When hip-hop strolled into the debutante ball in her homespun garb, she barely got a glance. Those who did look scoffed at her lack of instruments, forgetting that guitarsbassdrums are only tools. Two decades later, sitting prettier after capping the pop competition, the shallow glitter of bling-bling shines like the eyes of a blond boob-job bimbo, hiding nothing behind a blank stare. But art and commerce have always had the kind of relationship that ends in decadence, self-absorption and stagnation. Meanwhile, the X-Ecutioners are a throwback to the early artistry of hip-hop, when samples zinged from side to side, when records stuttered and scratched out rhythm in a collage of sound, and when rappers hadn't yet fallen in love with their own reflections. In the old two-turntables-and-a-microphone equation, the X- Ecutioners put the emphasis on the tables, passing beats, scratches and samples like a musical Hacky Sack. They're funky, frenetic, rare enough to be fresh -- and these days, one of the few hip-hop acts that's better in person. -- Chris Parker
Sunday, July 4, the Engine Room, 1515 Pease, 713-654-7846.
Vue and Black Cat Music, with Evening, Comeback Kid and Champion
While former Sub Pop labelmates Hot Hot Heat went on to enjoy hot, hot success, the hardworking members of San Francisco quintet Vue have continued their sweat-soaked mission to rock small venues. After all, intimate shows are more in line with Vue's goals. "We want to move our pelvises around enough so that girls will notice our packages," offers bassist Jeremy Bringetto.
Vue's whiskey-gut guitar mojo was certainly noticed by RCA, which snatched up the band for its Babies Are for Petting EP. After the 2003 full-length release Down for Whatever, RCA decided that Vue wasn't for petting and subsequently dropped the band. Sadly, there are reports that things just haven't been the same since. "Rex doesn't leave the house and won't shave for weeks," Bringetto says of the band's lead singer. Of course, girls still love the unshaven look.
The fellow San Franciscans who make up Black Cat Music play punky garage rock underneath a wall of guitars and the aural assault of vocalist Brady Baltezore, who sounds like the Dead Milkmen's tougher brother. The band formed in 1998, with other felines guitarist Travis Dutton, bassist Omar Perez and drummer Denny Martin. The foursome has just released its third record, October November, which "forcibly romanticizes" rival Cali town L.A. with suitably gloomy lyrics on tracks like "The Suicide Party," "The Jet Trash" and "The Cloud of Glass." -- Melody Caraballo and Bob Ruggiero
Friday, July 2, at Fat Cat's, 4216 Washington Avenue, 713-869-5263.
Devendra Banhart with Vetiver and Joanna Newsom
Heading another package tour of San Franciscans (see above), Devendra Banhart is a neo-folk oddball with a lot in common with Sam Beam, his Miami-based counterpart who records as Iron & Wine. Both cut their first album in their homes, on what in both cases are almost always described as "shoddy," "cheap" or "broken" four-track recorders. (It seems if you're destined to be regarded as a neo-folk weirdo, you can't record yourself on a brand-new four-track in good working order.) The music of both men is said to be able to take you away from whatever place and time you happen to be situated in. Both play live, seated cross-legged, to super-hushed audiences of true believers, most often smart kids from expensive and prestigious colleges, sophomores in search of "authenticity," which they generally think can come from only mentally ill people like Daniel Johnston or Wesley Willis or freaky-looking dudes like Beam, whose beard is abnormally large.
Or the Texas-born Banhart, who according to a recent article in Uncut was dubbed "Devendra" by his parents' guru and whose top-secret middle name was taken from Star Wars. Banhart won't say which character, though Yoda seems the likeliest choice. After all, "Devendra Han," "Devendra Luke" and "Devendra Obi-Wan" don't quite have the same ring as "Devendra Yoda." And as someone who was almost named "Geronimo Nova Lomax" can almost tell you, monikers like that could help keep you from seeking stuff like MBAs or law degrees.
Luckily, Banhart is as extremely, scarily and eerily talented as he is oddly named. It's seldom noted in reviews, but Banhart's alternately dazzling and gorgeous acoustic guitar playing is music-box pretty -- simple lines played gently, always evocative of nighttime. His high-pitched, tremolo-laden voice -- oft compared to that of Marc Bolan, though Banhart claims to have first heard the T. Rex singer only recently -- wafts through the air like a butterfly over a field of sunflowers, and his lyrics, though somewhat obtuse, rise above the mere freakish prattle so many music scribes today mistake for profundity. The total package sounds like the eternal voice of true American folk music -- that is, music made by folks, not folkies. Only 23, Banhart could become the next uh, the next the next nobody. He's the first Devendra Banhart, and if he doesn't slide off the rails, just you watch -- he'll prove to be one of this century's musicians who matter. -- John Nova Lomax
Saturday, July 3, at the Orange Show, 2402 Munger. Tickets available at Sound Exchange, 713-666-5555.
Simon and Garfunkel, with the Everly Brothers
It was August 1983, and I was an excited 13-year-old on my way to my first concert. Sure, the hipster quotient was low -- it was Simon and Garfunkel at the Astrodome with my parents and little brother, not, say, AC/DC at the Summit with an older stoner friend, but I was still excited. After all, I had thoroughly memorized the duo's Greatest Hits, and could only dream about making love to Cecilia up in my bedroom. But when our van (complete with vinyl seats) pulled up to the Dome gates and we found that the show had been canceled because of Hurricane Alicia, my spirits sunk lower than box-office receipts for The Capeman. More than two decades later, Houston has a chance to hear those crystal harmonies live for the first time since 1968 (and last, given that this tour is probably their final jaunt together). "The Sounds of Silence," "The Boxer," "Bridge over Troubled Water," "Mrs. Robinson," "I Am a Rock" and all the hits will be heard on the ironically titled -- given their famous feuds -- "Old Friends" tour. Opening the show will be the Everly Brothers, another harmonizing duo called out of retirement just for this tour. So provided that Dr. Neil doesn't report a severe weather advisory that night, Houstonians will be able to make good on that long-canceled show. Now, where can I find vinyl seating for a Honda Civic? -- Bob Ruggiero
Wednesday, July 7, at the Toyota Center, 1510 Polk, 1-866-4HOU-TIX.
Eamon McLoughlin isn't quite sure how to explain the notion of bluegrass to the Napster-and-Nelly generation. So the Irish-born, classically trained twentysomething Britpop fan lets his fiddle do the talking. "It's difficult to explain it to younger folks," says McLoughlin, one quarter of the Greencards. "The way to understand it is to first realize that like country and blues, it sprang from human emotions. If you go to a gig and see the spirit it creates in people, it's the most convincing argument there is."
It's no fluke that the Greencards were named Best New Band at the 2004 Austin Music Awards in March. McLoughlin and his mates of the past two years -- Australians Kym Warner (mandolin) and the sumptuous Carol Young (bass), and Chicago transplant Robbie Gjersoe (guitar) -- are on the leading edge of a knee-slappin' bluegrass infusion, led by groups with some members who weren't even born when Del McCoury and his peers set the standards for the contemporary genre. -- Greg Barr
Monday, July 6, at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 713-528-5999.
Audrey Auld, opening for Carolyn Wonderland
Audrey Auld, another green card-totin', roots music-playin' furriner from down under (see above), sounds a lot like her countrywoman Kasey Chambers, with good reason. There's Auld's obvious Aussie twang, sure, but also the similar acoustic country-rock vibe on her new album, Losing Faith, and her upbringing in the back of beyond -- she grew up in the Tasmanian bush, Chambers in the outback's forbidding Nullarbor Plain. And there's more: The women share a fearlessness in songwriting, and both have voices with a rare little heartbreaking catch. To top if off, Auld has a formal connection with Kasey's father, Bill Chambers, who's her former duet partner and current de facto studio bandleader.
The daughter of a jazz pianist, Auld was classically trained in violin in a TV-free home. The statuesque Auld was a teenage punker, and at first she heard only mainstream Aussie country, which is every bit as cornball as its American cousin. Still, after moving to the outback town of Alice Springs, she was intrigued enough by the likes of Slim Dusty to discover the Holy Trinity: Loretta, Lucinda and the Carter Family, a threesome of giants whose spirit infuses her music today.
Two albums, a brace of duets with the likes of Fred Eaglesmith, Dale Watson, Kieran Kane and Mary Gauthier, and one marriage to a Californian into her career, Auld is now bringing her "music with the dirt left on" to a whole new continent. -- John Nova Lomax
Tuesday, July 6, at the Last Concert Cafe, 1403 Nance, 713-226-8563.
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