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Summer 2004 Concerts

A Perfect Circle
June 6, $32.50
SJSU Event Center
Seventh and San Carlos streets, San Jose

There are few bands residing in the heavier realms of rock & roll that don't cite Tool as an influence. Maynard James Keenan is the man. He's such the man that his "side project," A Perfect Circle, became more than just a footnote in the annals. The band established its own identity as a provocative force in music and sold several million records. The Wall Street Journal even named the group's sophomore release, Thirteenth Step, one of the Top 10 albums for the "Hip Over-40s," applauding its sense of sophistication, melodrama and chilling imagery.

Though both Keenan's bands are dark, witty, philosophical and artful, APC stands as a completely separate entity from Tool. Deep, dramatic and atmospheric, the music created by the lineup of composer and guitarist Billy Howerdel, lyricist and vocalist Keenan, prolific drummer Josh Freese (the Vandals, Devo, Guns n' Roses), bassist Jeordie White (ex-Marilyn Manson) and guitarist James Iha (ex-Smashing Pumpkins) explores different textures and spiritual ideas. It's more introspective and less angry than Tool's intellectual rage.

Though there are conflicting stories about the origin of the title Thirteenth Step, it's often considered a reference to the recovery process and has been described by the band as a conceptual exploration of the darker side of the human psyche. With his wigs, makeup, dresses, bras and prosthetic breasts, Keenan is one of the most unrecognizable, indefinable and enigmatic figures in music. The energy he projects live varies from show to show but lately he's been appearing at a distance, cloaked in shadows and light, and wholly consumed by the music.

This will be the last APC show in the Bay Area for an indeterminable amount of time. With Keenan preparing to turn his focus back to Tool to record the follow-up to Lateralus and Howerdel working on a solo album, there's no telling when the band will go back out on the road or into the studio. The good news is that there is talk of a third APC album. Burning Brides open.

Sarah Quelland

The Pixies
Sept. 24-26, $41.35
UC-Berkeley Greek Theater

It was fun and all to see Frank Black doing his own thing, even playing a Pixies song or two now and again. The Breeders don't mind throwing a "Gigantic" bone to their fans either, which is all well and good. The real tragedy of the Pixies' demise was that I never got to see them live--nor did most of the whole alternative rock generation they helped spawn. After the Pixies, the door between indie rock and mainstream pop was wide open for Nirvana and the whole grunge thing, and later geek-rock bands like Weezer and the Flaming Lips.

Along with a bumbling, maniacal shriek of a delivery, Black Francis' inspired, Spanish-laced lyrical nonsense cornered the market on topics like outer space and cultish religion. Musically, the Pixies borrowed as much from jangly surf rock and lo-fi punk as they did from art rock and pop, with Joey Santiago's ham-fisted lead-guitar melodies either hooky and childishly simplistic or careening wildly out of control, while Kim Deal's steady bass lines and impossibly sweet vocals anchored the band and kept them from flying off into la-la land.

But then they went away, and of course alt rock just got diluted and tainted with the rise of KROQ and bands like Soul Asylum that should never have been allowed to play outside. So we have a Pixies reunion as consolation, the band coming out of retirement like a burly old man compelled to smack rock in its sniveling, complacent face. And the great thing is, unlike fans of Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles, who suck, we don't have to wait until our band is old and wrinkly to quench our cravings. Jane's Addiction already did it. The Dead Kennedys tried and failed. But come on--The Pixies? They're rock giants among us.

Mike Connor

Summer 2004 Guide
Concert Highlights
Concert List

Chaka Khan
Aug. 21, $35.25-$55.25
Mountain Winery
14831 Pierce Rd, Saratoga

During his televised Musicology promotional concert/infomercial, Prince performed an affectionate snippet of Chaka Khan's "Sweet Thing." He prefaced it with "This is what I remember from high school" and strummed away, singing in a fluttery, buttery falsetto. In the early '80s, Prince bestowed a hit single on Chaka Khan, writing "I Feel for You" just for her. Melle Mel was relegated to the hook and was simply shook; Chaka's sensational vocal performance bridged R&B and hip-hop in a taste that would inspire hip-hop soul queens forever after.

The brief Musicology tribute (and others who have covered her hits like Mary J. Blige and Whitney Houston) shows the ample debt owed to Chaka Khan. Her range is tremendous--she can sing pop, R&B, soul, jazz and disco with equal verve. She was unfuckwitable during her '70s-'80s period that stretched from the rocky funk of "Tell Me Something Good" (written by Stevie Wonder, also just for her) and "You Got the Love" to the quiet-storm jazz of "Hollywood," the disco-fied "Once You Get Started," "Ain't Nobody" and Oprah's anthem "I'm Every Woman." She remains as relevant today than in her '70s heyday. In 2000, she retrofitted the bridge between R&B and hip-hop on "All Good," her collabo with De La Soul. Today, no genetic freak has enough fingers to count the number of funky divas that have profited from Chaka Khan's sound and style.

Look up "range" in the encyclopedia, and there's a picture of Chaka Khan with an alluring look, an angora wrap slung around her bare shoulders. The entry repeats under "sexy," "soul singer," "diva" and "survivor." (Chaka overcame various addictions and failed relationships. "A lot of people think it's a miracle I didn't end up like Hendrix or Joplin," she writes in her memoir Through the Fire).

As an added treat, this concert also features Bay Area soul singer Ledisi, who is equally dexterous in range. Ledisi feasts on a steady diet of opera, jazz, funk, hip-hop, blues, gospel and rock--and masters all. If there ever were a Bay Area Idol, Ledisi would nail it.

Todd Inoue

David Byrne
Aug. 24-25, $35.25-$55.25
Mountain Winery
14831 Pierce Rd, Saratoga

David Byrne runs Europe. Well, he runs around Europe, anyway. According to his online tour diary, he's jogged through the Tiergarten in Hamburg, down a peninsula in Spain and all around Paris. I like to imagine Byrne, whose dancing style onstage tends toward the angular and awkward, hopping along in one of the monochromatic suits he favors, accompanied by the soundtrack of his own music.

Byrne is the rare modern pop composer whose music has managed to work as a soundtrack for almost everyone's life and still stay edgy. In the nearly three decades since he founded the Talking Heads, Byrne has penned scores of bestselling albums, composed award-winning movie music and collaborated on multimedia projects with everyone from Dave Eggers to Twyla Tharp. His hair may be gray, but this is one musician whose urge to experiment is every bit as colorful as it was back in the days of "Psycho Killer."

Reading Byrne's tour diary gives a clue as to the secret of this limber longevity. In it, Byrne exhibits a curiosity about everything. The creative genius who got kicked out of the Rhode Island School of Design at the age of 18 (for a performance in which he had his hair and beard shaved off onstage accompanied by a piano accordion and a showgirl displaying cue cards written in Russian) still, even while on tour, reads voraciously, attends fringe theater performances and hits small strange museums such as the one dedicated to the history of medical procedures in Vienna. Is it any wonder that his lyrics on his latest album, Grown Backwards, continue to be both fresh ("I'm glad I'm a mess, I'm glad you don't mind, I'm glad that you're better than me") and hilarious ("Although it's spelled wrong my name's up in lights")? At this Saratoga gig, he's accompanied by the Tosca Strings and a full band.

Traci Vogel

May 31, $17
The Rio Theatre
1205 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz

Conventional indie-rock wisdom suggests that instrumental numbers be relegated to B-sides, EPs and double-digit-numbered album tracks. Then there's the Chicago-based musical institution Tortoise, which has been creating its own distinct brand of voxless music for 15 years. At a Tortoise concert or recording session, one can find vibraphone, marimba, pedal steel, keyboards and saxophone amid four- and six-string guitars and drum kits. It's a sound that's part garage, part chamber, all explorative and not at all vocal.

Its standing in various musical communities is witnessed by the fact that it appeared at both the performance-oriented Bonaroo and alternative nation Coachella festival last year. In 2001, it programmed the ultra-hip British All Tomorrow's Parties, selecting 45 bands for three days of festivities. (It also curated a day's worth of this year's festival.)

Touring in support of its fifth album, It's All Around You, the post-rock ensemble hits the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz on May 31. Live Tortoise experiences can range from thoughtfully meditative to full-on rocking out. Judging from Around You, the quintet of multi-instrumentalist is leaning toward the former mood these days.

The title track opens the album with percussive polyrhythms flanking the left and right speakers with tuned percussion, guitar and soft analog coming along until a lead guitar steps in as the alpha instrument. Building up over time but still clocking in at a relatively short 4:09, one can imagine how it would be stretched out and twisted around in concert to twice or thrice its studio length.

"Stretch (You Are All Right)" serves up a slice of chunky techno-funk, conjuring up images of sharply dressed folks dancing robotic style at a swank twilight cocktail party, while the brief "By Dawn" combines the hardness of digital beats with the elusiveness of smeared melodic sounds. "Salt the Skies" rounds the album out with spacey keyboard blips, spaced out rhythms and a lo-fi drums and guitar attack--perfectly Tortoise and an ideal way to end on a conclusive, albeit suspenseful, note. Just like Tortoise's music itself, come to think of it.

Yoshi Kato

July 17-18, $29.50-$49.50
Shoreline Amphitheatre
1 Amphitheatre Pkwy, Mountain View

Saturday: Morrissey, Sonic Youth, Le Tigre, Modest Mouse, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Broken Social Scene, the Walkmen, Wolf Eyes, Dangermouse, the Datsuns, the Von Bondies, Sparta, DJ Peretz, Bumblebeez 81, Secret Machines, The Killers.

Sunday: String Cheese Incident, Flaming Lips, Gomez, Polyphonic Spree, the Thrills, the Coup, Sound Tribe Sector 9, Elbow, Wheat, DJ Peretz, Dresden Dolls.

After a five-year absence, the tour that reinvented the summer concert industry landed at the Shoreline last August with a resounding thud. The show was a mixed bag--relying on guitar thunder from Jane's Addiction, Audioslave, Incubus, A Perfect Circle and others to carry the day. The show was as an ear-ringing bore. It's as if the organizers were working with an antiquated business plan in an alternative universe, as if Coachella never happened.

This year's edition appears to take copious notes from Coachella and adds Perry Farrell's unpredictable acumen. The standout is, without question, the Mancunian master of mope, Morrissey, who somehow found it to his advantage to align himself with Lollapalooza. Then there's the String Cheese Incident, a jam band that moves from multiple-night stands at the Greek Theater and Fillmore to headline Sunday. In between these two goal posts are enough "the" bands to busy oneself (the Von Bondies, the Datsuns, the Thrills, the Walkmen) and indie-rock heavies (Sonic Youth, Modest Mouse, BRMC, Gomez).

For me, it's all about Dangermouse, the reclusive DJ who dared to pair up Jay-Z's Black Album with the Beatles' White Album (and subsequently flaunt copyright restrictions) to produce The Grey Album, the most innovative mix-CD project in eons. The robed goofballs in Polyphonic Spree are another treasure to measure. Their sonic inspiration, the Flaming Lips, always delivers, and Le Tigre and the Coup play well in my book.

The 2004 lineup is diverse and represents multiple tribes. But will it sell out two days at the cavernous Shoreline? This could be a make-or-break year for Lollapalooza in an industry that doesn't allow for many second chances.

Todd Inoue

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From the May 19-25, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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