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Beyond the Stars

Rock history generally suggests that talented lesser-knowns can benefit from the coddling of a proven commodity, if only for the most obvious reasons -- i.e., name recognition, industry clout, what have you. For Brad, a project featuring Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard, and Verbow, whose latest work bears the stamp of alt-rock guru Bob Mould, such nurturance couldn't come from a more capable pair of big-names. So it's both ironic and encouraging that, in each case, the bankable stars are reduced to supporting roles (significant though they are) in the overall scheme of things.

For the time being, Gossard is unequivocally Brad's prime draw, but that could change quickly. A little digging into the background of this Seattle quartet reveals a wealth of other selling points. There's the soulful, chameleon-like vocals of lead singer Shawn Smith, whose credits include co-leadership -- with Brad drummer Regan Hagar -- of Seattle's Satchel, a gig with Pigeonhed and a recent touring stint with the Afghan Whigs. Hagar, meanwhile, is a veteran of the seminal grunge outfit Malfunkshun, fronted by late Mother Love Bone vocalist Andrew Wood. Brad also draws on the skills of bassist Jeremy Toback, whose solo release Perfect Flux Thing is a modest wonder unto itself.

Equally encouraging is the uniform excellence of Brad's Interiors. Crammed full of indelible melodies, smart lyrics and drastic stylistic swings -- with a thin thread of artistic pretense to give it the feel of an "event" -- the band's second CD is the most genuine thing to come out of the capital of grunge since Screaming Trees' Dust. And given Interiors' payload of potential hits -- the first being "The Day Brings," a bracingly naive power ballad featuring Gossard's Pearl Jam colleague Mike McCready on guitar -- Brad isn't likely to go the way of the criminally neglected Trees. It also goes to show that Gossard still has plenty of mainstream hooks left in his arsenal, even if he is expending them on side projects.

While Bob Mould may not be an official member of Verbow, Brad's tour mates from Chicago, his hands are all over the group's debut, Chronicles. As he's often done with his own material, Mould went out of his way to make Verbow's dank musings on a variety of emotional wounds palatable to the public without undercutting the group's moody bite. In doing so, he heaped on the guitars and coated the band's sound in a Sugar-y varnish.

Even so, Verbow's instrumental ingenuity refuses to stay lost in Mould's rather heavy-handed translation. With or without the studio makeover, the pivotal elements of the band's sound remain intact, especially the way Alison Chesley's probing cello work coils around singer/guitarist Jason Narducy's crushing power chords. That interplay between Verbow's core duo is the band's saving grace live -- where you can be fairly sure Mould won't be waiting in front of the stage with a net.

-- Hobart Rowland

Brad and Verbow perform at Numbers, 300 Westheimer, Thursday, July 24. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $11. For info, call 629-3700.

Chris Ardoin -- If it seems ultra-precocious of Chris Ardoin to be fronting his own dynamic zydeco combo at age 15, consider that he's got several generations of zydeco DNA in his cells, a virus that dates back to granduncle Amede Ardoin, who in the 1920s was the first to commit Creole accordion music to record. Granddad Bois Sec Ardoin attained the status of a legend, and father Lawrence drummed for the famed Ardoin Brothers band. So Chris is just doing what he's been genetically programmed to do. Another of the next generation of zydeco artists that have made south Louisiana the nation's most vital roots music zone, Ardoin fils and his band Double Clutchin' (with brother Sean on drums and cousin Tammy Ledet on rub board) show a penchant for funk and rock that elevates the original tunes above the standard zydeco format. Double Clutchin' also borrows a page from R&B annals by using sophisticated harmonies that are unusual in traditional zydeco. Chris shows no disrespect for his elders, though, as he squeezes those staple waltzes and two-steps like a throwback. At 9 p.m., Saturday, July 26, at the Rawhide Saloon, 7022 McHard Road. Tickets are $6. (281) 437-9921. (Bob Burtman)

Ween -- As the unlikely career of Pennsylvania studio eccentrics Dean and Gene Ween continues its drift toward something consistently listenable -- something still sonically out there but also more playfully pop-centric than ever -- the fun-loving duo keeps on reeling them in. Ween's latest outing, The Mollusk, was made between rounds of surf-fishing for bluefish and bass -- both before and after the water pipes burst in their New Jersey beach house/studio, leaving recording equipment adrift in an indoor flood. So, naturally, the effort sounds thoroughly soaked. Though they're good enough songwriters to play it straight and almost get away with it, the Ween boys are at their best when they're foraging through the grotesque, the surreal and the outright nasty, getting off on weird sounds and wiener jokes. And what's most fun for us is hearing how much they still enjoy it. Tuesday, July 29, at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10. 862-3838. (Roni Sarig

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