Baby's On Fire

Fulks can be a hateful fuck on his albums— it's a big reason I like him— but he warmed up in this setting, which suited his tendency to treat songwriting like a game more than a soul review. He may be out of a deal soon, but shows like this ensure that he won't be standing alone for long. —Eric Weisbard

Rhythm Nations

Ronnie Spector, still Lolita-like at 55, with mad-genius bluesman "Keef!"
Ebet Roberts
Ronnie Spector, still Lolita-like at 55, with mad-genius bluesman "Keef!"

Performing on electronic percussion Sunday night at Experimental Intermedia, Lukas Ligeti seemed to draw inspiration directly from the peeling walls, precariously heaped boxes, nonexistent sight lines, and cheap (yet complimentary!) red wine that have made composer Phill Niblock's distressed loft a monument to inspired otherness. As a traps drummer, the Austria-born composer has worked extensively with African musicians in the Ivory Coast, Uganda, and elsewhere (1997's Beta Foly was the most riskily grooving cross-cultural collaboration heard in years) and he ran the voodoo down with Henry Kaiser and Leo Wadada Smith on Yo Miles!, a forward-looking tribute to the black magus's plugged-in era.

But if the beat of the traps runs on repetition and similarity, the music Ligeti makes on his electronic drumKAT— enhanced with Powerbook, sampler, Echoplex, digital delay, and oxymoronically named "virtual analog" system— is about anything but. "Stories of the Unknown," for instance, was inspired by the "rhythmic systems," and included samples of Zimbabwe's Tonga tribe. Another solo Ligeti performed after one of his longer breaks (turns out the time it takes to load programs is a rhythm too) began with a bluesy kora interval and a short whistled phrase (all sounds triggered by pads or pedals) steadily augmented by a rapidly thickening accrual of loops and delays that eventually suggested a casual summer's stroll gone horribly awry. Virtual church bells began to chime in the distance as abbreviated string samples dissipated a mood equally chaotic and symphonic.

I preferred Ligeti's solos to his improvisations with the technically bedazzling violinist Mari Kimura and saxophonist Ned Rothenberg, which sounded too much like work. Only in the final piece, when Ligeti reined in his pointillist energy and meshed held "beats" with Kimura's slow bowed slurs and Rothenberg's repeating cycles, did the audience seem to breath a collective sigh of relief. After an evening's worth of constantly changing tempos and transforming rhythms running from Africa to Asia and back, the common musical notion floating in the decentered Centre Street loft felt positively novel. —Richard Gehr

Blissed Out

You could go all rock-crit on Saint Etienne: "Since 1991, Sarah Cracknell, Pete Wiggs, and Bob Stanley (who doesn't appear live) have been creating a heavenly mix of '60s pop melodies and '90s dance-floor innovations... [drone, drone]" Or you could go sociological: "The Etiennes, as they're known to their devoted fans, unite club kids and pasty-faced indie geeks in a display of modern ecumenism... [zzzzzzzz]" Or you could go ga-ga— like I did. By the end of last Monday's show at the Bowery Ballroom, having forgotten all about note-taking and looming deadlines, I was jumping up and down spastically, shouting along to "He's on the Phone."

It had been over four years since the British band's last New York appearance, so expectations were running high. Backed by a tight band, singer Cracknell and keyboardist Wiggs effortlessly translated to a live setting the synthetic reveries of their early years, the disco-house anthems that made them heroes in Japan, and their latest guitar-accented gems. Alternating between perennial favorites like "Avenue" and material from their latest album, Good Humor (like "Lose That Girl," with its envious/stunned observation that "She, she looks good in purple jeans"), the band put on an assured show fueled by fantastic tunes.

Faced with growing hysteria, Cracknell maintained an unflappable poise, even though she was sipping from a potent-looking red cocktail. The Debbie Harry­next-door, the singer confirmed her status as music's most unprepossessing sex symbol: neither vapid sex kitten nor aloof ice queen, she's everybody's cool sister, the one who rides Vespas with men named Federico but also enjoys slumber parties with her girlfriends. On Monday, more than ever, Cracknell proved to be Saint Etienne's not-so-secret weapon. She gets to the songs' melancholic core, but has no patience for sentimentality, moving the tunes along with easygoing flair. "Like a Motorway," for instance, became a hypnotic Kraftwerkian ("Like an Autobahn"?) hymn to wistfulness, but still brought a grin to our faces— the crowd later filed out beaming, eyes wide in delirious bliss. Sarah Cracknell may have been the one holding the cocktail, but we were the ones drunk on pop. —Elisabeth Vincentelli

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