Sleight of Head

It's no secret that Tricky is more at home in the studio than on stage. The trip-hop progenitor and Massive Attack alum claims he can't really play an instrument; he uses samplers and studio musicians to unleash the sounds in his head. Nonetheless, Tricky is an artist by every definition of the term. Unpredictable and boundlessly creative, he is constantly reinventing himself and often seems a bit unstable. That, in turn, makes him that much more interesting and dangerous.

From indicting the record industry in song to allegedly attacking a journalist who gave his latest release, Angels with Dirty Faces, a bad review, Tricky can be menacing both on recordings and in person. But it remains to be seen whether his high-friction mixture of slow, perplexing grooves, dark lyrics and paranoid sound scapes will translate in front of what may prove to be a sparse Numbers crowd. Rest assured, the lights will be low, making him all but invisible to the crowd and setting the tone for his polyrhythmic beats. But count on him to pull off some amazing sonic illusions.

Quick to distance himself from the increasingly fragmented trip-hop genre he helped create, Tricky has always claimed that his real love is American rap and hip-hop. Born in Bristol, England, he relocated to New York because that's where the action is. He co-opts East Coast rap's remarkable ability to sample clashing sounds in different keys and rework them into something propulsive and subversively musical: Adding to the list of classic rap songs he has covered is Angels with Dirty Faces' nonlinear treatment of Slick Rick's "The Moment I Feared."

Anything can and should happen at a Tricky show. On this tour, he's already become notorious for improvising lyrics on the spot, and for putting his head down and burning through a set loaded down with hip-hop covers. Arguably, that "devil-may-care" attitude has more in common with the spirit of rock and roll than hip-hop -- and that's part of what makes Tricky the visionary he is.

-- David Simutis

Tricky performs Sunday, August 2, at Numbers, 300 Westheimer. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $17.50. 629-3700.

Drugstore -- While there is more to Drugstore than mopey, ethereal guitars and shoe-gazing mood swings, those well-documented Mazzy Star trademarks are good points of reference for the uninitiated. Both groups make ample use of open space, not to mention delicate layers of shimmering guitars. But while Drugstore's Isabel Monteiro does sound a little like Mazzy Star vocalist Hope Sandoval, she also has some Patsy Cline in her. And Drugstore's rhythmic urgency pummels Mazzy's somnambulistic overtones. Rather than simply drifting along aimlessly, the guitars and cello punctuate Monteiro's tough, breathy vocals, keeping the vibe dreamy without inducing sleep. On Thursday, July 30, at Instant Karma, 1617 Richmond. Tickets $6. Doors 8 p.m. 528-3545. (D.S.)

Brian Setzer Orchestra -- Trading his Eddie Cochran obsession for a Benny Goodman jones, ex-Stray Cats guitarist Brian Setzer fronts a raucous 17-piece orchestra that truly cooks. Formed in '92 (pre-Swingers, mind you), the band grew out of impromptu jam sessions Setzer had with his jazz-musician neighbors. The live show ought to resemble the BSO's latest release, The Dirty Boogie, in its zippy mixture of well-chosen covers and atmosphere-drenched originals. Keep in mind, Setzer has more tattoos than both the Dorsey brothers combined. On Friday, July 31, at the Aerial Theater at Bayou Place, 520 Texas. Showtime 8 p.m. Tickets $25.50 and $29. Lost Continentals open. 629-3700. (Bob Ruggiero)

Santana -- When "Evil Ways" broke into the Top Five in 1969, smack-dab in the middle of the psychedelic era, its blending of rock with Latin and African roots made for an unlikely hit. Yet "Evil Ways" catapulted Santana (the group) and Carlos Santana (the guitarist) into the national spotlight. Though the band has undergone countless incarnations over the years, Santana's guitar-hero status has never wavered; his often lyrical and, at times, over-the-top playing made his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame merely a formality. Miles Davis bluntly summed it up when he once said of Santana, "Man, that motherfucker can play his ass off." On Saturday, August 1, at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, The Woodlands. Tickets $15.50 $40.50. Showtime 7 p.m. Los Lobos open. (Paul J. MacArthur)


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