There's a whole lot to like about the slew of country music performers who are just beginning to achieve star status. And the crowd at State Theatre Thursday night found a whole lot to like about Dierks Bentley, another of the promising new breed of Nashville faces. With his superb four-piece band, Bentley paid homage to country ruffians and legends alike, covering everyone from Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash to Merle Haggard, David Allan Coe and Hank Williams. If that doesn't establish your country cred, nothing will.
Bentley joins up-and-coming artists such as Gretchen Wilson, Big & Rich and Joe Nichols, to name just a few, who deliver popular contemporary songs that also incorporate the best of the traditional country sound. The music is twangy and rough around the edges, more barroom than bedroom. It's a style distinctively different from the far wimpier formula adopted by too-slick Nashville pinup stars like Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban and even Tim McGraw.
Bentley, an Arizona native, writes or co-writes most of his songs and had a few hits of his own to trot out for the rowdy, enthusiastic crowd. The biggest, of course, was "What Was I Thinkin' " a funny, full-speed romp about love (or at least lust) and danger that begins with this perfect country song verse: "Becky was a beauty from south Alabama / Her daddy had a heart like a nine-pound hammer / Think he even did a little time in the slammer / What was I thinkin'?"
The song was typical of the evening's mostly high-energy fare, though there were exceptions. "Whiskey Tears" and the pitiful "I Bought the Shoes" were evidence that Bentley has also mined country's honky-tonk heartbreak history. If Bentley faces an obstacle it is that his fine voice doesn't have the uniqueness that one identifies with country greats. Other than that, all signs point in the right direction.
-- Joe Heim
Music is a family affair for Australian country singer Kasey Chambers. Not only did her father play guitar in her band on Thursday night at the 9:30 club, she hopes her 2-year-old son will follow in her footsteps. "I always say he can do whatever he wants -- but that's just not true!" she said with a wide smile, as she described her failed attempts to encourage him to play an instrument.
Chambers's cheerful personality infected her songs, which were almost universally upbeat, from her spew of lyrics in "If I Could (Goin Fishin)" to the bouncy jubilation of "Like a River." Even sitting down for a spell didn't diminish the band's driving energy during a trio of songs that started with a rapid a cappella intro to "Last Hard Bible" and ended with a fiery mandolin solo in "Follow You Home."
Although Chambers's most obvious feature is the childlike quality of her voice, the real highlight of the night was the simple beauty of her songs, which centered on effortlessly played melodies and straightforward lyrics, such as her evolving list of desires in "Pony." The crowd -- which had been hooting and hollering all night -- was silently captivated during her introspective ballad "The Captain," which she performed without her band in her encore. Then, once again emphasizing the importance of family, Chambers and her father invited her brother Nash (her producer and manager) onstage, and the three of them clustered around a single microphone to sing Gram Parsons's "Sin City."
-- Catherine P. Lewis
A Tribe Called Quest
An earnest, if deluded, warning was administered to the audience during A Tribe Called Quest's concert at Michael's Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie, Md., on Thursday night. After running through a few choice cuts, rapper Q-Tip sweetly explained that the group would be performing selections that fans might not be familiar with.
More than a decade of accolades hasn't convinced the Queens band of its mass appeal, but the crowd of hip-hop junkies pressed against the stage must have provided a boost to the collective ego of the four-man crew. Even after a surprise set from New Jersey icons Naughty by Nature, fans were eager to absorb every audible treat that Tip, Phife, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi (who disappeared from the band after its first release but is back for this tour) hurled their way.
The midnight marauders performed megahits such as "Electric Relaxation," as well as canonized classics "Bonita Applebum" and "Check the Rhime." The so-called obscure offerings included "Butter" and "The Chase, Part II." Each song was a tribute to the endurance of the beloved group's foolproof formula: quiet social commentary, witty observations on everyday life, and benign sexual boasting uttered over Muhammad's lovingly crafted, trippy beats.
The evening provided no debut of new material or talk of upcoming projects. With frequent embraces and giggles, the men seemed to be enjoying the jovial reunion too much to entertain the notion of career reinvention. Their recognizable sound remains as goose bump-inducing and fresh as ever.
-- Sarah Godfrey
Is there a link between neoconservatism and the recent rock revival? Both cultural phenomena have flourished in our young century, and both thrive on a collective nostalgia for something simpler, more familiar. Can the Strokes credit their success to "staying the course?" Isn't the Hives' bravado sorta Karl Rove-esque? Could W actually stand for the White Stripes?
If so, Hot Snakes might be the next Dick Cheney of rock-and-roll. Performing at the Black Cat on Thursday, the raucous foursome does its work far from the media spotlight, creating a sinister, no-frills brand of punk rock that never says, "I'm sorry."
But don't expect the veep to flash his winning smile on the band's politics. "Don't go to Harvard / Don't go to Yale / your disposition will only make you fail / They got a braintrust / They got a bloodlust," singer-guitarist Rick Froberg sneered during "Braintrust." The president-making machinery of the Ivy League wasn't Froberg's only target. The man let the malice fly during songs such as "Let It Come" (a rant against consumerism) and "I Hate the Kids" (self-explanatory).
Drummer Mario Rubalcaba matched Froberg's ferocity, absolutely punishing his drum kit. Guitarist, and Rocket From the Crypt frontman, John Reis played with a glowering intensity rarely seen from a musician moonlighting with another group. Somehow, bassist Gar Wood was the only member to make it through the Hot Snakes' pummeling repertoire without furrowing his brow. As the band closed their set with "Think About Carbs," a riotous screed aimed at the Atkins culture, Wood flashed an amused smile.
Despite all the venom, it was nice to see these Snakes having the last laugh.
-- Chris Richards
Originally inspired by ethnic fiddle music, hot jazz (he frequently played with the Squirrel Nut Zippers) and the strange twists of early 20th-century recordings, Andrew Bird's compositional style has evolved into something highly personal. At Jammin' Java on Thursday night, the Chicago-based artist performed as a kind of one-man band, using electric guitar, plucked and sawed violin, samplers and delay effects. But the real drive was all human: Bird's moving vocals and haunting whistling.
Covering almost two hours and drawing mainly from Bird's most recent recordings -- "Weather Systems" from 2003 and "The Mysterious Production of Eggs," due out in February -- the show was filled with lush passages in which overlapping violin lines conjured the dreamscapes that seem to inspire his lyrics. He spoke of "a series of songs about the Apocalypse and furniture, both indoor and out" at one point, and though he did indulge his penchant for the oblique, songs such as "I," "First Song," "Sovay" and "Lull" were direct emotional hits. Newer songs inspired thoughts of lonely Gypsy fiddles, Bing Crosby and broad-paletted rock bands like Shrimp Boat, but Bird's commanding singing and amazing whistling somehow tied them together sensibly. And if the set wasn't as cohesive and smooth as a full-band performance might have been, it was still quite thrilling, a trip into territory few contemporary musicians have the vision even to imagine attempting.
Singer/songwriter Jenny Toomey, with help from Ida's Dan Littleton, opened the show with a series of songs that were by turns delicate and funny, all delivered in an agreeably low-key style.
-- Patrick Foster