|Photo by Megan Gaynes|
CINERAMA at the Troubadour, September 27
U.K. songwriter David Gedge disbanded his semilegendary noisepop group the Wedding Present five years ago, and he's been patiently weaning fans onto Cinerama ever since. No minor task -- where the Weddoes favored layers of frantic guitar, Cinerama mines cosmopolitan atmosphere from strings, horns, flute and keyboards. And guitars, too, but spaghetti-Western guitars -- you know, guitars with style. Meanwhile, Gedge's clever lyrics explore the joys and sorrows of sexual infidelity. With the release of 2000's brilliant Disco Volante and this year's follow-up, Torino, the fans finally got it -- like them, David Gedge had matured; Cinerama was now sophisticated pop music for grownups. So it came as kind of a mindfuck when a stripped-down, four-piece Cinerama took the Troubadour stage and let loose with a solid hour of punk.
Gedge signaled his intention to rock when he kicked off the set with "Bewitched," a 13-year-old Wedding Present number that starts as a quiet seethe but explodes, at intervals, into raging overdrive. The band would tear through half a dozen of the Weddoes' hyperspeed classics before the evening ended. Even the airiest Cinerama material received a noisy make-over -- "Your Time Starts Now" is supposed to be a plaintive acoustic tune with breathy boy-girl vocals going "la-la-la" at the end; on this tour it's become a churning, wailing rocker. It'd be nice to say Cinerama kicked out the jams with effortless precision, but the seams were showing. Gedge, racked with a head cold and fever, shouted songs that begged to be crooned. The usually inventive guitarist Simon Cleave cranked his treble up to Shrill and left it there. And certain Cinerama songs felt threadbare minus the efforts of Sally Murrell, the band's icy-cool singer/keyboardist, who's sitting out this tour back in Britain.
Nevertheless, the packed house ate it up, with many a beer bottle hoisted in salute to the older material, especially. Sure, the band's sounded better, but this was the kind of show that's great not so much for the quality of the sound, but for the quality of the people playing it. Gedge, after all, is 16 years into a career that's never quite managed to lift him out of the big-club circuit, and still he cranks out album after tour of consistently stirring pop, even occasionally ripping into the old stuff with energy and humor. While nursing a fever, for God's sake. "That was amazing!" someone shouted after a welcome rendition of the Weddoes' beloved "Corduroy." "Yes," Gedge smiled, "I could hardly believe it myself."
SASHA at the Palace, September 25
Sasha has been a lightning rod for house fans who've had enough of limo-riding DJs and velvet-rope attitudes. The Mancunian DJ started in 1989 and helped forge a northern English sound that took the euphoric gospel of American house and gave it a British sense of synthetics. The product, progressive house, has become the soundtrack of club culture, but Sasha no longer seems to commandeer the vibe. In step with fellow cover jock Paul Oakenfold, Sasha's latest album, Airdrawndagger, tapped the cold, up-tempo nu-school breakbeat scene, to the dismay of some ("With Oakey's prog-breaks fest Bunnka and now Sasha's, um, even more prog-breakey Airdrawndagger, the scene is wafting with the smell of hot air and cheap cologne," states XLR8R magazine).
Deejaying live, Sasha continues to lose aim, like a Captain Ahab without his Moby-Dick (in this case co-headliner John Digweed) to provide a target. Playing from a balcony, Sasha started Wednesday's show on a bad note by dropping a melodramatic ambient intro that said "Look at me!" And look we did, only to see Sasha ghost-faced and clammy, ironing out crooked mixes and struggling with double beats. Boston DJ John Debo's warm-up set of melodic bass lines had a restrained sense of energy, but Sasha needed a spotlight of dead air. His tracks were predictably crowd-pleasing, with glow-stick-rousing breakdowns that lumped him in more with trance pinup boys Tiesto and Oakenfold than with the American house music he helped integrate into a unique British sound under his and Digweed's exceptional Northern Exposure mix CDs.
To be sure, high harmony, melodic keys and soulful vocals are a salvation from the linear darkness of the tribal sound du jour. Sasha tried to be uplifting without being trancey, but he seems more concerned with getting attention than with nailing the mix. It's why we're more excited by the historical progress of the domestic underground -- Hipp-e & Halo, Saeed & Palash, John Creamer & Stephane K., Natural Rhythm -- than with the history of progressive. (Dennis Romero)