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Jucifer

Though originally hailing from the indie-rock enclave of Athens, Ga., the atmospheric doom-rock duo Jucifer don’t fit any sort of art-addled college-rock template. First of all, they’re ungodly loud. None of this shoegazing-lyric-mumbling-over-jangling-arpeggios stuff for Jucifer. A wall of amplifiers and a floorful of vintage stompboxes boost the clatter of one guitar and one drum kit to a punishing level, leaving the listener feeling as if they’ve been mugged by the zombified carcasses of Jack and Meg reanimated by veins full of liquefied Scandanavian metal. So, there’s that. And, secondly, they’re ungodly loud.

In all honesty, though, there’s more to Jucifer than volume. On record, the pair throw in house and hiphop beats, turntable flourishes, bluegrass-flavored dirges and an array of other influences; and singer-guitarist Amber Valentine’s vocals are considerably more flexible than the standard-issue umlaut-heavy black-metal howler. Critics tout their powerful and aggressive approach consistently, but always make note of their stylistic extremity, as well. Their hometown rag, Flagpole, summed ’em up thusly: “. . . Dead Can Dance and White Zombie fighting over who can be louder.” And Athens’ onetime favorite mumbler himself, Michael Stipe, clearly singled out Jucifer for praise in an interview in Details magazine: “Imagine a very loud and aggressive Southern Gothic version of P.J. Harvey.”

Still, when Valentine and drummer Ed Livengood hit the stage, it’s a sight to behold (Livingood makes the Muppets’ Animal look like Danny Partridge) and a sound to cower before.

Jucifer will play Valentine’s (17 New Scotland Ave., Albany) tomorrow (Friday, May 27). Tickets for the 8 PM show are $6. Also on the bill: Lincoln Money Shot, Advance Cassette, and Spitfire Pilot. For more information, call 432-6572.

Becoming Animal

In the political arena, few debates are as heated as those that center on the question of just what it means to be human: Whether focused on the ongoing battle over reproductive rights or the ethical issues attached to the right-to-die movement, the passionate and often confrontational voices indicate just how fundamental a question this is. Artists have taken up this question and added to it a logical—if challenging—extension: If we cannot say confidently when, or even that, we are human, how do we know that we are not some other thing? Something more canine, lupine or ursine, say?

Beginning on Saturday, MASS MoCA will host an exhibition dealing with exactly that question. Becoming Animal gets its title from a work by theorists Deleuze and Guatari in which they argue that habitual categorizations may no longer be useful. As paraphrased in MASS MoCA’s exhibition description: “. . . the authors argue against the idea of a coherent, unitary individual, and instead posit that we are many things at once: woman, man, child, adult, animal, vegetable.” Becoming Animal includes the works of artists such as Jane Alexander, Rachel Berwick, Michael Oatman, Adam Zaretsky, and others who explore this ambiguity in definition between the human and the animal.

Becoming Animal opens at MASS MoCA (1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, Mass.) on Saturday (May 28). From 4-5 PM there will be an artists’ talk, followed by a reception featuring a talk by the show’s curator. At 10 PM, the museum will throw an after party, featuring performances by “alpha wolf” Jason Martin’s new musical adventure, Evolution Revolution, and DJ Jesse Stiles. For more information, call (413) 662-2111.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

So many awful things have happened in the last four years, one might be forgiven for forgetting about Enron. The Texas-based energy company was a nexus of new-economy con game and old-economy evil: Their energy-trading manipulations brought California to its knees; their highly touted broadband service failed; and their use of creative accounting, alleged bribery and offshore businesses put a new spin on an old form of corruption.

If your Enron memories are fuzzy, then you should see the documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, which opens Friday at the Spectrum 8 Theatres. Based on the book by journalists Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, director Alex Gibney’s film will make you laugh, think and—if you have any sense of moral outrage at all—want to grab your pitchfork and head over the hill to the nearest corporate HQ with the rest of us peasants.

Led by Bush family pal Kenneth “Kenny Boy” Lay, super alpha-male CEO Jeff Skilling and sharklike CFO Andrew Fastow, Enron employed more than 20,000 people—most of whom lost their pensions—at the time it went bankrupt in 2001.

One thing you may not have known, and the film makes clear, is that these Enron guys really weren’t such great businessmen. Reached by telephone, Gibney explained: “The title’s intentionally ironic.”

“The key element of the scam—or I should say the fraud, not scam, because I don’t think they set out to run a Ponzi scheme—was making people believe they were the smartest guys in the room. I think Skilling, and to some extent, Lay, were great actors. They really could deliver the lines and were very convincing.”

So, even though the massive power plant they built in India was never completed or paid for, and the software developed for their broadband service didn’t work, it never hurt their image or, for too long, their stock price.

“I think that’s where it comes down to the whole issue of the interpretation of Andy Fastow,” Gibney added. “Some people—with whom I don’t agree—say Andy Fastow killed a good business. I think Andy Fastow propped up a bad business for about two years. Illegally and outrageously, but . . .”

Gibney isn’t exaggerating about Fastow’s genius, or guilt. The film contains amazing footage of the former CFO promising bankers a guaranteed 2,000-percent return on a particular investment—fuzzy math, indeed.

The documentary also contains stunning footage of a skit, taped for a party, in which Skilling and pals laugh it up about “hypothetical future value accounting,” a concept not far from their own accounting scams.

“They did a lot of skits, actually, and over the course of time they’ll be released,” Gibney said. “I think these skits . . . in a sense they were just jokes. In another sense, they were evidence of just extraordinary arrogance. And also, I would say that—to badly paraphrase Freud—every joke has something serious going on.”

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room opens tomorrow (Friday) at the Spectrum 8 Theatres (290 Delaware Ave., Albany). Call 449-8995 for showtimes.

—Shawn Stone


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