POP MUSIC

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Muse

The English power trio Muse bristled with energy at a bombastic-but-fun gig at the Patriot Center Thursday. The set slammed into overdrive with probably the most nakedly silly tune in the group's uber-serious oeuvre, "Knights of Cydonia" (its video suggests they think so, too). "The time has come to make things right!" decreed the lyrics, projected in urgent block caps via three LED video screens. Details to follow? Probably not.

The audience was plenty stirred throughout, keeping the security team busy catching crowd-surfers and sending them back to the rear of the floor.

Frontman Matthew Bellamy's crotch-thrusting-but-somehow-asexual guitar heroics were awesome, and his heavily processed vocal wail kept what sounded like a sold-out crowd (it wasn't) at attention all night. Lead-footed drummer Dominic Howard knows how to bring the pain, too. But more variation in the tempo of the set would have given arena-ready anthems like "Starlight" or "Stockholm Syndrome" even more impact. As it was, "Invincible" was the evening's highlight, if only because its deliberate, martial build brought some contrast to the unvaried crunch of the other songs.

The precision of the video accompaniment (and the heavy use of prerecorded samples) seemed to prohibit a single spontaneous second. But, you know, these guys have an invasion of our alien overlord one-world government masters to fight off! Or something! Nothing must be left to chance!

-- Chris Klimek

Joan as Police Woman

Research Joan as Police Woman and you'll find references to the singer's heady "punk R&B" or "indie soul." Watching Joan (a.k.a. Joan Wasser) at Iota on Thursday night made it clear those notions are so much lazy online prattle. Sure, songs like "The Ride" and "Save Me," with their quavering vocals and pulsing analog electric piano accompaniment, contain trace elements of Dusty Springfield and maybe even Jamie Foxx playing Ray Charles. But Joan's enlightening hour-long solo show clearly revealed her to be a New York singer: a balladeer in the tradition of Antony Hegarty, Rufus Wainwright, Carole King, Bobby Short and extending back to Tin Pan Alley.

Wasser did spend a decade in Boston's indie-rock stewpot, but it wasn't until she moved to N.Y.C. that she found her muse. Thursday's show sounded so revealing, in part, because she played without backing. Minus the sonorous bass and drums that flesh out the recorded versions of songs like "Real Life" and "Eternal Flame," her piano-and-voice renditions sounded like smart Wainwright homages. Switching to guitar, though, brought "We Don't Own It," her Elliott Smith elegy, bristling to life. Likewise a yearning version of David Bowie's "Sweet Thing" and the finale "Take Me": pinched, nuanced and wearily sensual.

Despite its high points, the gig wasn't so much a breakthrough as a clearing up. Wasser is on to a career-defining style, one that deserves to be watched closely.

-- Patrick Foster


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