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Spot Check

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LES CLAYPOOL FROG BRIGADE 7/11, The VIC You might expect a bassist fronting a side project to take the slappin' and poppin' approach, showcasing the wanker tendencies that have traditionally made the bass solo an even better time than the drum solo to go to the can. But Primus's Les Claypool goes another route on his band's studio debut, Purple Onion (Prawn Song), using the bass's power to keep a sinister but swinging bottom end on the noodly prog-funk proceedings. As you might expect, the influences of Zappa and Beefheart are felt here (though the Frog Brigade lacks the freaky geek soul of either), but the teeming sounds are arranged into downright primitive sing-alongs with some Butthole Surfers quality that sticks them deep in your head. A lot warmer and more fun than most Primus releases, especially of late. REAGAN NATIONAL CRASH DIET 7/11, BEAT KITCHEN Self-awareness isn't a prerequisite for great rock 'n' roll: The Beatles thought they were an R & B band. Led Zeppelin thought they were an unusually loud blues band. No one's sure what Black Sabbath thought they were, but they were probably wrong too. Listening to Sucktastic! (the new CD version of an earlier five-song release, plus extra tracks) by locals Reagan National Crash Diet--who of course aren't on a level with the groups above--I sometimes get the impression they think they're a pop-punk band. But at key moments they achieve a hairy, distorted chaos that's far more exciting than the prefab stuff they seemingly aspire to. SHESUS 7/11, FIRESIDE BOWL This Dayton band seems to have trouble keeping its members on board: both guitarist Kim Carter and bassist Erika Wennerstrom have departed since laying down their tracks on Shesus's full-length debut, Loves You...Loves You Not (Narnack). But the core of the band has always been guitarist Michelle Bodine (formerly of Brainiac and a late-90s edition of the Breeders) and singer Heather Newkirk, and they're responsible for most of the 15 tin-can-alley art-punk songs on the album. Cheerfully loud and snotty, this is a band that knows perfectly well what boys like and doesn't give a fuck. Inspirational couplet: "I was born on the guest list / Don't you be angry with me." PINEBENDER 7/12, SCHUBAS The latest from this Chicago band, The High Price of Living Too Long With a Single Dream (Lovitt), makes my jury-rigged speakers do something funny if I turn the volume down, so no matter how my neighbors feel about it this CD will be played as it was meant to be heard--loud. And the blustery waves of "Begin Here" and the low-end thrum of "Let It Be" rock the walls in a most satisfying way. But when Pinebender gets quiet, as the zeitgeist demands, a sneaking suspicion is confirmed: these guys can't write songs, only sounds. DEAD MEADOW 7/13, ABBEY PUB This D.C. power trio admits that when they released their first record three years ago on Tolotta, a label run by Joe Lally of Fugazi, they fully expected to be razzed: their epic psychedelic style owes far more to Led Zeppelin than to Minor Threat. But the punk-longhair wars are a thing of the past, and unexpected rediscoveries become cliches pretty fast nowadays. Dead Meadow are rescued from stoner-rock generica by a transcendent trippiness that links them with Spacemen 3 and the Warlocks in this hemisphere and Ghost and Acid Mothers Temple in the other. Besides two Tolotta releases, they've also got a live album on The Committee to Keep Music Evil (Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre operates this one), plus a Peel Session; their third full-length, Shivering King and Others, is now out on Matador, and a joyously Blue Cheer-heavy slab of whacked-out eeriness it is. BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB 7/14, EMPTY BOTTLE Don't say this fast-rising San Francisco cult band hasn't suffered for their Anglophilia: they had to relocate to the UK while their English expat drummer ironed out some long-running visa problems. All seems to be in order now, and they're blitzing through a string of North American clubs this summer, with a new album, Take Them on, on Your Own, due out in September. Though the British press anoints a new savior of rock every few months or so, the BRMC are still in the running--loud enough to blow out jaded eardrums and cute enough to sell magazines. If you're over 25 it's nothing you haven't heard before--but you might be glad to hear it again. CHIEFTAINS 7/15, RAVINIA For their 40th anniversary last year, grand old Irish-music pillars the Chieftains went all out: a career-spanning series of reissues, an excellent retrospective album, and a new work, Down the Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessions (RCA), that finds the connections between Irish music and old-timey country (thereby finding the differences too). Performing alongside legendary and current country stars, the Chieftains did at last with country music what they'd done with pop on The Long Black Veil. A crowning moment was a concert in Nashville featuring many of the guests from the record, including John Hiatt, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs, and Martina McBride; a crushing moment was the sudden death of Chieftains harpist Derek Bell not three weeks later. They're touring without him for the first time in 30 years. RUINS 7/16, SCHUBAS I have never, ever seen Ruins--drummer Tatsuya Yoshida and bassist Hisashi Sasaki--fail to rock the house in a way that threatens its structural integrity. In lesser hands this kind of extreme prog can be painful, but in theirs it brings the intense pleasure of the right parts falling into the right places at a nearly incomprehensible speed. Their latest album, Tzomborgha (Ipecac), continues some Ruins traditions: the medleys (this time, one of Black Sabbath and one of Mahavishnu Orchestra) and the made-up language (like their heroes Magma, Ruins sing in a tongue of their own devising). A lot of the violent beauty of their sound gets lost on record, frankly; their dynamic live show somehow reveals the quiet, delicate spots in all the hyperactivity. JESSE HARRIS & THE FERDINANDOS 7/17, ABBEY PUB It's an odd position to be in, but not a bad one: playing small clubs, selling CDs after the set, and slowly building up a grassroots audience while hit-record money earns interest in your bank account and a Grammy gathers dust on your mantelpiece. That's where Brooklyn-based Jesse Harris is, thanks to the five songs he wrote (including the biggie, "Don't Know Why") on Norah Jones's breakthrough album, Come Away With Me. His own new album, The Secret Sun, is laid-back and wistful and just a bit mystical, ever so slightly unprofessionally shaggy in a mid-70s Dylan kind of way. It may or may not bring some more of that commercial love Harris's way, but clearly Jones is still returning his calls: those are her luminous vocals and piano on "What Makes You."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ken Schles.

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