Back in 1980, lead Pretender Chrissie Hynde ruffled rock's moral double standard with songs of hard living and wild exploits -- S&M misadventures, gangbangs, tattooed love boys, brutal hangovers and such. Sixteen years later, you have to think that even Hynde couldn't have predicted the latest outpouring of wanton attitude courtesy of female rockers. Except that these days, many of them don't fit the part; nice, well-bred young women are singing openly about making out with their own sex (Jill Sobule), copulating orally in movie theaters (Alanis Morissette) and doing it doggie-style (Liz Phair). Some world we live in, huh?
Tracy Bonham is one such nice girl -- the sort of nice girl a nice set of middle-class parents would want their nice son to marry. And while she forgoes singing about lovers with superhuman sexual stamina, Bonham can certainly kick up a cloud of dirt when it comes to documenting the years of personal turmoil and uncertainty that led up to The Burden of Being Upright, her blistering Island Records debut. "Mother Mother" is the song you're most likely familiar with, seeing as it's all over local radio right now. An emotional cleansing of the coarsest fiber, the tune abruptly alternates between soft, acoustic-guitar backed verses and an electrified screaming match between Bonham and the walls. The singer is not so much yelling at her mom as she is venting her anxiety over the stress of being on her own. It makes for an unlikely but deserving hit, and one that becomes increasingly difficult to erase from memory.
The rest of Upright follows "Mother"'s tempestuous lead, jerking to and fro to the disquieting rhythms and fidgety, atonal dynamics of an intelligent, indecisive twentysomething trying on a full wardrobe of sounds and emotions. Sort of makes you forget that, overall, Bonham is a happy, upbeat, reasonably well-adjusted individual. She grew up quietly in Eugene, Oregon, and in case you're wondering, she loves her mom and her stepfather. What she hates are snobby artist types, even if (or maybe because) she was groomed to be one herself. Trained as a classical violinist, Bonham had a change of heart soon after she enrolled at Boston's Berklee School of Music in 1987 to study music and voice. Her first year there, her tastes began to shift from the likes of Benny Goodman, jazz vocalist Betty Carter and violinist Stephane Grappelli to the Pixies, the Buzzcocks and Sam Phillips. By 1992, Bonham had committed herself to making it as a rock and roller. Two years later, she made her indie debut with the EP The Liverpool Sessions, on the CherryDisc label, and had a Boston-area hit with "The One," which is also on Upright. The singer took top honors in three categories at the 1995 Boston Music Awards, and her deal with Island soon followed.
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Last spring, Bonham was supposed to visit Houston as an opening act for Spacehog at Numbers, but she was dropped from the bill at the last minute. That was probably for the best. The cozier environs of the Urban Art Bar are much more suited to her intimate, get-to-know-me ravings. Keep in mind, though, that the word is out about Bonham now, and the UAB is a small venue, so be ready for a tight squeeze.
-- Hobart Rowland
Tracy Bonham performs at the Urban Art Bar, 112 Milam, Friday, September 27. Red Five opens. Tickets are $8. Doors open at 7 p.m. For info, call 629-3700.
Geno Delafose -- The best zydeco bands from Louisiana (translation: in the world) regularly play Houston, packing the rafters with driving accordion and bayou dialect, and Geno Delafose & French Rockin' Boogie are the latest. History guarantees that, without fail, the sweat will drip from the opening scrape of the rub-board till the last cymbal smash. Like most of the swampiest, bluesiest zydeco bands, Delafose's is a family affair. He played with his father, renowned accordionist John Delafose, starting at age seven, working his way through several instruments to the squeezebox. Joined by a couple of cousins and a few friends, Geno mines the traditional zydeco veins more than some of his experiment-minded contemporaries, preferring not to mess with a good thing. And a good thing it is -- throbby, steamy Creole dance music that wears holes in the floor. Leave your suit at home. At the St. Francis of Assisi Church Hall, 5102 Dabney, at 8 p.m. Saturday, September 28. Tickets are $8. 673-9607. (Bob Burtman)
Beck -- It's right there on "Lord Only Knows," the third track from Beck's new release, Odelay: "Going back to Houston." Then again, the next line is "do the hot dog dance," so who can tell if Beck's really got a thing for our fair city, or if that line just happened to have the right number of syllables. Either way, Beck ought to dig our town. His first time through, fans packed into the now-destroyed Goat's Head Soup; then, once the "Loser" single had gone over the top and Beck came back, they transformed the outdoor stage and patio behind what is now the Urban Art Bar into a claustrophobic hell. Early reviews indicate that Beck has morphed from the mediocre performer he once was to a house-rockin', mike-wieldin', super-entertaining daddy-o, which would match his recorded progression from tedium relieved by spurts of brilliance (Mellow Gold) to unrelieved brilliance (Odelay). At Numbers, 300 Westheimer, Monday, September 30. Dirty Three opens. Sold out. Doors open at 8 p.m. 629-3700. (Brad Tyer)