Opening Up

When Who's on First Is What Matters

There's nothing like the thrill of discovery. Finding a great artist or band when they're young, hungry, and on the verge is one of the best feelings in the world, as it comes with the reassurance that newness isn't dead, and that you weren't born too late. Plus, you get to act cool when they become famous because, you know, you were into them, like, way back in the day.

A bunch of pals much hipper than I am went to see local dance-punks the Rapture last summer, and they came back arguing about this crazy opening band, Glass Candy and the Shattered Theatre. Some friends raved, calling them D.I.Y. Ziggy Stardusts for the new century; others complained that they were talentless poseurs who wore lots of makeup and couldn't play their instruments. Sounded like just my thing. Fronted by charismatic drama queen Ida No, and anchored by androgynous guitarist John David V (who works in a grocery store by day), along with a revolving cast of drummers, this band of twentysomethings from Portland, Oregon, play what they call "death disko," or what I like to refer to as nowaveglamgrrrlartrock. No shrieks, wails, and emotes like she's in a goth musical over pounding drums and scuzzy riffs; they cover Bowie, the Screamers, Queen, and, um, Josie Cotton's "Johnny Are You Queer?" So far, Glass Candy's output consists of a bunch of hard-to-find 7s, live EPs and demos, and a few compilation appearances, but they've got an album coming out on Troubleman Unlimited in November. I've yet to see them live, but apparently they do something performance arty that involves glitter, fancy outfits, and nudity.

Nudity also figured largely in my awakening to Cex, a/k/a 20-year-old Baltimorean Rjyan Kidwell. I had gone to the Death Cab for the Cutie/Dismemberment Plan show at the Bowery Ballroom in March expecting a pleasant evening of sensitive boys with loud guitars, but what I saw was an adorably geeky white boy flashing gold teeth (which spell C-E-X) while rapping clumsily over laptop beats about how all of us ladies in the house should dump our indie boyfriends for smoove playas like him. For the finale of his too-short opening set, Cex left his laptop on a loop, stripped to his tighty-whities, and dived into the crowd. Upon returning to the stage, he unsuccessfully attempted to hide his boner. Needless to say, I don't remember a whole lot about the headliners that night. Cex's recorded output thus far has fallen mostly into the "intelligent dance music" or IDM genre, meaning computer-generated bleeps and bloops that people sit around and think about rather than dance to. That will change September 30, when he releases his first hip-hop album, Tall, Dark, and Handcuffed, on Tigerbeat6, the label he runs with fellow IDM prankster kid606.

Sweet somethings: Glass Candy and the Shattered Theatre's Ida No and John David V (left).
photo: Virgil Porter
Sweet somethings: Glass Candy and the Shattered Theatre's Ida No and John David V (left).

I think Cex is a great rapper, which goes to show how much I know about hip-hop. But you don't need to know anything about the five elements to get the wind knocked out of you by local producer-MC Jean Grae. Listening to WBAR, Barnard College Radio, one night, I caught a track that gave me chills: a first-person account of a sexually abused homecoming queen who goes on a Columbine-like shooting spree, rhymed over play-by-play sound effects and ominous beats. "Taco Day," the strongest of Grae's three breakout spots on Company Flow producer Mr. Len's 2001 album Pity the Fool (Matador), is the closest to a female version of Eminem I've ever heard. I was hooked, but I had to tide myself over with Grae's work with Natural Resource (under the moniker What What), as well as guest appearances on tracks by Da Beatminerz, Masta Ace, the Herbaliser, and High and Mighty, among others, until August, when the 26-year-old finally released her solo debut. While Attack of the Attacking Things (Third Earth Music) doesn't include anything as strong as "Taco Day," it is a powerful statement from an outstanding voice that even a hip-hop ignoramus can feel. (Judge for yourself when she performs on November 7 at Club Shine, 289 West Broadway, 941-0900.) Grae's album is as exhilarating as Ida No's scream and as disarming as Cex's boner, and it makes me happy to be alive right here and right now.


SUSANA BACA
September 15
New Jersey Performing Arts Center, 1 Center Street, Newark, New Jersey, 888-466-5722
September 19
Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey Street, 533-2111
Baca, the preeminent curator of the Afro-Peruvian musical tradition, resembles a stately bruja onstage as she uncoils her smoke-voiced incantations over her band's deceptively skeletal arrangements. She also displays a canny cosmopolitanism when covering songs by Björk and Caetano Veloso. (Gehr)

NORTHERN STATE
September 16
Irving Plaza, 17 Irving Place, 777-6800
These three feminems—all white Long Island girls—delivered one of the year's best rap albums with the aptly named Hip Hop You Haven't Heard, whose budget-induced lack of sophistication is one of its biggest charms. Although the precedents they mix and match are obvious enough—the flow is Beasties circa 1987, lyrics are MC Paul Barman meets Roxanne Shanté, and the voices are quintessentially New Yawk tough. Catch them before they blow up or burn out. (Hoard)

WIRE
September 18
Irving Plaza, 17 Irving Place, 777-6800
Once upon a time, Wire was so dismissive of their punk-rock past that they retained a tribute band to recreate Pink Flag in its entirety. Well, since it's an artiste's prerogative to change his mind, the boys in the band have set the way-back machine for their spikiest era, not so much duplicating the sound of 12XU et al., but pouring that spirit into freshly minted vessels that go from low glow to flaming red in nothing flat. (Sprague)

BRIGHT EYES
September 19
Maxwell's, 1039 Washington Street, Hoboken, New Jersey, 201-653-1703
Bright Eyes is Nebraskan Conor Oberst, an underground version of Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carraba. Both emote feverishly while strumming furiously, but where Dashboard frequently verges on anthemic, Bright Eyes lists toward anemic. Still, Chris's trim rockabilly 'do can't compare to Conor's long, dark bangs. Who needs melodies when there are panties to soak and broken hearts to indulge? (Catucci)

MEKONS
September 20
Maxwell's, 1039 Washington Street, Hoboken, New Jersey, 201-653-1703
It's been 25 years, so do the math—if they were the Rolling Stones, they'd be recording Steel Wheels. Not many bands get that far, and fewer still retain much honor in the process. In their intermittently distracted way, the Mekons have turned a collegiate experiment in art as politics into a lifework that takes into account all the disappointments of art and politics but refuses to capitulate. Bitter—of course. Depressed—not so's it gets them down. Defeated—only by death. (Christgau)

'MUSIC AROUND THE MEDITERRANEAN'
September 20-22
Bohemian Hall, 29-19 24th Avenue, Queens, 718-274-4925
This ambitious three-day festival hosted by the World Music Institute is as recommendable for its charming venue, the city's last traditional beer garden, as for its lineup. It kicks off Friday with the Giglio Italian brass band followed by Radio Tarifa's hybrid of flamenco and North African styles. Saturday's day-long lineup features 73-year-old Turkish Gypsy violinist Kemani Çemal, Albanian vocalist Merita Halili, and an evening dance party with the Boban Markoviç Orchestra, a Gypsy brass band. Sunday concludes with Palestinian oud virtuoso Simon Shaheen, Algerian singer Zakia Kara Terki, and Syrian vocalist Sheikh Hamza Shakkur. (Gehr)

PERE UBU
September 24
Warsaw, 261 Driggs Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-387-5252
The heart of darkness peeks through the wings of whimsy more often than not on this venerable Cleveland band's new St. Arkansas album, which bodes well for the potential intensity level here. Although secret-weapon guitarist Jim Jones continues to eschew touring, the Cuyahoga-freighter squall conjured up by synth-wielder Robert Wheeler—and, of course, the inimitable meanderings of David Thomas—will more than compensate. (Sprague)

NEKO CASE
September 29
Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey Street, 533-2111
If anyone's gonna create a post-millennial version of "Long Black Veil," it'll probably be this nomadic singer-songwriter. She's gifted with an uncommonly discomfiting voice, a fine-tuned ear for country music's essence, and, perhaps most importantly, enough smarts not to try to come across as a coal miner's daughter. Yes, Case's art-school background surfaces now and again, but her tales of stalkers, plane wrecks, and emotional breakdown are straightforward enough that Mother Maybelle would certainly understand. (Sprague)

ROLLING STONES +PRETENDERS
September 26
Madison Square Garden, 31st Street and Seventh Avenue, 465-6741
September 30
Roseland, 239 West 42nd Street, 247-0200
The chemistry between Jagger and Richards hasn't changed a whit, judging by the guitarist's recent capsule review of Sir Mick's recent solo album—which he referred to as "Dogshit in the Doorway." So even though the Stones' dog-and-pony show has seen better days, there's still a decent chance that sparks will fly when they hit the road for this, their first farewell tour—as long as they steer clear of material concocted in the past decade-and-a-half. It's been almost that long since Chrissie Hynde really kicked out the jams on record, but when she slips into her stage pleather, she's every inch the goddess that Jagger aspires to be. (Sprague)

'MASTERS OF PERSIAN MUSIC'
October 5
Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street, 307-4100
Kayhan Kalhor, a dazzling virtuoso of the kamancheh spike fiddle, may be familiar from his recent Silk Road collaborations with Yo-Yo Ma. He'll perform new Persian "art music" compositions, highly ornamented music expressing moods ranging from narcotic languor to high passion, with Iranian vocalist Mohammad Reza Shajarian, and his drumming son, Homayoun Shajarian, on tombak. (Gehr)

LOW
October 9-10
Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey Street, 533-2111
Low sometimes sell pillowcases as part of their tour merchandise—very telling. But that's much too obvious: They're far more complex and dynamic than those keeping them pegged as "slow-core" would have you believe. Their forthcoming Trust just may be their best record yet; intelligently balanced lullabies of noise and subtle arty pop. Boy howdy, can these kids sing, the harmonies: straight from heaven! Live, they always bring an intimacy and immediacy rare in the indie-rock gamut. (Bosler)

SALIF KEITA
October 12
New Jersey Performing Arts Center, 1 Center Street, Newark, New Jersey, 888-466-5722
October 13
Irving Plaza, 17 Irving Place, 777-6800
On a new album produced by his old boss from Les Ambassadeurs, Kante Manfila, Youssou N'Dour's chief competition as the voice of Africa doesn't exactly reconstitute his tradition, but doesn't strive for fusion either. This could be your best chance to hear him at a safe distance from the nearest synthesizer. Grab it. (Christgau)

CRISTINA BRANCO
October 13
Symphony Space, Broadway and 95th Street, 864-5400
A subtle and somber music of ecstatic despair, the Portuguese fado style was personified by the late Amalia Rodrigues. Branco, Rodrigues's young heir, may not deliver as much saudade (an "exquisite sense of loss") as her predecessor, but she nonetheless possesses a beautiful voice and, accompanied by her guitarist-songwriter husband Custodio Castelo, keeps the fado tradition alive on her own terms. (Gehr)

ELVIS COSTELLO
October 22-23
Beacon Theater, 2124 Broadway, 496-7070
October 28
New Jersey Performing Arts Center, 1 Center Street, Newark, New Jersey, 888-466-5722
He hopped off the middle-age-crisis merry-go-round with a goodly number of brass rings—classical cred and a thumbs-up from Bacharach, for starters—in hand. For his latest trick, ole Declan has wriggled back into the angry-young-man duds he sported two decades back. The fit is far from perfect, but there aren't many performers of his generation—or even the current one—who wear the style as well. (Sprague)

DJELIMADY TOUNKARA
November 10
Symphony Space, Broadway and 95th Street, 864-5400
In July, leading a Super Rail Band that had slackened slightly since their New York debut at Lincoln Center a year before, perhaps because the fresh air at Central Park SummerStage reminded them of street parties in Bamako, the Malian guitarist stepped a little further forward and proved once again that he deserves to be more famous than Ali Farka Toure. Live he will presumably showcase his superb live album, thus stepping even further forward. Don't fret about it. He can take the heat, and so can his songs. (Christgau)

CAETANO VELOSO
November 22
Beacon Theater, 2124 Broadway, 496-7070
November 23
New Jersey Performing Arts Center, 1 Center Street, Newark, New Jersey, 888-466-5722
The challenging and highly entertaining Brazilian singer-songwriter paints himself as an aesthete of the highest order in the forthcoming translation of his autobiography, Tropical Truth. In person, however, he's all pop star—a seductive Bahian hybrid seemingly informed equally by Bob Dylan, Bryan Ferry, Peter Gabriel, Charles Aznavour, and, of course, bossa boss Antonio Carlos Jobim. (Gehr)

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