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Welcome to the Jungle: Wires on Fire at the Fuze Box. Photo by: Joe Putrock

The Kids Are Alright
By John Brodeur

Wires on Fire, Complicated Shirt, Lincoln Money Shot
Fuze Box, Aug. 9

The Los Angeles music scene typically breeds two kinds of rock bands. The all-too-familiar sleazy, glammy, polished kind—cock-rock, if you’ll pardon the phrase. The kind that’s more concerned with aesthetic than content. Motley Crue, Guns N’ Roses, et al. You get the picture.

And then there’s another kind.

Wires on Fire’s sparsely attended Monday night performance showed that L.A. isn’t all about coke and strippers and leather (oh my!). Seems like these kids—I mean kids as in they’re just out of high school—were brought up with a low-Axl, high-in-Iggy diet. Their short set was a maelstrom of calculated cacophony, punctuated by blasts of skronky, atonal guitar, and alchemized by just the faintest suggestion of pop melody. Heavy like whatever Lou Reed was on when he recorded Metal Machine Music. Sleazy, yes—that’s L.A. for you—but in all the right ways.

And bless their little hearts for getting it up at a Monday night fill-in date, with the promise of having to drive halfway back to Baltimore looming in the not-so-distant future, in front of 15 paying customers. Maybe it had something to do with the 40-ouncers of beer the boys were chugging before the show (ah, to be young and on the road!). However the band found their fuel, they sounded like a band with a plan—somewhere in between Dillinger Escape and Dismemberment, to be specific—on Monday night. They pounded out the tunes from their forthcoming Homewrecker EP hard and loud (the latter quality exacerbated by the Fuze Box’s mirror-and-tile décor, plus the chest-high stage). From the speed-Stooges burn of “Daisy” to the bum-leg strut of “Learn to Drown,” it was noisy and raw, yet sharp as a tack, marked by alarming mid-song shifts in focus and direction.

With the shallow stage stuffed tight by a hefty backline, the band’s frontline was forced into cramped quarters, but that didn’t stop bassist Michael Shuman and guitarist Dash Hutton from thrashing about in a blur of manic energy, while drummer Jeff Lynn—no, not the same one—did a dead-on impression of a 19-year-old Keith Moon (minus the heavy drugs). Meanwhile, vocalist- guitarist Even Weiss had a Dave- Grohl-doing-Nick-Cave thing going on that was dead cool. All said, a stunning debut appearance from a stunning new band. Almost makes that whole Southern California thing sound worth tolerating. Almost.

Complicated Shirt raised the bar awfully high with their brain-scrambling set. Kicking off with “Don’t Feed the Police” from their self-released debut, the Shirt were punky and dirty, with the combination of melodicism and overdriven grit that made early-period Dinosaur Jr. such a blast. Jonathan Pellerin’s spastic drumming and K. Sonin’s thick, meaty bass gave singer-guitarist Drew Benton a hell of a platform on which to stand. Benton’s Mascis-esque guitar heroics further validated the Dinosaur comparison, while his vocal delivery was alternately droll and disgusted, like a heavily-caffeinated Jim Carroll raging like a rat in a cage. And those lyrics! Benton’s among our area’s most literate lyricists; one of few whose charmingly cathartic couplets stand tall both on wax and in ink.

Lincoln Money Shot’s opening set showed a great deal of growth since the last I caught ’em. These days, the unapologetically abrasive-sounding duo are tapping into a blend of Confusion Is Sex-era Sonic Youth, the Germs and death metal, and they attacked their too-quick performance with the wide-eyed abandon of a high-school garage band playing their first gig.

Major League

Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson
Doubleday Field, Cooperstown, Aug. 6

Doubleday Field, the “home of baseball” and neighbor of the Baseball Hall of Fame, was indeed the ideal site for the first date of the Field of Dreams tour organized by Jam Productions and Bob Dylan. Dylan and Willie Nelson have embarked on this tour of minor-league baseball stadiums in small towns, bringing a slice of old-school Americana to their exuberant audiences.

Doubleday Field is in the center of picturesque Cooperstown, which, on Friday, was crawling with concertgoers, and the most polite cops I’ve ever come across. It was such an unusual experience that I have to mention it—the policemen were helpful, polite and gracious, a simple notion that well-served the overall nostalgic feeling of the evening. The wistfulness of the crowd—which filled the bleachers and crammed the outfield of the ballpark—was almost tangible. Ominous skies threatened rain throughout what was possibly the coolest night of the summer, but with the exception of a brief drizzle, the crowd remained dry—not that they would have cared had they been drenched. It seemed that people were either basking in the mindset of a simpler time, or that they were high enough that it really didn’t matter what was happening.

This was my first time seeing Bob Dylan live, and though I had a few ideas about what to expect from the show, I was still impressed and surprised by the quality of performance he put on. Dylan, 63, was energized and enthused, playing keys and harmonica all night and not once touching a guitar. A lot of the tunes he played, though well-known, were practically unrecognizable to even avid fans, as he sang them in completely different ways, as he’s known to do in a live show. He performed more traditional versions of “To Make You Feel My Love” and “All Along the Watchtower,” and he did a spectacular version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair.” After every song, Dylan jogged to the center of the stage (his keyboard was stage right) and acknowledged his adoring fans, then ran back to his keys for the next tune. All said, it was exhilarating to see the legend in real life. I was definitely a little starstruck.

Willie Nelson—who’s now 71 and still rockin’ strong—walked onstage, waved to his audience, and promptly slid into an inspired version of “Whiskey River.” Despite having had carpal tunnel surgery on his wrists and hands in May, a vibrant Nelson played his guitar throughout his set, although at one point, he annouced to the crowd that his sons Michael and Lucas were onstage to back him up in case his guitar playing proved less than sufficient.

Nelson was quite obviously enjoying himself; he kept flashing the peace sign and waving to the crowd. He threw his cowboy hat out to the crowd first, then played a bit bandana-clad, and then his bandana was thrown as well. He quipped, “It’s been a long time; how am I doing?” before delving into “Funny How Time Slips Away.” He played classics like “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” “Always on My Mind,” and “On the Road Again” to roaring approval from the crowd. His voice was crisp, clean and familiar, and held the same comforting sentiment of a cup of hot cinnamon cider on a cool autumn night.

Opening trio Hot Club of Cowtown, who played a half-hour set of sweet-sounding jazzy Western-swing ditties, didn’t hide their pleasure at the fact they were on the bill with two music legends: “This is the greatest day of our lives,” violinist Elana Fremerman declared proudly.

—Kathryn Lurie

Toast Points

Beenie Man, T.O.K., Tanto Metro and Devonte, Super Cat, Kirk Davis
Northern Lights, Aug. 7

‘Do you know Sean Paul? Do you know Elephant Man? But do you know me?” teased Beenie Man at Northern Lights on Saturday night, during his headlining set that topped off the show’s succession of frenetic Jamaican dancehall reggae acts. The fast-toasting Beenie Man, dressed in crisp white pants and a sparkling red-white-and-blue shirt emblazoned with Yankees emblems, merely had to show up on stage and look out at the audience with a self-assured smile to draw cheers from the crowd. He hadn’t even uttered “zagga zow,” his trademark DJ call yet.

So by name-checking two of dancehall’s most prominent vocalists of late—Elephant Man and Sean Paul, whose ubiquitous “Get Busy” single was a club hit all over the world last year—Beenie Man was by no means conceding his claim to be the world’s greatest dancehall artist, a title he seized back in song later in the night during his sex-laden “King of the Dancehall.” (Dancehall combines the sped-up rhythms of traditional reggae with a rapid-fire toasting somewhat akin to hiphop.)

With more than 60 No. 1 singles in his home country, Beenie Man scored a Grammy in the U.S. for his gold-selling album Art and Life and has a recent hit with “Dude,” a party-time romper from his latest album, Back to Basics. Without Ms. Thing to trade off ribald lines with Beenie Man as he performed the duet onstage (Ms. Thing was listed on the bill but never appeared), the toastmaster drafted the women in the audience, who knew all the words, to join in on a raunchy sing-along on “Dude.”

If dancehall reggae is half about frenzied performance and half about playful high-speed wordplay, then Beenie Man demonstrated why he has been a star performer since childhood. Stripped to a sleeveless white shirt, his hair flying as he swiveled from one side of the stage to the other, Beenie Man had the sweaty crowd waving their arms in the air, engaged in a breathless call-and-response to lyrics that were jumbled sounds more than actual words. The Ruffcut Band, a crack Jamaican quartet that accompanied all the acts on the bill, backed Beenie Man as he transitioned from strains of Chaka Demus & Pliers’ “Murder She Wrote” into a breathless recitation of the dirty dialogue from Missy Elliott’s “Work It.”

“I almost lost my life this year, but I’m alive today,” Beenie Man announced at the end of the show, alluding to his near death from a car accident earlier in the year. He closed his hourlong (plus change) set at 2:30 AM and was joined onstage by Kirk Davis for a moving rendition of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” A perfect end to a show filled with nothing but peaceful, fun-loving vibes (yet why did we all get frisked on the way in to the club—the first time I’ve had to empty my pockets at a Northern Lights show?).

Although the club was completely dead at the listed start time of 10 PM, by 11:30 the place was hopping, thanks to a burgeoning, enthusiastic crowd and a DJ with a thumping sound system playing the summer’s biggest hit, Akon’s “Locked Up.” At midnight, the benevolent Sir Walford, a DJ who has spun reggae locally for nearly 30 years and currently hosts a show on WCDB (90.9 FM) in Albany, took the stage to introduce the Ruffcut Band and Kirk Davis, aka Little Kirk. Dressed in a football jersey, the deep-voiced Davis sang a handful of soulful tracks, including a beautiful version of Bob Andy’s “Too Experienced,” before turning over the stage quickly to Super Cat. (The speed of transition among all the night’s acts was just amazing and helped sustain the overall energy of the show.)

We really needed to see more of the rail-thin, bandana-wearing Super Cat than we did in his too-brief set. Super Cat, a well-esteemed Jamaican dancehall DJ/toaster who debuted in the early ’80s, is a sick, sick MC. (Sick as in unbelievable). His rap about a Jamaican speaking patois to a white girl in Philly sounded hilarious and drew hoots from the crowd, but I could only decipher bits and pieces of it. Reggae duo Tanto Metro and Devonte performed their hit love song, “Everyone Falls in Love,” and played off each other brilliantly, especially during a bit that found them imitating the styles of reggae/dancehall figures from Shaggy to Gregory Isaacs. The four young MCs in T.O.K. bounded on the stage and generated a huge buzz of energy during their hit “Money to Burn (Just Got Paid),” before turning over the stage to Beenie Man. Surely, there will be no higher-energy, feel-good show at Northern Lights this year.

—Kirsten Ferguson

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