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It’s High Time 

Thursday, May 22 2003
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THE RAPTURE, MOVING UNITS at El Rey, May 15

Anyone who doesn’t think the face of pop has changed dramatically must have missed the Faint shows last month or any of the packed Monday nights during Moving Units’ Spaceland residency. Which is to say, rock is the new dance. Not just any rock, but a fusion of technology and the gutter that once got under the skin of everyone from Gang of Four to Talking Heads. Fast-forward a quarter-century: The Rapture invent their own art-funk disco-trash (“sonic death groove,” in their words), and it’s makin’ femme-boyz, grrrl-tarts and every Puma-shod kiddie in between detonate. (The Joy Division redux of the Units made ’em go equally gaga.)

The Rapture haven’t released any original material since 2001’s Out of the Races and Onto the Tracks (though released on Sub Pop, its clubby edge comes courtesy of DFA, the Neptunes of Williamsburg). But thanks to the Morgan Geist remix of “House of Jealous Lovers,” the hipster meters are peaking in the red, and with the upcoming Echoes, the band’s dance-floor/punk rock synergy should be complete. On this night, the crowd bounced to singer/four-stringer Matt Safer’s bobbling pinpricks of bass, the 4/4 pulse of drummer Vito Roccoforte and the murky hues of Luke Jenner’s guitar, all converging like a Madchester–no wave time quake. My buddy: “Don’t you feel like you’re watching the next big thing?” Ida know, but the Rapture’s secret weapon is a saxophone, which underpins their 11th-hour urgency — Gabriel Andruzzi makes it bleat and whinny more dystopianly than any analog keyboard. Not to get all John Hughes, but how ecstatic we retro-futurists were that Jenner and Co. saved the Psychedelic Furs’ “Dumb Waiters” for the encore, an underappreciated (sax-driven) Furs song, and possibly the only sexy thing about Reaganomic decadence.

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A.R.E. WEAPONS, DANCE DISASTER MOVEMENT
at the Key Club, May 17

Have there ever been juicier, more excerptable lyrics than those of New York’s A.R.E. Weapons? If it’s ace bons mots you’re after, feast on these: “Fact of the matter is, the war turns me on” (from “Changes”); “I gotta have money, baby, so I can get my kicks” (from “Fuck You, Pay Me”). A better question to pose to a buncha bad-news bears like Matthew McAuley (guitar), Brain McPeck (vox) and “third member”/manager Paul Sevigny (sampler and, yes, Chloë’s brother) might be “How many layers of irony does it take to kill a joke?” The Weapons strip ideas and melodies down to their cores, and while intentionally smart-assy, paradoxically, they’re completely sincere.

The only sucky thing about this brief quarter-till-one set was that the trio couldn’t be bothered to play the spine-chilling “Black Mercedes,” a thugged-out, string-laden anthem with a down-tempo break that plain kills. They did, however, drop their signature “Street Turf,” a brilliant pastiche of classic-rock bromides (“Give it a little kiiiiissss/Like thiiisss”), wiggly bass lines and Atari video-game blips. “Street Turf” is the single that made them hot shit in Manhattan two years ago, alerting Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, who brokered their deal at Rough Trade. We know what you’re thinking, but the band have made it clear they don’t give a shit about e-clash. And all their buzz and hipness were a moot point once Sevigny cued the synth-clarion for “Hey, World,” a tear-jerking über-ballad: “Hey, world, this is a message to you/Your kids are growin’ up with nothing to do/And a bored kid is a dangerous kid.” Let’s see any of the other “it” NYC punks put their hearts on the line like that.

Despite their celeb connections, you get the impression A.R.E. Weapons are only a step away from sleeping on friends’ couches and spanging spare change in Alphabet City, and that feeling was reinforced when McAuley said, “Hey, we’re just losers with long hair who like to dance.” Which is why Dance Disaster Movement, a powerhouse of darkwave angularity, exuberant wit and singer/keyboardist Kevin Disco’s aerobic male-hustler moves, complemented Weapons so well. Plus, by ending its set with breakdance spins that’d make Turbo, Ozone and Kelly jealous, the band lives up to its name. (Andrew Lentz)

TSAR, JET
at Spaceland, May 17

A night of great hair, that’s for sure, but each of these one-word wonders — the former, hometown harmonic heroes not heard from in a while; the latter, feisty foreigners with a Stones jones in town to record their American debut — also know their way around a hook, a lick and a chorus. With their buoyant pop bursts, Tsar, led by big-eyed singer Jeff Whalen, have always been cute but not glam enough to turn off heavier music heads, crunchy but not chaotic enough to repel lovesick girlies — a combo that should have made their Hollywood Records debut a much bigger success. Back at their old stomping grounds, the quartet banged out bits from their next release and showed off a grittier persona (no more Goody barrettes for these Los Feliz fellas). Big tunes full of frenzied drumbeats and revved-up, raucous guitar riffs show the group charting a punkier course, but it was the bubblegum grinds from their first record at the end of the set that still popped loudest.

Melbourne’s Jet look like the Faces and sound like everybody else from the ’70s, but whether or not that’s a good thing depends on your perspective, and your record collection. As all of the Spaceland crowd seemed to know, Jet opened for the Rolling Stones down under on the last tour, but that’s not where their link to the Glimmer Twins ends — their upcoming Elektra release will feature none other than Billy Preston guesting on the keys. Impressive classic-rock cred for ya. Still, their bell-bottomed bops are mostly irresistible because they lift faves of yore: “Dirty Deeds” here, “Lust for Life” there, Led Zep’s “Rock & Roll” everywhere. Derivative, yes, but these youthful denim warriors channel their idols with such a reverent fervency onstage (they did a mean T-Rex-meets-Elvis jam on “That’s Alright, Mama”) that you can’t help but hop along for their retro-rock ride. (Lina Lecaro)


DEWEY TERRY, R.I.P.

Dewey Terry, the guitarist-singer of the renowned duo Don and Dewey, died Sunday, May 11, after a lengthy struggle with cancer. Terry was born in Los Angeles on July 17, 1937, and by the mid-’50s he and lifelong buddy Don “Sugarcane” Harris had cooked up a supercharged brand of rock & roll that presented the still-blossoming form at its most extreme. What gave their sound such voltage was the fact that unlike Chuck Berry and Little Richard, who had toiled for years as R&B performers before launching into straight rock & roll, Don and Dewey were still kids who relied solely on instinct.

“R&B was too slow, too methodical,” Terry said in 1999. “We felt like, ‘C’mon, baby, we don’t want to hear that!’ At that time, most people found what we did quite harsh. They said the music was too loud, always told us to cut our amplifiers down — they did not want you to wiggle and jiggle. But I think that contributed to our success, because — well, the kids were doin’ it anyway: rock & roll.” Signed to Specialty Records in 1957, Don and Dewey cut a stack of frantic classics: “Justine” remains a record of tremendous, screaming impact; the fledgling Righteous Brothers hijacked the pair’s repertoire and stage moves, charting with two Don and Dewey covers. Many of Terry’s songs enjoyed significant reincarnations (“Farmer John” by East Los Angeles’ Premiers, the Olympics’ “Big Boy Pete”), and his “I’m Leaving It All Up to You” became BMI’s most-played song of 1974, via Dale & Grace, Freddy Fender and Donny & Marie Osmond.

Terry never got rich (he and Little Richard picketed Specialty’s offices at one point), but, as he said, “It was just about gettin’ the music across. I’m for the art — and if you can see the art in it, that’s my payment.”

—Jonny Whiteside

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