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Fu fighters: Hill (right) rocks Revolution Hall.

PHOTO: Chris Shields

Romancing the Stoned

By David King

Fu Manchu

Revolution Hall, March 20

Fu Manchu’s lead singer, Scott Hill, has not one, but two crystal-clear, see-through-body guitars—I counted them Tuesday night as that stout buzz they produced rose up in my chest, filling my lungs like the oppressive gray smoke of some designer reefer. Maybe you didn’t hear me the first time: His guitars are see-through! Wicked, right?

Fu Manchu are all about the big, bad guy toys: cars, women, guitars, skateboards and bongs. They play loud, they play heavy, they play to stone. They formed in the early ’90s, and their only flirtation with mainstream success came during that forgotten period in the late ’90s when grunge was dead—but so was everything else.

Since then, the band have plugged along, releasing albums almost yearly with little mainstream acknowledgement. The Fu now find themselves in the middle of a metal renaissance, ripe with bands like Mastodon and Early Man who fetishize the Fu’s stoned-out ambiance and their stack-exploding riffs. Manchu’s latest album, We Must Obey, is designed to capitalize.

Hill led his three companions through a rigid, room-consuming set like the kid in the sandbox with the biggest, shiniest Tonka truck, impressing his playmates into submission. The band paused only briefly for sparse applause, during which the die-hards in the front begged for old-school Manchu tracks. It went something like this:

Fist-pumping fan: “Play song X!” Long-blond-haired lead singer, matter-of-factly: “Dude. . . . We just played that one.” In most cases, they hadn’t.

At one point, a happy but befuddled fan replied despondently, “Stop lying to me!”

They charged on, sedating the disoriented masses with the playfully dank new tracks “We Must Obey” and “Hung Out to Dry.” Then they hammered it home with killer oldies like “Saturn 3.”

On “Weird Beard,” off their 1999 album King of the Road, the leg-rattling pulse of Brad Davis’ bass periodically let the squealing guitar leads of Bob Belch slip out just before a torrent of chaotic noise cascaded into a wide silence that hung there until interrupted by Hill’s Zappa-esque declaration of “WEEEEEIRD . . . BEEEEAARD!”

Somehow, the second-to-last song of the night, “Sensei vs. Sensei,” was a great end to the night—the orchestral drumming, and seductive, trippy string plucking that conceded to doomed-out riffage accented by Hill’s absurdly awesome bellowing of, “Sensei versus sensei!/All’s been laid to rest/Sensei versus sensei!/Control is success,” because, in some nonsensical stoner way, he was right.

The show did not begin as well as it ended; openers Seemless could barely hold the crowd’s attention long enough to taunt them for not caring. Valient Thorr’s Charles Manson look-alike lead singer, Valient Himself, thought he had the key to the crowd’s heart when he announced that everyone should smoke some weed. When no one lit up a joint, he assured them they wouldn’t get in trouble. “It’s on our rider,” he said.

Himself ended his set with most of the crowd in the palm of his hand. He ordered them to kneel with him, and they did, he ordered them to put their hands in together with him like some acid-tripping football team’s pregame celebration, and they did. He asked them to be one with each other, asked them to understand the evils of capitalism. It was not so clear that they got that part.


Mystery Solved

Howard Fishman

Club Helsinki, March 18

The ads billed him as a “hip Brooklyn-based jazz singer.” Well, he wasn’t that. I’ve read stuff that says he’s this heavily New Orleans-influenced dude. I guess a little maybe, but not really.

I don’t know what Howard Fishman is all about and I’m not sure he does either, and I’d guess we’re both OK with that. His two generous sets Sunday night were a blast, full of surprises, passion and fun. Fishman has been toying with other people’s stuff recently, having just released a disc of songs culled from Dylan’s Basement Tapes sessions, and is currently working on a set of Hoagy Carmichael songs to be released later this year. His first set drew heavily from these projects, and the tunes were not covers so much as reimaginings that fit the unusual band configuration of guitar, trumpet, violin and tuba.

There’s a danger in loading up on material from two of the best songwriters to walk the planet, the danger being that original stuff will pale by comparison. That sure didn’t happen here, in fact, the high points of the show were easily Fishman’s own rollicking songs. His “Mary Ann” and “The Best Is Yet to Come” are to-be classics, period, and they were dished out with all the grand style that a band with a tuba could muster.

The band killed, from Kevin Lewis’ cool blue trumpet, to Ron Caswell’s surprisingly facile tuba, to the gorgeous Stephane Grappelli-influenced playing of violinist Mazz Swift. Her playing dazzled not so much from technique (which she had plenty of) but from hooks, taste and high style. Swift took over vocal duties on a couple songs and floored the room each time, her deep gospelly singing making a nice counterpoint to Fishman’s husky tenor.

There was nothing mysterious about Fishman and the band. Music doesn’t get more accessible and disarmingly honest than this, which is where the “hip Brooklyn” thing doesn’t ring true. And yeah, there’s a little loosey-goosey N’Awlins stuff going on, but it’s a small component of something else: simple, wonderful, and timeless songs, played well and with a twinkle in the eye.

—Paul Rapp


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