Creature Double Feature

Except that it's quite difficult to get the Chain Reaction method to work consistently. For instance, the problem with Pole, the solo project of Chain Reaction's dub plate engineer, Stefan Betke, is that it strains toward a purely digital version of dub: an interesting contradiction in terms conceptually, but one less than fascinating to hear actually played out. It half works as effervescent analgesic on Pole's new self-titled album (Kiff), on which a constant, fizzy crackle tickles Cab Volt­Suicide throb in a lukewarm bath of lurching synthetic bass that aims for King Tubby but barely meets the Residents. Live and loud, the Pole set actually hurt a bit; shuddering spasms landed stinging blows mid sternum like a bad case of acid reflux.

Scion, the next act, aimed closer to the heart, pummeling away with velvet-gloved blows that were dreamy, insistent, definitely danceable, and not so darned hard to digest. Afterward, Peter Kuschnereit, a/k/a Substance (the other Scion guy), commenced an interminable set on the turntables so fraught with error that whenever he successfully matched a beat, obliging audience members clapped (having necessarily given up on dancing, what else could they do?). His retro-electro selections gave a hint of what '80s nights must sound like on the continent (Laid Back's "White Horse" figured prominently). Finally, Löwe took over turntable duties in the wee hours; it was a shame that he didn't proffer a Vainqueur set instead, to revive the pulse of the by-then-dying party. — Sally Jacob


Ribbed For Her Pleasure

Straight guys don't get Duncan Sheik. A mostly gay-appearing or female crowd filled the Bowery Ballroom last Thursday, where Sheik and his sensitive ensemble played a lugubrious two-hour set in support of his sophomore effort, Humming. The few straight men cuddled openly with their girlfriends. Sheik's soothing pop, laden with diaphanous textures and Indian tablas, created a decidedly coffeehouse atmosphere, helped along by Chinese orb lanterns and washes of azure and emerald light. Sheik has the dubious distinction of being the only pop artist today carrying on the tradition of the arto-intellectual male singer-songwriter. His '80s predecessors— Sting, Peter Gabriel, Prefab Sprout's Paddy McAloon, David Sylvian— all went missing when acid jazz and trip-hop replaced pop fusion as the college graduate's sexmusic of choice.

Sheik's self-consciousness about his unfashionable genre accounts for his adorable bashfulness. Despite extensive touring, he still seemed nervous and awkward onstage, as if he's more accustomed to closing his bedroom door and jamming for his four-track home studio. He apologized frequently. When he said, "I hope it doesn't bring back any bad memories," of his debut album's "In the Absence of Sun" (included on the soundtrack of The Saint— "a bad movie," according to Sheik), you suspect he might have been worried about conjuring his own bad memories of the song, not yours.

All these quirks, in someone so well-scrubbed and bred at Andover and Brown, serve as a respite from most rock-n-roll boys' swaggering arrogance. He's a rock star you could dominate. And plenty of women like submissive men. A coterie of fashion chicks, one of them reportedly Sheik's girlfriend, boogied orgiastically at the edge of the stage to Sheik's decidedly unfunky numbers like they'd been hypnotized into thinking he was James Brown. Sheik's voice broke like a prepubescent kid sometimes, as he switched between his capable midrange, an unconvincing bass, and a falsetto to die for. When Sheik hit that passage of high notes in his opening song, "Rubbed Out," he undoubtedly wet some fans' underwear. But such ecstasy is difficult to sustain, especially for a wimp. — James Hannaham

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