Music » Critics' Picks

Stew

Thursday, August 22; Way Out Club

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In retrospect, nothing could have prepared us for Stew. Had we known the legend -- a middle-class kid from LA who grows up singing in a Baptist choir, moves to New York to play trash-can percussion for the Attack Group and spends years in Berlin among its avant-garde -- we would've been hard pressed to guess what awaited us within Post-Minstrel Syndrome, the debut album by his band the Negro Problem. Instead of a dose of belligerent dissonance, TNP delivered one of the spiciest platters of the '90s, a ravishing mulligatawny blending hooks, horns and harmonic derring-do that was reprised and refined for the band's follow-up, 1999's Joys and Concerns. Both discs revealed the polyphonic afflatus of an artist who combines the eye of a court reporter with the mind of a court jester.

Although Stew (né Mark Stewart) and Heidi Rodewald are the only permanent members of TNP, they opted to release the next album, Guest Host, under the Stew franchise. Whereas TNP is often regarded as a pageant of manic merrymaking, the songs on the solo outings are more like unguarded conversations between strangers on a train. Stew's latest, The Naked Dutch Painter...and Other Songs, dovetails panoramic portraits of obscure objects of desire with bittersweet pop songs and is among this year's most satisfying records.

After a dream stint opening for a rejuvenated Arthur Lee and Love, Stew and Heidi bring their cerebral cabaret back to the vibrant environs of the Way Out Club. Drop in for an evening of salubrious adult entertainment.

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