BESTS AND BUSTS
An opinionated look at the week in live music, Nov. 14-20.
Here are the Hold Steady and the Drive-By Truckers teaming up for “Killer Parties” earlier this year on their Rock Means Well tour:
Gig of the Week
The Hold Steady and Drive-By Truckers (First Avenue, Saturday Nov. 15 at 6 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 16 at 8 p.m., $25)
From the onset of Reagan to the end of W., the conservative era was a time of cultural divide and conquer, with many blue-collar white folks behaving like bigoted assholes against their own best economic interests. The most effective rebuttal to that toxic way of thinking during those doleful decades were heartland rockers, initially Springsteen, Seger, Petty and Mellencamp, who were so adept at defining the genuine ethos of justice, patriotism and the struggle for liberty that Republican politicians hijacked their music for their campaigns.
The Hold Steady and Drive-By Truckers are very much descended from the Heartland Rock firmament. Their crunching riffs and churning, wailing guitar lines are timelessly traditional yet utterly fresh and vibrant due to their homegrown inspiration. Their lyrics are narratives from their own lives. Indeed, one of the enrichments from catching both bands live is hearing the context of the songs expanded through stories and anecdotes told from the stage to supplement and introduce the songs.
Those who think DBT take their template from the redneck playbook of Lynyrd Skynyrd haven’t listened to the lyrics, especially from chief songwriter Patterson Hood, whose “The Home Front” and “That Man I Shot” on the band’s superb new disc, “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark,” continues his eloquent, ever open-minded opposition to the war in Iraq. (Here is a rendition of “The Home Front” from a gig in Chicago last year.) Meanwhile, The Hold Steady continue to evolve toward the strengths of Springsteen (especially the taut melodic hooks and dynamic bursts of intensity) on their incandescent new record, “Stay Positive.” The title of their joint tour, “Rock and Roll Means Well,” neatly sums it up.
John Legend and Raphael Saadiq (Northrop Auditorium, Wednesday, Nov. 19, 7:30 p.m., $$34.25-$83.50)
As genial soul singers go, John Legend hits the stylistic midpoint between Jeffrey Osbourne and Chris Brown, using sprinkles of funk, hip hop, and even the deeper strains of soul mostly to enliven what are essentially mainstream pop instincts. Legend’s association with Kanye West enhances his hipness factor, but he’s the type of singer whose CDs you can take home to mother. His brand new “Evolver” suffers from mistaking a lack of focus for versatility and clutter for sophistication, but live, he’s always wisely strived for an emotional vocal connection.
But the real ace in the hole here is opening act Raphael Saadiq, the man who concocted the silk-and-grits recipe that created such distinctive grooves for his old band, Tony Toni Tone. Since the mid-90s he’s bounced from the fitfully magical Lucy Pearl (with members of En Vogue and Tribe Called Quest) to his “gospedelic” Grammy-nominated “Instant Vintage” to, most recently, the whole-hog retro vibe of “The Way I See It,” purposefully reminiscent of Smokey Robinson at a slightly accelerated tempo. Here’s Saadiq channeling Smokey on a track off the new disc, “Love That Girl” With a little luck, Saadiq will throw in a classic Toni joint like “Feels Good” to further the flashback ambiance.
Gyuto Monks (Cedar Cultural Center, Sunday, Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m., $15 in advance, $20 day of show)
These Tibetan throat singers have been “chanting” since the Gyuto Tantric University was founded in 1474, but went unrecorded until ex-Dead drummer Mickey Hart uncorked their utterly unique, vibrato-drenched sound for mass consumption in 2001. It’s like their esophaguses have been striated with fat bass strings which are continually thwacked by the beating of their hearts. Meanwhile, there’s also an otherworldly high-toned sheen glazing the mix — one critic described it as a chorus of bullfrogs beneath the sound of a finger tracing the rim of a wet champagne glass. Check it out:
The Gyutos will leave the definitions up to you. They’re too busy chanting for peace, to visualize themselves as Buddha to hasten their enlightenment, and to pacify the 80,000 kinds of demonic obstructers in the way of abundant harmony and transcendent wisdom. Against that agenda, it seems like lending our ears to the cause is the least we can do.
Tortured Genius Hangs Ten, Tarnishes Legacy With Another Wipe Out
Brian Wilson (State Theater, Saturday, Nov. 15, 8 p.m., $39.50-$89.50)
By the lights of those who proclaim Wilson to be a tunesmith the equal of Lennon-McCartney, and/or an orchestrator to rival Ellington, I sell him short merely by regarding him as one of the most vital and enjoyable artists of the 1960s. But I love that vintage music enough to be embarrassed for him touring behind “Lucky Old Sun,” the latest example in his post-rehab succession of discs to retrieve scraps of his old genius and cobble enough hackneyed bits of pop and Tin Pan Alley around them to make a new product. And while I don’t know enough about his current mental state to determine whether these tours are a balm against his demons (one of which used to be stage fright) or a chance for his various handlers to cash in, I wish him peace, at least, in the absence of dignity.