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Ghost Emotion

BETH GIBBONS & RUSTIN MAN at Avalon, October 26

An intriguing duo: Beth Gibbons, intoxicating vocalist with England’s Portishead (whose 1994 debut, Dummy, is a uniquely gorgeous gallery of trip-hop noir they’ve never bettered) and Rustin Man (a.k.a. Paul Webb), erstwhile bassist with defunct ’80s Brit prog-popsters Talk Talk, sadly best known for No Doubt’s redundant cover of their breakthrough “It’s My Life” and the use of their eponymous first single in cell-phone ads. Gibbons & Rustin’s 2002 Out of Season has already been critically embraced in Europe, and though unexpected, the combination makes sense: Both musicians are alumni of groundbreaking acts that deserve more than footnote status.

The outfit’s touring incarnation includes members of both leaders’ previous bands, but with Gibbons’ distinctive voice and Webb’s evolving tastes, tonight evoked more Portishead than Talk Talk. Gibbons is a young woman with a voice of the ages, sounding like she’s ingested a crate of dusty 78s washed down with Webb’s more contemporary cocktail: acoustic instrumentation at peace with the galvanic utterances of early synths and David Lynch–soundtrack vibrato-spooked guitar. Gibbons is less the Billie Holiday–meets–Björk of yore, but now more of a chameleon, traversing timbres from Karen Carpenter to Shirley Bassey — ever sensual, never submissive. Her tearful-goodbye tone is punctuated by an otherworldly banshee falsetto and sudden ascents to wounded-albatross altitudes few have visited.

Though there are seven musicians onstage, Webb’s arrangements, however involved, remain sparse enough to leave focus on the main event: Gibbons, caressing the microphone two-handed as if playing harmonica. Beams of bass support understated guitars, Star Trek backing vocals and haunting violin/accordion accompaniments, often with no backbeat at all. Regardless of its unvaried pace, a performance like this puts conventional rock bands in perspective, leaving an obscure emotional imprint no amount of volume and bluster could conjure.

KING DIAMOND, ENTOMBED at the Key Club, October 18

Notwithstanding the gated-cemetery set design and a hunchbacked hag pattering around the stage, there was an air of non-make-believe menace in tonight’s crowd of biker dudes and their crew-slut girlfriends. With all the air-guitaring in the aisles and the loosing of random homicidal screams, it was as though the gentlest criticism of the lineup or even bumping into someone on your way to the bar might land you in the ICU. But, hey, go to Ms. Manners’ charm school if you want etiquette.

The hairy hordes were chanting on and off for a half-hour before King Diamond’s midnight appearance — you simply haven’t lived till you’ve witnessed this cult phenom in the flesh. Though it’s easy to see flecks of Alice Cooper and Iron Maiden here, such comparisons are no deeper than a layer of pancake makeup. Yeah, guitar solos are anachronistic these days, but six-string soliloquies are absolutely integral to the Diamond man’s presentation: No wanky indulgences, these are exquisite, high-flown things that embody the nearly lost art of histrionic, operatic metal.

Entombed were a leading light of Swedish death-metal (see Wolverine Blues) before alienating fans in 1997 with the Yankee-style classic hard rock of To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth, which precipitated a departure from their longtime label, Earache. But in the wake of an awkward transition, these Scandinavian cowboys rejuvenated Gothenburg clichés with hints of doom, hardcore and death in a big, bad, just-shy-of-turgid set that relegated their erstwhile heresy to a mere postscript. (Andrew Lentz)

ALICE COLTRANE, RAVI COLTRANE at the John Coltrane Scholarship Fund-raiser at El Rey Theater, October 18

The great testament to integrity remains that there is no liquor named Night Trane, nor any fast-food sandwich called A Rib Supreme. At El Rey, a framed photograph of Our John shows him holding a note — now through eternity. The theme of an eternal music is touched upon in the opening prayer and Joshua Spiegelman’s flute-driven expostulation on the devotional power of Coltrane’s expression. Coltrane Foundation scholarship winners emerge to daughter Michelle Coltrane’s acknowledgment; applause rings through the transformed cinema emporium.

Son Ravi ravishes his saxophone with up-tempo passages, leaving room for solos by drummer Ralph Penland and bassist Tony Dumas that revolve around his pulsar core. Lifted by Larry Coryell’s guitar and Gerald Clayton’s piano, the music sails through the space, drifting up to the light fading through the ceiling vents. A palpable incandescent focus propels the songs into a rhythmic juggernaut to which everyone responds. Next comes the keyboards-sax duet of Alice and Ravi — frenetic and trembling, reaching for balance. The interplay between mother and son rips urgent audience cries of support and amen as the organ yelps with the sax in the celestial majesty of “A Love Supreme.” It all spills out into the street, past the evening tumult of an impending autumn. A passerby cocks his ear in the direction of the sound and keeps walking, taking it with him. And that’s jazz. (David Cotner)