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Sound Checks

Trey Anastasio
Friday, May 7; American Theatre
What to do if you're a Phish phanatic and can't wait for the group's summer tour, which, by the way, kicks off at Kansas City's Sandstone Amphitheatre on June 30? Why, better head to our town's American Theatre for a much-anticipated solo date by guitarist/vocalist Trey Anastasio. The show -- indeed, the whole tour -- is sold out, so good luck getting in if you don't have your tickets already in hand. Anastasio, who, of course, stepped out on his own several years ago with the side project Surrender to the Air, plans a show that will feature an opening solo acoustic set followed by a longer electric set with Tony Markellis on bass and Russ Lawton (of Vermont's Gordon Stone Band) on drums. Expect to hear some new Anastasio originals, as well as versions of Phish songs and a number of cover tunes as well. If you happen to be following Anastasio on the road, as Phish phans are wont to do, his next date is the next night at the Oscar Mayer Theater in Madison, Wis. That's a wiener! (DD)

The Revelers and the Mount McKinleys
Saturday, May 8; the Side Door
Talk about the odds being against you. In a day when pop music has to be dipped in molten irony, the Revelers want to be Herman's Hermits gone metal. Their ebullient, made-from-scratch choruses transcend the alt-murk of Millennium pop, making it look easy -- and fun -- to be wholesome all over again. More a Knack-ronism than an anachronism, the Revelers come blaring out of Cleveland, Ohio, the city that gave us the Raspberries. That group's Eric Carmen may have been a paean to his own fey cockiness, but what gave the Berries their juice were Carmen's McCartney-tight melodies and the wimp-killing punch of Wally Bryson's riffiness. The Revelers trace the mod profile of their forebears, with windmill guitars and floor-shaking drum fills. But the revelation comes when they venture outside their marriage of melody and energy without committing a Daltrey. On their 1999 release Hard Times, Sunday Spirits (Spin-Art), the Revelers redesign '60s pop for their own benefit. Instead of going the MTV route, functioning as actors in rote music videos, they channel the British Invasion, replacing Blind Melon darkness with soda-sweet vocals and arm-as-hammer drumming. All the Revelers need is a George Martin or Shel Talmy to give their ideas a proper sonic context. Until then, their masterpiece is unveiled onstage. (JO)

Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Dr. L. Subramaniam
Sunday, May 9; Ethical Society of St. Louis
If the sentence "The outstanding features of Vishwa Mohan Bhatt's style are his natural ability to play the tantrakari ang and incorporate the gayaki ang on mohan veena" leaves you dumbfounded, don't panic. These are Indian musical instruments, and Vishwa Mohan Bhatt is one of the most respected stringed-instrument players in the world. He'll share a bill with L. Subramaniam, an equally adored violinist; regardless of whether you're familiar with the traditions and idioms of Indian classical music, the event should be stellar. According to sources, these two performers together are the Indian classical-music equivalent of, say, Andres Segovia improvising with Isaac Stern. Or something like that.

You don't have to (nor should you) take my word for it; their laurels and resumes speak for themselves. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt released an album of duets with Ry Cooder, the transcendent Grammy-winning album Meeting by the River (Waterlily); helped score the soundtrack to Dead Man Walking; and has worked with Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck and Taj Mahal, to name a few. He plays an instrument he modified himself called the mohan veena, a hybrid of a classical Indian instrument and a Hawaiian slide guitar. The thing has 19 strings, and Bhatt can eke a heavenly, gently floating tone out of the instrument while, deep underneath, bottom-end strings hum an ominous drone. Though I'm not an expert on the music, it really doesn't matter in the face of his playing; his gentle phrasing, intelligence and personality are transcultural -- a requisite knowledge, though helpful, is laid moot when confronted with the tone of his, er, mohan veena.

Step back and take a look at this listing of achievements: violinist L. Subramaniam has recorded with Stephane Grappelli, Herbie Hancock, Joe Sample, Tony Williams, Stanley Clarke, Larry Coryell and George Duke. He was a featured soloist in Bernardo Bertolucci's film Little Buddha and scored the music for Mississippi Masala. He has performed at the Bolshoi, Lincoln Center, Royal Albert Hall, the Champs Elysees Theatre, Madison Square Garden and the United Nations. The list goes on and on.

Far be it from me to offer a recommendation based on resumes and a four-song sampler; I don't normally do such a thing. But I'm making an exception (and embarrassing myself in the process, to boot). I'll be there, front-and-center. Take a chance. The performance starts at 5 p.m. at the Ethical Society, 9001 Clayton Rd. (RR)

Martin Sexton
Tuesday, May 11; Off Broadway
Strange to say, but Martin Sexton has never played St. Louis. He's played everywhere else: churches, subway platforms, Kerrville folk festivals, bus stops, coffee shops, dives, the coveted busking space around Harvard Square. He plays alone and makes an orchestra of his voice; no singer/songwriter working today -- not Chris Whitley, not Peter Case, not Rufus Wainwright -- has such a shocking command of range and emotion, of dynamics and tones. But he's not a vocal technician: His singing drips with something disturbing and surreal. He holds notes impossibly, contorting them into a piercing falsetto or quaking, Van Morrisonesque rumbles; then he yodels or scats or croons or morphs his larynx into some piping trumpet -- and somehow the melodies of his folk/pop tunes remain fluid. Like Morrison, his vocal role models are the great soul singers of the '70s -- Gene Chandler, Solomon Burke and, especially, Eugene Record -- and, like Morrison again, his lyrical ambition draws on unpretentious mysticism, a wayward spiritualism far enough from God to remain honest to daily life. His two best songs, "Glory Bound" and "The Way I Am," both recount his travels as an itinerant singer/songwriter, and rather than trying to elicit sympathy for his elected solitude, he accepts the road's bitter bits of wisdom and transforms them with the soaring gaiety of his remarkable voice. (RK)

Contributors: Daniel Durchholz, Roy Kasten, Jordan Oakes, Randall Roberts

 
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