When The Harry Smith Connection, a “live tribute” to The Anthology of American Folk Music, came out last year, I missed Souled American. The Anthol-ogy is a document of ‘the old weird America,” Greil Marcus says, but a live tribute can’t help un-
weirding its subject, making it a touchstone of this or that. Everything Souled American touched got older and weirder. “Dark as a Dungeon,” Merle Travis’s sprightly faux-folk classic, smells like they pulled it from a slag heap. They must have been busy doing what old, weird people do, which is fart around and grow their hair longer and move downstate to record a new album. An hour south of Chicago’s industrial sprawl is some serious, old, weird America, more a flattened Appalachia than the corn-fed Heartland.
Souled American are on the way toward old themselves; four out-of-print Rough Trade records have been resurrected on Tumult. They always were weird, and they’re weirder now. It’s been a few years (10 since their last shows here and six since I saw them in Chicago), but I recall only Chris Grigoroff wearing sunglasses all through the show. Now Joe Adduci does too, in a room they had dimmed to pitch. They have identical shaggy hair and rock back and forth a lot, an awful lot considering how few notes they play. Now they’re a duo, having not bothered to replace their drummer or other guitarist: the Everly Brothers on . . . oh, forget it.
The new roots-rock has swelled and maybe crested. Wilco’s Americanist fans still aren’t going to deal with the weirdness— the Faulkner-esque miscegenation of Old Time and dub, the murky ambiguity of the guitar relationships, the lack of ambition. The Minimalist thing is big in Chi-
cago, but Adduci and Grigoroff are too much the songwriters to dig in those formalist terms. There were 30 of us left in the Knitting Factory’s mainspace by 1 a.m. on Monday. That’s why I started crying during the opening “Frozen” and kept at it halfway through the set. Or maybe it was the memory of their heartbreaking opening set for Alex Chilton, too stoned and unconcerned to play. Or that I had fallen out with the beautiful, fun-loving, beer-swilling roommate I always went to see them with and she died a little while later. Maybe Souled American’s nonchalant, near-experimental primitivism trucks in emotions that only Nashville’s phoniest tearjerkers can cathart smoothly. Soul is more than most of us can handle. —David Krasnow
A close friend once took so much acid that for a week he thought he was a glass of orange juice. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever had such a crisis of self-identity, but in the beginning there’s a certain restrained madness: “What if the cat knocks me over?” “You fool, the damn cat can’t knock you over— you’re a grown man who
only thinks he‘s a glass of o.j.” Then, further
into the trip, the madness becomes playful: “I‘d like her to gulp me down, ha-ha!”
It‘s at this portion of the harrowing
journey— the point past accepting you’re a delusional sick fuck, the point when you get off being a delusional sick fuck— that I thought of watching Brit mantra-pop combo Kula Shaker‘s happening at Irving Plaza. Whether frontman Crispian Mills, eyes clenched shut and guitar stabbing the sky, was spraying Hendrix-like wah-wah runs, or weaving a trancelike web with Eastern religious chants, the cackle of a madman was to blame. “If we stand here together/We can laugh at what we’ve done,” he pleaded soulfully on “Great Hosannah.” How could this maniac not be laughing about etching titles like “Radhe Radhe” and “Govinda” into neo-hippie Beavis and Butthead psyches already warped by “The Joker” and “Stairway to Heaven”? How could he not be laughing as amoebas scaled a curtain behind the band?
Most guffaw-worthy of all, Kula Shaker lilted into a bongo-propelled breakdown and began chanting “Jerry was there, Jerry was there . . . ” after the porn-guitar portion of “Grateful When You’re Dead.” Nutty yes, but a shaman no— Crispian Mills is just a cute, Davey Joneslike pop star who thanked his family (his mom is Hayley Mills from The Parent Trap!) for coming to the show. But he took me on an insane trip to 1967— mostly via songs from
Kula’s latest, Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts. And no orange juice was spilled. —Lorne Behrman
“I want to get my hair cut just like Jean Seberg,” sang Amelia Fletcher of Marine Research, on the New York stop of a tour in advance of their first album, Sounds From the Gulf Stream. Such winsome sentiment was hardly surprising from a band four-fifths ex-Heavenly, the English indie-pop veterans whose devoted stateside following (barrettes and Pastels badges at the ready) turned out in droves, unsure of what to expect. Marine Research opening for Fugazi in London— could so much really have changed round Amelia & co.’s way? No, as it turned out. Headlining the Fourth of July indie weekender at Fez, Marine Research unveiled a sparer, less frantic sound— see “End of the Affair” (preceded by an exhortation to dance the bossa nova, “if anyone knows how”)— while retaining Heavenly’s trademark girl-group vocals and sunshiny pop nous. Most enthusiastically received were the Jean Seberg tune, a/k/a “Hopefulness to Hopelessness,” an anthem for aging Belle and Sebastian fans everywhere (“A million things I am unlikely ever to carry out/But I like the make-believe”) saved from twee overload by its triumphant chorus, and storming single “Parallel Horizontal,” replete with hand claps, tambourine, and New Orderish guitar.
In sparkly miniskirts, keyboard bedecked with cartoon fish, the group seemed to relish its new incarnation, Amelia shimmying intently then chatting to the audience. “This is the only one of our songs you could vaguely pogo to,” she joked before launching into a sprightly encore of “Venn Diagram.” But the more fitting closer would’ve been “At the Lost and Found,” about bonding instantly with a stranger who resembles the singer’s dead friend. The song surges through achingly sweet harmonies before dropping down to the ghostly refrain “Lost you/Found you.” Heavenly fans might say the same. —J. Yeh