POP MUSIC

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Monday, June 20, 2005

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett made everything seem easy at Wolf Trap on Saturday night, except when it came time to do the math. "I've been singing for 50 years," the pop legend told the adoring crowd before correcting himself. "I'll be honest with you, 60 years."

Not that the numbers add up anyway. At 78, Bennett remains living proof that the Great American Songbook can make you feel so young. Looking like a man who has the luxury of traveling with his tailor, Bennett often strolled across the stage as if he didn't have a care in the world, effortlessly reviving one pop classic after another. He danced and, yes, even pirouetted through a rendition of "Steppin' Out With My Baby," performed "I Wanna Be Around" with vengeful glee and revisited other songs that he helped turn into standards, including "The Best Is Yet to Come" and "The Good Life." "I wish I'd get more credit for that," he quipped. "But I'll take the cash."

Bennett could be accused of indulging pop nostalgists if it weren't so obvious that he takes selfish delight in performing tunes by Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, the Gershwins and their like. Though his vocal range has narrowed, the singer is still capable of reaching the dramatic pitch that distinguishes many of his interpretations, including Saturday night's inevitable showstopper "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Before the evening ended, pianist Lee Musiker, guitarist Gray Sargent, bassist Paul Langosch and drummer Harold Jones helped Bennett conjure a wide and engaging variety of moods.

-- Mike Joyce

Marky Ramone

At Jaxx on Friday, Marky Ramone explained that while he's playing Ramones songs without his former mates, he's not a tribute act. "If Green Day and the Red Hot Chili Peppers can still play Ramones songs," Marky told the very young audience, "then I can, too."

After all, he was once a part of the genuine article. The guy inducted into the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame as Marky Ramone was known as Marc Bell, drummer of another proto-punk outfit -- Richard Hell and the Voidoids -- during the Ramones' formative years at CBGB. But when Tommy Ramone decided in 1977 that he didn't want to drum for a touring band, Marky was recruited to be the Ramones' first pinch hitter. For most of the next two decades, Marky wore the Ramones' uniform of leather, denim and cheap sneakers, and adopted the group's surname.

With Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny Ramone now dead, Marky took a leave from a steady gig with the Misfits to hit the road with a trio of suitably limited musicians (fronted by David Divine, a singer who, if nothing else, has Joey Ramone's physique down pat) to play Ramones songs for kids who weren't around to see the real thing. The hour-long set included many nuggets from 1978's "Road to Ruin," Marky's debut LP with the Ramones: the silly genius of "I Wanna Be Sedated," as well as "I Just Want to Have Something to Do" and "She's the One," fine examples of the Ramones' classic recipe for adding caffeine to 1950s pop.

Marky rode the hi-hat and snare while introducing the youngsters to older Ramones material such as Dee Dee's allegedly semi-autobiographical song of male prostitution, "53rd and Third," and "Teenage Lobotomy," a tune that made idiocy seem like a counter-culture trait. The club floor served as a starter mosh pit for the assembled 13- to 16-year-olds, who may not know that couplets better than "Now I guess I'll have to tell 'em / That I got no cerebellum" haven't been written before or since.

-- Dave McKenna

Rebirth Brass Band

New Orleans brass band music is raucous, rhythmic, sometimes a little dirty and definitely not the polite stuff you hear in gumbo commercials. And it was this dark art that one of Crescent City's best-known practitioners, the Rebirth Brass Band, conjured for the audience at the Birchmere bandstand Saturday night.

You wouldn't describe these guys -- Stafford Agee and Herbert Stevens (trombone), Shamar Allen and Derek Shezbie (trumpet), Vincent Broussard (saxophone), Philip Frazier (tuba), Keith Frazier (bass drum) and Derrick Tabb (snare drum) -- as having a tight sound. Their instruments didn't sound new, and despite the members' youth, they sounded as though they had a few miles on them as well. The horns blared and blurted, and the drums rolled and tumbled, with the accidental grace of a ballroom of drunken ballerinas. But however rough the tones, the art couldn't help but glow through. Often the rhythm section seemed manic, the brass almost depressive -- an intoxicating counterpoint.

"Feel Like Funkin' It Up" is the group's statement of purpose, and it did just that, with rebirthings of far-from-Louisiana favorites like Hugh Masekela's "Grazing in the Grass" and Bobby Womack's "It's All Over Now" (which this race- and age-mixed crowd probably knew as a Rolling Stones song). The band, which opened for Buckwheat Zydeco, led call-and-response chants, and its occasionally rough vocal harmonies kept the numbers somewhat focused, though each one spilled gloriously into the next. Every so often the trumpets or the saxophone would rise from the primal funk with an expression of pure want, a plaintive, lyrical howl. These moments were not so much order out of chaos as heartfelt meaning out of beautiful babble.

-- Pamela Murray Winters


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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