Boss Hog
Maxwell's, Hoboken, December 3
by Stephen Slaybaugh

It’d been eight years since Boss Hog had graced a stage, but you couldn’t tell it from the band’s show at Maxwell’s in Hoboken last Wednesday (December 3). If anything, the only cobwebs being blown out were coming from the club’s sound system, which couldn’t seem to get the mix in the monitors guitarist Jon Spencer desired without feeding back.

But while Spencer griped between songs about the sound problems—admittedly, if this had been a Pussy Galore show that would have been one thing, but the noise was beyond irksome—his wife and Boss Hog boss Cristina Martinez seemed mostly unfazed, more caught up in the thrill of playing out again than concerned with technical issues. That thrill went both ways, as the band ripped through an hour-long set that showed it had indeed been too long that they’d been away. Moreover, generally favoring 1995’s self-titled record over their last output, 2000’s lukewarm electronic soup, Whiteout, this performance was better than what I remember the show I caught from that 2000 tour being. Better still were the songs from even further back that dotted the set, like “The Black Betty,” from the Girl+ EP, that started off the night, and which showed the band knows it strengths.

While Spencer has made records with his Blues Explosion and side project Heavy Trash, keyboardist Mark Boyce has been playing with G. Love, and rhythm section Hollis Queens and Jens Jourgensen at least put out a second Lo-Hi record in 2002, Martinez has been dormant. But it didn’t show in her voice, retaining both its purr and its growl, as well as its potent equation of half come-on and half fuck-off. While the show was no doubt something of a warm-up for the bigger realm of Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom next week, what we got was at once personal and powerful, cuts like “Winn Coma” and “Ski Bunny” marked by a heat already white hot. Never the most prolific band, Boss Hog’s eight-year absence didn’t necessarily mean anything, but now that they’re “back,” I can only hope they stay awhile as this was too good not to signify something more.

Red, Hot & Rio 2
BAM, Brooklyn, December 5
by Stephen Slaybaugh

For two nights last week (December 4 and 5), the Howard Gilman Opera House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) was taken over by the sounds of Brazil as they presented “Red Hot + Rio 2: The Next Generation of Samba Soul.” The concept: new artists pay their respects to the Brazilian music of the ‘70s, while also raising money for the Red Hot Organization’s efforts in AIDS relief.

For the event, Mario Caldato, Jr. and Alexandre Kassin were brought in as musical directors. Caldato is best known for his work with the Beastie Boys, while Kassin has made a series of standout records with Moreno Veloso (son of Tropicalia pioneer Caetano) and Domenico Lancelotti under each of their names “+2.” The singers featured throughout the evening included José González, CéU, Curumin, Otto, and Bebel Gilberto (the daughter of João). They were joined by a band of top-notch players, among them João Parahyba, whose drum playing began Friday evening. It was a suitable way to start, for if anything tied together the diverse artists and range of music that comprised the night, it was the beat.

The other uniting thread would be Jorge Ben, whose music the artists returned to again and again. Veloso ran through a stellar rendition of “Oba, la vem ela.” Still midway through the evening and despite Curumin calling for the crowd to make some noise, the audience was fairly sedate. When Otto took the stage, looking groggy and a bit dazed, things surprisingly changed. Running through Ben’s disco-fed “Taj Mahal,” he soon had the crowd on their feet just as he romped around the stage. The momentum carried over as Gilberto took the stage, after a couple songs joined by Curumin and Otto for “Minha Menina,” another song written by Ben, but done here in the style of Os Mutantes. Finally, there was an energy in the Opera House that the music demanded, and it only escalated when the Harlem Samba drummers made their way in from the venue’s rear entrances. Once on stage, they joined the entire ensemble for a fitting climax of Ben’s “Ponta De Lanca Africano.” Everyone would return for an encore, but there was no topping the previous song. While it would have been nice for there to have been a more diverse selection of songs (as it was, they might as well as have just dedicated the night to Jorge Ben) or to have heard some of the electronic influence of Kassin +2 or that has seeped into Gilberto’s work, the night was nevertheless a success in honoring this significant music.

Duran Duran
Schottenstein Center, Columbus, December 8
by Kevin J. Elliott

A chilly Monday night in Columbus couldn’t keep the frigid, middle-aged housewives and their reluctant rhythm-deprived husbands from making the pilgrimage from the suburbs to the feet of Simon LeBon and Duran Duran’s nearly three decade career of hits (for the sake of argument, we can erase that last decade). Believe me, the estrogen in the room was enough to choke me out of my seat early. I was not in high school during the “second” British Invasion, so I can’t stew in the nostalgia that really made LeBon and crew more teen idols than legitimate pop stars. I was, however, in pajamas with a bowl of cereal, parked in front of MTV, someday wanting to be the imagined jet-setting, coke-fueled, model-banging, surly cunt from Birmingham—and in my mind, for my money, they were legitimate pop stars with a slew of pop hits. The charts don’t lie.

What I couldn’t really figure out about this Midwestern vanilla crowd (who booed when LeBon brought up the hope America brought him by electing Barack Obama) is if these hanger-ons were there to twirl in the sappy (but effective) balladry of the band’s mid-90s comeback or hoping and praying for a shot of “New Moon on Monday?” Both camps got their wish. The crowd, which from all estimates neared about 5,000 in the enormous Schottenstein Arena, had little to fuss about, as even the failed attempts at Timberlake-disco found on the group’s latest stab at relevance, Red Carpet Massacre, elicited mommy shrieks and a sea of camera flashes. Obviously battling a flu bug, Simon LeBon took it all in stride, and for the most part seemed humbled to still be on a stage in a part of America that wasn’t surrounded by a state fair.

Duran Duran would probably retire were their show finally reduced to a dodgy ‘80s package tour with Flock of Seagulls, Thomas Dolby and the like for support. But there remains an elegance and sleek sheen to what they do. Amazingly songs like “The Reflex” and “Is There Something I Should Know” have influenced more pop music than say, Oasis, and on this night, while a tiny bit sluggish in execution, their hits were just as infectious as when they were played out on TV with neon baubles and exotic landscapes accenting them. It was after the long, lighter-waving (or cell phone–holding) portion of the set, with songs plucked from their self-titled 1993 album (dubbed the “Wedding Album,” unbeknownst to me) that I started to realize just how many hits they actually had. Though pop culture is in the throes of Bond-mania again, it was a surprise that they pulled out “A View to a Kill,” which perfectly encapsulates the dramatic essence of Duran Duran. Likewise “Notorious,” which came after their MTV star had fallen, was a reminder that the band was still capable of a pop hook in the dying days of the late-80s. Still, rolling out choppy lounge-funk versions of “Planet Earth” or “Hungry Like the Wolf” and horrid remembrances of that covers album (did they really need to do “White Lines?”) and most of the catalog after, might have reminded them and the audience of the year in which they were presently living. But as neon-nostalgia, it was somewhat guiltily grand, as long as you were completely aware of your surroundings.