DRUMS AND TUBA 8/31, EMPTY BOTTLE; 9/1, FIRESIDE BOWL These guys billed themselves as Just Drums and Tuba before adding a guitarist, who still seems a bit slighted. Really, this is a pretty dead-end way to name a band, no matter how unconventional the instrumentation--would Suicide have gotten anywhere as Keyboards and Voice? Would the Dirty Three have made it as Drums, Guitar, and Violin? Fortunately, they take the imagination they saved naming themselves and put it into their music: their latest LP, Vinyl Killer (coproduced by Ani DiFranco and released on her Righteous Babe label), jumps from restless party music, touching on Cajun and ska, to twitchy space rock. One song, "The Diagram," is named in honor of Andy Diagram of Spaceheads--aka Drums and Trumpet--and while Drums and Tuba are still a long way from harnessing their antsy intellects to consistently inspiring music the way that duo does, good taste in heroes is always a bonus. On these odd but potentially effective bills, Unwound headlines and XBXRX (see Critic's Choice) opens. ASHTRAY BOY 9/1, THE HIDEOUT Intercontinental and downright incontinent when it comes to retaining a permanent lineup, this American-Australian indie-pop group has perhaps seen better days in terms of consistent playing-together. But it's never released better records than There's Your Heart and The King's Buccaneer, where leader Randall Lee's pretty but biting tunes add dark hints of smart, subterranean life to a genre that's been declared dead many times over. Both were recorded piecemeal over the years with various combinations of ten people, including Sabalon Glitz's Carla Bruce (now Mrs. Carla Bruce-Lee). Both were released by the German label Bouncing in 2000 but have yet to be issued domestically. For the band's California shows, longtime stateside member Dave Trumfio will join them, but for the Chicago gig the lineup is just the Lees and local drummer Geoff Greenberg. JAMES BROWN 9/3, AFRICAN FESTIVAL OF THE ARTS I'm going to assume I don't have to explain who James Brown is. It's been years since the Godfather of Soul has publicly sweat-slicked a stage inside the city limits, and this outdoor gig, closing out the 12th annual African Festival of the Arts in Washington Park, costs only $8. But you might want to spring for the $25 weekend pass, which is still a steal: other probable highlights of the four-day fest include Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal, Nigerian highlife bandleader Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, and Burkina Faso griots Badenya--Les Freres Coulibaly (see Critics' Choices), plus
R & B veterans War, contemporary R & B singer Angela Bofill, Marvin Tate's D-Settlement, salsa star Eddie Palmieri, a collaboration between Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio and Ntozake Shange, and a tribute to Miles Davis featuring several of the jazz great's former sidemen. For a complete schedule, see sidebar in this section. NO DOCTORS 9/3, EMPTY BOTTLE The Minneapolis noise label Freedom From was once notorious for not filling its orders, but even when it makes good there's no guarantee you'll like what you get: it specializes in the confrontational, the unpleasant, the in-joke you're not in on, and the downright unlistenable. God bless it--after all, there has to be an absolute standard for the noncommercial, something compared to which everyone is a sellout, so that we can all feel better about our own situational ethics, right? And besides, against all odds, I love most of their stuff. No Doctors are billed as "everyone who runs Freedom From...like maybe Royal Trux on barbiturates and ether, though it's not that somber." The CD sampler I've heard is surprisingly musical and, in spots, surprisingly quiet noise blues: one track sounds like a six-minute extension of the fuzz blast at the very beginning of Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride," one sounds like a bad recording of early Trux, one sounds like someone farting into a megaphone while his bandmate attempts a Beatles riff. It and most of the Freedom From catalog will be available at the show, "dubbed on demand"--which might be a better bet than mail order. BURMESE 9/5, FIRESIDE BOWL Have you ever wondered why some rock critics spend so much time talking about lyrics and so little discussing the music? Well, for one thing critics have to be word geeks as well as music geeks, but for another, words provide only limited access to the more physical aspects of music. And when music gets purely physical, there are really only two responses--fleeing the room with your hands over your ears or utter submission--though it is fun to try to keep thinking critically even as you're going under. For this kind of recreation, which is so vastly superior to writing yet another essay on whether or not it's OK to like Eminem that it hardly seems possible to countenance both in the same profession, it's hard to beat Burmese, a heavier-than-heavy San Francisco trio whose latest act of aural violence, Monkeys Tear Man to Shreds, Man Never Forgives Ape, Man Destroys Environment (Tumult), combines many of the best aspects of metal and noise. Also on the bill are Thrones--aka Joe Preston, formerly of Earth and the Melvins--possibly the heaviest non-Japanese one-man band of all time. DARWIN'S WAITING ROOM 9/5, HOUSE OF BLUES Rap metal isn't going to go away real soon, so I've been trying to find some avenue by which to appreciate it. It's not easy--though reading the lyrics to the Miami-based Darwin's Waiting Room's debut does help one understand how fundamentally depressed these mooks really are. Aside from one don't-dis-me-because-I'm-white boasting session, their MCA debut, Orphan, is all about despair, alienation, suicide, betrayal, isolation. How much of it is a pose I'll never know--though I notice that the back page of the booklet is full of loving dedications to parents. Either way, the absence of any sort of potential for magic and love, even as something to lament the lack of, is striking. But I still feel nostalgic for the days when mainstream metal bands at least sounded like they were capable of having fun. X MARS X WITH WAYNE KRAMER 9/5, EMPTY BOTTLE Sax powerhouse Mars Williams, who's currently on tour in Europe with Peter Brotzmann, has come under fire in certain circles for the populist (and popular) party music he plays with Liquid Soul--which is just kind of amusing if you know that once upon a time he blew his horn on records by the Waitresses and the Psychedelic Furs. For this gig, he's assembling a new edition of X Mars X, a composition-and-improv band that slathered on the elbow grease at the Empty Bottle jazz festival this year, to collaborate with former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, who no doubt has fond memories of the last time rock fans began digging free jazz in earnest.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Greg Giles.