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Orbital, The Crystal Method, The Lo Fidelity All Stars, Terrance Simien

Orbital
The Crystal Method
The Lo Fidelity All Stars
Nautica Stage
July 7

Can a flaming synthesizer ever replace a flaming guitar? Live rock shows depend on the performer/audience relationship: the drummer's relentless pounding; the guitarist's spontaneous, emotive solos; the scraggly, profane, spastic lead singer. How does a mild-mannered, dance-oriented duo generate that bond with a crowd more familiar with the Allman Brothers than the Chemical Brothers?

The Community Service tour responded with versatility, visuals, and volume. For starters, the Lo Fidelity All Stars used their debut, How to Operate with a Blown Mind, as the framework for 45 minutes of pounding beats and electronically altered vocals (did he say "Thank you" or "Fuck you"?). With the exception of the MTV smash "Battleflag," the crowd responded with a collective polite nod of the head.

The Crystal Method, however, sent the show into orbit, with the duo commanding an immense bank of computers, keyboards, and pulsating strobe lights. As for showmanship, there are only so many ways to emphatically press a button on a keyboard, but here pure visceral volume did the work. Frantic, overdriven versions of "Trip Like I Do" and "Cherry Twist" (both from their debut, Vegas) set the table, while the utterly mesmerizing "Keep Hope Alive" devoured everything in sight. All the while the duo pounded their keys and switches and knobs like crazed computer technicians, even tossing around their keyboards a bit like big bad Trent Reznor.

Current electronic acts owe a tremendous debt to Orbital; the brotherly duo of Phil and Paul Hartnoll has shot this particular brand of pool for a decade now. Their vintage is obvious. Loved the visuals — the piles of keyboards, the brothers with mini-headlight headgear (creating that coveted alien/insect look), the disco balls, the revolving projection screens of spinning clocks and capitalist platitudes ("Everything Must Go!!").

All the noise, however, threatened to overpower the two gentlemen creating it. The set tossed out huge chunks of the band's latest, The Middle of Nowhere, as well as older gems like "The Box" and the occasional wise-ass sample (Bon Jovi and Belinda Carlisle, yo). But attention spans waned noticeably throughout, whereas during the Crystal Method's tenure you didn't even know what planet you were on. Orbital didn't fall face first by any means, but in this case, the masters could've taken a lesson from their students. — Rob Harvilla

Foxy Brown
The Odeon
July 9

Foxy Brown has rewritten the book on female MCs. It is no longer taboo for a hip-hop chick to discuss her sexual prowess with the same graphic terms her male hip-hop counterparts have been using for years. For every "ho" reference a gangsta rapper may lay down, Brown is there to provide a "pussy" and a "fuck" to help describe her "box" and its appeal.

Dressed in a revealing halter top and tight shorts, Brown — soon to be a Calvin Klein model in Times Square — came onstage with a fire brewing. Her brashness, attitude, and style were all present as she, along with an MC and DJ, shot out tracks in rapid-fire succession. Diatribes "I'll Be" and "I Can't" were laced with adult subject material, which drove the few hundred in attendance into a frenzy. Brown also had an affinity for asking the male audience members if they "eat pussy." The females in attendance took notice of the raised hands.

The evening's one down side was Brown's obviously altered state. "Damn, did someone slip me a mickey?" she asked between songs after flubbing or forgetting lines. At first, the distraction was minimal. As it occurred more frequently (she forgot the lines to her hit single "Hot Spot"), her mistakes and awkward pauses proved to be too much.

Despite her memory lapses, the nineteen-year-old Brown proved she is more than just a producer's pawn. She was able to do what many hip-hop artists only dream of: successfully expand on the energy and style of her studio material in a live setting. While fickle hip-hop consumers may forget about Brown before she can drink legally, she isn't wasting her time in the spotlight. — John Benson

Terrance Simien
Cain Park
July 10

Anyone who has caught your typical zydeco band on Bourbon Street can attest to the decadence that accompanies the show. It's a steamy, tail-shakin', all-night party. Now take that same band and transport it far north to the festive family setting of the Cain Park Arts Fair. One would think a show so out of context would struggle to find its mojo. But whether it was that Louisiana-like heat wave that burned all week or just a little back-swamp voodoo, Terrance Simien and his Mallet Playboys dropped a little gumbo ya-ya on the Disney crowd. And it worked. The only thing missing was the six-foot-six transvestite trying to lift your wallet.

In the French Quarter, it's all about lethal hurricane drinks and flashing breasts. Saturday was more cabernet and breast-feeding. Who would have thought zydeco music could be so child-friendly? Simien couldn't have done any better if he donned a purple dinosaur suit. Scores of dancing tykes twirled and clomped around, staggering and waving their arms just like their older, drunker counterparts down on the bayou.

Simien and the Playboys rolled out a tight sound, with plenty of influences floating in and out of the ninety-minute show. Along with the straight zydeco of "Iko Iko" and "Mardi Gras" came flashes of Motown (the Jackson Five's "I Want You Back"), '50s crooning ("All Her Lovin'"), and Caribbean steel ("Five Hundred Miles").

Simien, whose vocal range is miles wider than most frontmen on the circuit, wrapped a soulful Aaron Neville-like sound around most of the songs. One could understand why he is still asked to sing at hometown funerals and church events, as he floated his smooth vocals through a terrific "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."

That Simien often obliges requests reflects the friendly, good-natured persona he displayed throughout the show. Smiling wide and dancing barefoot to the beat, he displayed none of the over-inflated bravado that so many of today's accordion gunslingers serve up. He and his tambourine-playing daughter tossed Mardi Gras beads to the crowd all night, and they even brought up a collection of the local tots for an impromptu Big Easy parade. His ability to adapt to the surroundings served him as well as any other of his other skills did.

While most zydeco acts that wheel into town are confined to indoor performances, the open-aired (and free) show was a nice change of pace — especially for downtown-challenged parents who could tote in les enfants for a night of Bourbon Lite. — Tim Piai

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