Music » Music Stories

Sound Checks

by and

Bloque with the Outsiders and Opium
Thursday, June 17; Mississippi Nights

To the average music jerk, Southern Hemisphere rock is bland and derivative. Once you wade through the Rio Grande, crawl into Mexico and squeeze through Central America, the musical soundtrack you're gonna hear is either pure salsa lite or, the true world music at the end of the century, bland pop (walk into Vietnamese restaurant, a Mexican grocery or a Wal-Mart, and the only difference among the musics boils down to one thing: danh tu, amor or love). No edge, no guitar, no fury. No rock.

Then again, why should there be rock in Central and South America? Stupid gringos don't know the first thing about sweat and passion, let alone rhythm. They eat Wonder Bread and drink iced latte. AAy yi yi!

Bloque knows rock. They know sweat and rhythm. They're from Colombia, South America, and offer context in their press release: "Our music fills the immense black hole of the Colombian revolution in the '60s, when Colombian people forgot to create their own modern music while they were busy trying to learn how to dance to the sound of the fucking Beach Boys."

The result is Colombian music with an edge, music that combines South American percussive rhythm with a dose of electric-guitar rock, some wild Hammond B3 jamming and an overall blind passion. If you trust record labels (you're making a mistake, but), they're signed to David Byrne's wonderful Luaka Bop -- home of Cornershop, the Beliza Tropical series and the brand new Os Mutantes collection; you can trust the label's taste in general, and Bloque ranks up there with the best of them. Tired of flatfooted gringo longhairs moping around onstage? Maybe it's time to put your faith in eight Colombian rhythm junkies equipped with bongos, congas, organs, maracas and guitars. Can't go wrong. (RR)

Rahzel with Planet Asia and Bits 'n Pieces
Friday, June 18; Karma

What is the human voice capable of? How far and in what directions can the vocal cords be stretched? Is there a God? A lot, lots and yes, respectively, and all you gotta do is check the self-billed "Godfather of Noyze," Rahzel, for proof.

Rahzel is a member of the phenomenal Philly hip-hop crew the Roots; he's their human beatbox, capable of pounding out the rhythm and the bass using just his body -- his lungs, tongue and vocal cords; the result will make you believe in the unlimited capacities of the human spirit. Hyperbolic, maybe, but until you've witnessed Rahzel work his stuff with the microphone, don't presume so. His body beats are awe-inspiring.

The human beatbox coupled with an MC is the hip-hop equivalent of the doo-wop crooning of the '50s. In the absence of external musical instruments, turntables and electric drum machines, talent stems from the desire to make hip-hop out in the open, on the spot. Somebody drops a body beat while somebody else rhymes over it. Over the years, as MCs have honed their skills, human beatboxes like Rahzel have also improved to the point of phenomenal expertise.

He can dig deep into his body and pull out a kick-drum sound that'll flutter your fillings while snapping a snare as tight as Billy Higgins' and scratching in the back of his throat as slickly as Q-Bert does on the tables. All in rhythm, all together, all without anything but his own damn self. Close your eyes and you'll swear he's in front of a drum kit and a couple of turntables. He's not. He's standing there holding a mike, contorting his torso and mouth and kicking out some crazy, complex beats.

Also on the bill is Oakland MC Planet Asia, whose self-titled debut came out at the end of last year on indie label Heretic Records. The release is a minimal masterpiece of hip-hop restraint; where the mainstream rap world is taking advantage of 48-track digital recording studios by piling so much noise on top of noise on top of beats that it's tough to tell where the production ends and the artistry begins, Asia's selectivity leaves the noize, keeping such fanciness at bay and in the process laying bare his rhythmic flow. Lead cut "On the Corner" consists, in its entirety, of a simple boom-boom-bap beat and one catchy slide-moan sample. That's it. The result is engaging partly because of its stark simplicity, partly because his stutter-style delivery is so refined and because the entirety recalls the days of hip-hop before bravado and brawn replaced ingenuity and inspiration as lead requirements.

St. Louis' Bits 'n Pieces open the show; on their two-song demo they sound as if they've got gasoline in their lungs, their rhymes exit their bodies with such combustible force. With a delivery that's both bouncy and tight, hitting the beat straight and hard, they rely on simple musical melodies to carry their songs, and the result is pure flow. (RR)

Preston Shannon
Friday, June 18; Union Station

Preston Shannon has been working regularly on the Memphis music scene since his teen years. During the '70s and most of the '80s, he held down a day job as a warehouse supervisor and worked the local clubs on weekends with a variety of bands. His first major break came about a decade ago, when soul singer Shirley Brown hired Shannon as her guitarist and backing vocalist and took him on tour. Watching other bands on the bill gave Shannon the confidence to start his own group. The result is music that strikes a balance between raucous roadhouse blues and soulful, Memphis-style R&B.

"I never did think that I had enough talent to go out on my own," says Shannon. "But I found that a lot of the artists that we did shows with, in my opinion, couldn't sing as well as I could. And they weren't playing an instrument like I was. That really inspired me, and I decided since I could sing and also play guitar, I should go ahead and put my own band together."

Shannon's band soon became a top attraction in Memphis, the true measure of Shannon's appeal marked by the fact that his shows attracted Memphis locals as well as tourists taking in watered-down Beale Street.

Break the Ice, Shannon's debut for the Bullseye Blues label, was released in 1994, but it wasn't until his 1996 follow-up, Midnight in Memphis, that he really gained widespread critical acclaim. The recording made many end-of-year best-of lists and opened the door for touring opportunities at clubs and blues festivals across America and Europe.

Shannon released his third Bullseye recording, All in Time, earlier this year, and it showcased his ability to update the famed Memphis soul sound of the '70s for a new generation of listeners. Produced by the legendary Willie Mitchell (Al Green's producer), the record should further solidify his reputation as one of today's best blues and R&B musicians. (TP)

Contributors: Terry Perkins, Randall Roberts

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