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SUMERIANS 8/15, FIRESIDE BOWL Let's leave this New York quartet's headdresses and loincloths and traveling-through-space-for-16-million-years backstory alone for a moment: the music is actually every bit as weird as it should be. It's wailing, keening, eerie space-rock-meets-surf-rock--you'll hear strains of both Man or Astro-Man? and Can. Front man Enki-du (his bandmates are Tiamat, Marduk, and Tigris) sings in an otherworldly howl that puts their barbaric message across downright plausibly. Studied indie cool and archaeological geekery alike fall apart in the face of brilliant, devoted silliness like this. I asked their representative if the band had a public statement on recent tragic events, and he e-mailed me that "the SUMERIANS are working on a plan to prevent the looting of the Iraqi Museum. but first we must repair our spacecraft/time machine. we feel that if the SUMERIANS can go to pre-war bagdad and play our rock and roll then maybe we can raise the level of appreciation of earth history." DWIGHT TWILLEY 8/16, BEAT KITCHEN Power pop sounds like it's always going for the big single, and occasionally a song does break through, but the truth is that many of the genre's most prolific and defining artists rarely score at all. Consider Dwight Twilley--a Billboard-centric reading of his decades-long career would brand him a one- or two- or three-hit wonder, but that wouldn't do justice to all the equally chartworthy stuff he kept on writing and recording. Even this trouper needed a break from the frustration: 1999's Tulsa was his first album of new material in 13 years. To no one's surprise, it sounded a fair bit like his old material--sunny, harmonious, infectious post-Beatles rock, frisky and fluffy and perpetually trying on a big-dog growl just to learn how to do it. A follow-up collection, The Luck (2001, Big Oak), proves again that he has the skills, if not the luck. DARKEST HOUR 8/17, BOTTOM LOUNGE Not everybody looks to America for the soul of rock 'n' roll anymore: Darkest Hour emerged from D.C.'s hardcore scene, but for their third full-length, Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation (Victory), they traveled to Goteborg, Sweden, to work with Fredrik Nordstrom. (He's produced for Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth, and At the Gates, among others; members of the Haunted, Soilwork, and the Crown all stopped by the Darkest Hour sessions to lend a withered, clawlike hand.) So what does this mean for their sound? Duh, it means the album's pretty heavy fuckin' metal--leisurely and grandiose at times, tailor-made for the mosh pit at others. They haven't left the U.S. behind thematically, as song titles like "The Sadist Nation," "Pay Phones and Pills," "Oklahoma," and "The Patriot Virus" suggest. JOE JACKSON BAND 8/17, CONGRESS THEATER It might be disingenuous for the Joe Jackson Band to bill this as the "final tour"--while this could turn out to be accurate, only time will tell. It's an odd idea, however, coming from a group that reconvened only last year after over two decades of nonexistence. (For that matter, in their heyday it was just "Joe Jackson"--there was no mention of "band" until Jackson brought back the same three guys he started out with for another go-round.) Moving deliberately from a twitchy, bilious new-wave sound toward a suave, cosmopolitan--and defiantly anachronistic--songcraft, Jackson spent a few good years on the charts here and in the UK, but his reliance on his almost too easy pop skills has sometimes made it seem like he's trying to escape context altogether. Volume 4, released this spring, comes on the 25th anniversary of the band's debut, and the long gap barely shows. EARL SCRUGGS 8/17, OLD TOWN SCHOOL Listening to Earl Scruggs and Friends (MCA), the North Carolina banjo master's 2001 return to recording after 17 years, I surely had my share of mixed feelings. Some people might think megastars like Elton John and Sting and Billy Bob Thornton were doing the old man a favor by escorting him back into the spotlight, and from a financial point of view I'm sure that's true. On the other hand, it takes a genius like Scruggs to make Sting anything like listenable these days. (Do I have to tell you that the tracks with Johnny Cash, Rosanne Cash, Dwight Yoakam, and even John Fogerty are better?) No superfluous glitz at this show, though--the band is all regulars, including fiddler Glen Duncan, who helped make "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" scream on the album. Two shows; the Steve Rosen Trio opens both. 30 ODD FOOT OF GRUNTS 8/17-19, 21, 23, HOUSE OF BLUES Musicians try to be actors more often than the other way around--maybe acting looks easier, or maybe playing music involves a bit of acting most of the time already. Judging by Other Ways of Speaking (Artemis), with its painfully earnest working man storytelling, husky and sweaty and strong and sensitive and all, I'd say this band could have landed a contract even if the front man weren't Russell Fucking Crowe. Whether they could play five nights at the House of Blues and sell out two (at press time)--well, that's another question entirely, and the answer's surely no, at least not yet. But they sure kick Dogstar's ass. ELENI MANDELL, SINISTER LUCK ENSEMBLE 8/20, GUNTHER MURPHY'S The Sinister Luck Ensemble is now working an EP for sale only at shows; recorded with recent tourmate Deanna Varagona, it shows off the group's down-to-earth side. This Chicago outfit has often accompanied films and dancers, and its music can sometimes feel like a sound track in search of a visual--but when things click, as they did repeatedly on last year's Anniversary (Perishable), the sound is the thing, and the images appear naturally on the blank screen of the seduced listener's mind. The associations are nostalgic--sailors' taverns, country funerals, faded dance halls--thanks to the maudlin accordion and violin, but percussionist Tim Mulvenna keeps the flow open-ended and a little abstract. The SLF opens for Eleni Mandell, herself a shape-shifter of a songwriter who veered off her crooked, Tom Waits-ish path in a honky-tonk direction with last winter's Country for True Lovers.

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