Your Right To Party

The second half of the evening was devoted to the Sema ritual, credited to Rumi. The seven-part ceremony began and ended with a stirring Koranic recitation delivered in a haunting nasal baritone voice by blind Kani Karaca. The accompanying music--endlessly ornamented arrangements of Turkish flutes, lutes, zithers, drums, and voices--included unusual nine- and 13-bar rhythmic patterns that provided more flow than beat. Seven Turkish dervishes in wide, white skirts and camel's-hair hats bowed to the two onstage shaikhs, slowly raised their arms over their heads, turned their right palm toward heaven and their left toward the earth, and spun on and on and on. When the Sema was over, much of the audience practically ran for the exits.--Richard Gehr

Strum Warning

Jon Spencer
Andrew Goldberg
Jon Spencer

Six of the world's best ukulele players came together last Thursday at Symphony Space to honor the wooden box with nylon strings and its contribution to 20th-century Americana. Unfortunately, the happy little instrument the Ukulele Masters came to celebrate was overshadowed for most of the night by a forced professionalism. The beauty of the uke is in its distinct, familiar, "plinka plinka plinka" sound. The artists, however, in trying to justify the instrument when no justification was necessary, took the highbrow road. Lyle Ritz and Buron Yasui played plenty of Rogers and Hart--complete with bass solos--but not once did they (or anyone else) offer up "Little Grass Shack." Instead, renowned slack key guitarist Led Kaapana offered up a humorless "Killing Me Softly," while host Jim Beloff played "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" with as straight a face as possible (and, trust me, Jonathan Richman he's not).

The second set featured a few Hawaiian tunes by Kaapana (whose excellent voice suggested Neil Sedaka with rocks in his throat), and his coupling with Bob Brozman, ex­Cheap Suit Serenader, made for sweet picking; sadly, the two took turns on ukulele, never actually dueting. When Brozman held up his guitar and said, "Just think of it as a big uke with strings," it was a bit of a cheat.

Rhino's new release Legends of the Ukulele is smart enough not to take itself too seriously. You get Tiny Tim playing "Tiptoe," natch, and some amazing performances (check out Roy Smeck wailing on "Uke Said It"). The record benefits from a healthy goofiness that was sorely missing most of Thursday night. When five of the Masters capped the show by strumming away on "Aloha Oe," accompanied by a saw player, it was the sweetest moment of the evening--a peak that could have been reached much earlier with a lot more plinka plinka plinka.--Frank Ruscitti

Myth Mash

It's a sign of the moment that the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion have made an album that's heavily dependent on studio electronics, and a sign of rock's resilience that they've translated it back into chip-free raucousness. At the Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night, their set peeled away the song forms of the new stuff like a leather jacket, making way for the band's usual vamp-to-vamp surge: Spencer frenching the mic, Judah Bauer scratching his guitar like his baby's back, Russell Simins aiming his bass drum straight between everyone's hips.

Simins is a breakbeat hero, a philosopher king of the snare and kick, a groove drummer so wily you could read the Starr Report over his beats and he'd draw its secret rhythms out. ("Calvin," a crumbly sample collage on record, hangs together live thanks to his Velcro backbeat.) He's got the dinkiest, dryest-sounding kit around, and he whacks the bejesus out of it, stuttering like a tape splice or opening fire like a needlegun. When Simins set up the rolling and tumbling pattern of "Greyhound," Spencer-as-star deferred to Spencer-as-emcee and backed out of the way.

Spencer's stage persona, down to the Deep South accent that's as ludicrous as Mick Jagger's or John Fogerty's, comes from the swaggering self-invention of early rock and electric blues, but the big lesson he's learned from his heroes is to dispense with irony altogether. You can blow up your myth-bubble as big as you want as long as you don't try to break its surface, but you cannot get away with yelling, "I wanna make it all right!" five times in a row by way of introducing a song to a crowd of NYC hipsters unless that is what you mean. And he does. "I feel so GOODA BOUTA PIECE A' TRASH!" he blurted halfway through the finale with absolute conviction, just as Simins was raising his stick to crash back in, and he went on to shout all the song titles on the not-yet-released Acme as if they were hits already. They might as well have been.--Douglas Wolk

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