meant would we please suppress our need to pee? A quick test assured that our boomboxes were sorta in synch, though the Lips really wanted us because we would eventually fuck up the most simple of tasks.


Coyne was a sick parody of a conductor, barking out pre-song countdowns with a bug-eyed enthusiasm (half Richard Simmons, half B.A. Baracus). The opener, ”The Big Ol’ Bug Is the New Baby Now” (an altered version of a track from Zaireeka, the Lips’ mind-boggling ’97 release, which consisted of four CDs designed to be played simultaneously), sounded like an angelic choir heralding a volcanic eruption. Things got exponentially more outlandish: ”A Winter’s Day Car Accident Melody” turned police sirens into anthemic soundbursts; ”Realizing the Speed of Life” made our boomboxes bawl like neglected babies; ”Altruism” slowed down Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm from When Harry Met Sally to a nightmarish pant and then built it back up over thrusts of dissonance, ending the show with our boomboxes literally coming in our laps.


The experiment took lo-fi to its ultimate extreme–the ”performers” needed no musical talent–while expanding Pet Sounds–inspired orchestral pop into giddy new territory. But what impressed the most wasn’t how the Lips made their cumbersome sonic architecture awesome or even how they turned dweeby experimentalism into pop we could get off on. It was how they unwittingly summoned the spirit of Radio Raheem, patron saint of the boombox. The massive sound anchored the night’s unwieldy theme (can we overcome the oppressiveness of technology with communal ritual?), crafting a silly yet moving response to this big premillennial mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.–Josh Westlund



Can Do


A vaguely ”Can Festival” is planned for next year in Berlin, but the shows at the Cooler last weekend may be the closest we get to seeing the band here. The latest version of Can singer-shaman Damo Suzuki’s band, now with Can guitarist Michael Karoli, rolled into town for a seven-date North American tour–the first time either had played here. With Can, Damo’s screams, sighs, and battery-acid gargles added an edge to their music that was never matched. Back then, he didn’t much know about or care for German rock music, and now he’s similarly uninterested in the genres–punk, postrock, Japanoise, and techno–that subsequently lapped up the Can-on. Still, whether he’d care to admit it or not, Damo remains something of an avant-icon, with plenty to live up to.


But c’mon…two guys hitting 50 with some youngsters in tow trying to recapture that ol’ Krautrock magic? Actually the only pisser of the evening was the way they confounded the young, clean-cut crowd by playing three one-hour sets (the way it’s done in Europe, apparently). All the songs were long, untitled improvs (the only recognizable elements were snatches of ”Mother Sky”). The group weaved through styles, from gut bucket to psychedelic wailing to funk, like the Dead with bad karma or Can in their prime. No choruses or verses–just peaks and valleys of loud, noisy, loose rock. Their wild swing and spidery guitar lines sounded almost like Beefheart, brought home when Gary Lucas did Hoovermatic impressions with them for the second set. It’s no big surprise that they record their shows for possible release, since these loony workouts are impossible to re-create in a studio.


Decked out in Day-Glo pants, Damo clutched the mike with his eyes closed, long black hair waving over his face. He gibbered, chanted, yelled such inspirational rants as ”Eye stese O!” Karoli sat quietly in the back at first but was soon bouncing around, playing violin, and later joining the audience for some ass-shaking. Damo thanked the 15 or so people remaining at 4 a.m. after the last set by hugging each and every one of us. It wasn’t Can but it wasn’t supposed to be. Once you got over that and got caught up in the free-form madness, there was no need for narcotics. This was cheaper and probably did as much damage to your mind.–Jason Gross



Sour Apple Grey


The source of Bob Mould’s problems, it turns out, is the Village Voice, and specifically the Pazz & Jop poll. ”Two of the records I made with Husker Du ended up in the top five in one year,” he explains on the interview disc that comes with his cranky new album, The Last Dog and Pony Show, ”and all of a sudden I felt like I had an obligation to be like the best artist in the world, and I always had to live up to everybody’s expectations.”


This is the Pete Townshend Disease: deciding that acclaim and intelligence condemn you to high seriousness. At the Irving Plaza stop of his farewell electric tour last Friday night, Mould played like rock was his responsibility: vigorous, powerful, professional, almost joyless. The full-band format is stifling his songs, it’s true. He looks great bounding around the stage and soaking his T-shirt with sweat, and oh, how that bristling guitar tone will be missed, but he sings everything in the same nasal roar to make himself heard over it, and the stiff-legged Dog and Pony Band (including former Tommy–Hedwig and the Angry Inch lead Michael Cerveris) doesn’t do the material any favors. Besides, Mould has made it very clear that he’s sick of alt-rock and sick of playing the music-biz game, and the great big banner across the stage advertising his Web site suggests that maybe he wants out of the familiar distribution paradigms, too.


The only reasonable explanation for why he’s hauling his ass out on the road this way is that sense of obligation to his audience. So why is he avoiding the (superior, beloved) Huskers and Sugar catalogues, meaning that the only nostalgic sing-along was 1989’s ”See a Little Light”? Maybe it’s that he’s trying not to be Pete Townshend–trying not to wring out his old glories until they tear–but if this tour really is for old times’ sake, he could at least trot out the appropriate dogs and ponies. The grim self-importance of what’s left in his repertoire is a bad sign. Being motivated by the significance of his career is, in its way, as undignified as clinging to his past would be.–Douglas Wolk



Rave Reminder


Saturday at the Bowery Ballroom, a loved-up-to-the-gills crowd greeted Balearic godhead Paul Oakenfold as if the hedonistic 1988 Summer of Love had never ended. Oakenfold’s epic, nearly four-hour set, all thudding 4/4 beats, vamping piano stabs, wailing divas, dizzying drum rolls, and slick ambient glazes, was transportingly cheesy, without ever relying on nostalgia for effect.


The shockingly young-looking Oakenfold (better living through chemistry, indeed), who wears his headphones like gladiatorial headgear, provided one rapturous moment after another, including a housed-up remix of Blur’s ”Song 2,” which had the crowd whooping along to its ”Whee-hoo!” refrain. Revelers pogoed, group-hugged, drew unknowable patterns in the air with their hands, even wept. As the set reached its shuddering peak, one party-goer hoisted a Union Jack behind Oakenfold’s turntables in an apparent burst of drug-induced patriotism (God save the E!). Isn’t rave supposed to melt away nasty stuff like nationalism? Still, in the end, this strange, contradictory gesture was irrelevant: Oakie’s beats are too universal to fly under one flag.–Ethan Brown

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Border Crossings

Preserving its central element of willing torture, Stereo Total have turned karaoke into an art form. At the Bowery Ballroom last Wednesday, singer Françoise Cactus had the stiff demeanor of a woman whose boyfriend had just pushed her on stage and enjoined her to sing. But instead of launching into karaoke classics like “Wind Beneath My Wings,” Cactus, backed by German keyboardist/guitarist Brezel Göring and Austrian bassist Maria Zastrow, battled her way through a set list that read like a particularly well-stocked East Village jukebox: KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight,” Salt ‘n’ Pepa’s “Push It,” Sylvie Vartan’s “Dilindam” and “Comme un garçon,” and Serge Gainsbourg’s “Couleur Café.”

While Cactus’s body language screamed “Get me out of here!,” her sly smiles let on that she was enjoying herself after all; it made all the difference between mortifying embarrassment and tongue-in-cheek entertainment. (You wouldn’t guess it from her awkward stage presence but the singer spent several years in Les Lolitas, a French garage-rock band.) Göring, rock’s answer to the feisty uncle who always leads the conga line at weddings, extorted basic New Wave synth lines from his battered keyboard (propped on two chairs), while Zastrow pranced around striking Elvis poses behind her aviator glasses.

Singing in at least five languages, a number of which they didn’t seem to entirely comprehend, the Berlin-based trio gave their material the pared-down Casio-pop treatment that the Flying Lizards used on Leiber and Stoller’s “Money” almost 20 years ago. But whereas Lizards leader David Cunningham was a composer and producer with avant-tendencies who coolly deconstructed familiar hits, Stereo Total trod the thin line between knowing haplessness and poker-faced pomo tribute. Typically, their own songs sounded like the too-cool-for-school jokes of gifted forgers (“Supergirl,” for instance, is a dead-on pastiche of Gainsbourg’s “Ford Mustang”). In Stereo Total’s endless gallery of mirrors, nothing is “original” anymore, and nobody understands what the hell it is they are singing. Truly, pop no longer knows any borders. —Elisabeth Vincentelli


Cool Compulsion

History is caught in all our throats, and aphorisms can leak into the most unconventional jazz solos. But as trumpeter Dave Ballou led his trio through an evening of originals at the Internet Café last Thursday, he dodged cliché after cliché. Phrases that had the capacity to erupt took a graceful bow instead. Skeletal figures inverted themselves to show brilliant plumage. Almost every decision led the music away from the okey-doke.

The 35-year-old Ballou has been working around town for a couple of years, padding intermittent jobs with at-home teaching gigs. Interests and talents have lately nudged him into collaborations with fertile thinkers such as Marty Ehrlich and Maria Schneider, who are likely taken with his blend of ingenuity and craft. Effectively connecting the dots between Blue Mitchell and Bill Dixon (okay, maybe Woody Shaw and Kenny Wheeler), the trumpeter knows that derring-do is never fully served by mere squawkery. On his new Amongst Ourselves (Steeplechase), a keen sense of analysis accompanies the most aggressive moments. Call it cool-headed compulsion.

Trios can ill afford ball droppers: bassist Mark Helias and drummer Jeff Williams were crucial to the show’s success. Helias has a knack for turning a charcoal sketch into an oil painting, a valued skill for Ballou’s sometimes pointillistic canvases. The warmth of his sagely plunked Morse code balanced the evening’s icier moments (a few of the trumpeter’s more technical moves still carry the rigors of classroom life), and like Williams’s tempo turnabouts, they helped cast the leader as a punctuation fiend. The trumpeter’s sprawling lines often contained a parenthetical afterthought or two, and semicolons often jolted the rhythmic flow. Combined with his horn’s timbral variety–medieval flourish, muted blat, and at one point an auburn sigh reflective enough to make you think a botanical garden had blossomed on East 3rd–they implied Ballou’s at the spot Dave Douglas found himself a few years ago: ready to put a lot of technique and a load of ideas into play. He strikes a blow for singularity without treating the familiar as an enemy. —Jim Macnie


Equality Control

That Asian Dub Foundation even have a revolutionary message to accompany their music is significant in this time of trendy, manufactured anger; that they’re being heard is basically a bonus. The East London quintet’s aggressive songs of political injustice are propelled by raw jungle beats and double-time dub bass lines. Unlike their comparatively subdued first album Rafi’s Revenge (due out in November on Slash/London), the band’s New York live debut was packed with tension and electricity.

Dr. Das, ADF’s bassist and founder, introduced the opening song, “Naxalite,” about a late-’60s peasant uprising in West Bengal, as “what the Union Jack sounds like” (a jab at British imperialism?), and from there the energy level soared. Guitarist Chandrasonic, his instrument tuned and effected to sound like an electric sitar, played a classical-sounding Indian melody over programmer Sun-J’s crushing beats and DJ Pandit G’s scratched-in snippets and textures. The best ADF songs serve as a musical metaphor for the group’s relentless melting-pot philosophy. The jungle segments of “Black White,” which Chandrasonic described as “the battle for the memory war,” were linked by dub bridges, while Master D slipped in and out of a dancehall-inflected raga ragga. Sun-J came out from behind his sampler bank to dance, à la Bez from Happy Mondays, to “Taadeem,” the band’s transcendent remix of and tribute to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (from last year’s Star Rise compilation). Twenty-year-old MC Master D bounced about menacingly like a young Ad-Rock, yelling “We will rise again,” sending the crowd into a frenzy. With no U.S. releases to date, it was a testament to Asian Dub Foundation’s punk-rock spirit that normally hipper-than-thou New Yorkers were getting down at the drop of a beat. —Eric Demby


History Repeating

If Mary Cleere Haran didn’t sing so well with that pure and reedy voice of hers, she’d make a solid living as a stand-up comic. Her patter is so amusing it takes a while to realize that as she’s chatting, she’s also bucking cabaret trends by not interspersing her songs exclusively with autobiographical information. Instead, she gives funny and barely detectable lectures.

In her fall-semester stop at the Algonquin’s Oak Room (through October 10), she’s expatiating on Ira Gershwin and younger brother George, who would have been 100 this Saturday. Not that the program, “The Memory of All That,” is abstruse graduate-course material. Haran limits it to Gershwin 101, noting in her description of the remarkable George that he was “so swarthy his five o’clock shadow was four o’clock shadow.” She explains, as she puts down the mike and sings “The Man I Love” atop a piano, that the song had been cut from three musicals before Helen Morgan popularized it, atop a piano. Moving the mike stand aside for “I’d Rather Charleston” (which she dances), she offers a few paragraphs on Adele Astaire, who introduced the song and who, Haran reminds the audience, was as delectable a Gershwin interpreter as brother Fred. Haran gives a rundown of the musicians in the Girl Crazy orchestra pit–Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Glenn Miller, and Jimmy Dorsey, among them–before swinging into Ethel Merman’s “victim-y” number, “Boy! What Love Has Done to Me!” (What Haran could do but doesn’t is analyze why, as a generally reflective man, lyricist Ira so often espoused the “Who Cares?” attitude.)

Haran doesn’t confine instruction to her comments, but works it into the music as well, wisely relying on her accompanist and collaborator, Richard Rodney Bennett, who knows the Gershwin piano rolls and, where possible, plays what Gershwin himself played. There’s also plenty to be learned about the Gershwins’ staying power–their timeliness and timelessness–in the medley of “Sweet and Low-down,” “Fascinating Rhythm,” and “Fidgety Feet.” ‘S wizardry. —David Finkle