Exhaust fumes, soul food, freshly mowed hay, good sex and great music have a defining common denominator -- smell. Without their essential, earthy bouquets, they lose their potency and ability to inspire. In the case of music, the large number of bands that fail to transfer the energy of their live performances into the sterile environs of the studio attests to the importance of odor to life's more butt-shaking experiences.
That said, Southern Culture on the Skids positively reeks, both on-stage and on CD. Unsanitized and uncompromising, the sur-rural power trio has been filling the atmosphere with its throwback, dirt-track roots rock since the late '80s, laying rubber from juke joint to prison to prom. Having mastered the lo-fi secret to studio success, Culture has issued a series of smoky CDs with bigger hair than a beehived Texas waitress. But it's the full-throttle thrashings the band administers to live audiences that break the most serious sweat.
Pretty much every song in the Culture repertoire is as multilayered as a Rocky and Bullwinkle episode. For visual stimulation, the three dress to the nines in white-trash attire -- drummer Dave Hartman banging his trash-can lids beneath his porkpie hat, bassist May Huff smearing red lipstick on the mike as she shakes that chicken-strut boogie, guitarist Rick Miller practically jumping out of his overalls while strumming his instrument with orgasmic abandon.
Theatrical as the group is, there's far more to a Culture show than high camp. Respectfully borrowing from the skankiest blues, rockabilly and country dance-hall traditions, the musicians get the pheromones flowing with sophisticated licks that never lose their raw edge. Miller, in particular, knows how to extract down-home scents from his collection of funky guitars, whether whipping together a metallic stew of speed-ball chords or picking a single-note barrage like a master feather-plucker. And though his two-fisted flailing on his stripped-down kit might yield a different impression, Hartman is as technically accomplished with the sticks as all but the jazziest of his brethren.
And Miller wields a slick enough pen to do justice to the band's considerable personality. The bulk of his phrases and themes may be street-level accessible (not to mention a gas), but they also harbor hipper depths both funny and scathing. Though Miller may be the musical front guy, it's Huff who steals much of the attention. The clash between her punky vocals and vintage attitude pours gasoline on an already roaring blaze, which Huff fans wickedly as she sings of preacher daddies and go-go girl mamas.
The ritual hurling of fried chicken and biscuits at the throbbing masses has become something of a Culture trademark (the more squeamish are advised to hang toward the back of the room during "8 Piece Box"), but as far as the associated all-American aroma, it's only part of a broad continuum; the band assaults the nose from the git-go.
-- Bob Burtman
Southern Culture on the Skids performs at 9 p.m. Friday, November 15, at Fitzgerald's, 3706 White Oak. Tickets are $8. Miss Xanna Don't and the Wanted and Texas Guinness Lovers open. For info, call 862-3838.
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Archers of Loaf -- So Glenn Branca begat Sonic Youth, Sonic Youth begat Polvo and Pavement, and North Carolina's Archers of Loaf, after being begotten in turn, invited all the ancestors over for a slumber party with Psychedelic Furs's Richard Butler and a couple of the unemployed guys from Big Country. Everyone wore cool pajamas, ate S'mores, drank Pernod straight out of the bottle and levitated one another. Upon waking the next day, they realized someone had left a tape recorder running, and All the Nations Airports had produced itself. So they shared Cream o' Wheat and coffee, and played rock/paper/scissors until it was decided that the Archers would get to put their name on the new CD.
Sure, everyone walked away a little disappointed that the Archers got to release this wonderful music while they were left with only bellies full of Cream o' Wheat and memories of the night before. But then they remembered that the Archers were the freshest, sharpest, most happenin' of the begotten progenitors of guitar-rock-that-sounds-like-it-matters-so-it-really-does, and realized that it was only right that the Archers get the credit. They had hosted the slumber party, after all. Each carried home a duplicated cassette of his or her very own, to cherish forever, and this, of course, made them all -- Branca, Sonic Youth, Polvo, Pavement, Butler and the two lucky guys from Big Country -- most happy indeed. At the Abyss, 5913 Washington Avenue, Friday, November 15. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $7. Magic Dirt and Celindine open. 862-7173. (Brad Tyer)
Stone Temple Pilots -- With Stone Temple Pilots thoroughly immersed in singer Scott Weiland's drug-addled soap opera (relapse, rehab, tour on hold, band in limbo, etc.), who could blame many of us for ignoring the band's measurable artistic strides in 1996? Lest we forget, in March the stadium-friendly San Diego quintet squeaked out its most interesting and least derivative release to date, the surprisingly witty, stylistically schizoid Tiny Music ... Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop. And it seems all the adversity may have only served to make STP more intent on seeing this thing through, wherever "this thing" might lead, in addition to adding a little intrigue to the group's long-delayed national tour. Will Scotty-boy fall off the wagon? Will Tiny Music inch its way back up the charts? Or will STP plunge off the face of the planet? Stay tuned as the questions continue to mount. At the AstroArena at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. Expanding Man opens. 629-3700. (Hobart Rowland