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Spot Check

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DENTISTS 4/29, METRO This British quartet has been perfecting the lost art of crisp Anglo-pop for nearly a decade. In the Dentists' music snappy melodies, soaring harmonies, and ringing guitars meet with punchy execution and punky energy. Eschewing much of the 60s flavor that spiced early singles like "Strawberries Are Growing in My Garden (and It's Wintertime)," the Dentists crammed their new album, Behind the Door I Keep the Universe (East-West), with spunky, timeless, aftertaste-free gems that appeal to the most basic impulses of pop freaks. More and more the Dentists seem to defy categorization, which is especially strange considering the trend-happy nature of pop music in their homeland, but like the saying goes: good tunes never go out of style. They open for Shonen Knife (see Critic's Choice). TONE ROAD RAMBLERS 4/29, HOTHOUSE Although they sometimes perform from complex scores, the Tone Road Ramblers are at heart an improvising ensemble. Flutist John Fonville, clarinetist Eric Mandat, trumpeter Ray Sasaki, trombonists Morgan Powell and Jim Staley, and percussionist Steve Butters chart out their abstract musical landscapes from a broad base of musical experience: while Staley is often heard with fellow New York improvisers Fred Frith, Ikue Mori, and John Zorn, the group's other members have extensive backgrounds in classical and contemporary composition, so listeners get a rare opportunity to hear jazz improv tilt toward the nonjazz side of the tracks. Think of Dutch bassist Maarten Altena's take on Stravinsky's L'histoire du soldat, loosen it up, and you've got a rough idea of what these guys do. SILOS 4/30, LOUNGE AX It's been a long, hard road for the Silos since their breakthrough album, 1987's excellent Cuba (recently reissued by Watermelon), promised the band big success. The departure of cofounder and coleader Bob Rupe, failed promotion by RCA records (who dropped the band after one album), and the death of guitarist Manuel Verzosa in a car accident last year have made the musical journey of Silos visionary Walter Salas-Humara difficult indeed. But as the brand-new Susan Across the Ocean (Watermelon) proves, travel-weary though he may be, Salas-Humara has retained his drive: the Silos' literate pop is now tempered by a rootsy twang and made attractively dusky by the palpable layers of frustration, denial, and dogged persistence apparent in Salas-Humara's aching lilt. Austin's Loose Diamonds open. PRONG 4/30, AVALON While the tiresome but high-octane postindustrial spazz metal of these New Yorkers spawned the tense-lipped machinations of bands like Helmet, the broader-scale success of those bands still eludes Prong. Formed in 1986 during the heyday of CBGB's Sunday-matinee hardcore scene, Prong is in a constant state of transformation. Their current and growing fascination with vaguely industrial sampling, abetted by the presence of new bassist Paul Raven (Killing Joke, Pigface), makes it seem as though they're playing a game of catch-up, beleagueredly and desperately tagging behind Ministry and Nine Inch Nails. POOKA 5/1, UNCOMMON GROUND CAFE The breezy, folkish duo of 22-year-old Brits Sharon Lewis and Natasha Jones intertwine their fragile, quavering voices amid swooping, affecting, and consistently unpredictable tunes. Pooka's relative youth works to their advantage when their song structures buck convention, giving their melodies all sorts of quirky twists and leaps. On the downside is some lyrical naivete and a belly-shaking oral-sex song ("Put your head between my knees / Come up for air, if you need to"), but by and large Pooka's delicate balance of sweetness and salaciousness works. CARRIE NEWCOMER 5/1, OLD TOWN SCHOOL This up-and-coming New Folk practitioner is touring in support of her new An Angel at My Shoulder (Philo), a smooth, smartly produced collection of thoughtful stories set to ornately embellished folk rock. For this appearance she'll be performing solo with just her acoustic guitar. FAT TUESDAY 5/4, THURSTON'S Fat Tuesday are among a handful of utterly unremarkable noisy-rock bands signed by the Minneapolis label Red Decibel, whose roster got scooped up by A&R twerps at Columbia during the major-label feeding frenzy that ensued after Nirvana hit. Their two albums are just waiting to clog the cutout bins. SUGARBEAT 5/5, SCHUBAS This acoustic quartet, which features hotshot banjo whiz Tony Furtado, formed a couple of years ago to participate in a contest at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, conducted its first rehearsal the day before, and won. On its eponymous debut, Sugarbeat pushes the notion of what bluegrass is in quite a few directions, but singer-songwriter-guitarist Ben Demerath's penchant for folk-rock-drenched ditties seems to dominate; the band also covers John Hiatt's "Drive South," the Beatles' "Mother Nature's Son," and Sandy Denny's "By the Time It Gets Dark." Goes good with brie and turquoise jewelry.

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