Ska Against Racism 5/1, Riviera Theatre One of my biggest frustrations with the so-called third wave of ska (besides the fact that whoever's counting missed a couple waves) is that the music's deeply political roots got left behind somewhere, if not in Kingston then in Brixton. But at least these guys are trying. This nine-band skankfest, headlined by Less Than Jake and the Toasters, is a stop on the Ska Against Racism tour, organized by Michael Park of San Francisco's Asian Man Records--and as if to show that it ain't just 2-Tone anymore, the bill features the Christian ska band Five Iron Frenzy and Japan's Kemuri, who give the sound a weird heavy-metal crunch.
SEKOU SUNDIATA 5/2, CHICAGO CULTURAL CENTER A friend once remarked that "poets are to the 90s what mimes were to the 70s," and there's a painful truth to that. What's called poetry today is far too often just lip from slacker hams who never found the discipline to learn how to play three-chord punk. But real poetry--the passionately crafted, obsessively worked and reworked stuff that's performed with heat, beat, and style, that pushes the interpretive possibilities of language and blurs the line between literature and music--is golden when you find it, and New Yorker Sekou Sundiata, who delivers his shattering requiems for the lost heyday of Harlem, chilling ghost stories of black violence, and steamy, spiritual love songs in a rich, clear voice, is the real thing. Though he's been a well-known poet and playwright in New York for 20 years, The Blue Oneness of Dreams, on Mercury's new spoken-word imprint Mouth Almighty, is his first album. Sundiata appears to see barriers between music and poetry as purely arbitrary, and he flows between chanting and singing and scatting with scandalous ease, over Afro-Caribbean rhythms, sparse jazz, and hints of gospel. He'll be joined at this performance by a couple fellow Mouth Almighty recording artists: Nuyorican Poets Cafe host and United States of Poetry producer Bob Holman, shrill MTV poet Maggie Estep, and the Last Poets--who played two astonishing sold-out nights at the MCA a couple of months ago--with guest percussionist Hamid Drake. Rounding out the bill are Loofah Method veteran Cin Salach and Ojibwa chanter Mark Turcotte, two of the best of our homegrown.
LOCKGROOVE 5/3, SCHUBAS When I call Spacemen 3 the Grateful Dead of indie rock, I certainly don't mean to imply that all psychedelia is created equal. But both bands set up a groove that sounded like it could have lasted forever--and when it didn't, Nature with her silly phobia of vacuums filled the gap with a stream of faithful flame-keepers. There's another parallel too: Dark Side of the Moon navel-gazers notwithstanding, fans of both bands understand that psychedelia at its best is a communal phenomenon. A happening needs people in order to happen. Boston's Lockgroove, fresh from recording their debut EP, Rewired (Krave), do their part, helping organize the annual Boston psychedelic festival Deep Heaven (whose rather diverse group of fellow travelers this year included Cul de Sac and Six Finger Satellite) and allying themselves with a local collective of graphic designers and electronic musicians. The music? Six tracks of wild throb 'n' drone, lovely, part-improvised, part-pop grooves that sound a lot like--surprise!--Spacemen 3. But hell, it's a lot closer to my idea of a good trip than, say, the String Cheese Incident.
RAMMSTEIN 5/4, METRO It's clear from the get-go that these east German "horror romanticists" get over by adorning their tight but undistinguished industrial metal with major spectacle: on the cover of their sophomore effort, Sehnsucht (it means "longing"), released here on Slash, they wear enough Giger-esque facial metal to induce nasty flashbacks in anyone who was orthodontically challenged as a youth. Their live show usually involves explosions, flame suits, flash pots, blood, and lots of dildos--think Impotent Sea Snakes meets Blue Man Group meets Dark City. Unfortunately lighting lots of things on fire in crowded places is frowned upon in Chicago, which is why this show has been canceled once already; it was rebooked on the condition that the band drop the pyrotechnics. And watching Rammstein churn out its crunchy bombast by the meager glow of a couple Bics could be a really depressing exercise.
INDOOR BOY 5/5, METRO I can see why Q101 is pushing this local trio: its three tracks on a local Spectra Records sampler, jangling feel-alright pop with bright guitar and sad-boy vocals, even worked for me for a while, since I might well have been a Smiths fan back in the day if I hadn't found Morrissey so annoying. Clever and pleasant but not terribly engaging, they're just the thing to talk over in the car.
Fugazi 5/7 & 8, Congress Theater You'd think that the vaunted superior energy level of straightedge punks would enable D.C.'s finest to produce more than six albums in 11 years--but when you consider all the fire that goes into maintaining Dischord Records, putting on incendiary live shows, and forever arguing with people who want to raise prices and sell beer, I suppose you can't call Ian MacKaye a slacker. All that hard work sure doesn't leave much time for humor, but that's a small quibble, since making political correctness even as fun as this band does is pretty tough. Fugazi's labor pays off again on its new End Hits, a solid--if predictable--gem. Shellac headlines this low-priced, all-ages bill; the second night is already sold out. r SPOON 5/7, LOUNGE AX Let other critics try to suss out the tangled psychology of major labels--I give up. Elektra goes trolling in the Cecil B. De Mille-size cast of talent on Matador and comes away with...Spoon? Live it can work if the acoustics are generous, but on record the band sounds clunky, grating, and only occasionally--possibly accidentally--tuneful or powerful. I spent a lot of time pondering the trio's Elektra debut, Spoon (its third album), trying to figure out if I found its big-budget lo-fi pandering amusing or insulting, and concluded that it was neither--you can do a lot with three chords, but they have to be the right three chords.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Sekou Sundiata photo/ uncredited.