ANTIBALAS 3/9, OLD TOWN SCHOOL; 3/10, PARK WEST The first time I saw Antibalas was in Brooklyn on a snow-crusted New Year's Eve. My friends and I were between club and car at the moment midnight struck, and we heard cheers at staggered intervals from different parties bursting out onto the street, crowned at last by a spatter of fireworks across the river in Manhattan. Then we were out of the brittle cold and squeezing our way through hot and swaying bodies in a tiny storefront space, where some 15 people, on a stage that could barely hold them all, were pouring out a steady stream of sweaty, irresistible Afrofunk. The lineup of the New York-based Antibalas includes many of the same people behind Desco Records's near hoaxes the Soul Providers, a "lost 60s soul" band, and the Daktaris, whose debut CD appeared to the casual observer to be a reissue of a Nigerian collectors' item from the 70s. But Antibalas (whose name is Spanish for "bulletproof") is unshackled from Desco's ironic posturing--their new release, Liberation Afro-Beat Vol. 1, was produced in the band's own studio and released on the band's own Afrosound label, and its lyrics rather straightforwardly preach nonviolence, Marxism, and third world liberation. And like their declared idol, Fela Kuti, Antibalas has the ability to meld the politics with fierce life-affirming funk. A note about venues: though the Old Town School has the best acoustics in the city, I have my doubts about it as a proper setting for this band, with its rows of churchy pews--the way to experience this music is with asses in motion, not in seats. At the Park West show, Antibalas opens for the Desco boogaloo band Sugarman Three and Prescription Renewal, a group led by former Head Hunters drummer Mike Clark. BLUE MOUNTAIN 3/10, SCHUBAS Though you don't have to have grown up in a town with a three-digit population to play the old-time music well, it sure as hell helps. But then again, as a wise man from another American idiom entirely once said, "It ain't where you're from--it's where you're at." On much of their new collection of trad tunes, Roots (Blue Mountain Music), Blue Mountain leaders Cory Hudson and Laurie Stirratt (the twin sister of Wilco's John Stirratt) seem to be living in an American version of Richard Thompson's mythical Tudor village. At their worst, they inhabit a tourist-trap country roadhouse analogue to the Renaissance Faire grounds Thompson roams in his less brilliant moments; at their best, they use solid folk earth as a launchpad for visionary flights. MARY JANES 3/10, The HIDEOUT John Mellencamp's Scarecrow only sold, like, three million copies--but everyone who bought one went out and started a band. You'd think breadbasket-of-America types would be better at sorting the wheat from the chaff, but no, they produce heaps and heaps of chaff, and so much of it ends up in my mailbox that I'm tempted to swear off heartland rock completely, bar the door to it altogether. But I don't, because there are a handful of geniuses who really play it the way it's meant to be played--who play it because it's what the music in their heads really sounds like, and they have wonderful heads. Bloomington's Mary Janes are one of those bands, and they prove it again on their new Flame (Flat Earth). Front woman Janas Hoyt is a hay-pitching Chrissie Hynde, her delivery sweetly brazen, thoughtful and yet gutfelt, and the band plays a young white folks' blues that's as much Stones and Velvets as it is Mellencamp. Far from reiterating bland platitudes lyrically or musically, it demonstrates that the boy or girl next door can be complex and passionate beyond your wildest dreams. RUBY KEELER 3/11, The HIDEOUT This Philadelphia band is touring behind a pleasant if not monumental album, Shiver Shiver (Route Fourteen), that captures perfectly that point in any road trip where, as the flatness of the interstate is putting everyone dangerously close to sleep, the driver decides to veer off onto a two-lane for a while. Ruby Keeler's cinematic but catchy rock goes wiggling across the line between electric and acoustic and breaks up the usual sparse echoey stuff with energizing bursts of power chordage and vocal harmonies. Guitarist Jeremy Braddock is the brother of Nathaniel Braddock, whose band the Ancient Greeks headlines. FLUX INFORMATION SCIENCES 3/12, EMPTY BOTTLE I always open packages from Young God Records with great enthusiasm, because I really do believe that founder Michael Gira knows some things that most people don't. His latest release, Flux Information Sciences' Private/Public, is like a letter from the golden age of industrial music, which, in my opinion, was before Al Jourgensen stopped singing with a fake British accent--back when ugly frequencies really were dangerous and hearing everything that's fatal and seductive about modern culture getting thrown into the Cuisinart was still exciting. Gira's press release claims that when these 19 clanking, thumping, spine-shuddering tracks were recorded mostly live in the studio, 50 of the band's friends and fans were standing around naked and blindfolded, "like lawn furniture made of flesh." There is a community out there--and always has been--where the creative process is wild like that, inverted and subverted like that, fun and twisted and sexy like that, its undercurrents of rage and frustration acknowledged in the work. Flux Information Sciences' jerky klangmusik may be retro, in that it's reminiscent of the postpunk ferocity of classic Neubauten or the New York no wave scene that spawned Gira's old band Swans, but it's still much more alive than most of what claims to be the music of today. ETHER NET 3/15, THE HIDEOUT Why do bands give themselves the names of existing products? Do they think no one will guess where they got it? Even a relative obscurity like the local Eternalux rolled individual eyes in individual heads as individual listeners figured out they took their name from the company that makes those candles in glass saint jars. Why don't they just call themselves Cease & Desist and get it over with? Anyway, I wouldn't have brought it up if that same sense of strained cleverness didn't pervade this Cleveland band's second album, The Requisite Chemicals (Requisite). Not the techno outfit their name might lead you to expect, they seem to be caught between the moody "post-rock" of the moment and the moody, mopey grandeur of David Bowie, to whom singer Robert Cherry is often and not inaccurately compared to. The combo sounds like goth by guys without the balls to wear eyeliner.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Greg Miles.