Friday, April 9; Creepy Crawl
Amid a sea of mediocre pop-punk bands trying to cash in and ride the Green Day wave (which has already crested and receded into obscurity), Pennsylvania's Digger sticks to its roots rather than water down its music in hopes of a short-term deal on a major label. Combining infectious pop-punk hooks with three-way vocal harmonies (and, at times, dual vocal harmonies with a third member singing an entirely different line over them, executed to sheer perfection), the band churns out everything you want to hear in a pop-punk band: undeniable catchiness and easily identifiable humor, especially in the now-classic "I Want My Hat Back," from their debut album, Power Bait (Hopeless). Add to this a dose of punk-rock heaviness that keeps them from falling into the radio-safe/bubblegum category, and you've got a band that, when they played here several months ago, had this jaded dinosaur bouncing up and down like a 15-year-old at his first punk show. (GP)
Lustre King and the Five Deadly Venoms
Saturday, April 10; Rocket Bar
There's an audible bzzzz inside the sound of Lustre King that pegs them as a Chicago punk band: the deep-pound production, that buzz-saw guitar, thefurrow-browed intensity and, most important, that mysterious something that serves as an invisible rudder and guides it all. It was there at the beginning with the Effigies, Naked Raygun and Big Black and seeps into the genes of all Chi-punk bands that have come since. Lustre King fits into this continuum; it's not that they're derivative, because they most definitely aren't. It's more that they're their father's sons, and regardless of how hard they may fight to deny their genetics, there's really nothing they can do. On their recent Shoot the Messenger (Southern), Lustre King moves at a steady, slow pace; drums and bass hammer a rhythm that's augmented with all sorts of fancy extras: cheapie Casio-tones, heavenly vibes, scratching (courtesy of ex-St. Louisan DJ Alejan). There's beauty in a desolate landscape; despite all the distortion and abrasiveness, melodies arrive and are savored before they're crumpled up and tossed aside. Openers the Five Deadly Venoms are quite simply the hardest, tightest, most furious band in St. Louis these days; if you've never seen them and are looking for the hard, tight and furious, by all means get there early. (RR)
Saturday, April 10; Sheldon
Milt Jackson became one of the early pioneers of bop after being discovered working at a club in his native Detroit by Dizzy Gillespie in 1945. He joined Gillespie's sextet and big band in New York City and was soon performing with legends like Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker. He brought a modern-jazz approach to the vibes, and his playing balances fast flurries of notes with a deep blues sensibility. Jackson has been playing the vibraphone for more than six decades now, and, at the age of 76, this jazz legend shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, he's just released a new recording, Explosive! (Qwest/Warner Bros.), backed by the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.
Jackson's current quartet isn't the Modern Jazz Quartet, one of the most famous jazz quartets ever, which featured him with pianist John Lewis, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Kenny Clarke. Rather, at the Sheldon Jackson will be accompanied by pianist Michael LeDonne, bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Mickey Roker. But no matter with whom Jackson may be sharing the stage, you can be assured that his distinctive vibes sound will come through loud and clear. (TP)
Daler Mehndi and Raveena Tandon with Altaf Raza
Sunday, April 11; American Theatre
Unknown to most Americans, Hollywood has a mirror image on the other side of the world -- Bollywood, a.k.a. Bombay. The city is the center of India's gargantuan film and music industries (which are really one and the same), and St. Louisans will have a rare opportunity to see two of Bollywood's hottest stars, Daler Mehndi and Raveena, this week. This isn't the classical Indian music of Ravi Shankar; think, instead, of a big production musical like Singin' in the Rain infused with Vegas glitter and modern music-video elements (including suggestiveness). Bollywood productions' emotions run in a sort of Benzedrine haste, intense and up-front, but in a far sunnier way, one that can feel embarrassing or cheesy to Americans because we're more used to the growling angst so often found in today's American pop and alternative rock. Bollywood often handles human emotions with kinder, gentler and more chivalrous hands, resurrecting memories of how Hollywood handled "difficult" emotions in pre-1965 big production musicals. Bollywood still has the musical romantic idealism that contemporary Hollywood (and America) has pretty much written off.
Daler Mehndi is a Sikh from the Indian state of Punjab, which borders Pakistan. Mehndi's star status is unusual because most Indian pop music is performed in Hindi and other Indian languages, not Mehndi's native Punjabi. Raveena Tandon's star status is a hybrid of someone like Janet Jackson (for mass musical appeal) and Cindy Crawford (for pinup-girl status). Ticket prices for the April 11 show are steep at $40-$100. For a quickie primer, you can check out the music on KDHX (88.1 FM)'s Music of India show on Saturdays at 4 p.m. For more information on the American Theatre performance, though, call 423-9990 or 391-5914. (LK)
Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys
Sunday, April 11; Duck Room
You might as well ask the river why it runs or the wind why it blows as ask Dr. Ralph Stanley why his music has endured for half-a-century. Writers turn to phrases like "force of nature" when words fail, but with Stanley the forces of nature -- the isolation of the mountains, the majesty of the rivers and valleys, the presence of some unseen god in the forest -- ripple through his voice and banjo. With Bill Monroe's passing two years ago, Stanley is now the soul of bluegrass music and one of the most important figures in music, period. I would call him a national treasure, if that phrase wasn't so abused. His genius and longevity have few parallels.
Stanley's musical career began 53 years ago with his brother Carter. "Just like any old country boys that liked to get into the music business, we were the same way," he says. "We heard some of the old timers on the radio like the Carter Family and the Monroe Brothers; we felt that we'd like to have a piece of it too." Though they were known as the Stanley Brothers, Carter and Ralph always carried a band, but it was their harmonies, coupled with Ralph's pre-bluegrass, two-finger banjo work, that shaped their sound.
"My mother taught me the old time claw-hammer style," Stanley says, "and I picked up the two-finger and three-finger on my own. The first time she showed me, I played it just like she did. I was about 11 years old." Though bluegrass is often defined by the lightning three-finger banjo of Earl Scruggs, Stanley's picking stands apart: He's fast, but in his use of just two fingers, his breaks have a crisp, melodic quality, an indissolvable mountain air. That sound isn't lost on Stanley, and as some bluegrass-influenced bands have dropped the banjo in favor of dobro, Stanley has added a second banjo: "I have another banjo player, Steve Sparkman, and he plays exactly like I do. It's a style of my own; I never wanted it to sound like anybody else."
"Traditional" is a word often applied to Stanley's music, but "traditional innovation" is more accurate. In 1971 Stanley released the landmark bluegrass gospel album Cry from the Cross (Rebel), including a cappella numbers based in tight quartet harmonies. "I'm the first in bluegrass to ever record that style," he says. "I got that from the churches where I was raised. There was no (instrumental) music in the primitive-Baptist churches. They all sung together, and the ladies sang the high parts. I put the different parts in, the tenor, baritone and bass."
In his 72nd year, Stanley refuses to slow down. His band plays 200 dates a year, and though he now lets Ralph Jr. handle much of the lead vocals, Ralph Sr. still sings in that high, desolate style that is his greatest gift, his inimitable signature. "I think my voice is even stronger," he says. "I believe I have a little help in that. I don't believe I do that on my own. I've asked for that help, and I believe it's been given to me. Somebody is helping me a little. You might know who I mean." (RK)
Wednesday, April 14; Fox
Neil Young Timeline:1970: After the Gold Rush released; first No Depression record.
1972: Harvest released; first sensitive-singer/songwriter record. Predates Jewel by 25 years (note: also performs this year with Buffy Sainte-Marie, who, rumor has it, actually is Jewel)
1975: Tonight's the Night released; first deconstructed-junkie homage, predating Royal Trux by 15 years.
1979: Rust Never Sleeps released; first grunge record.
1981: Re*ac*tor released, containing the song "Opera Star," the first Opera Rock song, predating Malcolm McLaren's Fans by four years. Queen doesn't count.
1982: Trans released; predates Add N to (X) and synthetic noise music by 13 years.
1983: Everybody's Rockin' released; first rockabilly-revival record, unless you count the Stray Cats, which we won't.
1990: Ragged Glory released, predating Built to Spill by five years.
1993: Pinnacle year: Not only does Young collaborate with both Randy Bachman and Blue Oyster Cult, but Motorhead covers his "Cinnamon Girl."
1995: Mirror Ball, a collaboration with Pearl Jam, released at the exact same moment Eddie Vedder starts taking himself too seriously. (RR)
Contributors: Roy Kasten, Lee Kelemen, Terry Perkins, Gary Phillips, Randall Roberts