SMITHEREENS 7/29, METRO On their recent Don Dixon-produced A Date With the Smithereens (RCA), the veteran New York pop/rock foursome prove they still have a way with straight-ahead, crisp, hooky, precise songwriting and execution. But time seems to have taken an ugly toll on Pat DiNinzio's lyrics. I assumed both "Sick of Seattle" ("Tired of flannel and growin' my hair") and "Gotti" ("Goodfellas, politicians, what's the difference anyway / Gotti is my hero, he's the Robin Hood of the present day") were tossed off as low-rent jokes. Imagine my horror when the album's press sheet informed me that they're actually insightful tunes with "real personalities." ZUZU'S PETALS 7/29, EMPTY BOTTLE On their debut, When No One's Looking (Twin/ Tone), these three Minneapolitans came off as second-gen Scrawl-style rockers, their music full of lilting, modestly catchy melodies and a scrappy enthusiasm. But on the new The Music of Your Life, the band--named, of course, after the key piece of evidence that George Bailey really has returned to his wonderful life--displays a jacked-up aggression that tends to overwhelm some of their more fragile melodies, and their once pleasantly frail harmonies have broken down into strained wailing. The album's not without its moments, but by and large the band's flexing muscles it'd be better off stretching. ZZ TOP 7/29, ROSEMONT HORIZON While eager-to-please publicists have been touting ZZ Top's recent Antenna (RCA) as a return to old form, all the early records I own have Frank Beard playing real drums, not triggered samples. But the gritty boogie shuffle of Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill does indeed evoke some of the band's past glories. At least they're trying to fight the high-tech polish that's been on everything they've done since their early 80s comeback, and their relatively honest faux-blues grime manages to gain some ground even when the songwriting is on autopilot, which is most of the time. But thankfully they have a massive back catalog of still-smoking gems, and crowd-pleasers that they are they'll surely play them at this living nostalgia review. If only Beard's new drum technology doesn't interfere... DICK DALE & THE DELTONES 7/30, CUBBY BEAR On his new Unknown Territory, self-proclaimed "king of the surf guitar" Dick Dale not only proves that last year's remarkable Tribal Thunder (both albums are on Hightone) was no fluke; he nearly doubles the stakes. Brutalizing his guitar with both punishing low-end flurries and mandolinish flourishes (played over thunderous double drum sets and a fat bass assault), Dale transcends the limiting tag of surf music with a genre-free, functional muscularity. It's hard stuff, but not for its own sake; the adrenaline-charged Dale explores the extremes of the electric guitar without a sign of wanking off, creating groove-bound explosions that are exhilarating and thoroughly accessible. I've yet to catch any of his recent live gigs, but word is they put these incredible records to shame. 700 MILES, PEACH 7/30, METRO With its formula amalgam of current "alternative rock" flavors--from painful white-boy hard rock/funk fusions to overwrought vocal excesses to occasional dips into pop--700 Miles is interchangeable with an increasing number of bands, including one of its openers here, Peach. Of course there are some subtle differences: Peach offer veiled emulations of Nirvana instead of Red Hot Chili Peppers, and they couldn't afford to spend as much on their producer. Prefer quantity over quality? Also on the bill are Tea Party and Corduroy. LUSH 7/31, VIC In a country full of bands combining wispy melodies with ungodly barrages of feedback, Lush distinguish themselves with their mix of strong hooks and ethereal guitar swirl. Much of their early stuff was produced by Cocteau Twins guitarist Robin Guthrie, and the pastel sound he twirled out of Emma Anderson and Miki Berenyi's guitars--and Berenyi's angelic vocals--was right at home on the Twins' 4AD label. But Lush's new album, Split, sounds more processed; "Hypocrite," the first single, burst out of my speakers like a straight, crunching rock tune, but it's a onetime aberration. They sure look British, though. Weezer and Dillon Fence open. BUZZOVEN 8/3, AVALON The members of this North Carolina quartet strive for extremes of sonic brutality, but on their new album, Sore (Roadrunner), they just sound like another constipated metal band with a penchant for childish lyrics about life's ugliness--for example, "You worthless piece of fucking shit! / Why do I even bother with you!" (from the heavily metaphoric "I Don't Like You"). They open for Bolt Thrower. PRIDE & GLORY 8/4, POPLAR CREEK Yet more retro-jamming southern fried rock, lent some credence by guitarist Zakk Wylde's occasional flirts with banjo (not to mention his name). This band seems made to open for propped-up rockers like headliners Ted Nugent and the reconstituted Lynyrd Skynyrd. Even worse, there's a CD-booklet photo of a band member quaffing a bottle of Zima or something (what a wuss). Endorsements, anyone? KYUSS 8/4, EMPTY BOTTLE I don't know jack shit about this band's past, but after listening to their audacious new self-titled album I'm kind of curious. Kyuss are a metal band (for lack of a better description), and on the album's three lengthy "suites" they traipse through everything from Zeppelin-esque bombast to chooglin' boogie to Metallica-styled postthrash mayhem. It's not perfect, but for sheer breadth and nerve, to say nothing of execution and listenability, it works.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Matt Anker.