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Music Reviews, Nov. 15 

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The Crystal Method

Revolution, Nov. 10

The only truly democratic musical genre — heck, art form of any sort — may be live dance music. The will of the group dominates; in the end, the only measure of a DJ is how well he can manipulate the masses. Intellectual appreciation is merely a bonus when your butt is the ultimate aesthete.

So it's tough to give the Crystal Method (Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland) the glowing send-off that they should have earned for their set Friday at the Rev Room. The Method distinguished itself by multilayered tweak-and-bass mixes and an almost pompous patience in escalating the sounds before dropping the beat. Alas, someone done sucked the energy out of the mob.

Too bad, because the scene seemed to be set. From Little Rock's anemic rave scene came the mohawked dude slinging his glow-sticks like numchucks, the guy in the sideways hat and “Make Love Not Babies” shirt, the skinny blondes sporting baby-doll T's and come-hither scowls, the pencil-bearded metrosexuals, the Velma with a black X on the back of her hand whose preferred dance stance was the downward dog, tail wagging. (The crustashioed guy in a camo hoodie and the portly dude in horizontal stripes also turned out, lest the party-goers foster any illusion of being in a posh metropolis.)

Joey Smoke spun the room into a slow boil that diminished after turns by a couple of other DJs accused by one attendee of being too clinical. But by the time Michael Shane (recognizable to locals as Discovery mainstay) layered in a couple of samples and changed up the beats, the patch of concrete in front of the stage had repopulated, densely, and a party had broken out.

When Jordan and Kirkland greeted the room, the revelers erupted, the speakers pulsed, bodies collided and generally the butts were in agreement: Life would indeed sound amazing inside a video game. But gradually the guy-on-girl-on-girl spooning abated, and there were as many people scooting wallward to wobble solo or slipping outside for smokes as there were bodies on the dance floor. Roughly an hour and a half into the set, when Kirkland thanked the crowd for “supporting (13-letter expletive) dance music,” it was a genuine thanks offered to a too-small contingent of people actually moving to that selfsame music. The cool kids had rendered a world-famous electronica duo into a spectator sport. Few cared to break a sweat — a real pity, because the democracy of dance requires a quorum.

Sam Eifling

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

Juanita's, Nov. 6

There's something appealing about someone like Ted Leo who devotes intelligence to a life of rock 'n' roll. Not many rockers sing about vegetarianism these days and Leo is one of the few current artists who writes a decent protest song. Politics in pop can be grating, but Leo is rarely ham-fisted about it. The energy of the music comes first; the careful listener will find the message if he wants to. (Count “Bomb.Repeat.Bomb.” from Leo's latest album as an exception to this rule.)

Despite his steady output of records, though, I've found Leo's music to have little sticking power. Here's a theory to test: Most people who care enough to have one of his records have just one. If you know which one it is, you can make a rough guess at the album owner's age. (Mine is “Hearts of Oak.”)

The live show he brought to Juanita's last Tuesday with his band, the Pharmacists, was a reminder that, yeah, he's still around, and yeah, he's still good. The set was rapid-fire — except for a brief pause to replace the drummer's broken bass drum, there was hardly any lull or banter.

Even during that interlude, the bassist kept playing his line — to the song “One More Time,” by the electronica duo Daft Punk. When Daft Punk plays the song live, they do it with computers and vocoders on a large elevated stage while wearing giant motorcycle helmets. Hearing Leo bring the tune down to its most basic level made me crack a smile.

Later Leo launched into a song that sounded like a ramped-up version of Bruce Springsteen's “The Promised Land.” The vocals were muddied, though, and I couldn't tell for sure if it was. The conventional wisdom on Leo, or at least on his more recent stuff, is that it's derivative of straightforward '70s rock — Thin Lizzy is a name that gets tossed around — and the song, whatever it was, seemed to confirm that.

This is not a complaint, though. Leo's strength is fast guitar music with a snarl, and that's what he played. And, as usual, he rewarded the attentive listener, this time with musical quips like “One More Time.”

John Williams

Fishbone

Revolution, Nov. 5

n The Fishbone story is an odd one, largely defined by the band's schizophrenic tendencies. Formed in 1979, the band didn't record until 1985. Fishbone's manic take on ska, funk and punk led to near instant notoriety, but the band threatened to alienate its underground fan base with an appearance in the Annette Funicello/Frankie Avalon comedy film “Back to the Beach.”

After scoring its biggest hit with “Everyday Sunshine,” Fishbone nearly abandoned ska for metal on “Give a Monkey a Brain ... .” Shortly thereafter the band's longtime guitarist quit the band to join a religious cult. Commercial success has eluded Fishbone since its last big splash in the early 1990s, and most of the original lineup has moved on.

With only two founding members left, you might expect the current version of Fishbone to be a shadow of its former self. So it was with some reservation that I ventured to the Rev Room to see it.

But it was obvious from the first song that lead singer Angelo Moore and bass player Norwood Fisher have put together a band with every bit of the kinetic fury of the original lineup. Tuesday night, in front of a small but grateful crowd, Fishbone brought truth and soul to Little Rock.

Angelo shows no sign of slowing down, tearing up the stage with his frantic dancing — when he wasn't blasting his saxophone or playing whacked out Theremin melodies. Oh yeah, and he sings like Sam Cooke. He must be one of the greatest front men since James Brown.

The seven-piece band, anchored by Norwood's constantly funky but never over-bearing bass lines, seamlessly blended ska, funk, reggae, punk and gospel. In addition to newer material, Fishbone pulled heavily from its early catalog. Highlights included “Ma and Pa,” “UGLY” and “Alcoholic.”

The current Fishbone lives up to the hype generated by the original lineup. It'll be interesting to see which schizophrenic turn the band takes next.

Jason Weinheimer

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