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Cute Threat

You might wonder whether we really need another dainty bleeding heart to join the already polluted pool of feeling females with pens and acoustic guitars -- especially one who delivers lines such as "You're my medicine" and "I don't understand if you really care" like she's talking to her cat rather than her lover. That precious kitty is on the front of Lisa Loeb's debut, Tails ("tails" versus "tales," get it?), and inside is a picture of Loeb in her signature feline eyeglasses, gnashing her teeth in an evil grimace. But even when trying to be mean, Loeb manages to look like she's cowering in a corner. It looks like she'll just have to settle for being sensitive and cute. Fortunately, it's a part this Dallas-bred singer/songwriter plays winningly.

You may remember Loeb's 1994 hit "Stay (I Missed You)" and its charming video apartment tour, which was played to death on MTV and VH-1. A suitable backdrop to the hot summer months, the song was pleasant and reflective, its acoustic modesty buoyed by an irresistible hook. A plug from a movie-star friend, Ethan Hawke -- who directed the video -- sealed the tune's gold status, not to mention a major-label deal for its then-unknown composer. At the time, the girls-school-prepped, Ivy League-educated Loeb was playing New York clubs solo and with her group, Nine Stories, no doubt charming the pants off of audiences the same way she did at last month's KRBE Plugged-In Christmas -- with an airtight band that rocks when it has to, hummable melodies and that you-can't-help-but-cherish-me shy-girl shtick.

Tails, a debut that seemingly took forever to record, proved Loeb's worth. And yes, it includes "Stay," which is tacked on the end following 12 other tunes with considerably more depth than their well-worn companion. That dozen includes the subtly perceptive "Hurricane" and the implosive folk-rock ditty, "Do You Sleep?"; the latter is a wrenching declaration of emotional independence on which Loeb's mousy vocals have startling impact. Nine Stories rip into Loeb's songs with less restraint on-stage than on the CD, which is a good thing, because their reluctant leader is still trying to get comfortable with larger crowds. If she didn't come off so honest and gosh-darn likable, Loeb might be in danger of winding up crushed by Alanis, Sheryl and other more assertive sisters. But spineless as she occasionally looks and sounds, Loeb at least gets her digs in before running away to hide. -- Hobart Rowland

Lisa Loeb performs at 9 p.m. Wednesday, January 24, at Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $15. Once Blue opens. For info, call 869-TICS.

D.R.I. -- Some bands make up for a lack of creative growth with a drive to get their message across through sheer brute force. That pretty much sums it up for D.R.I., a.k.a. Dirty Rotten Imbeciles. Sure, the message may not have the same impact now as it did when first given in 1983, but if anything, the impact of the band's uncompromising quasi-militant rat-a-tat-tat has ripened with age. And what of its road show? Reports say it approaches the potency of the adrenaline-over-all-else exercises in punk rage that left moshers bloodied and nightclubs trashed at D.R.I. shows a decade ago. It's possible that D.R.I.'s noisy speed-barrage could survive the '90s. If, that is, the group continues to overemphasize just how much fun it is beating the kids at their own game. At Deep Phat, 302 Tuam, Friday, January 19. Acid Bath and Section 8 open. Tickets are $7. Doors open at 8 p.m. 523-3786. (H.R.)

Frederic Chiu -- Piano virtuoso Frederic Chiu has been compared with such classical music oddballs as Glenn Gould and Leopold Godowsky, and not just because his playing rises to the august heights of that pair. Chiu is also a standout because he plays a type of music most pianists avoid: transcriptions, or pieces originally written for another instrument or a full orchestra that have been reworked for a solo piano format. Chiu's making his Houston debut this weekend as part of the 12th Annual International Piano Festival at the University of Houston, and he has one transcription on his program: his own adaptation of the "Lt. Kije Suite," taken from one of Sergei Prokofiev's film scores. He'll mix that in with other works by Prokofiev, as well as a Mendelssohn sonata and miniatures by Chopin that were meant for the piano from the beginning. Ruth Laredo and UH professor Abbey Simon, both notable in their own rights, round out the Piano Festival's performers, but it's Chiu who promises to have keyboard fans on the edge of their seats. At Dudley Recital Hall, UH campus, Sunday, January 21. Tickets are $14; $7, students and seniors. 743-3167. (David Spence)

Seven Mary Three -- While some critics have been quick to toss Seven Mary Three onto the campus-rock heap with the likes of Hootie and the Blowfish, this Virginia band has managed to find an impressive niche just to the right of grunge and slightly to the left of mainstream rock. Singer Jason Ross will be the first to concede to his band's Pearl Jam roots, but Seven Mary Three has been able to dangle on the edge of the knockoff void by not succumbing to bellyaching about life's raw deals. And as for live performance, Seven Mary Three stresses melody over punishing crunch. Ross and the others may swear up and down that they're not a traditional rock band, but I've got news for them: that's exactly what they are, and it's not so bad. At Numbers, 300 Westheimer, Tuesday, January 23. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10. Mary Karlzen and Lustre open. 526-6551. (Greg Barr)

 
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