BEMBEYA JAZZ 7/9, SUMMERDANCE; 7/10, CHICAGO FOLK & ROOTS FESTIVAL This Guinean group has a backstory similar to that of Senegal's Orchestra Baobab: both bands are decades old, and at one point were state sponsored; both were moribund when a record producer spurred them back into action. (In Bembeya's case it was Christian Mousset, who runs the Marabi label in France.) On Bembeya, released stateside last year on World Village, melismatic Mande melodies unfurl over swaying Afro-Cuban polyrhythms, and the multiple guitars and precise brass section deliver a sound that's at once elastic and drum-tight, stuffed with plush harmonies. Lead guitarist Sekou "Diamond Fingers" Diabate, a founding member of Bembeya, has just put out a solo disc featuring the band's rhythm section: Guitar Fo (World Village) uses the same sort of percolating grooves, right down to the occasional touch of reggae syncopation, but here the focus is on Diabate's propulsive guitar work--liquid and bubbly on electric, mesmerizing and eerie on steel. As good as the records are, though, they can't match the raw energy this hard-touring band creates onstage. VIKTER DUPLAIX 7/9, SONOTHEQUE Philadelphia producer and vocalist Vikter Duplaix has one foot in the hip-hop community, the other in the club scene, and fingers in lots of pies; he's worked with the likes of Jaguar Wright, Erykah Badu, and Jazzanova, as well as contributing lead vocals to King Britt's Scuba project. Last year he finally released a full-length under his own name. The competent neosoul on International Affairs (Hollywood) combines his dense vocal arrangements (which recall the more daring accomplishments of English soul singer Lewis Taylor) with dry, taut programmed beats and atmospheric keyboards. But Duplaix isn't much of a singer, and no amount of multitracking can disguise that; his voice starts to fray whenever he climbs into the upper registers of his narrow range. It's probably for the best that this is a DJ set. JOHN HASBROUCK 7/9, GUNTHER MURPHY'S On his brand-new second album, Some These Days (Ruthless Rabbit), local guitarist John Hasbrouck once again demonstrates his impeccable chops and detailed knowledge of bottleneck and fingerstyle guitar traditions. A veteran instructor at the Old Town School of Folk Music, he's just as comfortable busting out crazy slide flourishes on an old Charlie Patton tune as he is weaving through thickets of fingerpicking like Leo Kottke or John Fahey. But he never puts much of himself into his work--except when he adds his perfunctory vocals, and then you wish he wouldn't. Several other local acts, including Urban Djin, Twang Bang, Lawrence Peters, and Steve Doyle of the Hoyle Brothers, are scheduled to make guest appearances at this CD-release party. RUDI PROTRUDI 7/9, LYONS DEN; 7/10, UNDERGROUND LOUNGE Rudi Protrudi is best known as the front man of garage-rock revivalists the Fuzztones, but it's a little unfair to use the r-word to describe the man himself: he was there the first time, playing in a combo called King Arthur's Quart in 1966. The Fuzztones, formed in New York in 1980, were prime movers in the garage-rock revival of that decade, performing with the Damned and Screamin' Jay Hawkins; the band "officially" re-formed in 2000. The new Salt for Zombies (released on Protrudi's own Sin imprint) carries on as if the past couple decades never happened: Protrudi's campy ghoulishness and backward-looking aesthetic are perfectly intact, and fuzzy tremolo guitar and haunted-house Farfisa provide a perfect backdrop for his primitive punk-rock snarling and moaning. For these rare Chicago gigs Protrudi will perform with south-siders the Crookshanks. HELIO SEQUENCE 7/10, SCHUBAS Benjamin Weikel, drummer and keyboardist for this Portland duo, recently spent more than a year touring and recording with Modest Mouse, but the Helio Sequence's new album, Love and Distance (Sub Pop), forgoes that band's wildly ambitious emo for glossy, calculated alt-rock. Weikel and guitarist Brandon Summers craft pristine pop-rock melodies over motorik rhythms and jumpy synthesizer bleeps--but if you're thinking that sounds promising, you'll be disappointed. Minus the electronics, it'd sound like Perry Farrell singing the Bryan Adams songbook. The Album Leaf headlines. THE LIKE YOUNG 7/10, EMPTY BOTTLE A couple years on the road has tightened up the crunchy pop attack of this local husband-and-wife duo. On their brand-new second album, So Serious (Parasol), guitarist Joe and drummer Amanda Ziemba manage to sound bigger (and louder) than two people, a la Local H, without sacrificing concision--the 12 fully formed songs on the new disc run their course in just 24 minutes. The group has nailed the mix of cheeky, joyous guitar huzzah and hooky power pop that first put Weezer on the map, but there's a muscularity in Joe's raspy singing that's worlds away from Rivers Cuomo's cardigan-clad self-consciousness. We Ragazzi headlines. DEAD MEADOW 7/11, BOTTOM LOUNGE This D.C. trio released Shivering King and Others (Matador) last summer, just as the hype merchants got bored with stoner rock, so it hasn't yet had its well-deserved moment in the spotlight. The group delivers its post-Sabbath slow grind with an elegant swing, and its vocabulary extends beyond "loud" and "heavy"--the handful of moody acoustic ballads are especially nice. But Jason Simon's extravagant, unhinged splatters of wah-wah guitar are what give Dead Meadow's music its distinctive flavor: it sounds like it was recorded in a deep cave, and it reeks of dread and paranoia, but somehow it's expansive and beautiful at the same time. Icarus Line and Battles (see Critic's Choice) open. BIG BOI, SLEEPY BROWN 7/15, HOUSE OF BLUES OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (Arista) was by broad consensus the album of the year in 2003, but the duo has been practically invisible on the concert circuit since its release. That "album" was essentially two solo discs packaged together, though, so it's not much of a shock that Big Boi appears here on his own. While the highs on Andre 3000's kaleidoscopic disc were higher than anything else in the collection, Big Boi's half, Speakerboxxx, was more consistently enjoyable: borrowing heavily from a wide range of serious funk purveyors, from George Clinton to Prince, he cooked up an irresistible platter of pillowy, booty-shaking bass, entrancing beats, and sharp horns. Atlanta crooner Sleepy Brown lent his talents to the album, singing the hooks on some of its best songs, like "The Way You Move" and "Bowtie." Big Boi recently returned the favor, rapping on Brown's "I Can't Wait," a creamy-voiced jam from the sound track of Barbershop 2. The two play separate sets here, but I'd expect them to share the stage a few times at least. GRAVENHURST 7/15, EMPTY BOTTLE For years now Warp Records has been venturing out from its home base in techno, releasing bands like Tortoise and the Anti-Pop Consortium--but even given those precedents, Flashlight Seasons, the second album by England's Gravenhurst (aka Nick Talbot), is a departure for the label. This hushed, mostly acoustic affair owes a clear debt to Nick Drake, and its soft-focus harmonies sound like Simon & Garfunkel. Sometimes there's minimalist percussion, delicate washes of synthesizer, or gentle electric guitar that hangs in the air like wind chimes, but Talbot's sparse strumming and sweet murmuring stay in the foreground. The melodies are graceful and pretty but not strong enough to counter the dull consistency of tone--Talbot seems to be choosing between quiet, quiet, and slightly less quiet. Midstates headlines; Zelienople opens.
Monica Kendrick is on vacation.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Pat Graham.