In the Clear

If VH-1 ever make an episode of Behind the Music about Everclear, they'll have to combine it with Before They Were Rock Stars. Art Alexakis, the group's leader, did much of his heroin addiction and family tragedy before he left high school, lending his post-grunge grunge both a twinge of nostalgia and a hint of the cautionary tale. He wishes hecould go back in time to white-trash hell with his heroin girl, but don't you dare follow him, kids. At Roseland Sunday night, the final performance of a quadruple-bill tour sponsored by a multinational conglomerate I'll refrain from publicizing, Alexakis scolded the audience— unofficial average age 18— for lack of participation, for requesting "Stairway to Heaven" when he brought out a double-necked guitar, and for "throwing shit at the band." "If you want to hear the music, hear the music," he barked. "If not, you can get the fuck out." Plowing through muddy versions of songs from '95's Sparkle and Fade and '97's So Much for the Afterglow, which quietly went platinum recently, Alexakis and bandmates Craig Montoya and Greg Eklund, with vestigial keyboards and percussion, delivered an energetic swan song for a tour Alexakis called "the most fun ever." Then, in Daytop counselor style, the 36-year-old brought a gaggle of fans onstage to dance to "Local God," from the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack. Their name may advertise grain alcohol, but Everclear promote a good, clean, drug-free time. Touch nice in that mosh pit, boys and girls!

Subheadliners in a hierarchy that looked like music's glass ceiling circa 1992 (grunge and art rock up front, rap further back, represented here by Black-Eyed Peas, and then electronica by DJ Spooky, who provided entrance music), Soul Coughing lost some of their mystery onstage just by wearing black. They might as well have donned berets to punctuate their beatnik-parody hip-hop. Frontman M. Doughty's nervous "rapper hand" alone was enough to make one think of Woody Allen's chain gang songs in Take the Money and Run. But what they lost in style, they regained in experimentation, pumping up "$300" with crazy dialogue samples, and breaking apart whatever was left of a pop song in "I Miss the Girl." Earlier, the nine-member Black-Eyed Peas, successors of Dionysian hip-hop like Us3, put on a spirited circus act, at the end of which they coaxed the awkwardly white headliners onstage. BEP had an inclusive jam session in mind, but the others' sheepishness in the face of hip-hop took you right back in time— to 1999. James Hannaham


Vienna Calling

"Big up Vienna massive in da house!" Kruder & Dorfmeister's MC didn't really shout this out, but he should have— virtually the whole of New York's larger-than-you'd-think Austrian community was present for the first ever U.S. performance by the illustrious DJ-producer duo. Factor in the hipster buzz created by the duo's recent The K&D Sessions (a brilliant collection of trip-hoppy remixes for clients including Roni Size, Depeche Mode, and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony) rapidly becoming a chic boutique/bar favorite à la Portishead's Dummy, and . . . suffice to say Irving Plaza was uncomfortably crammed Tuesday night.

Despite being dressed more like XTC's Andy Partridge (golfer's cloth cap, stripe-edged fawn tank top, elongated goatee) than a dancehall MC, K&D's hype man laid on the faux patois, declaiming "originality guaranteed, seen?" and toasting like a Viennese cousin of U-Roy. Tubby and avuncular, dancing gamely but ungainly, the MC was too often the precise embodiment of the music being spun: bumptious, chunkily funky, Big Beat without its vital vulgarity. As such, it harked back to the first time Europeans appropriated hip-hop techniques (breakbeats plus samples) while simultaneously removing the rap, rage, and resonance: late-'80s U.K. "DJ records" by the likes of M/A/R/R/S, Bomb the Bass, and Coldcut. (Indeed, Coldcut's label Ninjatune was represented by support selector The Herbalizer, who spun an old skool set so tedious and predictable it really was like being back in school.)

During the first half of Dorfmeister's set (the duo alternated hour for hour on the decks), I kept expecting to hear that hoary sample (first used by Coldcut, or was it Steinski?) of a stiff-upper-lipped Brit portentously intoning "This Is A Journey Into Sound." Things improved drastically when the DJ slipped a skanking afterbeat amid the strasse-rockin' breakbeats, with the bassquake digi-dub of Original Rockers' "Push Push." But as soon as his partner seized "the wheels of steel" (as the incorrigible MC announced it), the party vibe Dorfmeister had built was dissipated by the "educational" tenor of Kruder's set: fussily percussive Latin-flavored tracks, soundtracky Afro-funk, acid jazz, and other tasteful-but-insipid genres. Even the Austrian lads in front of me stopped chanting "Kroo-dah! Kroo-dah!" after a while. The album's killer mood-food, but this night was disappointing. Simon Reynolds


Cherry Bomb

At Eagle Eye Cherry's Manhattan debut last Thursday, the string of seamlessly bland midtempo songs from his first effort, Desireless, played like Mulatto Muzak— a folksy placebo for the giddy, squeaky-clean crowd who lionized him as a sepia poster boy for Safe Otherness. I just felt punked out that my latest Cosmic Negro Hope was crashing and burning.

Cherry is a genial and cunning performer sans pipes or persona. The scion of a true maverick possessed of prodigious chops (Don Cherry), he tries on various masks: indie-folk waif naïf, rainbow rocker à la Lenny Kravitz, and post-grunge posturer. Photogenic and amply armed from his thespian past, Cherry cuts and pastes stylistic conceits from any number of postsoul rockers (from Prince to Terence Trent D'Arby). All to no avail: had he Gil Scott-Heron's message or even Sade's savvy, Cherry could get over with a similar lack of voice. Hardcore ode "Shooting Up in Vain" failed to project pathos, and last-ditch turns during "Rainbow Wings"— abrupt keyboard noodling and a rote segue into Marley's "Exodus" for a soupçon of Lion of Judah flavor— merely baffled.

Cherry never broke a sweat during his brief set. His ebony-and-ivory lyrics were persistently drowned out by the band's stadium-pitched histrionics. Leading this motley crew, Marty the guitarist— complete with Craig Ross also-ran 'fro— excessively muddled matters with facial contortions and fret intensity disproportionate to the lite sounds. And the cock-rock refugee drummer was just scary.

Man, did I feel transported back to boarding school, where every jock owned the requisite copy of Legend: live, Cherry's MOR crooning came on like the slow jams fratboys spin when they wanna seem sensitive enough to score. And the chicks they prey upon were out at Irving in spades, feting their dollop of sexual chocolate like modern rock maenads. Single "Save Tonight" remained buoyant and charming as the closer, but the rest of the show never took off. Cherry's inevitable tenure on the pop planet might be less tedious if he figures out how to harness his late father's African vanguard moves and sister Neneh's sassy soul stance. — Kandia Crazy Horse


Keeping Time

Tony Malaby rocks from side to side when he and his muse are in sync. That's fairly often, so it's somewhat common to see the tenor saxophonist acting like a human metronome at one of his many gigs around town. Tick-tock, tick-tock . . . the swaying not only seems to loosen new ideas, but tethers the wayward tendencies of his solos, giving the Arizona native a place to splash down after sailing through the stars. When his Sabino foursome played the Knit's Old Office on March 4, the gentle oscillation actually continued a few moments after the horn left his lips— a silent addendum suggesting he had more ideas than he could fit into one declaration.

That kind of fertility is Malaby's hallmark. Sans scope, jazz can feel just as claustrophobic as any other art form. But over the last couple of years, the ubiquitous thirtysomething's strong suit has been bolstering dimension. With grandeur in mind, Malaby takes explicit phrases and knots 'em together until he's fashioned a lariat wide enough to ensnare whatever notions gallop by. This tack has positioned him as a prudent expressionist who works on perfecting "Stablemates" while also searching for ways to turn it inside out. Comparisons to the Joe Lovano of a decade ago would not be off target.

At the Internet last Friday night that search took longer than usual to yield the kind of fluency Malaby's capable of. In cahoots with drummer Jim Black and bassist Michael Formanek, he gambled on sketches that flaunted leeway. Though each player has a history of creating a colorful kind of tension, an avoidance of quantifiable rhythm— call it swing if you want— led them through byways congested enough to be culs-de-sac. Malaby's casual sense of drama, one of his key attributes, picked up an earnestness that turned his roasted tone stentorian.

But the band couldn't go too long without eloquence erupting, and in a gloriously choppy section halfway through the set, the boom from Black's kick drum loosened a tumble of ideas. Momentum changed everything. The more the trio defined its tempos, the more graceful and imposing the music became. After a few minutes, a sprawling flow of melody came rushing from the leader, and his torso began pivoting left to right. Tick-tock, tick-tock . . . Jim Macnie

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