Suitably Hep

Tipsy businessmen toast conflicted British cabaret star

At home he's a superstar; here he entertains hungry suits in search of a high-gloss happy hour. So you can't blame 24-year-old English singer Jamie Cullum for bounding onto the stage at Joe's Pub last Wednesday night like youth-quake cabaret's Sonic the Hedgehog: He stomped his feet for percussion, he clambered atop his piano, he nearly toppled into some poor schlub's orrechiette. The suits ate it up, too, joining in with enthusiastic handclaps during "Twentysomething," the witty title track of Cullum's American debut, which includes hepped-up versions of dog-eared standards, slowed-down rock nuggets, and his own post-Norah quiet-storm ballads.

Still, Cullum's mission in a country that's never been sure why Robbie Williams is famous is convincing us he ain't misbehavin' for misbehavin's sake. Thus the earnest renditions of his woozy "All at Sea" and his brother Ben's tender "It's About Time," where he dialed down the confrontational precocity and made out with the mike like the dude from Coldplay. Cullum combined the two sides of his persona in a ring-a-ding run through Pharrell's emo jam "Frontin'," a tune he said first caught his ear because—wait for it, anti-rockists—the bridge "sounded like Herbie Hancock." And so it did, Cullum peeling off little shards of melodic whimsy while his pudgy drummer in a Willy Wonka tee laid down a spare backbeat. Another ego has landed.


Making out with the mike
photo: Shiho Fukada
Making out with the mike

War Babies
Tense firefight by revolutionary family leaves one casualty

Three brothers from St. Louis who look like scary burnouts from 1975, two with girls' names, the Living Things beat each other up growing up and played at carnivals while their dad sold artificial turf, and their commie mom only let them do political songs—or so their story goes. Their debut album, Black Skies in Broad Daylight, was supposed to come out in February back when there was a Dreamworks, but now it's due on Geffen in July. Usually you can't tell what they're protesting, though their naive confusion and impatience can get to you regardless. But "Standard Oil Trust" speaks for itself, and the unbelievably powerful single "Bombs Below" ("We're gonna win the war! That's what you kids are for!") would make sense to MPs at Abu Ghraib. Almost as awesome is "I Owe," which aimlessly tackles the national debt, Patriot Act, FBI, CIA, FDA, HMOs, and CEOs; plus it starts at "Taxman" and ends at "All We Need Is Love."

That's the song they began with, two Wednesdays ago at CB's, opening for slogan hacks Amen and some dumb Mötley Crüe spin-off fucks. All three Things (augmented with a new guitarist) wore black (over Star of David and/or crucifix tattoos, it was later learned). Twenty-five-year-old guitar-and-words bro Lillian and 21-year-old bass bro Eve are both way skinny; bashing 18-year-old drum bro Bosh has baby fat and Jewfroed hair. As soon as "I Owe" ended, Eve collapsed, and Lillian calmly reacted: "Somebody call an ambulance." A first-aid kit headed toward the stage; water was administered. "The moral of this story is don't use drugs," Lillian explained, maybe or maybe not joking.

Eve revived himself, de-shirted, and made it through a few more songs soaked in sweat. Place was a claustrophobic shit hole; a bug dropped into my hair; drum kit smoked (at one point literally, looked like); soundman sucked; even in "Bombs Below" Lillian's voice was too muffled to educate Nikki Sixx fans, though stage-hugging groupies enjoyed when he started disrobing and unbuckled his belt upon introducing "a song for the police." Later he pulled out a photo of the president, then a gun that looked like a lighter, which he pointed at Bush's head till it caught fire. Sadly didn't extinguish the flame with his own piss, but still: as tense and sloppy as gigs get.

Which isn't to say the boys weren't putting fists through walls. Their album's Steve Albini militia-beat ooze skirts grunge, punk, hardcore, oi!, garage, metal, and boogie without being any of them, though singing rhythms clearly owe Cobain, and "End Gospel" has a blatant Stone Temple Pilots break. So they're fifth-generation Nirvana, eighth-generation Green River or Squirrel Bait, take your pick. But faster. And at those rare moments when the raw scraggly warmth of Lillian's anxious baritone connects, the hardest new rock band around. Chuck Eddy

 
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