STRIVE FOR ELEGANCE
Undergrads tend to make that mistake where they cram everything they just learned into one giant impenetrable knot of confusion—and then turn it in as their midterm. And that's what the tangle of unrestrained emotion on Xiu Xiu's 2001 full-length, Knife Play, sounded like—a marble-mouthed survey of modern rock's melodramatic masterpieces, just as listed on the album's packaging: Joy Division, the Smiths and New Order. But with practice, you free yourself from the weight of your influences, and so Xiu Xiu grew from solipsistic histrionics into a formidable force: their latest, Fabulous Muscles, is rather compelling. Gone are the comic-strip suicide scenes la Johnny the Homicidal Maniac; in place of the awkward, forced attempts at mystery, Xiu Xiu has made the elegant experimental record they were always straining for. Granted, you must be in the right mood: Xiu Xiu trades in urgent, unrelenting rhetoric, and lead singer Jamie Stewart hasn't totally outgrown his impulse to shock—an impulse that sometimes drives a shamelessly naive narrative. But these two elements work in a live setting: Xiu Xiu shows extend the intensity of an exploding light bulb over 60 minutes of a Kafka-esque Hunger Vocalist brilliantly ranting onstage about raped friends, perverted homosexual lust and self-hate. It's like an epileptic Pet Shop Boys cover band, grinding vocal and instrumental shrieks into heavy New Romantic bass lines and synths. Fabulous Muscles is more than just noisy masturbatory exercise—if there's a future to avant-rock that's worth studying, Xiu Xiu have just written a first forceful dissertation. (Maxwell Yim)
Xiu Xiu play with Tara Jane O'Neil, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone and This Song Is A Mess But So Am I at Koo's, 530 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 491-7584. koos.org. Thurs., Aug. 26, 7 p.m. $8. All ages.
CALL TO ORDER
"How many real hip-hoppers in the place right about now?" KRS-One asked us on Return of the Boom Bap back in 1993—little did we know, huh? Because now we've got these major-label shadow caricatures—see Nelly, R. Kelly, Usher, Petey Pablo, Lil' Wayne—who sapped their sting to pay the bills of the corporate elite. But KRS-One (a.k.a. Kris Parker) is still a samurai in this Babylon, reclaiming hip-hop with a social conscience and distinctively minimal beats. He started as the leader of the hugely influential Boogie Down Productions and slowly gained momentum throughout the late '80s and early '90s with releases such as Criminal Minded and The Sound of Boom Bap, but KRS-One's new CD, Keep Right, is his first independently released record since his early days. "Where's your hip-hop museum/where's your hip-hop doctors/hip-hop judges/hip-hop lawyers/and hip-hop army?" asks Afrika Bambaataa on "Call to Order," part of a new rally against apathy, corporate control and the current economic chaos of America's inner cities—one step closer to Chuck D's dream of rap as a black CNN? KRS-One always weathered criticism for being preachy and out-of-touch as well as having a God complex (see 2002's gospel-esque Spiritually Minded), but detractors should realize that social outrage and critical commentary won't be outdated until we fix all the problems we're pulling around. They don't call him "the Teacher" for nothing. (Eyad Karkoutly)
KRS--One performs at the Vault 350, 350 Pine Ave., Long Beach, (562) 590-5566. Fri., 8 p.m. $20.
AT THE TOP OF YOUR LUNGS
It was always about that voice: a powerful siren wail in front of the most anthemic songs in punk's first wave. That voice was Penelope Houston, and her band was the Avengers, possibly the best known of the initial Bay Area acts after an opening spot on the very last Sex Pistols show (last until the mid-'90s, at least). The Avengers broke up in '79, with just one EP released, but a collection of studio tracks destined to be one of the great lost punk albums was released posthumously as Houston drifted from punk to the comparatively softer sounds of Tom Waits and the Violent Femmes: "I started to pursue being scary and quiet as a creative outlet," she says, and she eventually whipped up quite a solo career. But in 1998, Houston reunited with original Avengers guitarist Greg Ingraham to rerecord a handful of Avengers songs that only existed in unusable live form, recruiting a new rhythm section (bassist Joel Reader and drummer Luis Illades) and touring the rechristened scAvengers past the few West Coast cities the original band never escaped. And now Houston's musical worlds are colliding: her new solo record, The Pale Green Girl, was released the same day as a new collection of Avengers alternate studio takes and a live show titled The American in Me, after the band's arguably most famous song ("Ask not what you can do for your country/ask what your country's been doing to you!") "Now we're in another dirty little war, and we've got an election coming up, and I just feel like people need to focus on what their role as an American is in this country—and face up to that fact that we need to do something," she says. But is it awkward revisiting her 19-year-old self all these years later? "I thought it was going to be somehow hard to do," says Houston. "But once you have that music behind you, screaming at the top of your lungs just seems perfectly natural." (Rex Reason)
The Scavengers perform with The Spits, The Orphans and The Pervz at Alex's Bar, 2913 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 434-8292. Fri., 8 p.m. $10. 21+; and with The Stitches, The Crowd and Loogie at The Galaxy Concert Theatre 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600. Sat., 8 p.m. $12.50 in advance; $15 at the door. All ages.
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