Pearl Jam

The word supergroup usually inspires suspicion—the whole is seldom equivalent to the sum of its parts. And the term comes up a lot in descriptions of Lucy Pearl, which comprises Toni Tony Tone’s Raphael Saadiq, En Vogue’s Dawn Robinson, and A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad. As the band opened their show at S.O.B.’s, supergroup clichés seemed to be in effect: the flamboyantly dressed backing band, the smoke machine, Raphael Saadiq in a poncho and beads ripping through a wailing guitar solo. But then Dawn Robinson stepped onstage. Shit, no wonder everyone “used to have a crush on Dawn from En Vogue”: She looked like a Vargas Girl (albeit one costumed by the Road Warrior) and exuded charm like a palpable haze. Then she unleashed that voice, tearing right into a version of En Vogue’s “Don’t Let Go,” which segued into a reconstruction of Tribe’s “Award Tour,” which slipped into some Toni Tony, and everything was gonna be alright.

On the Stevie Wonder-ful “Everyday,” Raphael and Dawn goofed Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell-style, playing off each other both physically and vocally while a beaming Shaheed showed off his new braces, all obviously more pals than coworkers. The vibe extended to the rest of the band, whether it was Raphael’s cousin—”first cousin”—on bass or Dawn slipping in with the backup singers like they were her long-lost . . . you know. The jams were as potent as the structured songs, a request to “Do that again” or “Break it down a little bit” immediately, smoothly taking hold. As they closed with their sexy, groove-heavy single “Dance Tonight,” audience and band chanting the chorus and shaking ass, Lucy Pearl seemed pretty damn super indeed. —Lissa Townsend Rodgers

The Road Leads Home

A lean and largely electric combo propelled Miriam Makeba from ’60s classics like “The Click Song” through most of her new Putumayo CD, Homeland, during the “Badenya 2000” showcase. Describing her ensemble—which included a Madagascan guitarist and Makeba’s own granddaughter—and the seven other artists on the bill as “a mini-Organization of African Unity” drawn from all corners of “our very troubled continent,” Makeba urged an audience full of transplanted Africans and U.N. dignitaries not to give up on Africa. The one-hour performance was a tantalizing preview of the North American tour that the South African singer will launch in July.

Makeba’s background in musical theater served her well as she danced, crooned, and exhorted her way through 14 songs of hope and struggle, each tastily embellished with rich vocal harmonies and airy synthesizer effects. At 68, she still has the electrifying vocal power and presence that won her international acclaim 40 years ago. At City Center, playing rousing township anthems like “Masakhane” or silky English-language ballads like “Africa Is Where My Heart Lies,” Makeba growled in the middle of melodic phrases like Celia Cruz, hit big, sustained notes like Patti LaBelle, and routinely deployed the impeccable timing and diction of a jazz singer. Her rendition of Hugh Masakela’s “Soweto Blues” was a heartrending reminder of the atrocities of apartheid, while her sexy remake of “Pata Pata” evoked a resilient warmth and playfulness. Having helped define the pan-African dimension of the American civil rights movement, Miriam Makeba remains unparalleled when it comes to using her art to articulate problematic African realities. In the ’60s she succeeded in making presidents, prime ministers, and hoi polloi think more about Africa. Four decades later, Homeland reveals Makeba still manning the barricades, still willing and able to draw serious attention to the Motherland. —Carol Cooper

Surface Tension

Sarah Dougher sets the Knitting Factory audience straight right away: “It’s pronounced ‘dooger,’ not ‘dour.’ ” Precision is important to the Portland singer-songwriter, as well as, perhaps, a wish to preempt hasty conclusions. For if performing involves setting up a relationship with the audience, Dougher—in basic black, her feet firmly apart in a defiant stance—seems unwilling to make things easy for us. What’s expansive and warm on her two solo albums is drastically minimized live: Songs that breathed with piano, harmonica, drums, and bass are now studies in austere economy. With only two guitars and an occasional electric piano, the charm of the material takes longer to sink in. It eventually does, though, because that severe demeanor is just a front—Dougher’s humor and tenderness are hiding in plain sight. Typically, she advises us not to break the picket line at MOMA, then segues into “Art Lover.” Her secret weapon is that she makes everybody feel as if they’re the only one who gets the joke.

If Sarah Dougher basically revamps folk-rock (the young Joni Mitchell’s always within earshot), the Bangs have decided that the Go-Go’s just weren’t fast enough. The first thing guitarist Sarah Utter does is put on earplugs—an accurate warning of what’s to come, as well as a nice finishing touch to her red suit and knee-high stockings. This is what Cindy Sherman’s Office Killer should have looked like: the blank-faced punk temp as agent of corporate mayhem. But appearances can be deceiving, and the Olympia, Washington, band isn’t here to search and destroy. After all, Utter’s stage foil is wholesome-looking bassist Maggie Vail (sister of Bikini Kill’s drummer, Tobi), and the Bangs’ self-contained eruptions are reined in within classic-pop parameters. In the end their pretend toughness turns out to be fast but not so furious, a sourball with a sweet aftertaste. —Elisabeth Vincentelli

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