Tony Allen does more with a hi-hat than most drummers do with an entire kit. On January 15 at the Knitting Factory, the first of his Afrobeat 2000 quartet’s four U.S. shows, he guided the group through a plethora of tempos and grooves using what often sounded like deceptively simple rhythms. When a cut like “Afropusherman” toyed with free-form territory in a miasma of reverberating Rhodes, bass, and digital effects (courtesy of blond dred Parisian Doctor L), Allen dropped anchor with nothing but a shake of his snare. A resident of France since 1985, Allen, at 61, has almost single-handedly modernized Afrobeat—the slinky funk-soul he invented with his late, great Nigerian musical partner, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti—on two recent albums, Black Voices (1999) and Psyco on Da Bus (2001), both produced by Doctor L. At the Knit, his band ranged from spiritual-and-ethereal to deep-and-dubby to housey-and-thumpy. (Brooklyn-based Afrobeat disciples Antibalas opened the gig and appeared overjoyed to join the master for a rousing rendition of “Black Voices.”)

Dapper in white hat and dark shades, Allen at times played the drums like a club DJ: He’d pull out the kick to allow harmonic tension to build, then reinsert it along with an enlivened hi-hat and an organ stab to form a brand-new funk. Each time, a crowd whoop was emitted in kind. Other times, his trademark stutter-snaps and inverted rhythms conjured the irresistible irregularity of Timbaland, while traditional chanting by himself and bassist Cesar Anot harkened back to the African motherland. With Doctor L adding ambient sounds and effects on his sampler/sequencer (conducting an infrared sensor like a theremin), the band couldn’t have touched more cultures playing Twister on a world map. “This Afrobeat is not so easy,” Allen said by way of complimenting Antibalas toward show’s end, although he certainly had this crowd fooled. —Eric Demby

Chance Encounter

As a well-read guy old enough to remember postmodernism, Marc Ribot has issues with authenticity; hence his Cubanos Postizos, the Prosthetic Cubans. He has even bigger issues with guitar heroes, and has worked for years to disappoint smitten fans for whom he was the great white hope of Rock Guitar, the standard-bearer of Jimi and Keith. His new Saints is a solo, largely acoustic affair of false starts, buzzing strings, unexpected twists and turns. With plaintive minimalism he thunks out spirituals, standards, and a few Albert Aylers, mangled most lovingly. Beauty, friends, is in the details.

Last Thursday at Makor, Ribot offered an evening of “jazz, soul, and abjection.” He borrows the art world’s concept of the abject not in the NEA-baiting, body-fluids vein but in the homespun, crudely colorful way of, say, Richard Tuttle. Apparently Ribot didn’t like the worshipful hush that surrounded his Saints material in October at Tonic, because at supper-clubby Makor he decided to put on a show with himself as the sideman.

And who better to front than singer and saxophonist James Chance? That notorious lowlife, author of “White Cannibal” and “King Heroin,” made a career of flaunting his rage at not being James Brown. In his element—channeling Screamin’ Jay Hawkins as the late Elvis, doing a Young Frankenstein stomp to “St. James Infirmary”—Chance performs the abject like nobody’s business. (After Chance introduced “Don’t Worry About Me,” my friend, a former psych resident, remarked, “Actually, I do.”) Though they came up in the same No Wave milieu, it was a strange meeting: the intellectual Ribot experimenting with playing his “worst,” and Chance, who doesn’t get around much outside the occasional Contortions reunion, pulling out all the stops to play good. The resulting awkwardness was—what can one say? A funny-embarrassing work of abjection. —David Krasnow

Agents Provocateurs

VH1’s bleeding edge was in effect at Irving Plaza last Wednesday for the arrival of reality-TV heroes Flickerstick, the band of scraggly Dallas artistes (honest!) who braved impending alcohol poisoning, god-awful competition, and their own proclivity toward violence to score a major-label deal thanks to the unintentional sketch-comedy series Bands on the Run.

Fame can be a good thing. The beer is free. The group’s outfits, once broke-vintage, are now fashion-vintage. Girls too. Flickerstick are the type of band that has girls fighting in the crowd. Or more to the point, Flickerstick are the type of band whose fans are the type of girls who would fight at a Flickerstick show. Spunky.

You sense the guys appreciate the culture clash. After all, they’re the ones singing “She’s only 18/It’s such a beautiful dream/All she needs is some chloroform and she’ll be mine” like they’re headlining a power-ballad convention. Their generally pleasant cover of Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” replaces silence with cacophony. In general, singer Brandin over-emotes in voice and gesture while the band plays the faceless, optimistic riffs. It’s as if someone pressed pause at a Journey or Foreigner show and let the guys loose 15 years later. Demographically targeted nostalgia, courtesy of VH1.

TV has honed them to a matte finish. They toss their sweat rags, earplugs, and guitar picks to the crowd with alarming regularity (hello, eBay!). During the first encore, singer Brandin—looking more like Johnny Rzeznik every day—materializes at the corner of the balcony, hovering over the crowd, begging them to watch his display of self-loathing. After they finish the nine-minute slow burn “Direct Line to the Telepathic,” blond-fauxhawked drummer Dominic thrashes his setup—hey, it’s on Epic!—and strikes a victory pose. Mr. Sirulnick, they’re ready for their close-up now. —Jon Caramanica

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