Sound Checks

Drumhead
Friday, May 14; Side Door
Percussion is -- surprise, surprise -- at the center of Drumhead: march snare, field drums, hand drums, conga drums, bass drum, timpani, marimba, xylophone, hand cymbals. It's all there on Drumhead's first full-length (released by the wonderful, if occasionally overindulgent, Perishable Records out of Chicago). The band is the brainchild of one Sheila McCarthy, with help from Tony Maimone (original bassist with Pere Ubu), Josh Matthews, Ben Massarella and Doug Scharin (June of 44, Rex). If you don't like loads of percussion, or get bored when watching a drum circle, avoid this at all costs. But hey all you beat-nuts all hot and bothered with drum & bass, jungle and electronica: You're blind if synthetics equal legitimacy in your world of beats, and nothing's more transcendent than a nice organic rhythm to fill your plate. That is to say, if you're a fan of Fatboy Slim, Drumhead's got a bigger beat, and if you're a fan of the little beats of Matmos or Autechre, this band does that shit in real time. And with Maimone manning the synthesizer and bass duties, you really can't go wrong. (RR)

The Ex-Husbands
Saturday, May 15; Side Door
Given the nagging presence on the alt-country scene of jokesters like Southern Culture on the Skids, Angry Johnny and various trailer-trash revues, the Ex-Husbands' simplicity feels radically fresh. Their brand of country is straight and unpretentious: smooth sing-along melodies, glint-and-run Telecaster leads, a sturdy rhythm section and (most important) a strong, deep, long-voweled singer in Anders Thomsen. They're not doing anything new, but they're doing it damn well. Besides, fine music isn't always about smashing artistic boundaries. It's about laying down deeply felt songs in a deeply felt way.

The Ex-Husbands sharpened their chops in Brooklyn and Manhattan bars before heading to Nashville, where they've frequented the still-thriving Lower Broadway scene. In February I caught them at BR5-49's old stomping ground, Robert's Western Wear, and was struck by their easygoing energy and how, when they rocked, they still swung. Sure, like those of many young neo-honky-tonkers, Thomsen's tunes sometimes have a whiff of formula -- cars, bars and whiskey abound -- but the band is so good and so good-natured that they charmed away my songwriterly obsessions. Hell, they made me forget the smell of sizzling flesh on Robert's grill. And drummer Michael Howard Smith and bassist Mark Miller are tight enough that Thomsen can jump from playing rhythm to spraying smart twangy leads and then back to that effortless, steady, two-step country rhythm. Dancers, don't leave your partners at home. (RK)

Eddie Shaw
Sunday, May 16; Generations
The tenor saxophone has always been a major element in the distinctive, funky sound of classic R&B, but the instrument has never really made much of an impact on the hardcore blues scene. The stripped-down sound of guitar, bass and drums has always seemed to work best in the blues with the harmonica.

But there are a few outstanding sax players on the blues scene, and one of the best is Eddie Shaw. Best known for his tenure with the legendary Howlin' Wolf in the 1970s, Shaw filled the roles of Wolf's bandleader, arranger and road manager. (Check out the classic recording The Howlin' Wolf London Sessions, featuring such guest musicians as Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts for an example of Shaw's talents as an arranger and sax player.)

Although Shaw is best known for his connection to Chicago blues -- he also worked with Muddy Waters, Magic Sam and Otis Rush in the 1960s -- he has some deep connections to St. Louis musicians as well. Growing up in the Greenville, Miss., area, Shaw formed a band with Oliver Sain during his teenage years, and occasionally the two young sax players sat in with Ike Turner's band or accompanied Little Milton. These days Shaw is leading a group called the Wolf Gang, which features his son, Eddie Vaan Shaw Jr. on guitar, Tim Taylor (son of blues guitarist Eddie Taylor) on drums and pianist Detroit Junior (who also played in Wolf's band). The group's latest recording, Can't Stop Now (Delmark), shows Shaw and band in an up-tempo, cross-generational blues attack. (TP)

Eminem with Pace Won and the Beatnuts
Tuesday, May 18; Mississippi Nights
Don't let the annoying hit song, the bleached hair and the masses of captivated nihilistic preteens fool you. Eminem isn't just a Top 40 fad. He may put his pop face on to milk the marketplace for all it's worth, but when nobody's looking he's dropping the illest cameo verse on an independent 12-inch or delivering a mind-blasting freestyle on a radio show. Compared to the work he's put in on underground tracks, "My Name Is" sounds like a dumbed-down translation of his talent. On "Scary Movies," the B-side to the "Bad Meets Evil" platter, Slim Shady declares that he is "the one man on the planet that'll drive off of the Grand Canyon/hop out of a Grand Am and land in a handstand and/any man plannin' to battle will get snatched out of his clothes so fast that he'll look like an invisible man standin'."

Eminem is an emcee's emcee, not just another Korn-ey white rapper, and he's on tour with New York legends Beatnuts and the relatively unknown Pace Won. Pace will undoubtedly open with "I Declare War," the track that has all the underground heads blazed with his nonchalant sarcasm and succinct rhymes. If Pace is as good live as he is on vinyl, he's a sure shot to get the crowd hyped.

Producers/rappers extraordinaire the Beatnuts have been in the business for more than a decade. The original 'Nuts consisted of Fashion, Psycho Les and JuJu; the trio's group name describes them as simply as possible: They create hard, funky, drunken beats, and their reputation as three of the craziest men in hip-hop precedes them. They've done beat work for MC Lyte, Chi Ali, Common (on his first LP) and Naughty by Nature, not to mention their own classic material. Big Punisher fans should note that he basically got his start on the Beatnuts' "Off the Books" 12-inch a couple of years ago. The group has just released a new single featuring Greg Nice of Nice & Smooth, of course minus Fashion, now known as Al Tariq, who went solo around '96 and will not be on the tour. The crowd will be a little medley of young MTV heads, underground hip-hop heads and rap fans of all ages, but the three acts complement each other nicely and will have all types of heads nodding and banging. (AP)

The Hellicopters with the Nomads and Quadrajet
Tuesday, May 18; Karma
"It's all circles, " Mike Watt once said, referring to the nature of rock. What comes around goes around, and so on. Coming around the mountain right now is a rediscovery of post-proto/pre-punk circa 1970-75: Stooges, MC5 and Dictators, and the accompanying raucous energy of discovering that speed, distortion and anger can be harnessed into a compact brick of metal. The Hellicopters are from Sweden, feature the ex-drummer of Entombed and lift the sound of the MC5 and the Dictators almost riff-for-riff. The problem? A fine line separates said bands from rock-ish REO and BTO, and the twain collide in the Hellicopters. Where they connect is in flashy penis-extender guitar solos, and these reared their ugly head in the dumb metal of the mid-'70s and again in the glam metal of the late '80s. Luckily, in both instances variations on punk shut them up for a little while. And if the Hellicopters signal a trend, bring it on, because it means that punk'll once again stuff a sock in its mouth.

Alas, you gotta go to this show, if only for the Nomads, a veteran Swede garage band who have been cranking out messed up psych-rock for close to 20 years now. These days they're on the fantastic Estrus label out of Washington state -- a stamp of approval in itself -- but they were doing this stuff when Estrus was just a twinkle. Their stunning mid-'80s 12-inch featuring "She Pays the Rent" and "Nitroglycerine Shriek" is a seminal dose of garage dirge, and their cover of Beefheart's "Frying Pan" captures all the energy of the original. (RR)

Contributors: Roy Kasten, April Park, Terry Perkins, Randall Roberts

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