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AFRICAN/CARIBBEAN international FESTIVAL OF LIFE 7/3-6, WASHINGTON PARK Much more than a music festival, this annual event is a sort of giant block party, with food, arts and crafts, workshops, activities for children, and plenty of networking and leafleting. The musical lineup is wildly diverse--there just aren't many places to see South African reggae artist Lucky Dube rub shoulders with American soul legends like the Chi-Lites and the Manhattans. Percy Sledge brings the dusties resume, Sister Carol the spiritual fire, and Third World the reggae history. San Diego's up-and-coming Tribe of Judah play 12:30 Saturday; see Fairs & Festivals listings for full schedule. HIGH ON FIRE 7/4, DOUBLE DOOR For those who prefer their Independence Day fireworks in a less literal form. Never the most prolific of units (I imagine riffs this rich have to age a bit, like fine scotch or compost), these contenders for Best Metal Band in North America are still running on steam from their second full-length, last year's Surrounded by Thieves (Relapse). What I love about them is the way their ancient-sounding roar can really scare the bejesus out of people--but Matt Pike, a veteran of Sleep, probably considers this his pop band. Pelican and Floor share the bill. HOT CLUB OF COWTOWN 7/4, FITZGERALD'S I first saw this Austin band in 1998 at South by Southwest, in a god-awful afternoon trade-show slot at the convention center, and their note-perfect countrified hot jazz was certainly a head turner under those fluorescent lights; it sounded like something from an old 78 had come to life and found itself in a flat new world. Their new album, Ghost Train (Hightone), produced by former Lucinda Williams sideman Gurf Morlix, is a showcase of virtuosity, documenting the sheer joy that comes from playing (doesn't matter what--western swing, country blues, mountain ballad, spinning reel) faster and tighter than anyone else. In fact a trio, they sound like there are a lot more of them. ANDREW BIRD 7/5, FITZGERALD'S A few years ago violinist Andrew Bird confronted me seeking clarification--he was under the impression I didn't like his new band Bowl of Fire. That wasn't true exactly, but their stuff sure didn't give me chills the way his debut, Music of Hair, had a few years earlier--it was an eerie, naked, fanciful record that sounded like nothing else on earth. So I'm very happy about his latest solo album, Weather Systems, and the recent live CD Fingerlings, where Bird has perched once again on the fragile limbs of his own imagination: accompanied only sparsely by one or two other players, trusting in silence and the tonal vocabulary of his instrument, living not in folk or swing or blues or old-timey country but in the spaces between them. More than ever I think he has the potential to do for the fiddle what John Fahey did for the acoustic guitar. This show is part of FitzGerald's annual American Music Festival--check listings for complete lineup and times. BOBI CESPEDES 7/5, GRANT PARK This Cuban-born singer and percussionist's association with people like Mickey Hart and producer Greg Landau (known for his work with Susana Baca) have put an American studio gloss on her solo debut Rezos (Six Degrees). But rezos means "prayers," and at the heart of Cespedes's work is her faith--she's a priestess of Lucumi, the Cuban form of the Yoruba religion. Her lush, celebratory dance songs are infused with the deep passion of worship, and the wit of Yoruban teachings underlies her torchy croon on the spare jazz ballad "Anoche." BARRY ANDREWS 7/10, SCHUBAS Shriekback, the 80s sci-fi goth-pop dance band, is now simmering along as a studio-only project that takes its own sweet time with releases, dispensing dribbles to fans over the Internet. So meanwhile founding member Barry Andrews has put out a new solo album, Haunted Box of Switches, available only on the Web and at shows, where the big bald XTC vet performs as a piano-and-electronica troubadour, stripping his songs--the new material plus works in progress and old stuff from Shriekback (including two of the most beautiful songs on their benchmark, Oil and Gold)--down to their skeletons. He's also plugging an album from his "atmospheric" project Stic Basin, and lo, a new Shriekback EP financed by fan contributions. DANCE DISASTER MOVEMENT 7/10, BOTTOM LOUNGE On their first full-length, We Are From Nowhere (Dim Mak), it sounds like this California duo has a lot of the right ideas about postpunk dance music (stream of consciousness is good; get the dancers out there, but don't let 'em get too comfortable; analog trumps digital; assume your crowd knows Kraftwerk, so don't worry about going on too long) and at least one of the wrong ones (it's mostly about the clothes and vintage gear). But this kind of thing will always be a welcome outlet for those who want to jump around like a clumsy monkey--a worthy if minor goal, much as I doubt that was what John Lydon had in mind. NUMBERS 7/10, FIRESIDE BOWL My only real beef with the surging popularity of 80s-sounding synth pop is that someone's always trying to place it in opposition to sweaty, mammalian guitar rock, when in fact a good share of the fun in both lies in being an utter goober and unashamed of it. Numbers is a San Francisco-based trio that matches two veterans of the 90s electronic outfit Xerobot with drummer and singer Indra Dunis. After a split single with kindred spirits Erase Errata, they put out a well-received album, Numbers Life (Tigerbeat6), that was all twitchy Cabaret Voltaire elbows and spazzy Gang of Four knees, chicken-dancing all over the place while insisting it was really icy new-wave cool; the cognitive dissonance was mesmerizing. Now there's a remix album, Death--including treatments by Gold Chains (who performs July 4 at the Abbey), Kid606, Stars as Eyes, Dymaxion, and Kit Clayton--that smooths down a lot of these rough edges and makes the song structures seem even more flexible and arbitrary than they did in the first place. Magas, Sightings, and Lovely Little Girls share the bill.

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