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SKATALITES 3/18, METRO Long considered Jamaica's first important ska group, the Skatalites are touring in support of their first legitimate domestic release, last year's Ska Voovee (Shanachie). The group formed in the early 60s but split up in 1966, and despite a few intermittent attempts at reforming--largely fueled by the British ska revival spearheaded by bands like the Selecter and the Specials (who employed proto-ska trombonist Rico Rodriguez)--they basically remained defunct until a more recent revival led by saxophonist Tommy McCook. Ska continues to flourish as a rabid underground movement in the States, and the Skatalites, whose roots include a large dollop of jazz, can still play circles around the young upstart competition. Opening the tunes on their new album with either melodies lifted from outside sources ("Police Woman" cops the theme from the TV show) or cliched reduxes of "ethnic" music (e.g., "Oriental Ska" or "Skapan"), the band quickly jump into the driving syncopated groove that, for better or worse, is ska, unreeling plenty of lucid, swinging horn solos. I remain convinced that ska is a one-trick pony, but the Skatalites possess enough depth to make me temporarily forget my convictions. SPHINX 3/19, AVALON Sphinx's music is the progressive sound of the suburbs, an excellent example of the banality of mere competence. Hard rock with a "modern" edge and a stale cigarette odor. JOE LOUIS WALKER 3/19, RIALTO SQUARE THEATRE The music of this San Francisco-area blues guitarist evokes a wide range of influences, from Elmore James to Hubert Sumlin to B.B. King. His major-label debut, the programmatically varied Blues Survivor (Verve), testifies to his diversity with gritty shuffles, gospel-soaked stompers, swinging R & B, and contemporary soul. Walker's not without his shortcomings--most significantly the way his voice fails to meet the demands he puts on it--but he's a fine example of a musician moving the music forward while retaining the essence of the tradition. He opens for the Robert Cray Band. HUGH MASEKELA & MIRIAM MAKEBA 3/20, NEW REGAL THEATRE Two unwitting pioneers of "world music," these veteran--for lack of a better term--African popsters will perform individually and together. Masekela is the populist flugelhorn player, while Makeba is celebrated for her "click" singing, and both were known in America for tempering African exotica to appeal to mainstream tastes decades prior to Paul Simon's self-righteous jungle hunt. ICEBURN 3/21, THURSTON'S This Salt Lake City trio churns out a creeping metallic sludge rife with scrappy self-indulgence that recalls a sloppy version of Dutch drone/grind rockers Gore; on top of the music are squirming Ozzy Osbourne-like vocals. They play on a bill with Seattle ugly rockers Engine Kid. LUNA 3/22, RIVIERA On Luna's new and second album, Bewitched (Elektra), the elastic, rolling grooves of former Chills bassist Justin Harwood and former Feelies drummer Stan Demeski provide a lush cushion for a sometimes ethereal, sometimes jittery, sometimes stinging, and usually hypnotic guitar blend. The end result is a slow, sensuous burn. Led by former Galaxie 500 front man and guitarist Dean Wareham, Luna recently expanded to a four-piece with the guitar of Sean Eden. Wareham's pinched and pleasing vocals not only add another airy layer but also sneak in some insidiously catchy melodies. They open for the Cocteau Twins. PONY 3/23, THURSTON'S Couching catchy little tunes in exuberant, spastic, overdriven guitar and drums, this New York trio either obliterates its nascent hookiness with all the noise or is just afraid to expose it. UNCLE TUPELO 3/22-3/24, LOUNGE AX Most indie rock bands shoot their wads early in their career and then struggle to hold onto anything they can. The Belleville, Illinois, combo Uncle Tupelo, on the other hand, never really had much of a wad to shoot, but over the course of five albums has developed into a terrific band with a penchant for groovy, gritty roots music. Last year's Anodyne (Sire/Reprise) brought the band's organically nurtured promise to fruition, combining twang, energy, heartland earnestness, and sophisticated songwriting with plenty of pluck. Gram Parsons is the obvious antecedent, but by now Uncle Tupelo does a remarkably good job of incorporating myriad influences without sounding like an incoherent patchwork. Wednesday's show is opened by sturdy country rocker Joe Henry. LETTERS TO CLEO 3/24, CUBBY BEAR Miss the Blake Babies? This Boston combo's squeaky-clean, cloying pop features the same faux-hard guitar, and in vocalist Kay Hanley they have a dead ringer for Juliana Hatfield. Yawn.

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