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Picks for the week of December 19-25, 2007

Thursday and Friday Dec. 20–21
The Warfield
982 Market St
San Francisco

Queens of the Stone Age

THEIR latest album, 2007's Era Vulgaris, got mixed reviews, but that sort of thing is bound to happen when a band takes a drastically—how can we put this—mellower approach to songwriting than its previous four releases. Still, Era Vulgaris manages to capture the eccentric intricacies of mastermind Josh Homme, exhibiting all the pounding rhythms and dirtier-than-sewage guitar riffs integral to every Queens album. Tracks such as "I'm Designer" are archetypal of Homme's ironic fantasies, which seem to hold a contradictory, if not paradoxical relationship between lyric and sound. Despite toning down the gritty rock vibe of their last effort, Lullabies to Paralyze, Era Vulgaris holds all the components Queens fans have come to expect from their sardonic heroes, which is why, come Thursday night, throngs of supporters will no doubt line the walls of the Warfield like flies on a cow turd.

Steel Pulse
Saturday Dec. 22
Barefoot Coffee Roasters,
5237 Stevens Creek Blvd.
Santa Clara

Ben Henderson & David Knight

APPARENTLY in the holiday spirit, the Good Hustle and Day One Symphony have each donated their frontmen to charity. On the first day of winter, Benjamin Henderson and David Knight will give free, mostly acoustic solo performances at Barefoot Coffee Roasters this Saturday night—their first co-headlining show ever. I don't know how to put this, but, like Ron Burgundy, these guys are kind of a big deal. In the Good Hustle, Henderson & Co. pulverize R&B and soul with heavy, almost tribal percussion and rock sensibilities, somehow managing to make it sound funny without really making fun of themselves. Henderson takes a similar approach to folk music, handling it with sincerity but not reverence, the result of which is lively, surprising and sometimes even a little heartbreaking, and other times a little ball-breaking. David Knight delivers a more polished, studio-born sound in his solo work, playing songs that could nestle comfortably between Day One Symphony and early Radiohead. Incidentally, Knight will play songs from both his solo project and D.O.S.

Steel Pulse
Thursday and Friday Dec. 20–21
Mission Ale House
97 E. Santa Clara St
San Jose

Whiskey Avengers

IF YOU still haven't checked out San Jose's Whiskey Avengers, let us first say: you're blowin' it! But before you go sulking around town like a senior without a prom date, know that it's not too late to go see the 2006 Best Local Band runners up as they headline a gig this week at the Mission Ale House. The Avengers' alcohol-infused ska sound is laced with a smorgasbord of other genres—punk, folk, and even pirate-jig can be found in their twisted yet affable melodies. So buy 'em a drink (or five), make a toast to your mates and sing together "yo-ho-yo-ho a punk-rock-life for me!" The show also features a slew of other hometown talents, including the Jimmy Dewrance blues band and acoustic duo Brown Man Group.

Steel Pulse
Wednesday Dec. 19
Kuumbwa Jazz Center
320-2 Cedar St.
Santa Cruz

Vienna Teng

SARATOGA-born singer/songwriter Vienna Teng has spent the better part of the decade eking out a spot for her idiosyncratic, jazz-tinged folk rock. And though Teng has built a solid fan base in the Bay Area and earned "best kept secret" status among many critics, she has yet to break into the mainstream. Things are looking promising, however—last year she signed with venerable folk label Rounder Records and released Dreaming Through the Noise, her most accomplished and well-received work to date. Comparisons have been made to Natalie Merchant and Sarah MacLachlan in her songwriting style, or to Kate Bush for her minor eccentricities and affection for far-flung worldly musical influences. But those are only semiadequate markers to approximate a songwriter who has her own distinctive and compelling voice.

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