You Buggin’ What You Buggin’ Who

One of Harry Partch’s greatest innovations was to compose songs around the tones, timbres, and rhythms of human speech. The Locust, a hardcore quartet from San Diego, follow much the same idea, but they compose around the tones, timbres, and rhythms of three people gibbering at the top of their lungs while trying to stab each other with blunt objects. Headlining Sunday’s matinee at the Village Underground, looking dashing in vinyl shorts, bug-eyed headgear, and see-thru mesh shirts with silver Locust logos on the back, the band liquefied roughly 20 songs in just over 18 minutes. That’s counting the increasingly long between-song pauses, as superhuman drummer Gabe Serbian removed his headpiece to rehydrate himself and gasp for breath.

The Locust’s songs don’t have hooks in the conventional sense; even Joey Karam’s keyboards provide insectoid creepiness rather than melodic definition. (They’re sensitive about it. “We’re not a fucking goth band,” one of them declared.) Instead, they construct ludicrously fast, twitchy patterns every second or two to bolster the rhythms of the three vocalists’ back-and-forth shrieks, and punctuate them with jackhammer “blast beats.” It’s prog rock, more or less, compressed until it turns into a black hole.

It’s also funny as hell—both “-ha-ha” and “-strange.” Sample Locust lyric, as printed (from “Twenty-Three Lubed-Up Schizophrenics With Delusions of Grandeur”): “Aesthetically pleased to the point of ambivalence/Canadian bacon-y self-fulfilling prophecy/Take the time to drown in your own spit.” As sung: “HUUUUUaaaaa AAARRGH! HWAARAWA AAARAA AAARAA! Ii ii ii ii ii iiiEEF EEEE!” What they lack in enunciation, they make up in precision and fan devotion. The 33-second “Priest With the Sexually-Transmitted Diseases, Get Out of My Bed” encompasses six distinct riffs and time signatures, and the pit at the Underground knew them well enough to sync up its lunges with every one of them. —Douglas Wolk

Rabbit Redux

“I love you, Ted Leo,” a pretend-girly voice cawed from a capacity crowd at Brownies on April 10. “You don’t even know me—how can you say you love me?” he replied. Backpedaling, he added, “I mean, uh, in a relationship sense.” Leo’s reflexive consideration—even for hecklers—and former career as Chisel’s songwriter bolster his loyal indie-punk following, but the conviction of 2001’s The Tyranny of Distance, which sounded like a psychological jailbreak, helps too. Recent years saw him hiding in stints with other bands and catacombs of degraded-tape-loop song deconstructions that conveyed ambiguity toward music-biz politics. Now, with extended-family band the Pharmacists, he’s making falsetto leaps over charging guitars trained in hardcore’s salt mines.

Emo—that catchall for spilt-milk keening and eight-strums-per-second non-tunes that plod through chords like a third-semester dropout leaving his ex’s vegan dorm—didn’t apply. Leo, a frisky creature, ran full-tilt, “like a rabbit from the rifles,” through the brightly skirling “Under the Hedge,” gamely swooning over “your sainted head in my hands.” He hit those notes; his kisser stretched till he resembled Hugo from Nancy, while gratifying hooks, thrumming bass, and even New Order rhythms (transposed to high-hat) moved things along. You can dither over pegs to hang the music on—Leo praised Phil Lynott from the stage—but the Pharmacists approximated the distinctive, Celtic-reel-like melodic figures of “Stove by a Whale” ‘s leviathan guitar march.

Tyranny‘s rousing “Timorous Me” stalled—too bad, since its Pilgrim’s Progress autobiographical specificity amplifies Leo’s sincerity. But the Jersey native did encore alone, with an impromptu “Dancing in the Dark” cover—appropriate for a sometime gun-for-hire, albeit one with his own bag lately. —E. McMurtrie

Rites of Springfield

You couldn’t fault the Dusty Day celebrants for effort—certainly not if you were judging by the volume of hairspray, mascara, and lung power on the Joe’s Pub stage April 15—but effort was never the point with Dusty Springfield. She was just about the greatest pop singer who ever lived because she could lose herself in a song and wrap it around her finger at the same time. Mercifully, none of the assembled chanteuses endeavored to impersonate the sandpaper-and-satin Springfield pipes. But the surfeit of VH1 Diva belting instead bespoke a fundamental misreading of the Dusty delivery, which, even at its most fervent, assumed a sublime poise between anguish and serenity. In the evening’s most alarming moment, four performers attacked “Son of a Preacher Man” as if it were a bushel of wheat to be thrashed in a tribal ritual.

Simplicity went a long way: Kate Pierson (the Randy Newman standard “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today”) and Gloria Meehan (the Goffin-King ballad “Goin’ Back”) offered stark, quiet showstoppers. The most persuasive melodramatics were, in deference to the show’s honoree, controlled and knowing. Little Annie’s threatening, Gauloise-fogged take on the Brel wrist-slasher “If You Go Away” nodded as much to Scott Walker’s version (not a bad thing). Ever the conceptual genius, Justin Bond conjured a cackling Bewitched double bill of “Haunted” (“HOR-NAY BY YOU!”) and “Spooky” (“YER SCARING ME NOW!”). (Next year maybe Kiki and Herb could do “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”) Having slithered into Miss Cleo’s wardrobe, Karen Black cooed and hissed her way through “The Look of Love,” drawing equally from Dusty’s goosebump decorum and Isaac Hayes’s gooey immodesty. It was a profoundly odd rendition, but like Dusty before her, she made the song hers, and she made it look easy. —Dennis Lim