The members of Philadanco don't just dance, they attack -- tearing across the stage, snapping their bodies to attention, jutting their chins, sucking in their guts in a convulsion of contractions and spearing their legs like soldiers thrusting bayonets. There's absolutely nothing this troupe of 15 does with less than full-throttle conviction and virtuosic force. Saturday at the Publick Playhouse, the Philadelphia-based company founded 34 years ago by Joan Myers Brown demonstrated once again that tricks and high kicks, stop-on-a-dime spins and fearsome flying leaps are enough to break the applause sound barrier.
Unfortunately the program's four works -- by a quartet of well-regarded African American choreographers -- provided little stylistic, technical or dramatic variety. Bebe Miller's study in scientific formalism, "My Science," experimented with the idea that for every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction. As one trio of dancers squats, another flings into a high arch; as one couple undulates their torsos, another runs into a flying partnered catch.
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar's "Hand Singing Song" underscored the vivid personalities of the piece's 11 dancers as they riffed through an encyclopedic array of gestural phrases associated with African American cultural and folk traditions.
Zollar used Michael Wimberly's original jazz, supplemented by recorded spoken text, to explore the raised fist of the 1960s black power movement, colloquially known as the "dap." This became the starting point for her impeccably vivid and arch body language.
The militaristic mood of Christopher Huggins's "Enemy Behind the Gates" pitted steely regiments of dancers in precise formations to a driving score by Steve Reich. "Exotica," an excerpt from Ronald K. Brown's full-evening work, infused an urbanized blend of West Indian and West African movement with a techno-trance beat that was inscrutable and disjointed from opening processional to church-inspired middle section to clublike finale.
-- Lisa Traiger
Finland's H.I.M. (aka His Infernal Majesty) are the friendliest Satanists you'll ever meet. At its Friday show at the 9:30 club, H.I.M. -- whose idea of stage decoration is a logo featuring a heart within a pentagram -- played an invigorating set of definitely un-mopey Goth. The songs were punctuated by the (presumably) tongue-in-cheek patter of singer Ville Hermani Vallo, who was prone to saying (with a straight face) things like "This is a song about the Devil, which is always a very positive thing to talk about."
H.I.M. is making serious inroads into the U.S. market, and the reason is obvious -- they're clever populists with an unerring instinct for welding Goth, metal and pop. They're also eclectic, as they made clear by performing a cover of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" and a Goth-punk version of Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man" that simultaneously desecrated and revived that old chestnut.
"Your Sweet 666" was a full-tilt rocker that featured some extra-flashy keyboards by a man who obviously wants to grow up to be Rick Wakeman. "Razorblade Kiss" opened on a big metal note before opting to go the Psychedelic Furs route. "Join Me in Death" was an oversize power ballad that had the sold-out crowd singing along, which gave the chain-smoking Vallo a chance to light up again. H.I.M. finished with "Soul on Fire," a rave-up that sounded something like the Cult after chugging a case of Jolt Cola.
Bottom line: If this is the true sound of Satanism, the Devil has a sense of humor and really likes his '80s pop.
-- Michael Little
Fee Waybill, lead singer of '70s-born pop-rockers the Tubes, has freakishly big hands. No, really: His floppy mitts rival those novelty foam fingers you see at football games. And because Waybill and his five band mates indulged in endless theatrical zaniness at Jaxx Friday, it took the first few songs of their 90-minute set to realize his thumbs weren't rubber but real.
Casual music fans best know the Tubes for their MTV-helped hit "She's a Beauty." The band -- featuring several original members, including frontman and guitarist Roger Steen -- delivered an amped-up version of that 1983 gem early, with Waybill clad in the same carnival-barker garb he wore in the song's famous video.
But diehards who have followed the group since it originated in Arizona as the Radar Men From Uranus crowded the cozy Springfield club expecting to see a goofy spectacle. They weren't disappointed.
Although the Tubes no longer have the resources to do it up Vegas-style, they still have plenty of props up their sleeves. In various pop-culture-skewering songs Waybill bounded from the shadows dressed as the Karate Kid ("Sushi Girl"), the Gimp from "Pulp Fiction" ("Mondo Bondage"), a big-haired disco guy ("Tip of My Tongue") and a television ("TV Is King"). The harmless music sounded a bit dated -- like generic keyboard-fueled pop from '80s teen comedies -- but listening wasn't the point.
For one of the silly-fun show's last numbers, the stoner-rock spoof "White Punks on Dope," Waybill stomped onstage as Quay Lewd, a glammed-up, spaced-out waste case in platform boots and silver hot pants. When he raised his monstrous hands, the crowd screamed -- and rightly so.
-- Sean Daly
Sondre Lerche took the stage at Rams Head on Friday to a recorded overture suggesting a supper club hero of the Eisenhower age. His fresh-scrubbed good looks, blue velvet jacket and big blue guitar revealed nothing about the music that was to come. Two hours later, it was still hard to pigeonhole but easy to love.
Lerche and his band, Faces Down, whose members he described proudly as "100 percent Norwegian," recombined elements of western pop style the way a mad-genius architect might rearrange the blocks of the Washington Monument into a Gothic chapel -- only effortlessly (or so it seemed). The rhythms on the opener, "It's Too Late," set up by Lerche's solo guitar and later created by drummer Ole Ludvig Kruger and bassist Morten Skage, suggested jazz-influenced rock -- Blood, Sweat and Tears without the self-important bombast -- but also bossa nova, hip-hop and classic country and western. The chords progressed along winding back roads into unfamiliar territory -- not avant-garde, exactly, but always calling for edge-of-your-seat attention.
Kato Aadland's adventurous guitar work recalled Django Reinhardt and, more recently, Richard Thompson, but when he turned to pedal steel, more often than not he stripped away its country associations; it sounded like an instrument he'd taught himself, if not actually invented.
Above this heady mix soared the cool, detached voice (a little Paul McCartney, a little Al Stewart) of Lerche, a young master at the pop game who revealed his immaturity just once -- when he forgot the lyrics to a song called "Stupid Memory." After a bout of band giggles, he recovered quickly, later quipping: "Even Elvis could forget lyrics!"
-- Pamela Murray Winters