Arts and Entertainment
Electric Sweat (Gammon)
A full two years before the pretty boys of the Strokes stormed the world via Brit press, four young lads from upstate New York were the Manhattan rage. Mind you, the Mooney Suzuki were not some daddy-funded, preordained savior for half-wits and haircuts but a real, live, kicking and scratching garage outfit. Bent on delivering a white-boy version of Stax soul via Detroit guitar freak-out, they were hard and rough and smooth and all the other wonderful things that make a person believe. In September 2000 they released the solid People Get Ready (Estrus), which shot up the CMJ charts, peaked, and was replaced by somebody or something else that I can promise had nowhere nears the nuts. And as we entered ought-two, rock and roll looked like it might finally be busted for good, fashion rockers were irate, and all my heroes were old or assholes if this was the end, I was all set to pitch myself over the side.
Then along comes Electric Sweat, and it looks like maybe we aren't damned after all. Picking up where they left off last, Sammy James Jr. and his boys step right into a low-grade orbit. This album is tough and raw and soulful almost mind-shattering, in fact (just don't listen to the lyrics). It's not just that they prove the Kinks and Zombies and Music Machine and MC5 and Booker T and the MG's, and all the other bands that Strokes fans will never understand are still relevant and vital; in fact, this album offers proof that the idea of musical redemption is not a cliché. Staying home to watch HBO is no longer an option. There are things to see and hear. Somewhere out in the night there are guitars gnashing and drumsticks flailing and hands clapping on the two and the four rock 'n' roll, alive and well. (John O'Neill)
Infection and Decline (Troubleman Unlimited)
The Flying Luttenbachers were a crazy free jazz trio made up of 65-year-old saxophonist Hal Russell (real surname: Luttenbacher) and two kids who were barely in their 20s when they formed in Chicago in the early 1990s. One of those "kids," drummer Weasel Walter, took over the band after Russell left in '92, and he's been in charge since. Other band members have come and gone about 15 of them and the group's sound has changed several times, from spastic punk-jazz (Destroy All Music) to caustic no wave (Revenge ...) to even more caustic free jazz (Alptraum). But despite all this, the Luttenbachers' music in general hasn't waned.
Infection and Decline is the first album by the Luttenbachers' newest lineup, a three-piece with Walter on drums and two electric bassists. They play an ominous, hypercomplex prog rock mixed with swirling electronic noise and robotic death metal drumming that they call "brutal prog."
This works for me, although the disc isn't quite the flattening wall of sound I expected, based on last summer's live shows. (Maybe I just need a better stereo.) Happily, the songs despite an information-overload level of detail aren't merely complicated; they're real songs, well written and plainly recognizable after a few spins. The climax is a 15-minute version of the epic "De Futura" by French band Magma a solid 10 on the cover-song degree-of-difficulty scale. Walter introduced it as "French disco music" at their Oakland show last year, and the fact is that the original version is funkier, but this is still about as danceable as anything you could expect from three guys who sound like they're being electrocuted and who are, after all, playing prog rock. I'm impressed. The Flying Luttenbachers play Sun/27, Covered Wagon Saloon, S.F. (415) 974-1585; Tues/29, Stork Club, Oakl. (510) 444-6174. (Will York)
Shabaz (Mondo Melodia)
During his all-too-short life, the great qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan dabbled in ambient soundscapes and dance floor remixes, sometimes compromising the extraordinary transporting power of his voice for the sake of a timely and commercially viable commodity. Bay Area-based brother-and-sister vocalists Sukhawat Ali Khan and Riffat "Queenie" Salamat descend from the same tradition the late Nusrat arose from; their father, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, and his brother were Nusrat's uncles and took the ancient Sufi singing style from Pakistan through Europe as the Ali Brothers.
Sukhawat and Riffat command the requisite abstract and ecstatic vocal techniques that make qawwali both mesmerizing and spine-tingling, but they inject them as well as more tempered and straightforward singing into club-savvy realms of dub, hip-hop, and electronica fusions that make their famous cousin's dabblings seem feeble by comparison. As Shabaz ("chief eagle"), which also includes Riffat's husband, Richard Michos, playing guitars and synthesizers and overseeing the high-tech arrangements and production, the forward-looking siblings bring to their crossover experiments a kind of personal integrity and lusty panache that has escaped much latter-day world beat.
After recording two CDs as the Ali Khan Band for the local City of Tribes label, the trio have jumped to Miles Copeland's Mondo Melodia. Accordingly, their musical experiments have taken a big-time leap. More than 20 musicians add keyboards, bass, sax, drums, percussion, violin, sarangi, samples, trumpet, and more to tracks that swirl, jitter, gurgle, laze, jostle, and enthrall, like soundtracks for a Middle Eastern/sub-Asian continental remake of Run, Lola, Run, in which the hero is racing toward either passionate love or blissful enlightenment. Meanwhile "sweet rain is pouring fruit juice and color" and "the reflections of her dress are killing my heart." Shabaz performs Fri/25, Elbo Room, S.F. (415) 552-7788. (Derk Richardson)
Hell (Steel Cage)
Southern punk rock filthbags Antiseen have been around since 1983, but they've never gotten much respect. I'm no more than a latecomer in the props category myself, but at least now I know what I was missing. Unlike a more kitschy, tongue-in-cheek act such as Southern Culture on the Skids, these guys are the genuine article. I mean, just look at the band pictures inside the CD: the guitarist is wearing camouflage pants and a Confederate flag bandanna. Not the kind of image your average rock critic with "good taste" wants to embrace, let alone a confused college radio DJ who's still trying to convince himself that he likes post-rock. (That would've been me, unfortunately.) Antiseen have always been looked down on by these folks, something that has only fueled the hostility and the proud-pariah spirit at the heart of their drunken "destructo rock" style.
This album is an expanded version of an EP that came out in 1994. It has 24 songs, mostly covers, and talk about hostility it's funny how many of them involve not liking someone and/or threatening to whoop their ass. Dylan's "Positively 4th Street," the Anti-Nowhere League's "(We Will Not) Remember You," Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer," and their own "You're Gonna Tote an Ass-Kickin" all fit this bill. There are also great covers of Hank Williams, Alice Cooper, and Roky Erickson, all done up with Antiseen's trademark crusty power chords and lead singer Jeff Clayton's grizzly bear vocals.
The album's highlight is the live, Stooges-like remake of Curtis Mayfield's "(Don't Worry) If There Is Hell Below," where Clayton's delivery puts a twist on the lyrics that seems to say, "Bring it on." That is, for someone who has endured years of obscurity, low-paying gigs, and self-inflicted broken-bottle wounds not to mention life in rural South Carolina how bad could hell really be? Anyhow, allow me to say (belatedly): Antiseen rule, and if you want proof, this disc is a good start. (York)