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Smile pretty, pretty boy: Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy at SPAC.

PHOTO: Chris Shields

Big Puns

By Erik Hage

Fall Out Boy, +44

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, May 30

The first thing that the informed listener might notice at a Fall Out Boy concert is that there’s something remarkably unmusical about what they do. Or, to take another pass at it: The music itself has no center—the “songs” are all high cries and din, moving from crest to crest with no valleys and variation.

So, if you’re not in the band’s prime demographic (13- to 16-year-old girls), the first thing you’re bound to be struck by is the utter strangeness of the band. You wait, patiently, for Allen Funt or Ashton Kutcher to emerge, or to realize that it’s all a Saturday Night Live skit. But it’s not.

After a multimedia intro on the big screen, featuring a target-shooting video-game sequence where bloody holes are blown in images of the band’s heads and faces (way to look out for the kids, guys), Fall Out Boy were launched with more pyro than I’ve seen in a long time, the guitarists whipping themselves around in that goofy pirouette that a lot of the emo groups feel inclined to do. (Don’t.)

Bassist-vocalist Pete Wentz—a tiny, round-shouldered guy in tight black pants who manages to look both effeminately pretty and dog-faced at once—does all of the talking, murmuring out from beneath his hoodie. A Wentz proclamation goes something like this: “Mumble, mumble, mumble [pause, pout, stick out lips, girls scream].” One of Wentz’s more catty offerings had to do with him observing jock-like guys in the audience singing his lyrics: “Mumble, mumble, mumble . . . so be careful of who you make fun of in high school.” (Aye, there’s the rub.)

The band hit the ground running with “Thriller,” a billowing battery of nü-metal riffs and singer Patrick Stump’s high, musical- theater keening. (Stump—squat and pasty, with hat mashed down over his longish straight blonde hair—is vaguely Chris Farleyesque.) The drum kit was set absurdly high in the air with ramps leading up to it for Wentz to pose on and for guitarist Joe Trohman, fresh out of Ritalin, to flail upon and leap off of for cued explosions of streamers. “Grand Theft Autumn” and “Sugar, We’re Going Down,” both followed in quick succession, featuring the same drum batteries and stuttering metal riffs.

The main thrust of the show was the theatrics: Soviet iconography pushing messages of nonconformity on the screen, pulsing fire, and an unsettling episode of uniform audience-chanting/-recitation, featuring a high double-hand gesture with thumbs and forefingers together that made SPAC look for a moment as if it were summoning the mothership.

Fall Out Boy’s nonmusicality stuck out in even more sharp relief to openers +44’s sharp, aggressive melodicism (grille-entrepreneur/rapper Paul Wall and emo-ists the Academy Is . . . preceded them, but c’mon: Ink is money). The group essentially are two-thirds of Blink-182, with two guitarists supplanting Tom DeLonge, who staked out on his own in the epic-aiming Angels and Airwaves. (+44 are the better band.)

For singer-bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker, the song remains the same, with Hoppus’ Eddie Haskell-like vocals over bubble-gum punk riffs. The 35-year-old Hoppus (finally, someone my age at the show!)—fresh faced, clean-cut, with a bad-boy flip in the front of his hair—has spawned a couple of generations of imitators, but he still does it best, proving his mettle with a revival of Blink 182’s “Rock Show,” a masterpiece of the pop-punk form that provided the night’s highlight. The mohawked Barker was a sinewy, tattooed, spitting and smoking torso, banging the kit with abandon.

The +44 songs weren’t as strong as Blink material, but the brightly melodic “When Your Heart Stops Beating” and “155” were impressive. And as Hoppus engaged in the staged shenanigan of smashing Pete Wentz’s alleged bass to bits against the stage floor, one had to wonder if the indignity of opening for a much younger and far inferior band was really on his 30-something mind at all.

Quiet Magic

Larry Chernicoff and Windhorse

Colonial Theatre, June 2

A year or so ago, Robert Fripp and Peter Buck announced their “Slow Music Ensemble,” a six-piece improv group dedicated to reflective, quiet music, where musicians listen hard to each other—they appear to listen more than they actually play. With all the preciousness and pretension a Fripp vehicle can muster, they play lingering music that no one seems particularly interested in.

Over here in the Berkshires, composer Larry Chernicoff has developed a similar conceit to a dramatically better effect. Chernicoff, who has deep jazz roots, including an affiliation with Woodstock’s legendary Creative Music Studios (Ornette Coleman, Karl Berger, Anthony Braxton, etc.) going back to the early ’70s, has fashioned a unique genre of chamber jazz that is at once pensive, bracing, endlessly interesting, and, in its quiet manner, fun.

For two lengthy sets before a sizable and rapt house Saturday night, Chernicoff’s eight-piece group, playing without any amplification, explored the sound of beauty and coherence. Roughly half of the compositions presented were rigorously composed, highly melodic and groove-based, structured works that, while not particularly taxing or challenging, were consistently changing and going somewhere. Injected into these works were extended improvisations of varying combinations of players—not solos so much as collaborative, on-the-spot compositions of new and (again) melodic signatures in response to what Chernicoff had written in the score. With a group of truly world-class players, it worked so well that it became difficult to tell where Chernicoff’s writing ended and the improv began. And the sound was, in a word, heavenly.

The music spun around two primary axes: the woodwinds of master players Charles Pillow and Tim Moran (who must have played a dozen different instruments between them) and the twin cello attack (I’ve always wanted to say this in a review) of Tomas Ulrich and Greg Heffernan. Bassist John Lindberg and Silk Road Ensemble’s percussionist Shane Shanahan added nuance, color and drive.

Chernicoff alternatively conducted and played vibes, piano and percussion, and in his understated way, led what can only be described as an orgy of joy over this focused and, often, smiling group of wickedly insightful players. And there, in the center of it all, was Chernicoff’s 19-year old daughter Lydia, a student at Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory, on violin. Lydia played played beautifully and assertively, and one could almost read her mind as she zeroed in on the band leader: “I take back everything I thought about Dad when I was 14.”

—Paul C. Rapp

Welcome to Al-bany

“Weird Al” Yankovic

Palace Theatre, June 1

Al Yankovic is a fact of life for every Madonna, Michael, James Blunt, and R. Kelly to post a platinum plaque. The most successful and consistently funny lampoon artist making records today, Yankovic showed on Friday just why, proving his shtick to be far more than just a series of fat jokes and Gilligan’s Island references. OK, not that much more, but still, the guy’s humor runs deeper than you might think.

Starting the show 30 minutes late (due to some clerical miscommunication, apparently) only served to get the audience, mostly preteens and middle-agers, fired up. But once Yankovic and his longtime band—Jay West on guitar and other string instruments, Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz on drums, Steve Jay on bass, and Rubén Valtierra on keys—took the stage, they worked hard for the money, delivering a two-hours-and-change show that flew by like a flash. That in itself is no small wonder, considering the performance was about one-third canned. (“Al TV” video clips and other pop-culture montages played on a stage-wide video screen whenever the band ducked off for their myriad costume changes. The show’s second-funniest bit, actually, was a faked interview with Kevin Federline, in which Yankovic “asks” the former Mr. Spears what it’s like “to have a closet full of wife-beaters and no wife.” Brilliant.)

While Yankovic’s material is silly by design, it manages, usually, to avoid being sophomoric, occasionally seeming to be directed more at parents than at kids. The irony of the gallows humor on “Why Does This Always Happen to Me?” was likely lost on the adolescent crowd. (Yankovic lost both of his parents unexpectedly last spring.) Who under 30 would have recognized where that “coo-roo-coo-coo” vocal lick, in the Green Day send-up “Canadian Idiot,” came from? And it can’t have been unintentional that the video playing in the background during the Weezer bit of the show-opening polka medley, when accompanied by the music’s breakneck beat, looked an awful lot like a Benny Hill Show chase scene.

But the bulk of the material was light and goofy, from the Cake-mocking “Close But No Cigar” to a 12-song medley that rounded up parodies of hits by Eminem, Usher and Taylor Hicks among others. And the show’s end third, featuring the bona fide hits like “Amish Paradise,” “Smells Like Nirvana,” “White and Nerdy” and the tour de force “Fat” (with Yankovic in full fat suit and prosthetic chin) was an unadulterated hoot. Stay weird, Al.

—John Brodeur

War Zone

Summer Slaughter Tour

Northern lights, June 1

“I’m totally gonna shoot myself in the head!” That was the first comment in a series made by the young metal faithful as they paraded solemnly before the notices posted on Northern Lights’ front door announcing that Summer Slaughter Tour headliners Necrophagist and Internet-metal-fad band As Blood Runs Back would not be on the bill. These were not the first casualties, however, as other bands listed to play on the national tour—bands such as Despised Icon and Cattle Decapitation—were also not available for the Capital Region date. Watching those young, disappointed, long-haired lads solemnly bow their heads in defeat gave me the feeling that instead of reviewing a metal show, I would be in store for some embedded battlefield reporting. That feeling only grew as I noticed the Army had shown up to recruit young folks in the pit during their time of mourning.

Given that several of the more- established bands did not make the Albany bill, I saw it as a chance for some lesser-known bands to make their mark. And that proved true, as the real standouts of the night were Cephalic Carnage, the spaced-out grindcore-doom masters from Denver. Their set, while rigid in its thick slabs of grinding riffage, was also the most inspired and diverse of the night as they let loose with bits of jazz fusion, death metal, stoner rock, and even space rock. Meanwhile, their lead singer, Lenzig Leal, declared shenanigans on the U.S. government and its war, a strikingly brave thing to do in the midst of the military outpost recently installed in a corner of the venue. Perhaps exhausted by his noble deed, he invited the crowd back to their bus to smoke some weed.

Early openers the Faceless and Beneath the Massacre, both riding high on accolades from Internet and satellite-radio hype machines, quickly earned their slots on the bill. Beneath the Massacre’s style of ingratiating themselves with the crowd could easily be compared to beating a friend to death with a hammer. The Faceless’ songs were also designed for speed, and they quickly worked the crowd into a frenzy with guttural growls and symphonic-backing keyboards layered over rat-a-tat drumming and lightning-fast fretwork. Their best song, “An Autopsy,” was so lightning-fast that the crowd’s jaws were left agape when the band stopped in the middle of it to thank them for coming, only to launch back into its spastic ending.

By the time the final act of the night, Poland’s Decapitated, took the stage, Northern Lights had become a sweaty, stinky ball of anger. Decapitated let loose with a brutally unfinessed sound that made me wonder if the sound guy had become a casualty of the pit, where I had already seen a number of young folks nearly decapitated by flying right hands and roundhouse kicks. But the pure novelty of having a broken-accented, long-haired, black-T-shirt-wearing, 100-percent-authentic death-metal band demanding fists and horns from the crowd soon won me and almost everyone else over. The crowd went rabid for their Carcassesque slabs of roaring guitar and jazzy soloing, which recalled the work of Frederick Thorendal from Meshuggah.

While the show began with disappointment, by the end no one left standing seemed as if they could make it through another set. I doubt they were even coherent enough to remember which bands they had missed.

—David King

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