God Awful

Let's see, the band's name is taken from an Alice in Chains song about heroin, the singer is a Wiccan witch, and a song called "Bad Religion," though not about the infamous punk band of the same name, appears on one of its CDs. Yeah, it's a safe bet to say Godsmack is crap. Sure, there's probably more to the Boston band than this, but a face-value judgment works just as well. Venting their aggression the vent-aggression-by-numbers way, the members of Godsmack don't have the heart or feeling to play even neometal convincingly. Their eponymous debut (Republic) and big single, "Whatever," reveal heavy borrowing from grunge forefathers -- thudding walls of bass and duh-duh guitars -- and they also directly reference Korn's and Rage Against the Machine's squalls of angst-noise. It all comes off as an exercise in testosterone, akin to lifting weights or playing rugby, something "other" people do. It's imaginable that there is someone, somewhere, that hasn't heard a dozen postgrunge bands do the same thing. So this band appeals mainly to those people too young to remember Alice in Chains or those who refuse to admit that it was punk, not heavy metal, that gave grunge its power. This is what Kurt Cobain foretold in his heroin-deluded, Neil-Young-quoting suicide note: better to die young than be held responsible for bands like Godsmack.

Opener Queens of the Stone Age, however, is the real deal. These guys are the Melvins to Godsmack's Alice in Chains: slower, fleshier, more stoned and nowhere near as blatantly commercial. Their low-end theory -- bong-rattling metal with solid hooks -- from former Kyuss members is steady and heavy. QOTSA's self-titled debut (Loosegroove) owes a debt to grunge's grating amplitude, but it also exposes some capable songwriters, less dependent on histrionics than is Godsmack. QOTSA isn't sloppy. Singer/guitarist Joshua Homme is a new type of guitar hero, less revered for his weedala-weedalas than his ability to pummel with slow chords and extended-power riffage. Advice on the double bill: Get there early and leave early.

-- David Simutis

Godsmack and Queens of the Stone Age perform Friday, March 26, at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $8.

Shelly Berg -- As enigmatic as the Houston jazz scene is, the one thing it can boast is a solid record of nurturing excellent players. Though many of them leave for greener jazz pastures, the flip side is they make a point of bringing their talents back home from time to time. One such player is pianist Shelly Berg. A child prodigy -- he was accepted to the Cleveland Institute of Music at the age of six and started playing professionally at 13 -- Berg moved to Houston when he was 15 and hooked up with Houston sax legend Arnett Cobb. A respected jazz educator, Berg left Texas in 1991 to teach at USC. While he is respected among his peers, has had some profile arranging gigs (most recently, for the latest Eliot Smith and KISS records) and was the president of the International Association of Jazz Educators, Berg has not been widely recorded as a leader. Thus, despite his considerable talents as a pianist, he is an underrated player.

Berg's style is straightforward bebop with some Bill Evans-style impressionistic leanings. There's not a lot of dissonance in his playing, and he has, overall, good taste. Berg's two-night stint in Houston will feature a duet setting with local vibraphonist Tom Cummings. Given the density of both instruments, the piano-vibraphone pairing can be exhilarating when the players are sympathetic to each other and something of a nightmare of sound clusters when they aren't. Since the Berg and Cummings duo have done a number of tours together, expect the two musicians to have a strong rapport, which should make this unusual setting successful. Shelly Berg performs, with vibist Tom Cummings, on Friday, March 26, and Saturday, March 27, at 9 p.m. at Cezanne, 4100 Montrose. Pay $10 cover charge at the door. Call (713)522-9621 for more information. (Paul J. MacArthur)

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Paul J. MacArthur
David Simutis