Camper Van Beethoven

On Tuesday at the 9:30 club, David Lowery, of recently re-formed Camper Van Beethoven, described the band's new release, "New Roman Times," as "a sci-fi sort of political sort of antiwar commentary thing." He also claimed the album wasn't necessarily about current events. The concert, likewise, roved territory both immediate and historical, enforcing the idea that Lowery as the new boss is the same as Lowery as the old boss.

It's been 15 years since the last CVB album and about as long since the group splintered, but its sound has held up -- if anything, the eclecticism of today's college rock has caught up with the CVB model. The quintet's selections were weighted heavily toward the new material -- including the loping, lyrically captivating "That Gum You Like Is Back in Style" and the swaggering "51-7." Several instrumentals -- whipping surf, polka, ska, waltz, grunge and more into a sonic maelstrom -- broke up Lowery's sung, and occasionally spoken, commentary. And an enthusiastic crowd welcomed the hits, including a sloppy but effective "Pictures of Matchstick Men" and an exuberant "Take the Skinheads Bowling."

CVB was preceded by the younger and hairier but equally energetic bands the Gaskets and the Damnwells. The former duo, based in Richmond, joined CVB for backing vocals on the Crackeresque "Hippy Chix," bumping and grinding like a couple of redneck Chippendales.

-- Pamela Murray Winters


If there's a room big enough to hold Wynonna's talent, it's not the State Theatre.

Occasionally billing herself as "the artist formerly known as Naomi Judd's daughter," Wynonna owned the stage in the Falls Church moviehouse on Tuesday for 21/2 hours in a show that was part career retrospective and part "Oprah." She said she conceived the national theater tour, which began on this night, to mark her two decades in show business and 40 years on the planet. "I turned thirty-ten," she said.

Wynonna got personal with the overwhelmingly female, largely middle-age crowd packed into every available inch of the venue. She offered self-help-isms between songs, among them: "Worry is the thief of joy" and "Just keep showing up!" Though her sincerity was indubitable, her perspective on common-woman issues seemed a tad skewed. She told tales of getting rich as a teenager and of her Nashville tailor failing to have her stage wardrobe ready for the tour as if those situations tested her will to live. But whenever she sang, her genius was as plain as the dark overcoat she wore because of her tailor's alleged sloth.

There were tear-jerking renditions of Judds hits including "She Is His Only Need," "Love Is Alive" and "Young Love." And goosebump-inducing takes on her solo smashes, the country-pop gem "Tell Me Why" being the goosebumpiest.

Wynonna also spoke of the artists who've most influenced her career. To thank Bonnie Raitt, she covered John Hiatt's "Thing Called Love." She warbled just like Joni Mitchell on "Help Me," and got downright gravelly in Tina Turner's "The Best."

She didn't neglect the guy influences, either. Wynonna so wiggled and wailed during "Burning Love" that some folks in the house probably thought they'd had an Elvis sighting. "Mama would be so proud," she said before belting out Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" with as much ferocity as Robert Plant ever put into the song. Mama better be proud.

-- Dave McKenna

VHS or Beta

Blending brittle indie-rock with disco and funk grooves has been fashionable for a few years now. New York bands like Radio 4, the Rapture and !!! have all done some interesting combining, recalling the early 1980s sound of Gang of Four as well as everybody's current favorite touchstone, the Cure. VHS or Beta's music and moniker invoke the same Reagan-era influences, but the group hails from Louisville and is lucky enough to have its first release on Astralwerks, a label well known for its eclectic electro-beat roster. And though the quintet seemed to hit the marks that would predispose them as wizards of dance-rock cool, VHS or Beta sounded frightfully derivative and limp at Iota on Tuesday night.

A few listens to the band's debut CD, "Night on Fire," is plenty to remember all the good reasons dance-rock fell out of fashion, and the live interpretations of those songs hardly added to their appeal. If they weren't retreading throwaway Cure and Duran Duran moves ("You Got Me," "The Melting Moon"), VHS or Beta was attempting disco-rock instrumentals, none of which inspired any true booty-shaking among the crowd.

Guitarist Craig Pfunder did pull some promising song-starting riffs ("The Ocean") from his effects-laden guitar, but the band diluted each one with a mid-tempo groove, rendering them pungently unfunky. By the time VHS or Beta wound into the title track of its album, the only thing burning about the night was the desire to give in to sleep.

-- Patrick Foster

Wynonna Judd rocked the State Theatre in Falls Church.