Cabaret Lawlessness

This is Buzzcocks nostalgia from three people who were probably not quite born yet when "Love You More" came out, though. And their version is filtered through a band whose peak they probably did get to see: D.C. punks Slant 6, whose affectless singing, brambly guitar tone, and narrow, cramped riffs unmistakably inspired Rondelles singer-guitarist Juliet Swango. Unfortunately, this means that a lot of their songs seem relatively unfinished— it's a template that's good for their flashes of full-on rock, but it can't support very ambitious melodies, or much textural variation.

So the Rondelles make up for their lack of flexibility with enthusiasm, speed, and unabashed adorableness. Oakley Munson bashes at a squeaky little keyboard with his right hand, whacks a snare with his left, and gooses the beat with whichever foot isn't supporting him. Bassist Yukiko Moynihan does rock-pose power yoga and chirps in with shrieks and sha-la-las; when she and Swango sing "we love the drag race" with their hands over their hearts, it's almost too cute to take. But nostalgia is bittersweet. They're really singing about what drag racing, and love, meant in the songs their parents danced to. — Douglas Wolk

Mad hatters: the Dance Liberation Front, about one million people short of the conga-line world record
Pak Fung Wong
Mad hatters: the Dance Liberation Front, about one million people short of the conga-line world record

Meaty Roles

Twelve Lambchoppers out of a possible 14 (at last count) were in attendance Saturday night at the Bowery Ballroom, practically spilling over the narrow stage. The image suited the democratically amorphous music— a protean blend of country, soul, and funk that Lambchop play like it was the most natural thing in the world, without kitsch or self-consciousness. Stately horns oddly complemented lap-steel twang; a vibraphone tinkled over an unflagging rhythm section; one member tapped on wrenches and banged away on what was apparently a lacquer-thinner can. It got pretty crowded up there, but Lambchop aren't the sort to step on each other's toes; instead, they flesh out their expansive soundscapes with undulating arrangements that dawdle, surge, fall off, then dawdle some more.

Dating back to the early, more dour albums, Lambchop singer-songwriter Kurt Wagner has specialized in the sort of woozy yet vivid, tears-in-the-beer confessionals that are these days most frequently indulged in by masochist Brits like Tindersticks and Arab Strap. Still, as with all of Wagner's best songs, the set's two choice wallows — "The Saturday Option," a tender, quaintly lurid account of too-familiar sex ("do the shabby thing"), and the extravagantly mournful "N.O." (both from the recent What Another Man Spills)— were too prickly and enigmatic for self-pity. And besides, it wasn't all subdued introspection. Live, Lambchop's pop sensibilities come to the fore with big, brassy stompers like "Your Fucking Sunny Day" and "Hey, Where's Your Girl?" the latter an F.M. Cornog, a/k/a East River Pipe, composition.

Along with R&B standards by Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, and Frederick Knight, Cornog songs, often barely there in their original incarnation, have become staples of their repertoire. Intimate collaborations are very much part of the Lambchop method of working. Returning as Vic Chesnutt's backing band for the second set on Saturday, they were at once foil, inspiration, and co-conspirators, laying bare the empathetic connections at the core of Chesnutt's The Salesman and Bernadette. Wagner and company are great interpreters, and their readings aren't so much radical as quietly perceptive, teasing out subtexts and shadings. It takes a unique combination of affection and nerve to play other people's songs this meaningfully. — Dennis Lim

Revenge of the Nerd

If there's one thing the independent hip-hop "movement" deserves praise for (aside from granting artists greater profit margin and creative control— no small matter), it's creating alternative standards of cool that are expansive enough to encompass the hip-hop-loving geek. The person who stands to gain the most from this new social calculus is Eminem. A nerdy, troubled white kid from Detroit, Eminem has translated his anger toward half of humanity ("There's three things I hate— girls, women, and bitches") and fondness for hallucinogens into a burgeoning rap career. (His upcoming Dr. Dre­produced debut album, Slim Shady, will feature a duet with Marilyn Manson.) Destined for criticism from the Bill Bennetts and C. Dolores Tuckers of the world, Eminem's rhymes are as wicked and irresistible as a Jerry Springer episode ("99 percent of my life I was lied to/I just found out my mom does more dope than I do/ I told her I'd grow up to be a famous rapper/Make a record about doin' drugs and name it after her").

Em's NYC debut was nearly ruined, though, by coheadliner Scaramanga's no-show and typically long-winded warm-up acts (A-Mob and the Outsiderz, in particular). After Outsider Young Z's indelicate, reluctant intro— "Are y'all ready for the white boy?"— Eminem bounded onstage to the strains of his early single "Slim Shady." Clearly unused to working blasé New York crowds, Eminem bristled when his revenge-of-the-nerd tale "Brain Damage" received what he considered an insufficiently generous response. But all it took was his verse from "Five Star Generals," a track off last summer's Lyricist Lounge Vol. 1, to get the whole room matching him, rhyme for rhyme. "I Just Don't Give a Fuck" may seem like an odd note to close a show, but here it was the logical parting shot, as Eminem's flipped bird was returned lovingly by every backpacker and boarding-school B-boy in the house. — Kem Poston

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