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Riverfront Times Music Awards '04

NellyNelly took some hits with protests against his thug hydrator Pimp Juice and his naked-ladies-included "Tip Drill" video. Oh well, it's nothing another nomination in the RFT Music Awards can't fix. Resting on his laurels while fellow St. Lunatic Murphy Lee stepped up, Nelly still exudes all-star status and is still the name that first comes up when discussing the St. Louis scene. With a new album ready to drop, Nelly looks poised to rake in another bundle of cash and pump up St. Louis yet again.

Best Groove

CORE ProjectWhen was the last time you pissed in a urinal bearing a CORE Project sticker? Yesterday, probably, if you took a leak at almost any club, bar or casual restaurant in St. Louis. Or Illinois. Or Iowa. Or Minnesota. Three years ago a few kids from Webster Groves became CORE Project and plastered themselves onto the local scene with a unique blend of hip-hop and organic rock. Their renown outgrew the phase of infamous property defacers when they joined Nelly and the St. Lunatics on tour; suddenly CORE Project became a band people had heard rather than heard of. The acquisition of keyboardist Dave Grelle adds a dark layer of synth to the seven-man troupe, a complementary base to the Project's acidic groove. 5 p.m., Main Outdoor Stage

The Hot House SessionsThe modern definition of a hothouse is a space kept warm enough to grow equatorial plants and ripen tropical fruit. Of course, if you ask Shakespeare, a hothouse is a less-than-subtle code for a brothel. Someone needs to shake hands with the genius behind the name Hot House Sessions, because the group's Afro-house is exactly how a tropical brothel would sound -- full of ripe horns and beats dripping with sweat. Sprouting from the jazzy house beats of DJ Alexis, who is individually nominated in the Club DJ category, the Hot House Sessions fertilize the local dance scene with turntables, trumpet, vibes and percussion. Forget the botany of desire; this is the botany of dance. 9 p.m., Cicero's

Jake's LegWhen Jake's Leg began performing the music of the Grateful Dead back in the late '70s, the phrase "jam band" was not part of the musical lexicon, and the Dead themselves couldn't have been less fashionable in a pop-music scene where disco and prog rock were in the process of being routed by punk and new wave. More than 25 years later, vocalist/guitarist and group founder Randy Furrer and his bandmates now look positively prescient, as the Dead's music has not only endured but has spawned a whole universe of bands inspired by its hippie ethos and eclectic, improvisational style. Through it all, the Leg has remained true to its original musical mission while developing an exceptionally loyal fan base.

MadahoochiMadahoochi has a stranglehold on Monday nights at Cicero's, taking a different opener under its wing each week, and the band's toured as far away as Utah. They even emerged victorious from a Cicero's Battle of the Jam Bands as a last-minute replacement last fall, as if the establishment had sent in some ringers to make sure the title stayed in-house. Bassist Beto Moreno, drummer Joe Winze and key-pusher Shawn Hartung can lay down a surprisingly thick groove, but the spotlight really belongs to guitarist and lead songwriter Scott Rockwood, he of the interminable ponytail and impressive chops. 10 p.m., Cicero's

Urban Jazz NaturalsIf UJN were a food, that food would be raspberry ganache licked from the torso of a lover, then shared in a kiss on a vibrating bed. The zesty sounds created by this collective include sprinklings of drum-n-bass, jazz, soul and house, all wrapped in the sort of charisma and versatility that only seasoned, professional musicians exude effortlessly. Nothing said this better for the band than its 2002 performance of "Everybody Here Wants You" at a local Jeff Buckley tribute concert. And if you've never seen a one-woman horn section, you'll thrill to the downright badass-ness of Dawn Weber's spirited stage presence. The Urban Jazz Naturals are one of a few progressive, danceable jazz acts in town, and they are indeed naturals. 11 p.m., Cicero's

Best Eclectic/Uncategorizable

The ConformistsBack in 2000, the Conformists were a force massed on the outer edge of whatever the St. Louis music scene was pretending to be at the time. They were loud and abrasive and repetitive and angry, part of no club or clique or movement. They stood alone, smashing forward toward something only they could sense. Five years later, they stand on the other edge of the St. Louis music scene, still on the outside, still chasing the intangible, leaving every other band in their wake. They are still loud and abrasive and repetitive and angry, but now they know quiet and soft and complex, too. 6 p.m., Hi-Pointe

Grandpa's GhostGrandpa's Ghost has been winning the Eclectic/Uncatgorizable RFT award since the last glacier passed through here. Ben Hanna and his project/ collective, named after an episode of Amazing Stories, are the 800-pound gorilla in this category, so much so that their name on the ballot reads like a sign that says, "Abandon Hope, All Ye Nominated Here." There's a reason Grandpa's Ghost always wins: They're really freaking good. Hanna has a knack for writing beautiful, elegiac songs and then assembling unique musicians to play them. Will they win again? It's anyone's guess, but suffice to say the bookies aren't offering very good odds against them.

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