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Uncommon Cause

At times, Consolidated seem less like a band than a cause-waving freak show. The quasi-militant San Francisco Bay-area trio is, quite literally, submerged in its own anarchic intentions. Tops among the group's laundry list of causes: animal rights, vegetarianism, abortion rights and just about any philosophy of governing that shuns capitalism. Consolidated load down their lyrics with enough anti-establishment rhetoric to leave Bad Religion in awe, and their resentment toward the music industry rivals even Fugazi's. The group's most unrelenting material puts newer metal/hip-hop acts such as Rage Against the Machine to shame.

Driven, as they are, by efforts to incite revolution from the nightclub stage, the group's live shows often resemble political pep rallies more than they do concerts. And the "pep" in question usually manifests itself in fervent moshing of a variety that isn't always in line with Consolidated's stance on the evils of sexism and discrimination.

"I used to really enjoy slam dancing. I thought it was a good way to get my emotions out," said one disgusted female fan at a past Consolidated performance. "But I'm sick of getting my tits felt up, my ass pinched. And I'm sick and tired of getting ripped off."

That harsh sound bite is sandwiched between songs on the latest Consolidated release, Dropped, a sample-heavy convolution of blues, rap, funk/R&B and industrial noise set to lead vocalist Adam Sherburne's merciless rants -- which, by the way, are sung (not shrieked) with remarkable soul. The girl's comments were undoubtedly recorded when the band's performances still featured open forums, where fans could randomly grab a mike and vent their spleen (the band calls it "interactive democracy") whenever the urge moved them. Sadly, though, Consolidated have been forced to abandon their free discourse policy because of the very complaints voiced by the person above -- just another case of a few (okay, maybe more than a few) bad apples spoiling the communal experience for everyone else.

Of course, that situation riles Consolidated's Sherburne, Philip Steir (programming) and Mark Pistel (keyboards) to no end. For the last decade, the three have thrived on confrontation -- albeit of a more positive and constructive sort -- and having to quell that open atmosphere must tear them to shreds inside. The trio of musicians/activists first got together as members of Until December, a decidedly unpartisan new wave outfit that they quickly tired of. By 1988, Sherburne, Steir and Pistel had broken away from Until December to form Consolidated, vowing to make music with unflagging political purpose.

Consolidated have always been at their most compelling live, as their self-righteous vices often get the best of them in the studio. The group's early work (the 1989 EP AConsolidated!, 1990's The Myth of Rock) reflects an impenetrable preachiness and an equally dense industrial bent, which almost always came at the expense of the band's obvious intelligence. Lately, though, the group is showing signs of relaxing its approach. Sherburne, for example, has actually taken up singing, and he's not half bad at it, either, as both his recent side project, Childman, and the new Dropped prove. The latter's more relentless tracks are balanced out (some fans might say undermined) by a handful of simmering funk-rock numbers that are pinned down by exceedingly laid-back grooves. One in particular, "Red Flags and Bags," with its busy, bluesy guitar signature and delicate falsetto lead vocal in the verses, approximates (egad!) a mushy love song.

Could it be that the men in Consolidated are softening with age? I wouldn't bet on it, given that even their most personal offerings continue to be laced with highly politicized innuendo. Still, even diehard revolutionaries need a little time away from the podium to reacquaint themselves with the foibles of humanity.

-- Hobart Rowland

Consolidated perform Thursday, January 22, at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $7. Liviya Compean opens. For info, call 862-7580.

Zwee -- When Frank Zweback arrived in Houston in 1991 from his native Baltimore, it was as part of the Teach for America program. And though he continues to hold a day job at Marshall Middle School, his musical education is far from complete. The 28-year-old singer/guitarist has an unabashedly positive outlook on the maturation of Zwee, the new band he fronts. Zwee combines disparate genres such as Latin funk, blues, reggae, jazz and rock for a mixture that is both disciplined and flexible. Such eclecticism is hardly surprising coming from a man who counts among his musical influences Curtis Mayfield, Gil Scott-Heron, Donnie Hathaway, John Coltrane and Peter Tosh. If you've never had the chance to see the sort of bill that would have John Coltrane backed by Santana, this is the closest you're going to get in Houston. Opens for Fondue Monks at 9 p.m. Thursday, January 22 at Rudyard's, 2010 Waugh. Cover is $4. 521-0521. (Bob Ruggiero)

Rocket 69 -- After a year of playing drums in a soul band, Ram Garza wanted to try something "fresh and unusual." And you could call what he came up with next just that: Austin's Rocket 69 might well be the only true jump blues band in Texas these days. Fronted by vocalist Denia Ridely, Rocket 69 plays vintage instruments (horns, piano, stand-up bass, etc.) and performs in slick 1940s duds while faithfully recovering old gems from the legendary T-Bone Walker and Ruth Brown, as well as works by more obscure artists such as Tiny Bradshaw and Winona Harris. Worth a look -- back, that is. At 10 p.m. Friday, January 23, at the Orchid Lounge, 2415 1/2 Dunstan. Cover is $6. 524-0228; at 9 p.m. Saturday, January 24, at Billy Blues, 6025 Richmond. Cover is $8. 266-9294. (Seth Hurwitz

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