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BROOKLYN FUNK ESSENTIALS 8/18, METRO On their forthcoming Cool and Steady and Easy (Groovetown/RCA) Brooklyn Funk Essentials attempt an inclusive street brew that combines hip-hop, jazz, funk, Latin grooves, dancehall, and soul. They alternately suggest acts like US3, the Groove Collective, Guru, Repercussions, Me'Shell NdegeOcello, and Buckshot LeFonque, among others, but never form an identity of their own. The band--which includes top-notch jazzers like trombonist Josh Roseman, whose contributions in the Groove Collective are far more effective, and percussionist E.J. Rodriguez--doesn't even equal the sum of its parts. Spearhead headline. ZIGGY MARLEY & THE MELODY MAKERS 8/18, NEW WORLD MUSIC THEATRE On this year's H.O.R.D.E. tour only Blues Traveler and the Dave Matthews Band embody the warmed-over, simplified love-your-neighbors hippie spirit the traveling zoo usually espouses. Now that organizers have diversified the bill with decent acts like Wilco, Dionne Farris, Taj Mahal, and headliners the Black Crowes, I'll have to come up with another handy tag for hairy, miserable bands like Phish and Spin Doctors. Then again Ziggy Marley's inclusion seems in keeping with the old H.O.R.D.E. ethos. Feel-good reggae vibes and odes to ganja are obvious favorites of the party hounds that usually attend these Grateful Dead-inspired get-togethers, and Ziggy's bland new album Free Like We Want 2 B (Elektra) conveys the same type of tunnel-visioned political solutions and partying-will-help naivete they're used to. GREN 8/18, RIVIERA On their debut, Camp Grenada (I.R.S.), Gren help LA reclaim its prominence as a generic hit factory. Following the unceremonious toppling of the hair-band hierarchy, the industry machine has regrouped and caught up with alternative-rock paradigms like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and, er, Toad the Wet Sprocket. Although Gren's assembly-line product hasn't yet infiltrated the charts, this trio's muscular rock will offend absolutely no one. One of the band members sports kooky blue hair, but it's doubtful that they'll score on that merit alone; I suggest they make a video with lots of purple Jell-O, melted crayons, and punky girls with snot running down their noses. They open for the Ramones, who are the subject of a Critic's Choice elsewhere in this section. CHICAGO 8/19, NEW WORLD MUSIC THEATRE Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, along comes Night & Day (Giant), Chicago's tribute to the big-band era, replete with swooshy liner notes by noted swing authority Paul Shaffer and a version of Benny Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing" recorded with the Gipsy Kings. A spirited investigation of what lies beneath rock bottom. BLUE MEANIES, BUSKER SOUNDCHECK 8/19, DOUBLE DOOR A showcase for the new local label Fuse. On their triumphantly ordinary label debut, Kiss Your Ass Goodbye!, Blue Meanies, the postmodern champs of the local ska scene, serve up the usual chugging rhythms with hackneyed flashes of metal lite, thrash, and funk. Ain't it wild! Busker Soundcheck's eponymous Fuse outing finds them avoiding dopey gimmicks in favor of straight-up pop rock. They obviously practice a lot and are very sincere about wanting you to buy their CD, but beyond that they don't offer much to make a listener care. N.I.L. 8 and Shat also perform. JAMES McMURTRY 8/19 & 20, SCHUBAS On his new Where'd You Hide the Body (Columbia) folk rocker James McMurtry distracts the listener from his decent, literate music with unrestrained pomposity: the phrase "A James McMurtry Collection" appears three times in the CD booklet, which also includes as many gushing blurbs as the back of one of his father Larry's paperbacks. Don't expect to find this record turning up in the New York Times Book Review, although I wouldn't be at all surprised if cheap white wine and cheese are served at the show, followed by an autograph session open only to those who own a copy of his latest "collection." DEAD HOT WORKSHOP 8/22, SCHUBAS On its recent 1001 (TAG/Atlantic) this Tempe, Arizona, quartet soulfully renders a credible if unspectacular blend of jacked-up jangle and country-tinged tunefulness. Vocalist and guitarist Brent Babb's full-bodied vocals have an uncanny resemblance to Michael Stipe's, and the band's crisp, clean folk rock suggests the Gin Blossoms, but they rock considerably harder. BABES IN TOYLAND 8/24, METRO On its latest album, Nemesisters (Reprise), this Minneapolis trio continues to explore the infinite hues of slate gray, making only minute changes to its trademark sonic splatter. As always, Kat Bjelland's vocals work the tedious range from innocent waif to screaming banshee, often making the whole leap in seconds to demonstrate the band's penchant for drama. It's all too familiar. Firmly supported by the sturdy lines of bassist Maureen Herman, Bjelland's guitar playing exhibits a fair amount of growth, bringing bits of melody and dynamic variation to the assault, but drummer Lori Barbero's clunky attack prevents anything from swinging. I suppose once upon a time Babes in Toyland made a difference as highly aggressive female rockers transforming rage into ominous expression--it hadn't been done with such ferocity before them--but relying on emotionalism is old hat by now, and the trio's songwriting doesn't provide satisfactory alternatives. Killdozer open.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jay Blakesberg.

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