Posture of the Lioness

Seven white spotlights converge on the woman straddling a grand piano bench. In her flashing silver gown, black boots, and jeans she fulfills all three of her storied personae: diva, witch, and hippie chick. She’s mic’d so close you can hear her lick her lips. She launches into “Winter,” a hit from 10 years ago, and the audience, prepared to sing along, is mesmerized instead. “Snow can wait . . . I forgot my mittens. . . . ” Her huge piano has a hint of reverb shining on the harmonics and underlining the bass notes. She teases lyrics with beats of hesitation, dropping lines to a whisper; all you can hear from the crowd is rapt silence. Outside, there is fresh snow; inside, Tori Amos is in control. She gives it to us like a full-grown woman, working each of her dream biographies through four or five moods, crooning in a lower voice and standing up to thrash the keyboard for a “rocker” like “Precious Things.” She channels Carole King or Stevie Nicks (lingering on “Landslide” ‘s refrain, “I’m getting older too”).

One doesn’t have to be a Tori-mytho-manean “ear with feet,” in their slightly embarrassing parlance, to dig a female singer-songwriter, nearly 40 and the mother of a young child, outside of any conceivable trend (where’s Kate Bush these days?), coming out with her best album in four years and commanding the stage at Radio City for three sold-out nights. One doesn’t have to, for example, have been a 14-year-old girl when Under the Pink came out, have listened to it under the covers, on cassette, afraid the earphones would slip out of your boom box just as she belted, “So you can make me come, it doesn’t make you Jesus.” It’s enough to be with her in this moment, blinded by the fuchsia lights, along on a tour called “Scarlet’s Walk,” with porn stars, goddesses, and lots of Indians, “lost in a place called America.” —Anya Kamenetz

Solid Solid

What inspired punk-funk semi-legends Liquid Liquid to play their first shows in 19 years at the Knit last Friday? You could say their retro number came up. Spike Lee used their hypno-beat classic “Cavern” (plus its litigation-spurring remake, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “White Lines”) in 25th Hour, and they had an open invite from the history-minded Knit bookers. But best of all, the avant-groove thang they helped brew in the early ’80s has been reborn lately via ass-shaking locals like !!!, the Rapture, and Out Hud.

At the sold-out early show, the latter paid respect with a hot mix of programmed beats, synth builds, and cello drones. Adding vocals on two new joints, the boys ‘n’ girls rocked like a rave-enlightened cross between Liquid’s old-school neighbors ESG and the Tom Tom Club. Here’s wishing the Huds a future of headlining sets and their own “Genius of Love.”

The bliss on Richard McGuire’s face during Liquid’s brief but perfect set proved again that music channels the divine. While better known for films and New Yorker drawings, his basslines were lithe as ever, while the shaggy lock grooves of drummers Scott Hartley, Dennis Young, and Salvatore Principato revived their fusion of old downtown beat vernaculars—the hip-hop and Fania breaks, the Tier-3 funk and art-gallery minimalism (those marimbas and mallet-struck bongos are methed-up Steve Reich). The only variation was on Principato’s dub-blurry vocals, which were nearly intelligible.

Liquid’s three long-unavailable EPs, reissued in 1997 by the Beasties Boys’ now belly-up Grand Royal, are again unavailable; their history, including the protracted “White Lines” dustup, is a sadly knotty one (heroically chronicled in issue no. 4 of the zine Tuba Frenzy). But there was no need to wax nostalgic. As Principato noted in some rare banter, “Actions speak louder than words.” And they did. —Will Hermes

Certain Damn-age

After weeks of floundering, the former College Music Journal may finally have solved the most embarrassing episode in its 25-year history: how it reports records that it’s not hip to. CMJ, sponsor of the annual NYC rawk-club smorgasbord, is the only surviving chart rag from a market that once wagged the industry dog. Today, more than 800 stations pay as much as $345 annually for the privilege of typing their own top 30—no more and no fewer—into its Web site. CMJ‘s “New Music Report” prints the charts and aggregates them into a hit parade that measures, if nothing else, what undergrads want to say they’re spinning.

As documented in the East Bay Express, a software glitch late last year began scrubbing entire charts as incomplete if a single entry failed to match CMJ‘s internal database. As a “fix,” editors began filling the offending gaps with CMJ‘s own Certain Damage compilation CD (for which it sells tracks to labels at up to $2000 a pop). After an ugly fight with Cal station KALX, CMJ apologized and, for two weeks, used the placeholder “Unverified” (much to the delight of an Arizona pinhead band by that name).

“It felt like a silencing of anything that did not fit within a pre-made mold of what we should play,” says Jannon Stein of Princeton’s WPRB, still sore that the comp appeared in her station’s No. 1 spot in place of Googleable NYC synth-poppers Zeehas;12Wait. (In a more innocent era, when stations phoned playlists into CMJ, a favorite new Hoboken band once showed up as “Yellow Tango.”)

Last week, CMJ announced it will henceforth just asterisk unconfirmed names, which should please everyone: Indie obscurantists can report their discoveries, early adopting chart scrutinizers will see what their favorite stations are into, and the mag won’t feel like it’s vouching for any snot-nosed prank-pullers. Certain Damage will reserve free tracks for bands nominated by stations, and an editor offered to include the Unverified on a future edition. Integrity reigns in college radio. Now, kids—has anyone told you about Clear Channel? —Josh Goldfein