Damien Jurado

Damien Jurado's songs, thick with melancholy and soaked with sadness, are grim and beautiful all at once. At a crowded Iota Sunday night, the 31-year-old from Seattle played an opening set for Richard Buckner, another forlorn sort, that had a harrowing feel to it, as if some sort of awful trouble were just around the corner.

Jurado was friends with Kurt Cobain as a teen in Aberdeen, Wash., and it's tempting, if maybe a bit of a reach, to think of his music as a quieter folk-grunge amalgam. It's dismal and despairing and true and cuts to the bone. It's constantly seeking some kind of answer, but it's never sure what form the answer will take or whether it can even be trusted. Inevitably, some of the songs are an exploration of faith and a search for solace.

With a three-piece band behind him, the linebacker-sized Jurado sat on a chair playing his acoustic guitar. It's striking to hear such deft, intimate songs coming from a guy who looks like he could snap a baseball bat in two. Much of the set was devoted to his album "Where Shall You Take Me?," including the regret-filled opener, "Amateur Night," on which Jurado sings, "I'm not an evil man, I just have a habit I can't kick." There was also the nostalgic longing of "Omaha" and "Abilene," a tale of forbidden love.

For all of his somber tales, however, Jurado also hints at salvation. "Life is short, but love is eternal," he sang on "Ghost of David," and that could serve as a coda for all of his writings.

-- Joe Heim

Gretchen Wilson

"You guys wanna hear a little song by the Beach Boys called 'California Girls'?" Gretchen Wilson asked the Nissan Pavilion crowd Sunday night.

Amid a few cheers -- there might have been more if Wilson, the opening act for Brooks & Dunn and Montgomery Gentry, had been playing in a venue not beset by bumper-to-bumper traffic, reformatory-level security and sluggish gate personnel -- the leggy country superstar mischievously responded, "Well, we ain't gonna do that."

Instead, she high-geared into her own song of the same name, which aimed lyrical buckshot at "skinny little girls with no meat on their bones [who] ain't even heard of George Jones." "Ain't you glad we ain't no California girls?" she sang in that big, extroverted voice.

It's a new song but apparently not her next single; the "Redneck Woman" announced that honor would go to the mournful "When I Think About Cheatin'." That song, and the set's other lost-love number, "The Bed," might have raised goose bumps, or it could have been the weather -- surely Wilson, in her trademark spaghetti-strap tank, had only adrenaline, stage lights and Crystal Gayle-length hair to keep her warm.

She did those tearjerkers proud, with only a slight sob in a voice that sounds awfully clean for an avowed aficionado of Jack Daniel's and chaw. Which is not to knock her down-home bona fides; the rollicking "Pocahontas Proud" celebrated her home town in rural Illinois with leaping notes, a pummeling beat and country-girl sincerity. The upbeat numbers -- including a knockout version of Heart's "Straight On" -- were clearly her favorites.

Wilson wrote an instant anthem with "Redneck Woman," which brought clumps of chilly pavilion inmates to their feet to declare "I say hey y'all and yee haw!" with religious intensity. This new superstar closed her too-brief set -- 35 minutes, and it started five minutes before the announced opening time -- with "Here for the Party," and the party was over all too soon. Who needs those country poster boys when you can get down with a real woman?

-- Pamela Murray Winters

Metallica

Metallica' s explosive Sunday show at MCI Center featured an aura of danger not often found at big rock shows these days.

Throughout the night, beefy guys were plucked out of the crowd by beefier bouncers for various kinds of misbehavior and given the bum's rush from the smoky venue. Women were taunted by mobs into exposing their breasts to the entire room. And booming firecrackers and flash pots rained down from the rafters or flared up from the huge, rotating stage often enough to keep everybody on edge.

The music did nothing to take that edge off, either. Some Metallica observers have wondered if the recent art-house documentary "Some Kind of Monster," which shows members of the quartet working on anger management and other psychotherapy issues, portended sissification. Not to worry, headbangers: Metallica, about two decades after forming in California, remains the least melodic arena band in rock history. It would be easier to hum along with a space shuttle launch than with anything lead menace James Hetfield sang in this ferocious, noisy set that lasted nearly three hours.

The standard Metallica lyric is obtuse, other than constant references to death or dissatisfaction or both. But the band's best works, including vintage opuses such as "Ride the Lightning," "One," "Master of Puppets" and "Seek and Destroy," find guitarist Kirk Hammett shredding and drummer Lars Ulrich pounding out speed-metal passages. On this night, those tunes were among the many that found the crowd pumping fists and chanting "Hey! Hey! Hey!" with Teutonic synchronicity, creating a visual and aural landscape that would thrill any fan of adrenaline. And scare the bejesus out of those unfamiliar with the ritual.

The show's least aggressive moments came with an odd bass solo by newest member Robert Trujillo, and when Metallica re-created the slower tunes it's put on its most recent releases. During a rendition of "The Unforgiven," a plodder that in concert seemed heavier than grandma's fruitcake, many of the tattooed mooks in the mosh pit put their shirts back on and waited for the next micro-burst of violence. They didn't have to wait long.

-- Dave McKenna