Shit Happens

Says the 31-year-old man whose stage name means "shit" in his native Finland, "I never thought I would do Paska after I was 30." Yeah yeah yeah, Mick Jagger said the same fucking thing too, once. But Mick's m.o. never matched that of Paska—going shirtless and screaming a capella minute-long versions of various cover songs and "originals" (sample titles: "I'm Shit", "Sex Is Shit," "Pain in the Ass," "The Creation and Destruction of the Universe") into two mikes, while generally terrorizing the audience. In case you're wondering why Paska—né Ari Peltonen—requires two mikes, well, one's for vocals and one's for the air-guitar-accompanied vocalized instrumental passages. These are sort of like Beavis and Butthead's, just bassier, slurrier, more distorted, and less tuneful.

Last Monday, Paska—beered, loose-bellied, red-faced—performed for a downtown hipster audience that had crammed into Bar 16's glittering shoebox of a basement for a night of improvisational fare. Though many at tendees seemed not to know what the hell was up with this guy shrieking in a hard-to-place accent, enough were won over by the time "Pain in the Ass" rolled around to lustily sing along with the ending ("Pain! Ass! Pain! Ass!"). As Ernest Hemingway once wrote, this does not sound so funny now but it was very funny then. Just ask Blixa Bargeld, who was there. Coincidentally, Paska was later asked to open for Einstürzende Neubauten here next month, but his travel plans may not permit it. More's the pity, even if not all who've seen Paska's NYC shows seem to share Neubauten's enthusiasm. The finale of Paska's Knitting Factory appearance during CMJ had him dragging a bearded, bespectacled, fortyish guy onstage to serenade with a particularly visceral version of "Love Me Tender." When Cake Like trooped on stage moments afterward, bewildered bassist/vocalist/Comedy Central per former Kerri Kenney asked, "What the hell was that?" One attendee's muttered response: "A lot funnier than Viva Variety." —Jon Fine


Guided by Voice

How do you pay tribute to a voice? Songs written can live on in others' throats, but the singing of songs is mocked if mimicked. Instead of trying to replicate one vocalist's irreplicable style, "Listen, Listen: Music of Sandy Denny," a multiartist program at St. Ann's on Saturday, wisely honored Voice, particularly the female voice seeking release in British balladry. Yes, Denny, the singer for folk-rock groups Fairport Convention and Fotheringay in the '60s and '70s, wrote songs (her first and greatest hit, "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" was delivered by Judy Collins in 1968). But it was for her voice—a husky alto with a soprano's trills, carrying centuries of English folk tradition but speaking a modern woman's troubles and hopes—that Denny earned her fame. She sang of a bucolic past that made her strange death in 1978, after falling down a stairway at age 30, mythic—as if it were an accident she was born in this century, and she wasn't meant to stay.

Except, thankfully, her devotion to Celtic and Anglo-Saxon music has endured in artists like Katell Keineg, a talent blessed with Denny's vocal capabilities and literary lyrical skills that Richard Thompson should envy. The Welsh, Brittany-bred Keineg was the well-chosen star of "Listen, Listen," but she was almost outdone by English émigré Amanda Thorpe's clear grace and Irish expat Susan McKeown's powerful cadences. The Americans lost this revolution, with the only standouts being Susan Cow sill, who created a tomboy's lullaby out of "At the End of the Day," and Darius Rucker (yes, Hootie), who found gospel in "Blackwaterside," a revelation of talent that sent this critic into a confused crisis.

Rucker succeeded partly because he could hold his own over the backing band the Continental Drifters, who generally played too loud. Gathering Southern alt-rock cronies like R.E.M.'s Mike Mills and producer Don Dixon, tribute organizer Peter Holsapple may have wanted to turn the evening into a hoedown. But Denny was a balladeer, not a belter, and her voice, even in tribute, deserved its own space. —Evelyn McDonnell


Hardcore, You Know the Score

If you noticed a lot of dejected kids wandering around Times Square last Wednesday—more than usual, any way—it was because the Deftones were playing Roseland. You couldn't get a ticket for love or lunch money, and even the scalpers were getting ripped off. Those lucky enough to join the record-capacity crowd sat on the floor, showed off new tattoos so raw you could "just look, don't touch 'em," or pulled a friend's head out of the toilet: "I love you, okay—watch your hair!" Not that there was much visible drinking: with the 16-to-21 demo graphic in full effect, the bar was the only place that wasn't packed.

Everywhere else, from parquet to rafters, stripped-to-the-waist teenage boys and a few girls erupted at the first adrenaline-shot note of the torrential "My Own Summer (Shove It)," alternating ominous bass riffing and death-rattle vocals with maelstroms of guitar abuse and malevolent shrieks. The Deftones are subtler and smarter than the rest of the current punk/metal crop—their tightly rhythmic, densely low-end sound hails back to old hardcore. They raise goosebumps even in a room overflowing with sweat and testosterone, mainly be cause of Chino Moreno's vocals: he can bend over and scream from his gut in throat-searing agony or let loose with unbroken, soaring wails that raise eyes and ears to the ceiling. He's also a magnetic stage presence, flying back and forth, leaping over barricades and speaker stacks, culminating in a 15-foot swan dive into the crowd during the (literally) bruising thrash anthem "Headup."

Still, the evening's most stunning moment was the crowd's, during a chorus of the hypnotic, emotional "Drive (Far Away)," a song about escaping something you can't name for somewhere you don't know. Suddenly all the kids in the audience screamed, "I don't care where, just far!" and threw themselves into some kind of convulsion that rippled the entire room like a storm at sea. In 10 seconds or so the flailing and hollering subsided to usual mosh-pit activity, but for a moment, there was the shock of thousands of people opening up their souls, expressing something, even if it was only their inability to explain it. —Lissa Townsend Rodgers


Frowny Frown

There's not much recorded evidence of Liam Hayes's nine-year career as Plush: one slow- striding, melancholic single in 1994, a second in 1997, and finally, this year, More You Becomes You, a sliver of an album (voice, piano, two minutes of French horn) that adds roughly five songs to his canon. In an equally rare live performance Saturday night at the Mercury Lounge, More You was revealed as his Smiley Smile: a slow, ghostly stand-in for an album too big to make, and maybe too personal to dwell on. (Reportedly, it's also a substitute for an unfinishable recording.) Played in its entirety as the first half of the show, it was a report from the cliff's edge. Hayes stabbed blindly at notes, his voice wobbling and cracking, snatching a tambourine abruptly or jabbing at an organ a little too hard, looking and sounding like he wasn't just craving oblivion but being sucked in by it. This wasn't watching a show, it was rubbernecking.

If Hayes had been on his own, it would have been too naked to bear, but this incarnation of Plush is a full band, with another keyboardist, a bass player of unwavering gravity, and a drummer who threw in grand power-ballad fills wherever they could be justified. They nursed More You's pained, gestural songs back to health, buoying up Hayes when he threatened to sink, and their dramatic here-comes-the- chorus flourishes made it clear that he is, in fact, a sensitive early-'70s balladeer, right down to the big frizzy hair that gives him a Frampton Comes Alive halo when he's backlit. Every time the band executed some classic Badfinger move, Hayes stood up a little straighter. By the end of the show, he was bold and steady, enough in control of his voice's leaps and curlicues that his earlier uncertainty could have been an act. "Makes me feel glad that I'm not dead," Hayes sang dozens of times, and even though he was still treating life as a negative option, he seemed okay with it. —Douglas Wolk

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