Critic's Choice

It would be simple to dismiss Guy Forsyth as just another flamboyant fish in the stream of modern-day blues spilling out of the state capital these days. His style is straightforward enough, applying all the desired elements -- swampy Cajun swing, electrifying rock and rockabilly compatibility, back-porch intimacy and ample finesse on the frets -- and showing appropriate reverence for his influences -- Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan, Freddy King, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker. He's also on the semi-legendary Antone's label, home to many a first-class blues act.

But Forsyth has more on his mind than merely paddling with the current. He's the consummate showman -- a mystical character with a colorful past and a sack full of tales that grows larger with each passing year. An actor, writer and stuntman, Forsyth was drawn to the Austin music scene in 1990, after performing around the country with a Renaissance festival slaked his thirst for the road. He brings that carnivalesque troubadour style of entertaining to his shows while, at the same time, working his harmonica and slide guitar with a clenched seriousness that runs afoul of his court-jester persona.

Needle Gun, Forsyth's first U.S. release (his true debut, High Temperature, sold well in Europe but is available here on import only), is a fun, varied listen, but not much more. To get all the dimensions of the Forsyth experience, you have to witness the sweat and spirit firsthand. It takes some able bodies to keep up with it all, and Forsyth seems to have found them in his backup band, all of whom maintain enthusiasm and composure as their leader barrels through sets at exhausting speeds. Gil T is the big boy of the group, holding down the low end with fat bass lines and equally tubby backup vocals; his larger-than-life stage antics often find him grappling with his boss for the spotlight. T was schooled on the West Coast, playing with Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs and the late Hollywood Fats, as well as backing such acknowledged masters as Big Joe Turner, Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker. Guitarist Keith Bradley -- who, like Forsyth, knows the difference between improvisation and excess -- cut his teeth playing alongside former Fabulous Thunderbirds bassist Keith Ferguson in the band Tough Times. Drummer Rich Chilleri started out performing with rock bands around the Northeast before dipping down to New Orleans for stints with Jimmy Thackery, Queen Bee and others.

This trio of distinct personalities complements Forsyth's bold frontmanship without stealing an ounce of his fire. Quite simply, as a Guy Forsyth show motors into overdrive, you'll never question who's behind the wheel. -- Hobart Rowland

The Guy Forsyth Band performs at 10 p.m. Friday, December 15, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $7. For info, call 869-COOL.

Slapstick -- Ska and punk have always made strangely compatible bedfellows, historically and stylistically. Just sample the Clash's first clunky attempts at reggae, or the pent-up hormones and brisk pacing of the English Beat's I Just Can't Stop It. Slapstick is no exception. This self-described "punk band with horns" is heading the Chicago link in a chain of mini ska revivals popping up in all over the country. Houston, with groups such as the Suspects and John Q. Public popping up more and more frequently on bills around town, is among the cities catching the bug. With the right resources, you may be able to locate a pair of compilations -- American Ska-Thic II (Jump Up) and Misfits of Ska (Dill) -- with significant Slapstick contributions. Otherwise, ingest the band in its vastly superior live form, and pogo without shame. At Deep Phat (KPFT benefit), 302 Tuam, Saturday, December 16, with John Q. Public, Mod Squad and St. Vitus Dance. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $6. 523-3786. At the Abyss, 5813 Washington Avenue, Sunday, December 17, with Less than Jake, Supermarket All Stars and Janitor. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $6. 863-7173. (H.R.)

Jesse Dayton -- A month seldom passes in which Houston roots-a-billy rocker Jesse Dayton isn't tearing it up with regularity on some local stage. That said, there's really nothing regular about Dayton's two shows this weekend at Ovations -- yes, Ovations, as in the intimate club tucked away on Times Boulevard in Rice Village. While perhaps best known for its live jazz, the club will pull a few surprises on occasion, such as Lyle Lovett's "secret" performance some months ago. In keeping with the cozy setting, Dayton -- former frontman for the Roadkings and the Alamo Jets -- will present his Texas blend of country, blues and rock in the ever-so-popular "unplugged" format. And for those fans who prefer to hear the songs from Dayton's Raisin' Cain in all their amped-up glory, don't fret: he'll be back on a Houston stage with the usual rock-the-house set soon enough. At Ovations, 2536-B Times Boulevard, at 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, December 15 and 16. Tickets are $7. 522-9801. (Joe Hon)

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