Elvis Costello and The Imposters
Thursday · Taft Theatre
Joe Jackson and Todd Rundgren
Friday · Taft Theater
Today it's probably Lindsay Lohan vs. Hillary Duff, but the classic Rock & Roll "vs." game, whereby friends intensely debate the merits of one artist over another, has included such grand battles as The Beatles vs. The Stones and Led Zeppelin vs. The Who. In the late '70s, New Wave fans who appreciated great songwriters took sides — Elvis Costello or Joe Jackson. It's one of those great coincidences in life that the two Brits would end up playing shows back-to-back this week at the Taft Theatre. Because, ultimately, there are plenty of music lovers who don´t take sides — if you love Elvis, there's a pretty good chance your tastes tend towards Joe's amazing Pop/Rock classics as well (and vice-versa). Both artists shared a love for writing feisty, energized Pop in their early days. As they matured, both found solace in exploring a variety of genres and motifs. To this day, they both share a similar vocal range and timbre. Hell, why aren't these guys just touring together?
Joe's career kicked-off with Look Sharp, one of the best debuts of the "Punk era." Also released in 1979, I´m the Man further cemented Jackson as a wild-eyed Punk Poet who wielded lyrics and melody as aggressively as Johnny Thunders' threw his guitar around.
The maturation set in with Beat Crazy, which featured Joe's first explorations of non-Rock formats. While Elvis was the first to put out a record, Jackson was the first to jump into unexpected fields, most notably with the straightforward Swing Jazz album, Jumpin´ Jive, in 1981. Jackson's major breakthrough came with Night & Day, an album that gave Joe two genuine "hits" that became '80s classics — "Steppin' Out" and "Breaking Us In Two." From there, Jackson made a few more stabs at Top 40 stardom (to no avail), but he still continued to delve into the unexpected, getting deep into Classical music in the '90s. Jackson's inability to stick to a formula might have cost him longer-lasting chart success, but his live shows have greatly benefited from it. As displayed on his 1988 live album, Jackson rarely plays his older songs the way they were recorded, keeping things interesting for himself by re-imagining them in different settings. For his current tour, Jackson will play about an hour solo, then be joined on stage by tour partner Todd Rundgren and opening string quartet, Ethel (who appeared on Jackson's Steppin´ Out II).
Costello has kept a considerably more consistent and visible profile than Jackson since their Angry Young Man days. Costello's early albums stand as Rock classics (he is a first-ballot Rock & Roll Hall of Famer), and practically each release since has been met with drooling critical acclaim and diehard fan response. Costello's genre explorations have taken him into the worlds of Country and Classical music, but the past few years — including his latest album of all new material, the Soul-inflected The Delivery Man — he has gotten back to being the Elvis so many know and love. Seeing Elvis live is still a moving experience. Costello can be alternately charming and ornery and, though his problems with Bruce Thomas seem to have halted any chance of a full Attractions reunion, his current sidemen, The Imposters (which includes Attractions Pete Thomas and Steve Nieve) are more than capable. Costello, singing better today than he ever has, is still an amazingly underrated live performer. For a show warm-up, check out the low-frills Club Date Live In Memphis, a fantastic new live DVD recorded at a rare club show in front of 200 lucky fans. The film, shot with an intimate, video-cam quality, features warts-and-all versions (for the record, there are few warts) of "Alison" (spliced with "Suspicious Minds," from that other Elvis fella), "Pump It Up" and "Peace, Love and Understanding," as well as more recent tracks and a few rare oldies. But the highlight is a stirring string of duets with Emmylou Harris, who is featured on five songs on the DVD.
Elvis vs. Joe — do your homework this week and you be the judge. (Mike Breen)
The Duhks with Ma Crow
Friday · Southgate House
The phrase "World Music" conjures up an aural image that probably has very little to do with the way the Duhks sound. But if the quintet from Winnipeg, Manitoba, isn't playing what could traditionally be considered World Music, they are most assuredly blending musics from around the world. Although the Duhks have only been together for two years, they have already notched a number of major accomplishments, including a Juno Award nomination in 2004 for Your Daughters and Your Sons, their self-produced debut album, a Sugar Hill contract for their just-released eponymous sophomore album, a track on the recent and well-received Stephen Foster tribute, and an exponentially expanding fan base from their numerous festival appearances. Playing everything on acoustic instruments, the individual Duhks are well-versed in a dozen different styles of music and they bring their influences and experiences together in a magnificently hybridized whole. Banjoist Leonard Podolak is a leading light in the Canadian Folk/Bluegrass scene, vocalist Jessica Havey sings with an expressive passion that proves her Gospel, Blues, Soul and Pop expertise, guitarist Jordan McConnell moves effortlessly between Celtic, Jazz, Rock and Classical lines, fiddler Tania Elizabeth taught Celtic technique at Mark O'Connor's fiddle camp and percussionist Scott Senoir is well versed in Afro-Beat and provides a heartbeat for the Duhks that is always perfectly integrated. The beauty of the Duhks is that the band never comes from any one musical direction, preferring to fold style upon style and creating a unique sound from familiar but disparate genres. (Brian Baker)
Saturday · The Madison Theater
Garbage is back! (Which is one of the rejected slogans to encourage people to recycle. But anyway ...) Shirley Manson & Co. return after four years with their fourth album, Bleed Like Me, which revisits the harder-rocking sounds of their self-titled debut and their second CD, Version 2.0, after the experimentalism of 2001's beautifulgarbage. Formed in 1993 and never the most harmonious of bands (after all Garbage is made up of three producer-musicians: Butch Vig, Steve Marker and Duke Erikson, along with the volatile Manson), Bleed almost never saw the light of day due to band conflicts that led to a near-break up. During that period of band drama, Vig headed to L.A., pretty much thinking that the band was done. He ran into Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters and invited him to play drums on "Bad Boyfriend." The band, inspired by Grohl's drumming, returned to the studio in August of 2004 to finish the album. And, while Bleed does serve up a chopped and channeled version of Garbage, with Manson crooning her sultry, obsessive vocals over more straight-ahead rocking tracks ("Right Between the Eyes" and "Run Baby Run" are standouts), the songs on the whole are strangely more chilly than their previous producer-intensive tracks. A bit of psychosexual psychotic nuance has been lost, seemingly to appeal to a new batch of fans. For instance, while the song "Push It" (from Version 2.0) was a slave to an unseen, monolithic rhythm machine, it was a slave to that machine that retained its soul and even made the prospect of such a clinical bondage sound desirable, thanks, in large part, to Manson's ability to make reading the back of a cereal box aloud sound like a call to a phone sex line. In contrast, Bleed's first single — "Why Do You Love Me?" — sounds like the expected exclamations of a metallic talking sex doll. Something's missing, but the band will probably be able to fuse the new material with the piss and vinegar you'd expect from them, particularly since their set is sure to include material from their earlier albums. (Dale Johnson)