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MUSIC

Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Audioslave

The big news from Audioslave's current tour is that the musicians -- three from Rage Against the Machine plus ex-Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell -- have been playing songs by their former bands. That was the headline from the group's show at the packed 9:30 club on Sunday night, too. By the time Audioslave finished Soundgarden's "Outshined," it was clear that was exactly what the older songs had done to the band's current material.

The Los Angeles-based band was in a bit of an awkward situation to begin with. It had lots of new songs to play, but the album that contains them ("Out of Exile") isn't due out for three weeks. The group did offer new material during the 90-minute show -- which Cornell called "the living-room tour for real Audioslave fans" -- but it was much-loved songs from Rage ("Sleep Now in the Fire," "Killing in the Name," an instrumental take on "Bulls on Parade") and Soundgarden ("Spoonman" and Cornell's solo encore of "Black Hole Sun") that sent the sweaty crowd into orbit. Cornell was a little beyond his range on the Rage material, but the band, led by Tom Morello's remarkably inventive guitar playing, was stellar.

Cornell remains a mostly dull frontman, but Morello provided plenty of fireworks, wrenching wails, scratches, and crunching chords from his instrument while storming through "Set It Off," "Like a Stone," "Gasoline" and "Show Me How to Live." The set's new tunes -- aside from the chiming "Be Yourself" -- didn't pack the same gut punch, but even in those awkward new-album moments Audioslave still sounded like America's premier mainstream hard-rockers.

-- Patrick Foster

Kelly Clarkson

Kelly Clarkson looked like a bumpkin belly dancer for most of her Sunday show at Constitution Hall, what with her bare feet, flowing skirt and tattered halter top that showed a lot of tummy.

Clarkson's stomach has become her signature body part. To the mostly young and female fans in the sold-out hall, it was probably also an empowering symbol. In an age when unnatural six-packs dominate, Clarkson flaunting her real-person's midriff -- fit but fed -- takes some, well, guts.

America got its first glimpse of Clarkson's innie in 2002, while the now 22-year-old Texan was pounding multi-talentless Justin Guarini on her way to becoming the first "American Idol" champ. Clarkson has since been working to shed the balladeer image cultivated on the TV show: She and her seven-piece band rendered a 90-second thrash-guitar version of the "Idol" winner's schmaltzy unofficial theme song, "A Moment Like This." "We like it better that way," Clarkson said. "It's more fun."

Her voice is fairly limited, octave-wise, but seemingly on key even when she's on a screaming run, and it is far better suited to rock than to contemporary ballads. So far, the strategy has paid off grandly. Her second CD, "Breakaway," has outsold her multiplatinum debut, "Thankful," which was released in the "Idol" wake. Yet Clarkson's hour-long performance, her first here as a headlining act, was most notable for its energy and the spirit of the star. She twirled and bounced and waved and shrieked but never sweated or stopped smiling.

She covered the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" capably and with confidence. She introduced her own "Where Is Your Heart" as another song she's written about a failed relationship. "I guess that's what you write about when you're young," she said.

Before belting out "Breakaway," her Avril Lavigne-written smash single about a failed relationship, Clarkson said, "If you listen to the radio at all, you've heard it." She didn't sound at all cocky. It's the truth. But at the song's beginning, she put on an "I {heart} DC" T-shirt given to her by a fan up front. It was a nice gesture, but the shirt covered Clarkson's tummy for the first time all night. Her powers seemed diminished.

-- Dave McKenna

Dean Shostak

Anyone who has ever run a finger around the rim of a half-full wine glass has played a glass armonica. But Benjamin Franklin's 1761 invention goes way beyond simplicity: dozens of nested glass bowls in graduated sizes, strung on a horizontal skewer and spun using a flywheel operated by a foot treadle. It looks very much like an old-fashioned sewing machine.

Dean Shostak claims to be one of only eight glass armonica players in the world, and on Sunday he brought his novelty to the National Gallery of Art.

Wet fingertips caressing the rims of revolving glass bowls results in bell-like tones similar to the high notes on an organ -- a thin, ethereal sound. Both the instrument and the player have their limitations: Notes don't always speak fully, the very highest ones resemble electronic feedback and it's not usually possible to execute dazzling technical feats.

Though the glass armonica fell out of favor after the 1820s -- a commonly held belief was that the lead in the crystal promoted severe ill effects -- it was quite popular in its heyday. Mozart wrote a beautifully haunting adagio, Beethoven used it in an effective interlude in a play and Saint-Saens included it in the original "Carnival of the Animals" score, all of which were adeptly played by Shostak. Schubert's "Ave Maria" enjoyed an extra shot of spirituality in Shostak's arrangement and performance.

Kelly Kennedy joined in on several numbers, lending her clear, cool soprano voice to a Thomas Arne song and some traditional tunes, and adding appropriately restrained piano accompaniment to several other pieces.

Shostak's informative commentary was as much a part of the show as the music.

-- Gail Wein

The Wedding Present

During its first run, the Wedding Present moved restlessly from strummy pop to harder, more Americanized rock to the somewhat slicker sound of its 1992 project to release a single every month for a year. Singer-guitarist David Gedge put the British quartet on ice in 1997 and began to record under the name Cinerama. Now Gedge (without any other original members) is again the Wedding Present, rediscovering his own back catalogue. The band's show Sunday at the Black Cat included several songs from its new album, "Take Fountain," as well as a few Cinerama numbers, but also reached back to its origins for such sprightly romps as "Once More" and "My Favorite Dress."

Although his latter-day material is more erotically explicit than the early stuff, Gedge still specializes in accounts of failed, unrequited or illusory romance. Two essential musical ingredients play against the lyrics' adolescent regret: Gedge's incongruous baritone and guitars that storm valiantly ahead of the vocal melodies. Simon Cleave, who plays what can only be described as lead rhythm guitar, is a worthy successor to original hyper-strummer Peter Solowka. His six-string churn was a rising tide that lifted all plaints.

When Gedge delivered a joke about his youthfulness, it bombed, but his bruised reaction to that dud proved his point. The singer is essentially unchanged: charming and petulant, eager to please but only on his own terms.

"We don't play encores, and we never will," he announced before embarking on the evening's final vamp. But of course the entire performance was an encore.

-- Mark Jenkins

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