Music » This Little Underground




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The beat

As happens with any stimulus, the heavy Swedish metal I've been around lately has apparently modulated my tolerance quite a bit. That would explain why my impression of Opeth is locked in a state of nonplus (Oct. 21, House of Blues).

Some stylistic blending is to be expected from a progressive metal band. So, yeah, I'm standing there digging the impressively technical death-metal jams they're kicking out. OK, then some triumphant power-metal highlights, cool. All right, now some symphonic flourishes. (Even though that means there's a guy doing his damnedest to rock out on a keyboard — which is impossible to do in any way that even approximates cool.) Fine.

But the hangman's-rope neck-snap comes when I'm halted in midsip by the sudden unleashing of a post-Vedder croon. Had I even one jot less of my famous self-possession, the bartender would've been sprayed with a mouthful of PBR. The sound of Sweden? More like Orlando 10 years ago. There was some righteous rocking and laudable musicianship, but things got a little goofy there for a while.

Singer Mikael Åkerfeldt did mention that High on Fire wasn't playing HOB that night as scheduled because of their unwholesome name. Fuckin' Disney.

A much more seamless example of genre synthesis was rising Alaskan band Portugal the Man, who continue to blossom nicely (Oct. 23, the Social). The muddiness of their sound still plagues their live shows, but even that couldn't compromise their net impact. Their current, more soul-minded material — a rich, captivating new direction — fared better. PTM has arrived as one of the most distinctive voices in indie rock today.

Whatever gravitas PTM earnestly released into the downtown air was effectively squashed later that night by the beautifully tasteless Dwarves (Back Booth). The only member still emblematic of their famously vulgar reputation is guitarist Hewhocannotbenamed, who played the entire show wearing only a Mad Max jockstrap and a Mexican wrestling mask, despite his aging physique. Though their shows now are a faint echo of their violently insane legend, credit still has to be given to anyone who can so concisely sum up the essence of life in a simple chorus: "I wanna fuck, eat and fuck you up." You say obscene, I say existential.

Many artists adopt traditional folk styles to be quaint. But Iowan William Elliott Whitmore's Depression-era Americana reaches for something primordial. He's recently moved away from the stark intensity of his earlier work and into more soulful country waters, which is a shame since that stuff was arrestingly powerful.

In an opening performance (Oct. 24, Back Booth), he previewed some songs that'll be on his upcoming 2009 album for notable indie label Anti-/Epitaph, and it doesn't look like his allure is in any jeopardy. His grasp of the acoustic format fully capitalizes on its power of intimacy.

Good performances are good no matter what, but it's always something special when a quality artist meets an expressly appreciative audience. Whitmore poured himself into his performance and the enthusiastic crowd returned in kind. Despite being neither the headliner nor a full band, he drew a good share of his own fans, earned many new ones and got a rock star's reception, shaking hands and posing for pics afterward.

Headlining were Indiana Southern- gothic rockers Murder by Death, whom I've called overly serious before. This performance, however, demands that I retract that statement, because they walked on stage dressed like bargain-bin robots. Singer Adam Turla even cracked terrible robot jokes. The tinfoil affair was their response to a theme that was meant to be a wind-up for Halloween. As the only ones in the entire club to actually play along, they were total sports.

When they got down to business and performed, their burningly baroque darkness was lushly intact.

They're a far more impressive force live, and I anxiously await the day they capture that virility on record.

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