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The Cramps
Numbers
Saturday, February 4

It's been a few years since I've thought seriously about The Cramps. But then, there hasn't been a need to think, seriously or otherwise, about The Cramps lately: the well-lubricated crowd at Numbers saw almost exactly the same show I saw 13 years ago in Boston. Maybe it's me, maybe it's the fact that The Cramps always were a one-joke band of limited musical skill, but their self-styled "psychobilly" marriage of the two betes noires of respectable '50s society -- horror comic books and rock and roll -- just can't hold up under the strain of a 75-minute show.

In the early '80s, The Cramps were outrageous, but when outrage turns to shtick, it's enervating rather than inspiring. Sure, The Cramps still look the part -- the vinyl-clad Lux Interior wearing pumps, an androgynous bassist with hair just like that chick from Berlin (the group, not the city) and Poison Ivy in a black velvet catsuit -- but musically the band is less adventurous than, say, Carl Perkins (and I mean now, not in his prime). Rockabilly formalists, they rarely venture outside the constraints of the genre. Some of the songs worked, particularly when they let the drums lead the attack, and Poison Ivy's thrashing rhythm work carried such Cramps classics as "Creature from the Black Lagoon" and "Life Is Short."

By the show-closing "The Bird," I was reminiscing about the day when The Cramps functioned as a useful comment on, rather than a depressing reminder of, the promise of punk. Most of the crowd, though, seemed to be hanging out to see if Lux, after 15 minutes of dancing around with his pants undone, would expose himself. He didn't.

-- Peter Kelly

G. Love and Special Sauce and Hammell on Trial
The Fabulous Satellite Lounge
Thursday, February 9

I didn't mean to show up at this one as early as I did, but poor timing turned to lucky accident before I was five feet inside the door. Hammell on Trial -- which is the stage name of Austin-based thirtysomething guitarist/ singer Ed Hammell -- stood up there rapid-fire expounding on the state of his art like a Beck with a clear idea, and pounding out rushing wall-o'-sound rhythms on his beat-up acoustic like a Dick Dale who plays only chords. Hammell's songs and attitude make him out as a worshipper of the early Sun Records trinity of Elvis, Lewis and Cash, and he plays with the same sort of fire, even if his hand-collaged shoes and shaved head place him in the punk-infused, post-slacker now. When he left the stage flattering the audience for hailing from the same town as late funnyman Bill Hicks, you knew he wasn't just paying homage; he was recognizing his own.

Philadelphia's G. Love and Special Sauce lived up to the challenge with an ultra-funky swamp-scat set that showed the boyishly gorgeous frontman to be as good a performer as a pretty face, and his rhythm section to be as fine as two feet and an ass could ask for. The packed crowd lapped it up, reversing an earlier Houston disappointment where a Numbers crowd roundly dissed Love's opening set. Two acts. Two good times. Happy accident indeed.

-- Brad Tyer

 
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