Truth or Dare

The lights were low at the new Upper West Side spot Makor's as beyond-spoken-word artist Carl Hancock Rux took center stage. Hearing percussionist Jason Finkleman's minimalist peal coupled with Rux's gospel whisper (instead of his usual voluptuous baritone), the audience suddenly realized that although they'd come for a concert, Rux—playing the part of storefront preacher—was summoning them to worship. His retro soundscape is a gumbo of funk, hip-hop, electronica, and Hendrixy guitar licks (played by Morgan Michael Craft). And Rux himself is a Sunday-morning preacher conjuring Saturday night's fever, a Pentecostal dadaist who works songs to spasm and collapse.

Eyes shut and negotiating with the Holy Ghost all evening, Rux whirled and dipped his head like little Stevie Wonderful. Although he's a poet, Rux comes from the tradition of African American crooners like Al and Aretha, who sandblast the line between sexual and religious ecstasy. Coltrane played sheets of sound. Carl and his background singers—Helga Davis, Stephanie Mckay, and Marcelle Lashley—construct walls of wailing. With their tight Ladysmith Black Mambazo/Joni Mitchell harmonies, these sirens massaged "Asphalt Yard" 's rant; and their syncopated, chain-gang harmonizing pushed Carl beyond reason during "Wasted Seed." Rux closed the set with the delta blues of "I Recall." His arms snaked around his face, as if the song's emotional honesty were too much to bear. Drummer Chicken's bass pedal thumped like the heartbeat of a runaway slave. Keats declared that truth is beauty, but there were moments in Rux's performance that broke through and touched bone, a reminder that truth can be ugly too. —David Mills

Reclaiming Rock

"Which one of them is singing?" a befuddled redhead wondered out loud as Death in Vegas opened their Irving Plaza set last Wednesday with the ravishing"Dirge" (from the new Contino Sessions ). While the voice was decidedly feminine, the nine people on stage all pretty much looked like men. As it turned out, singer Dot Allison wasn't there at all—and neither was Iggy Pop, heard later on "Aisha." But canned vocal tracks were perhaps the most radical element in this trad rock show. Electronics were kept to a negligible minimum while drums, organ, and guitars played by actual humans were at the forefront. A bassist and two guitarists took center stage while the band's songwriters and producers, Richard Fearless and Tim Holmes, lurked behind turntables and samplers in the back, next to a two-man horn section on loan from Primal Scream. Behind the band, projected black-and-white images flickered on a screen. But once again old-fashioned methods prevailed: Turned out the choppy effects were accomplished not by some highfalutin editing software, but by the guy in the tech booth frantically moving his hands in front of the light beams.

While Death in Vegas are usually lumped with dancefloor mavens, their live show proved closer to, say, Yo La Tengo than the Chemical Brothers. Harking back to a Velvet Underground?like gothic psychedelia, they relied on repetition to build to a climax that, almost sadistically, never happened—the momentum went . . . nowhere, really. Maybe they should have opted for one more rock trope after all—cheap, cathartic, gloriously satisfying release. —Elisabeth Vincentelli

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