EL VEZ 9/28, ABBEY PUB Tune of "Heartbreak Hotel": "Pues when I was an Aztec / Before the empire fell / There was a man who walked the land / Quetzalcoatl / He was an Aztec baby / He might have been Jesus / He was an Aztec who could fly." El Vez, the globe-trotting "Mexican Elvis," is more than a mere impersonator--he harnesses the power of camp to an actual message or two. On his latest release, Boxing With God (Sympathy for the Record Industry), El Vez honors not only the Plumed Serpent but also Mater Dolores and Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz. He's got a song about how the Mayans were in on the UFO craze before anybody, advocates safe sex as tastelessly as possible in "Rubbernecking," and then, just for fun, rips "Livin' la Vida Loca" to shreds and reassembles it as a beautiful, creepy surf number. Not much in his giddy melange of pop, show tunes, Latin lounge, and rockabilly really sounds like Elvis, but who cares?
FIREWATER 9/28, EMPTY BOTTLE Tod Ashley, formerly of Cop Shoot Cop and now the core member of the couldn't-be-more-different Firewater, writes like a bitter motherfucker but probably isn't--artists who get their dark and bleak out in their work are sometimes the cheeriest souls. Ashley's described Psychophar-macology (Jetset), the third Firewater album, as an experiment in writing "upbeat songs about ugly things," and that seems to fit: the topics range from reservations about Prozac to the far side of suicide to the moment (shudder) before the plane goes down, but the opener, "Woke Up Down," sounds like one of the Beatles' rawer ditties, with giddy organ accents, tambourines on the chorus, and a big "Revolution"-style "whaaaaah!" at the climax.
BILL HORIST 10/1, EMPTY BOTTLE Bill Horist is an art-rock guitarist from southwestern Michigan who now lives in Seattle. The notice I got about his forthcoming appearance consists mostly of names of people he or his bands have played with--but seeing as how the list ranges from Chris Cutler to K.K. Null to the Supersuckers, it's not all that revealing. His latest release though--Songs From the Nerve Wheel (Unit Circle)--is a nice collection of beautifully structured extended-technique guitar pieces that pulse and perambulate before finding their logical centers. Harriet Tubman, a New York trio featuring guitarist Brandon Ross, drummer J.T. Lewis, and electric bassist Melvin Gibbs, headlines.
RAY DAVIES 10/2, THE VIC Robert Christgau might've been hyperbolizing when he called the Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset" "the most beautiful song in the English language," but you'll get no argument from me if you take him literally; I'd add that Ray Davies is responsible for at least two or three more of the top ten contenders for that superlative. In fact, I'll take peak-period Kinks over peak-period Beatles any day of the week, and especially on weekends. Yet for whatever reason--be it the legendary biliousness of the sibling rivalry between Ray and his brother Dave, their intelligence and their resolute Englishness, or, more likely, the legal problems that kept them from touring the U.S. at the peak of what teen-idol earning potential they did have--the Kinks were never the boomer icons their contemporaries were. Fortunately they haven't aged as gracelessly either. Really, even when Davies was young, he sounded old--making a stand for "little shops, china cups, and virginity" in 1968--and now that he is actually old, he seems to have earned his respect instead of demanding it as some kind of due, as recent appearances with floored (relative) youngsters like Yo La Tengo and the New Pornographers would indicate. His career's not completely unencumbered by nostalgia, of course: he's reportedly discussing a release of Kinks BBC sessions, and he's got a musical in the works based on the Kinks hit "Come Dancing," which was already nostalgic in 1983. But he's also submitted a demo of 25 new songs (some of which he'll likely preview here) to Capitol and, according to his Web site, recently had a dinner with Dave at which they "didn't talk too much about music" but "agreed to get together and discuss the possibilities later this year."
ONEIDA 10/4, EMPTY BOTTLE These Brooklyn raconteurs have been on my watch list since 1998 or so, advancing the cause of psychedelic rock both on their own and as Brother JT's backing band. Their new Anthem of the Moon (Jagjaguwar) is their best work yet, pushing their tendency toward total engagement one step further into serious virtuosity. Whether they're chanting choruses through a lurching guitar-and-organ drone ("The Wooded World") or going straight for the groin with a heavy blues-based rave-up ("Double Lock Your Mind") these guys have not just ambition but focus and power.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tobin Russil Brogunier.