Sound Checks

Monster Magnet
Friday, Feb. 5; Mississippi Nights

If you're one of those folks who believe that rock is dead, buried by its own increasing irrelevance, or by whatever the latest trend may be -- ska, swing, electronica, teenybopper pop, whatever -- Monster Magnet may just be the band that will restore your faith in the music. The group's latest release, Powertrip (A&M), rages from end to end with heavy-metal thunder and is filled to the brim with tales of frontman Dave Wyndorf's hedonistic urges -- there are lots of sex and drugs to go with his rock & roll. Throughout the album's 13 tracks, Wyndorf is alternately lazy ("I'm never gonna work another day in my life," he boasts on the title track), philosophical ("Some people go to bed with Lucifer, then cry when they don't greet the day with God," he muses on "Bummer," quite content with the side of the line he stands on), and frightfully honest ("When you get tired of their crap, baby, move over here and maybe buy some of mine," he offers, also on the title track). There's also some first-class riffage to be found on songs like "Crop Circles," "Space Lord" and "See You in Hell." It may have had precious little competition, but there's little doubt that Powertrip was the finest hard-rock album of 1998.

Monster Magnet, of course, has not been a stranger to St. Louis in recent months. They played on the second stage at Pointfest a while back, a performance during which Wyndorf was memorably lap-danced by an overenthusiastic member of the audience. (He didn't seem to mind.) They also opened for Rob Zombie a few months back. Now they're back with a full headlining set, which is all the more reason to see them when they perform at Mississippi Nights. Kid Rock and (hed)pe open. (DD)

Vanilla Ice
Friday, Feb. 5; Galaxy

Vanilla Ice, a.k.a. Robert Van Winkle, once sat on top of the rap world. He sold millions of records, made two movies, made a sex book with Madonna, all the while earning dumptrucks full of money. Then his 15 minutes were up, and the man who put the V in VIP lost millions to rap kingmaker Suge Knight in a shady deal, churned out laughable cheese-rap ballads and got heavily into drugs. It seemed that His Vanillaness had melted under the heat of superstardom.

Now the Iceman is trying to thaw his frozen career with a new album, Hard to Swallow (Universal); a new look; and a new-found belief in God. Gone are the parachute pants, the 6-inch pompadour and the gold chains. Instead of sporting Filas, Vanilla Ice wears ripped shirts, tattoos and a close-cropped haircut that screams for the street cred he's never going to get. His new sound, a funk/metal hybrid reminiscent of Korn, forgoes the inane bad-boy rap, the bitch-dissin' and the frontin' of his earlier work and is more on the introspective tip. All of this begs the question of whether we really want to know what's going on inside the Iceman's mind. That indeed could be hard to swallow. Once he let himself be typecast as a clown, the image became indelible.

Oh, yeah, if you must ask, he still does "Ice Ice Baby." (MH)

Blind Boys of Alabama
and the Persuasions
Saturday, Feb. 6; Edison Theatre

The classic gospel groups of the '40s and '50s -- the Soul Stirrers, the Pilgrim Travelers, the Golden Gate Quartet and the Blind Boys of Alabama -- created soaring, powerful music built on finely tuned vocal harmonies and the emotional call-and-response between lead singer and supporting voices. These soulful gospel groups proved an inspiration for doo-wop, rock & roll and rhythm & blues, in addition to providing early training for legendary singers like Sam Cooke, Clyde McPhatter, Wilson Pickett and Johnnie Taylor.

You can hear the best of both sacred and secular harmonizing when the Edison Theatre's Ovations! series presents a double bill comprising the Blind Boys of Alabama and the Persuasions.

The Blind Boys of Alabama recorded for the first time in 1948, but the roots of the group actually go back a decade earlier, when Clarence Fountain and six of his friends at the Talladega Institute for the Deaf and Blind decided to form a gospel-singing group. They originally called themselves the Happy Land Jubilee Singers -- a name they would keep until changing it to the Five Blind Boys of Alabama in 1950. Amazingly, the Blind Boys still feature three founding members: Fountain, George Scott and Johnny Fields. Perhaps that continuity explains why the group has kept its popularity over the decades and continues to gain new fans.

The Persuasions began performing vocal harmonies a cappella on the street corners of the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn in the early 1960s, and more than three decades later the group's motto is "still ain't got no band." Like the Blind Boys, the Persuasions have remained a remarkably stable group. Original member Herbert Rhodes died in 1988, and the Persuasions worked as a quartet for the next eight years before adding Bernard Jones (a former member of the Drifters) in 1996. The Persuasions have released such classic recordings as We Came to Play, Chirpin' and Street Corner Symphony, and they haven't lost their ability to make beautiful music a cappella. (TP)

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