Show Me Your Undies


Nowadays there are more “underground” bands than ever, and if you don’t wanna bother sifting through ’em, that’s fine—there’s good stuff on MTV and Hot 97, too. Still, it’s fun to root for the little guys, especially with the economy on the skids, so let’s just say you wouldn’t be amiss to shell out for any of these above-average, semi-popular, and mostly local acts, all of which are releasing records and/or gigging regularly right about now: Radio 4, Enon, Les Savy Fav, Pixeltan, Laptop, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Oneida, Rival Schools, Walkmen, Liars, Greenhornes, Bee & Flower, Outhud, Lambchop, Panthers, Bis, Hefner, X-Ecutioners, Party of Helicopters. (And there are plenty more where those came from; check the listings.)

These bands bear witness to several totally decent undergrounds, and likewise two fiercely independent local record labels are busy carving niches for themselves within their respective genres: Young God Records, headed by former Swans frontperson Michael Gira, and Def Jux Recordings, NYC’s premier undie hip-hop label. YGR specializes in post-rock, art rock, soundtrack rock, and no wave (all nebulous labels, true, but so’s your mom), music that, according to Gira, “has a filmic quality to it, in that it develops a sonic world you might want to fall into.” Calla, a trio of Brooklynites Gira stumbled upon in time to produce their second album, sound a little like any number of bands odiously rocking the ether (Iceland’s elfin snooze-rock purveyors Sigur Rós, for example), and yet their minimalist, beautiful Scavengers is evocative, nuanced, and smart: the contemplative Bernard Herrmann score to the blockbuster bombast of other soundtrack rockers.

For pure impact, nothing on YGR quite matches the Swans’ wall-to-wall boom-bap, but several arty young guns have been making a fine mess of things. Flux Information Sciences’ Neubauten-style rhythmic attack and bizarro cabaret/disco leanings are best experienced live (although last year’s Private/Public is more than solid), and Gira is currently hyping Larsen, an Italian band whose pastiche-like “field recordings” yoke found noise, guitar spills, and weirdo scritti-politti. The mellow, Gira-led Angels of Light dole out the best “songs” per se.

It’d be great if Uncle Mike, as his bandmates have dubbed him, could cultivate a 21st-century incarnation of his ’80s touring pals Sonic Youth. Gira’s main concern of the moment, though, is “to expand the label without going broke”; fostering a “hot” avant rock scene means comparatively little. “I’ve always been pretty repulsed by that type of thing,” says Gira. “It’s just a sleazier and glitzier version of high school.”

Like Gira, Def Jux founder El-P is wary of is-this-it?-style hype, but that hasn’t stopped him from acting as a big brother to a small but growing roster of up-and-coming rappers. Having been hipped to the pitfalls of the biz as a member of Queens trio Company Flow, El-P mentored, produced, and shared an apartment with the members of Cannibal Ox, whose The Cold Vein finished 15th in this year’s Pazz & Jop poll. The label’s other big 2001 release—the warm, brainy Labor Days, which shared none of the dark, dusky, and Gira-esque sonics of The Cold Vein—was recorded by Aesop Rock, an über-loquacious whiteboy El-P picked up after one release on the tiny Mush label.

Considering alt-rap’s traditional knee-jerk disdain for anything more popular than hemorrhoids, El-P’s outlook is refreshingly bullshit-free. “Our crew is like, ‘We totally love anything good.’ If it’s commercial music and it’s good, we love it,” he says. “I probably inadvertently birthed a shitload of people who took that high-end philosophy of thinking they were smarter than commercial hip-hop, [but] I’ve never felt that way.” El-P is currently putting the final touches on his own full-length, due in May, as well as an Aesop Rock EP, a second Def Jux compilation, and records by other rappers in his stable, including Murs, RJD2, and Mr. Lif. The only promises he makes is to keep Def Jux artist-friendly and unpredictable. “I’m basically trying to keep confusing people as to exactly what my label is doing,” says El-P. “The shit that we’re going to be releasing is going to vary a lot.”

Cannibal Ox perform Tuesday at the Knitting Factory, 74 Leonard Street, 219-3006.

Aesop Rock performs April 11 at Queens College, 65-30 Kissena Boulevard, Queens, 718-997-3986.


March 11-12

Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey Street, 533-2111

You will know them by their guitars, their wall-o’-noise atmospherics, their whisper-screamy vocals, and their swipes from the Who and Afghan Whigs and Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth, which is not to mention their longass name signifying equal parts smartass indie irony and punk detachment. You will also know them by their fans wearing those stupid black frame glasses, but don’t call ’em “emo” ’cause they’re so not. (Hoard)


March 14-15

Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey Street, 533-2111

This tour pairs like-minded indie titans: Between their deft, inventive drummers and lead boys obsessed with—and exceptionally adept at—finding the intersection between everyday melancholy and beauty, both DP and DCFC have forged visions musical as well as personal, working from the inside out—not the other way around. (Catucci)


March 15 and 18

Madison Square Garden, Seventh Avenue and 32nd Street, 307-7171

March 22

Nassau Coliseum, 1255 Hempstead Turnpike, Uniondale, Long Island, 307-7171

April 6

Continental Airlines Arena, 50 State Route 120, East Rutherford, New Jersey, 307-7171

Riding creatively (but not commercially) high with Songs From the West Coast, Elton’s bound to hold his own on this local stop of the superstar duo’s second “Face to Face” tour. Knowing what’s good for him, Billy’s bound to go easy on his ersatz classical album, Fantasies and Delusions, and sell his latest hits package instead. This is one show where you know exactly what you’re getting for your hugely inflated ticket price—176 piano keys and a whole lot of memories. (Walters)


March 18

Knitting Factory, 74 Leonard Street, 219-3006

Like Barbara Manning and Liz Phair, her sisters in the educated, brown-haired, indie singer-songwriter press darling sub-subgenre, Dougher isn’t much of a vocalist, but she comes across with such girl-in-the-dorm-room-next-door realness, you can’t help but be charmed. Her latest, The Bluff, rocks out a bit more than previous solo offerings, but I still prefer her work with Corin Tucker in the girl group Cadallaca, which is more concerned with having fun. (Phillips)


March 21

Roseland Ballroom, 239 West 52nd Street, 777-6800

None other than Sir Elton made a surreal surprise appearance at young Ryan’s Irving show in the fall, so maybe Springsteen will show up this time around for a game of Last Man Standing—Adams can’t he won’t and he don’t stop, as tireless a showman as he’s prolific a songwriter. The diffident goofball also tends to play dirty and wasted, all the better to rough up his increasingly slick AOR product and shrink any venue down to barroom size. (Winter)


March 21

Hammerstein Ballroom, 311 West 34th Street, 307-7171

Headlining will be sax man Karl Denson’s all-star funk-fusion band, featuring Charlie Hunter, Chris Wood, DJ Logic, and others. But to my ears the support acts are more impressive: West Coast undie hip-hoppers Blackalicious are as stagewise as rap bands get, especially when Lyrics Born comes along for the ride; Michael Franti’s Spearhead, always ready with a groove no matter how programmatic the raps get; and Nikka Costa is a pretty darn funky diva for Don Costa’s daughter. (Christgau)


March 23

Knitting Factory, Main Space, 74 Leonard Street, 219-3006

Prolific as rabbits and side-project-prone, Kawabata Makoto’s quasi-hippie commune/psychedelic band has a range much broader than the lysergic jamming that’s their specialty. (They recently tackled Terry Riley’s “In C.”) Mostly, though, they’re about sustained altered states of being, evoked via sustained guitar overspill. (Wolk)


March 23

Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey Street, 533-2111

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ dirty no wave-garage is so thrilling that they deserve every last accolade. Singer Karen O is well on her way to becoming a superstar, and she’s got the voice and attitude of a young Lydia Lunch. With the Detroit-based Dirtbombs, legendary former Gorie Mick Collins’s revolving-door two-bassist, two-drummer garage-punk freakout. (Phillips)


March 26

Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey Street, 533-2111

Like Jim Steinman said, too much is never enough, and this former indie weirdo turned toast of England specializes in huge fist-in-the-air anthems—on getting wasted, on getting wet, on loving New! York! City! He’s a younger, skinnier bat out of hell, with a penchant for bloodying his face and a mighty mountain of bombast behind his passionate lisp. (Wolk)


April 4

Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey Street, 533-2111

Less fragmentary than their debut, Internal Wrangler, Clinic’s new Walking With Thee is still giddy and jittery on the same aphrodisiac fuzz-organ fumes, and at this point frontman Ade Blackburn sounds altogether panicked (notwithstanding cozy-domestic song titles like “Come Into Our Room” and “Sunlight Bathes Our Home”). Even Bowery head-nodders will throw down for the title track’s Mysterians-meets-Mission of Burma pogo rumpus. (Winter)


April 5

Knitting Factory, 74 Leonard Street, 219-3006

Erase Errata’s visits here are erratic, so take this opportunity to see the ladies barrel through their set of furiously convulsing—or is it passionately shimmying?—two-minute tunes. Locals Black Dice play here all the time, but never the same set. A recent turn into feedback symphonics seems to have ended; expect them to rip barbed, burning grooves out of their instruments and effects. (Catucci)


April 10

B.B. King Blues Club, 237 West 42nd Street, 997-4144

Sizzling hot son from an all-star Cuban dance band led by former Sierra Maestra trumpeter Jesús Alemañy. The horns swagger, the polyrhythms percolate around conguero “Tata” Guines, and for a few sweet hours all will be right with the world. (Gehr)


April 10-11

Nassau Coliseum, 1255 Hempstead Turnpike, Uniondale, 307-7171

April 13-14

Continental Airlines Arena, 50 State Route 120, East Rutherford, New Jersey, 307-7171

Downsizing from stadium to arena to assure continued sellouts and also because nights get cold in the spring, the pop-pop-pop fivesome will demonstrate to any young female you care to buy a ticket that they do too have talent and (in one case) are too too good for Britney. (Christgau)


April 12-13

Hammerstein Ballroom, 311 West 34th Street, 307-7171

For the third April in four, the Great African Ball hits the Ham, and you should do what you can to make it an annual event just in case it proves not to be. Why mince words? Not only does N’Dour possess the finest voice in popular music, a many-octaved thing of surpassingly mellow body and sweetness, he leads the finest band. You think I’m lying, there’s only one way to find out—at a show that generally lasts over three hours, starting with the fusion stuff and getting more Dakar as the night deepens. (Christgau)


April 16

Hammerstein Ballroom, 311 West 34th Street, 307-7171

Tom and Ed don’t have the shock-of-the-new on their side like they did when they released 1995’s Exit Planet Dust, so you’ll forgive them if they seem like they’re retracing earlier sounds on Come With Us, which features the same buzzed-out basslines, acidic-noise breakbeats, and more guest vocals from Beth Orton. (If it ain’t broke, why fix it?) While their live show is not really all that live, the Chems know how to program their set to create huge crescendos for the crowd to grab hold of. Watch for their rock-star poses. (Romano)


April 17-18 and 20

Roseland Ballroom, 239 West 52nd Street, 777-6800

Gwen Stefani has always been the new Cyndi Lauper, we just weren’t ready to admit it. But now that the ’80s are cool again (case in point: opening synth-rockers the Faint are huge with college radio DJs too young to remember when new wave was actually new) and No Doubt have dropped pretty much all ska/punk pretensions, the future Mrs. Rossdale and Co. have started getting a bit of respect. And they deserve it: “Hey Baby” is just about the freshest song by white people on the radio right now. (Phillips)


May 2

Beacon Theatre, 2124 Broadway, 307-7171

Between appearances with the Corn Sisters, New Pornographers, and the Boyfriends, Neko is a near-ubiquitous NYC presence, which permits her to flip audience expectations as casually and often as she tosses her hair (during a recent Porno convention, they shot their “Letter From an Occupant” wad midset!). Case’s Web-or-tour-only release, Canadian Amp, has been circulating awhile, so hopefully new songs will mingle with the always copious banter. (Winter)


May 5-6

Hammerstein Ballroom, 311 West 34th Street, 307-7171

Bringing the sound of falling in love or the sound of slowly drowning in your vomit (depending on who you ask), the Wimpiest Band of All Time comes to town to rock you oh so gently to rapture or to sleep (also depending on who you ask). The eight-piece Scottish indie orchestra hasn’t played here since ’98, so the tears have been welling up. (Phillips)