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Spot Check

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DAVE MATTHEWS BAND, UGLY AMERICANS 3/17, ARAGON The Dave Matthews Band may lack some of the most egregious traits of the ever-swelling H.O.R.D.E. posse, but even a perfunctory listen to their second album, the breakout Under the Table and Dreaming (RCA), is enough to prove that they too subscribe to the "partying will help" mentality. While the band is multiracial, its supposedly consciousness-raising music (sappy dance-in-the-fields folk rock just begging for a Natalie Merchant duet) is consumed almost exclusively by white people who think passing a joint around on the weekend contributes majorly to world peace. On their eponymous debut Ugly Americans abandon subtlety in favor of some flat-out blues-rock bar-band shit. If a song like "Electro(electromagneticlovethangexperience)" doesn't make you break out in a cold sweat, well, you'll probably find this show, which Big Head Todd & the Monsters headline, an appealing alternative to a sloppy night of quaffing green beer. MELTING HOPEFULS 3/17, EMPTY BOTTLE One of the worst by-products of alternative rock's emphasis on personal expression is bad poetry, and this New Jersey combo has it in abundance. With incessantly cloying earnestness singer Renee LoBue reveals journal entries best kept hidden, singing about a boyfriend jacking off ("But he didn't feel like coming / He was coming on his own just fine" from "Pulling an Allnighter on Myself") and delivering cringe-inducing carpe diem invocations ("If I had a choice to stay at home and be clean or be out the door / I'd be out / Scummy, but me" from "Coming," whose title bears no relation to the subject of the previous citation). Between her quavery warble and the band's de rigueur acousto-electric guitar Melting Hopefuls sound like the old Throwing Muses repackaged for a new generation just coming to terms with skin blemishes. TRENCHMOUTH 3/18, LOUNGE AX Bill Wyman's comments regarding Trenchmouth in his "'Signing Frenzy' Alternative-Rock Tipsheet" a few weeks back warrant a bit of revision. First, Trenchmouth play "Rage Against the Machine-ish industrial funk" only if you reduce the entire spectrum of loud, guitar-heavy, fiercely rhythmic music into one huge ghetto--a foolish distinction, I'd say. Second, saying they need more substantial "riffs, hooks, songs to be taken seriously on a national level" is like saying a guy fishing in his backyard pond for minnows needs to head for the ocean if he's going to catch a marlin. Although they accepted money from Time-Warner for their most recent effort, Trenchmouth vs. the Light of the Sun (East-West), they seem genuinely happy to dwell on the fringe; being taken seriously by rock critics who like Morrissey and Suede isn't on their agenda. Finally their new album sounds not like the lunkhead metal-rap swill of Rage Against the Machine, but most like a tired retread of long-dead D.C. margin walkers Nation of Ulysses. They're obviously trying to capture the elusive skewed quality that makes Dog-Faced Hermans and the Ex such remarkable bands--stuttered rhythms pitted against slashing riffs and strange melodies. That said, it doesn't work. Edsel and Candy Machine open. DES'REE 3/21, PARK WEST Amid the current flurry of female soul singers Britain's Des'ree stands out easily. Neither new-jack soulstress nor gloppy bedroom slow jamster, she exploits her silky, graceful vocals to limn a wide variety of catchy tunes; her most recent album I Ain't Movin' (550 Music/Epic) includes the slinky groove of the hit "You Gotta Be," the fatback funk of "Strong Enough," and more flowery, fluttering confections like "Feel So High." Maintaining a firm grip on her material, all of which she has a hand in penning, Des'ree settles comfortably in the middle rather than belting brassy or whispering seductive. A fine example of the song and how to sing it. DRAG 3/23, CROBAR These locals are stuck in a late-80s Wax Trax rut. On Pilfer (Flipside) they spit out a tediously predictable assemblage of nth generation Al Jourgensen tricks--disaffected pseudolimey vocals, brittle, truncated faux-metal guitar riffs, and drum machines. Total hell. SICK OF IT ALL, ORANGE 9mm, KORN 3/23, METRO One of the last vestiges of 80s NYC hardcore, Sick of It All have not only managed to remain intact since their 1985 formation, they've jumped on the major label bandwagon with their new album, Scratch the Surface (East-West). The alternative revolution has split metal and hardcore into myriad specialized factions, but this quartet still plays like it did back in the days: fast and hard. Lou Koller's gruff vocal splat elbows for space amid unrelenting thrash tempos; a claustrophobic sonic density leaves no room for something as superfluous as a guitar solo. This evening's opening acts represent two new approaches. Although New York's Orange 9mm also identify themselves with hardcore, their new Driver Not Included (East-West) finds them leavening blammo aggression with plenty of Helmet-style stop-start heaving. Though hardly ground breaking, the band's occasional noodling with spatial dynamics adds a jolt of tension-and-release seething to their ferocity. I can't find anything nice to say about the third act on the bill, so I guess I'll have to write something mean. Korn, who hail from Huntington Beach, California, deliver a sludgy brew of funked-up prog-metal made even more sublimely torturous by the melodramatic vocal excesses of Jonathan Davis. On their eponymous debut they also tool with extreme swings in dynamics, but when the music gets quiet it just sounds like they're taking a cigarette break. The album seems to be making some statement about child molestation: on the cover a man's shadow falls ominously over a nervous-looking girl, and the song "Daddy" contains lots of overwrought sniveling, but its oblique lyrics fail to get their message, if there is one, across. If you're going, go late.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Dorothy Low.

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