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Whats in a Name?

If Bob Dole ever decides to change his image, he might consider enlisting a little help from Seattle's The Presidents of the United States of America. These post-grunge front-runners never take themselves too seriously; wouldn't it be nice if Dole followed their lead and stopped looking so dour? He'd better act fast, though; Bill Clinton has already grabbed an edge by hosting the band at a 1994 youth rally.

The music-making Presidents are Chris Ballew, Dave Dederer and Jason Finn, three close chums who have aspired to a higher musical office by stressing fun over gloom. There's a welcome lack of angst on the band's eponymous debut, which is a catchy, ragtag collection of slacker hymns. When it comes to lyrics, the Presidents pick just about anything to write about: putting out the cat, eating peaches, studying a spider, rocking on the back porch. And yet they somehow manage not to pander to our dumber instincts. Musically, the trio boasts a stripped-down attack, but not in the typical sense of the term. Ballew plays a two-string bass (which he perfected while working with Mark Sandman, of Morphine fame), while guitarist Dederer uses only three strings. The spare approach gives the band's guitar-dominated sound -- which stretches across multiple genres, touching on punk, folk, rockabilly and retro rock -- a decidedly heavier thump.

While the Presidents write short, speedy songs in the punk tradition, they owe their more pop-ish tendencies to the likes of Cheap Trick and the Cars. It's a formula that earned the Presidents a '95 Grammy nomination. Still, lest the band get too caught up in its current success, they need to remember that there's a new popularity vote every time a band releases a new CD. Not that they necessarily need to worry: at the very least, the band has the element of surprise in its favor. In concert, the Presidents are spontaneous, often adding improvised lyrics to their songs to match the day's headlines. And even if they do end up one-term wonders, at least they'll have fun while it lasts. -- Greg Barr

The Presidents of the United States of America perform Saturday, March 2, at Numbers, 300 Westheimer. Doors open at 8 p.m. Advance tickets are sold out; a limited number of tickets are available the night of the show. Love Jones opens. For info, call 526-6551.

Blue Rodeo -- It's been difficult over the last couple of years to get too excited about anything Blue Rodeo has put to disc. For all intents and purposes, the Toronto sextet peaked in 1991 with the refined roots-rock catchiness and pristine harmonies of the Pete Anderson-produced stunner, Casino. The ensuing U.S. tour -- a personal triumph for the band in many ways -- was Blue Rodeo's strongest bid for mass audience acceptance south of the Canadian border. For the most part, it failed. So after two fine CDs (Outskirts and Diamond Mine), a near masterpiece (Casino) and an uninspired successor (Lost Together), Blue Rodeo's frontmen, Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy, found a new, more understanding record label, settled into a comfortable rural lifestyle and resigned themselves to their near-successful status in the States. Meanwhile, they continue to fill seats by the thousands at home.

While Blue Rodeo's ingredients are quite typical -- country, folk and rock -- the resulting mix isn't always easy to categorize. This hard-to-define trait is common among Canadian bands, and it's been a curse for many of them in markets outside Canada. But it appears Blue Rodeo is through worrying about fitting in. The band's latest release, Nowhere to Here, is so lazy and self-satisfied that it's almost laconic, its grooves finding their footing only after minutes of easy-paced jamming. It's funny, though, how Blue Rodeo's lack of desire to be accepted ceases to be an issue when the group takes the stage. Live, even the more meandering material is saved by lucid harmonies, energetic playing and an atmosphere of pure enjoyment. All said and done, Blue Rodeo is in the business of having fun and making music. And as long as someone's there to listen, they'll likely stay around until someone pulls the plug on their party. At the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue, at 9:30 p.m. Friday, March 1. Tickets are $7. Weeping Tile opens. 869-COOL. (Hobart Rowland)

Robin and Linda Williams -- For someone raised in modern times, it can be difficult to glean the appeal -- let alone the importance -- of the music on old Carter Family records. Repetition and a willingness to embrace a lo-fi world can yield that understanding, but it takes effort. Fortunately, Robin and Linda Williams do some of the work for us, reinventing the essence of Carterdom in a way that even the most hard-bitten technophile can appreciate. Part of a musical continuum that includes the Louvin Brothers and Hank Williams as well as the Carters, Robin and Linda play the kind of no-frills, boiled-down country that derives its power from simplicity and heart, rather than flash and bombast. Driven by close harmonies that only 20 plus years in the trenches together can produce, and backed by Their Fine Band -- ex-Red Clay Rambler Jim Watson on bass and backup vocals and Kevin Maul on Dobro -- Robin and Linda add tasty layers of musical flesh to some already soulful bones. So rather than force-feeding yourself digitally remastered versions of Carter Family standards in order to probe the core of country, save some time and go see Robin and Linda Williams instead. At McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, February 29. Tickets are $8. 528-5999. (Bob Burtman)

 
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