Music

Saving All My Rage for You

The last time I saw Bill Callahan, a/k/a Smog, was many years ago, when he opened for Will Oldham, a/k/a Palace (yes, that many years ago). The after-show debate had been: Would you rather be stuck in a room alone with Callahan or Oldham? We settled on Callahan over the crazed mountain man, figuring the worst we'd have to fear from him was nonstop drinking and mumbling about love gone sour. That night, Callahan had seemed barely able to look past his mic, and he had come across more like a punching bag than a puncher.

In command of a big crowd at Bowery Ballroom on June 6, however, Callahan displayed a tougher, more confident side, a demeanor that may have developed alongside his recent forays into a swaggering, Keith Richards-as-bookworm kind of rock 'n' roll. This time around, Callahan brought in drums, effects-processed violin, and a second guitar to accompany his minimalist strums and increasingly sturdy baritone. The band added texture more than complexity, and of the supporting cast, the only essential player was Jim White (of the Dirty Three), who drummed out simple but nuanced rhythms, alternating between sticks, brushes, and mallets, and drawing effortlessly from every inch of his kit.

The set leaned toward the rockers, including "Dress Sexy at My Funeral," "Cold Blooded Old Times," and an amped-up version of "Ex-Con," although Callahan did toss in a handful of quiet ones. Throughout the show, Callahan gazed out into the room impassively, occasionally singling out audience members and staring them down with ominous lines such as "Blood will spill and blood will spurt/Enemies keep the mind alert." Yikes. Watch your ass, Bonnie Prince. —I-Huei Go


Hearts Afire

The tendency of art-meets-politics projects to play out like shotgun weddings put this year's Vision Festival in a tight spot. For all the poetry, art, film, and dance, the event's "Vision Against Violence" theme seemed premised on the political nature of free jazz, which, catalyzed by the black power movement in the '60s, took issue with jazz's formal rules. Divorced from its emergent context, the music today can be more escapist than activist, and retrofitting ideals to its abstraction can be a coercive undertaking.

Of all the acts in the ambitious affair—which included 10 nights at the Knitting Factory, three nights of indie-rock-free jazz summits at Angel Orensanz, and a film series at Anthology—the June 2 performance by Jane Cortez and the Firespitters was the most bona fide statement against violence. Her soul-feminist poetics took issue with all manner of injustices, and her band's sound was barrelhouse harmolodics, a setting for Cortez's blues tunes within the peculiar harmonic and melodic theory that her musicians—all alumni of Ornette Coleman's Prime Time group—studied under the free-jazz pioneer. Drummer Denardo Coleman directed the sound with guileless, floating rhythms, while electric bassist Charnett Moffett plucked funk out of speedy 32nd-note runs.

Often the form and content of Cortez's poems evolved in dialogue with the music. She sang-chanted her pieces, picking up phrases on the ending notes of her musicians' solos. "Jazz is an African heart transplant keeping Western music alive," she intoned, and the band's polyrhythmic throb sounded a living example. Other times the music undermined her lyrics. In an elegy for Amadou Diallo, the band's sleepy, "Oh, what a drag" shuffle was an ironic commentary on her vengeful delivery of lines like "41 bullets" and "I'm eating his teeth in my sleep." A kind of secular seer, Cortez used words and music to jab at culture, and dared it to punch back so she could show you her bruises. —Michelle Mercer


Slow Gin Fizzy Do It Till You're Dizzy

Aerosmith weren't soiling Depends on the Skynyrd/Deep Purple/Ted Nugent bill two days prior to their Saturday Jones Beach show because they're lucky and, more important, because they understand MTV. What song-and-video combination captured the '80s better than "Dude Looks Like a Lady"? Aerosmith put three generations through high school, and reps from each were there at Jones Beach Saturday night.

A paunchy couple shook their sagging asses to "The Train Kept a Rollin' " while their restless sons in the aisles beat the shit out of each other. Two women with fake tits, dyed hair, and Stetsons smiled knowingly during "Love in an Elevator"—the memories! Little junior and brother got it together for Aerosmith's latest single, "Jaded"—you can bet that tune will one day recall some adolescent rites of passage, maybe the time their buddy Johnny was suspended from school for posting his hit list on the Web.

But 30 years of relevancy has taken its toll. The guys look shriveled—Joe Perry hid it under a curtain of messy Elvis bangs, and Steven Tyler made the most out of his rose-colored fly-eye sunglasses—and it took the band an hour to warm up. But put it this way, you really learn to fuck 20 years shy of being checked into a nursing home. Good fucking requires a slow buildup. Steven found a center in the groove—a pulse independent of the band's—and gently pumped his hips and licked his fingers (and wiped his nose and then high-fived audience members). "Walk This Way" began with a Joey Kramer/Steven duet, a rap-with-live-drums sort of thing. Steven kept teasing the audience with statements like "What the fuck are you trying to say, Kramer?" and when Joe pulled out the tune's signature riff it was just like the moment you slide yer cock on in. If you can believe it, "Sweet Emotion" followed with a similar tactic. It took Aerosmith two hours and a two-song encore to blow their load; it took openers Fuel two minutes. Sometimes it's better just to take your time. —Lorne Behrman

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