The Kaiser Chiefs
With all due respect to crooners, rappers and electronicists, the British pop-music ideal remains what used to be called the "beat group'': four or five stylishly dressed young men endowed with swagger, wit and melody. Among the shock troops of the latest Brit-rock incursion, the Kaiser Chiefs are perhaps the best example of the form. As the Leeds quintet demonstrated Friday at a sold-out 9:30 club, if it's not the cleverest new U.K. band, it's certainly the hardest-working.
The group's one-hour show was essentially a presentation of its debut album, "Employment." But the Kaiser Chiefs (named for a South African soccer team) supercharged the recorded versions of such songs as "I Predict a Riot" with abandon and every audience-participation gambit in the book. Singer Ricky Wilson, who shouted his band's name perhaps a dozen times, led singalongs, hopped into the crowd and brought an apparently delighted young woman onstage to dance with him during "You Can Have It All." A skilled negotiator who knows the value of personal connection, Wilson made a point of thanking her by name at least three times.
If these ploys were familiar, so was the music. The principal ingredient was '60s-style blues-based rock, but updated with punk vehemence, synth accents and abundant melody. The latter was bolstered by copious "oh-ohs," "nah-nahs" and "la-las," sung variously by every member of the band save keyboardist Nick "Peanut" Baines. The Chiefs' songs aren't all that distinctive, but the way they sell them is.
-- Mark Jenkins
For all of his solo successes, or because of them, it's hard to think of Kenny Loggins as anything but a lightweight. But for three "Footloose"-free hours at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Friday, his first area appearance with former partner Jim Messina in nearly three decades, fans could focus on a time when Loggins wasn't deemed the artistic equivalent of meringue.
Loggins & Messina formed in 1972, when the ampersand was to country-rock combos (Crosby & Stills & Nash & Young & Souther & Hillman & Furay, etc . . . ) what the umlaut later was to metal bands. Messina brought the gravitas, having produced and played with Buffalo Springfield and Poco. The younger Loggins, an unknown at the time, supplied the charisma. They headlined arenas, sold 16 million records and even made the cover of Rolling Stone. But Loggins dwarfed the pair's sales figures when he went solo after his 1977 breakup with Messina.
Loggins left all of his credibility-crushing solo smashes off this set list. He and Messina, backed by a young quintet, instead devoted most of their evening to guitar duels and no-frills jam sessions that were charmingly retro.
An extended version of "Angry Eyes" showed Loggins & Messina's kinship with Traffic and Steely Dan. Messina's "Changes" from 1974 helped found the California sound that the Stevie Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac would soon rely on. "Your Mama Don't Dance," a novelty single for Loggins & Messina later covered by hair-band Poison, still has its goofy charm. As lefty anthems go, 1972's "Same Old Wine" has also aged quite well, what with its questioning government, God and war between guitar solos. On "Peace of Mind," Loggins grabbed the microphone from its stand and went into full Al Green mode, flailing his arms and shrieking about love.
Alas, the show ended with Loggins crooning "Danny's Song," the lightest Loggins & Messina hit and a tune that helped suck the life out of rock-and-roll in the mid-1970s.
-- Dave McKenna
At Blues Alley on Saturday night, singer-songwriter and guitarist Jonathan Butler unveiled a vibrant arrangement of the Miriam Makeba hit "Pata Pata," a colorful reminder of his South African roots. It was also refreshing, because for most of the performance Butler sounded perfectly in tune with smooth-jazz radio. The audience, as it soon became clear, was nonetheless just fine with that.
When Butler played acoustic guitar, he often produced the crisp tone and pop lyricism associated with Earl Klugh. When he picked up an amplified arch-top guitar, his use of sliding double-stops (frequently combined with scat vocals) underscored the profound influence George Benson has had on a legion of pop-jazz pickers. And when Butler turned balladeer, his strong and remarkably agile tenor voice revealed a big debt to numerous American soul singers.
Butler is nothing if not engaging -- a natural-born crowd pleaser. He turned his scolding hit "Lies" into a spirited singalong, and further delighted the audience with lively renditions of "Sara Sara" and recent album tracks. At one point, as if to keep lite jazz doldrums at bay, he showcased drummer Eric Valentine and bassist Dave Dyson, both Washington-based musicians. The pair generated waves of percolating, slap-thumb funk a la Larry Graham and Marcus Miller. A less likely inspiration was James Taylor, who was represented by Butler's Bensonesque take on "Fire and Rain."
Led by his longtime keyboardist Greg Manning and augmented by two vocalists, Butler's band ultimately provided him with all the support he needed en route to a standing ovation.
-- Mike Joyce
The October Project
It would be so easy for the October Project to be unlistenable. The New York-based ensemble, which played at Jammin' Java for the second time this year on Friday, makes sort of goth/cabaret pop, heavily dependent on the lead vocals of Marina Belica and the complex songcraft of Emil Adler and Julie Flanders. It's doomy stuff -- the group's best-known song is called "Bury My Lovely" -- and it relies on a fairly standard set of metaphors: The first two songs in Friday's set were engulfed in enough water imagery for a Bollywood classic.
Further, the group's better-known lead vocalist, Mary Fahl, has gone on to other things, and Flanders, formerly a purely offstage songwriter, is now singing backup to former backup singer Belica's lead. Unfortunately, the early part of this show revealed the group's deficiencies, with Flanders's voice both tonally sharp and affectively flat. After a few hugs and much audience adulation, though, the Project hit its stride, with the captivating rhythm and mysterious, evocative imagery of "Bury My Lovely," performed with such confidence and charm that Fahl's fine voice wasn't at all missed. Keyboardist Adler sometimes joined Belica and Flanders on those dark harmonies, and Martha Colby offered a cello solo on "Something More Than This" that started out frail and ended up in wild abandon. At its best, this idiosyncratic mix was enough to make you wonder why there aren't more goth/cabaret pop ensembles out there.
-- Pamela Murray Winters