Suckered and Satisfied
I must admit I have a bit of a soft spot for being sucker punched, and Ms. Led's third album, Shake Yourself Awake, is like a cheap shot to the back of the head. It sort of stuns you at first, but there really is no long-term damage in the end — and I kind of like that. The proto-feminist post-punk rawkus that the Seattle group revs up and races is certainly nothing new, but for some reason their dirty licks and grimy hooks drive themselves straight into your frontal lobe and peel out before you even know what hit you.
Like Sleater-Kinney or their foremothers, Slant 6, Ms. Led adopts the voice of bad conscience and strips away its brattiness, exposing a playful petulance that's chewed up and spat out by singer/songwriter/guitarist Lesli Wood. Lines like, "I have never been so unafraid / I have never been so relatively blind / I have never felt so cool and calculating / I am living in a terrible lie" announce themselves as all sardonic slap. But after a few listens it sounds more like Ms. Led accosts rock 'n' roll's machismo, takes it home and makes off with its money in the morning. On "New Agenda," the band takes a page from the Gossip, cutting up the tune with Peg Wood's caustic guitar and a swagger just shy of scandalous. Shake Yourself Awake is just whistling at rock 'n' roll on the side of the road. It's rock 'n' roll objectified. It's rock 'n' roll taken at face value when it's easy to hear, and if you never get beyond its face value, you can still come away satisfied. Now that I think about it, Shake Yourself Awake is less a cheap shot to the back of the head than a swift kick to the balls. Ms. Led plays the Emerald City Roller Girls Fundraiser with the Velvet Trap and the Ovulators at 10 pm Saturday, May 3, at Downtown Lounge. 21+ show. $6. — Jeremy Ohmes
Boston's Patty Larkin is considered a musician's musician. She's revered for her unique guitar playing style, onstage persona and creative approach to playing and writing music.
A descendent of Irish-American singers and taletellers, Larkin has spent her lifetime around music. She dove into the piano and guitar during her youth and then focused on writing while in college. Now an established musician and favorite among critics, Larkin has a strong foothold in the world of alt-folk music. Her latest album, Watch the Sky, was produced, engineered and edited by Larkin herself. In addition to providing all the tracks, she improvised and conceived of song ideas as she went. "I've always been a writer who enjoyed the solitude of the creative process," Larkin says on her website.
But while she revels in her isolated writing process, I can't help but think she might have been helped by a second opinion. Some songs use a synthetic drum beat, which I normally like in electropop songs, but they feel out of place in her contemporary folk world. Experimentation within one's genre is important, but when it distracts the listener — as these drum beats do — it becomes a listening hindrance. When Larkin relies on her earthy, natural vocals and guitar variations to guide a song, it shines.
Her music conjures comparisons with k.d. lang, Tori Amos and Alanis Morrisette in small ways. Nothing is overt, and subtlety is everything. It might be a turn of a phrase, a breathy note or rushed lyric that draws these comparisons, but she'll make you work to find them.
Larkin is a born performer, and her connection with the audience is undeniable. Her approach to guitar playing is also worth seeing. Watch her play the "slap steel" guitar, a detuned lap steel Larkin plays with a drumstick and her hand. Patty Larkin and Peter Mulvey play at 8 pm Thursday, May 1, at the WOW Hall. $20 adv., $23 door. — Amanda Burhop
Dark Star Shining
When was your first Dead show? Mine was July 16, 1990, in Orchard Park, N.Y.
I was living in Pennsylvania, fairly recently out of high school and renting a room in a houseful of Deadheads. My musical tastes centered around Metallica and the Misfits, but these hippies let me move in anyway. It wasn't long before their carefree lifestyles drew me in and I was singing "Ripple" right along with them. Well, it was really the free flowage of good pot that most attracted me, but I warmed up to the rest. It was easy back then to drive awhile and end up in Greensboro, N.C., or some other such place for a Dead show. Once there, we'd set out the velvet pouches and beaded necklaces we'd made, pass a few joints and then stumble across the parking lot for a cold beer and grilled cheese.
If I could go back to that first show, I would, and if I were a devotee of Dark Star Orchestra, maybe they could take me there. Problem is, I'm not wiling to chase DSO around the country to find out when their Dead-concert timeship is going to land. But that's what DSO does … they re-create Dead shows for anyone too young to have experienced the real thing or too old to find new gods to worship. They don't do note-for-note recreations — the Dead never played any song the same way twice — but they will skip lyrics as the Dead often did during their foggy years. DSO doesn't announce the date and place of the original performance until the end of the show, giving you ample time to enjoy it for the first time, or high-five your friends shouting, "I was there!" once you guess. Dark Star Orchestra and The Bridge play at 8 pm Sunday, May 4, at the McDonald Theatre. $22 adv., $24 door. — Vanessa Salvia
Straight From the Tap
We all know the stereotype about the Irish and their love for alcohol. But what about their love for hip hop? Now, I know what you're thinking, and no, House of Pain isn't coming to town, but Mac Lethal is. The self described "Irish pothead" is touring with material from his most recent effort, 11:11.
Mac Lethal, aka David McCleary Sheldon started turning heads in 2002 after winning the Scribble Jam freestyle contest and releasing his first album, Men Are From Mars, Porn Stars Are From Earth. While performing with lyricists like Atmosphere, Sage Francis and P.O.S., Lethal was named one of Urb Magazine's Next 100 and eventually inked a deal with Rhymesayers Entertainment in 2003. Since then the rapper has co-founded his own label, Black Clover Records, which released 11:11 in 2007.
The album, largely produced by Michael "Sleep" Summers, delivers Lethal's grumpy lyrics from the edge of a bar stool as he fires off his everyman convictions on technology, mainstream hip hop, pounding beers and the joy of making out with strangers. Absurd, honest and rough around the edges, Lethal's content is made easier to swallow by the often careful construction of his narratives. "I'm from the meth lab city of broken dreams and cracked out dopamines where everybody's looking for an ocean scene." Although the refreshing lack of Rovers and chains probably won't land Mac Lethal on Rap City anytime soon, don't be surprised if you catch him throwing back a few at your local pub. Mac Lethal plays with Grieves, Approach and DJ Sku at 9 pm Friday, May 2, at the WOW Hall. $10 adv., $12 door. — Zach Klassen
Do the Reggae
Even though 30-year reggae veteran Michael Prophet hasn't released a record of his own in some time, his trademark blend of roots and dancehall reggae continues to attract old-school reggae fans with its peaceful message and unpretentious spirituality. Even as reggae's successors, reggaeton and hip hop, take over the airwaves, the London-based Prophet's endurance proves that just as there's still a place for true school hip hop, there's also a thriving market for bona fide reggae music.
Prophet launched his music career while Jamaica was in the throes of the dancehall reggae movement — a faster-paced form of reggae generally understood to be a main precursor to hip hop as we know it today — but throughout his career, Prophet's message remained consistent with the peaceful, loving spirit of roots reggae. Roots reggae concerns itself with oppression, suffering of the downtrodden and praise for Jah, and these are the themes that feature most consistently in Prophet's work. Though Prophet emerged during the decline of roots reggae, it's arguably his roots-heavy work that attracted an international audience. Discovered in 1977 by reggae producer Yabby You in Kingston, Prophet's first single, "Praise You Jah Jah," won him local acclaim. Several years later, Island Records signed Prophet and released his debut album, Serious Reasoning, in 1980.
Unfortunately, aside from two newish tracks recorded in 2003 by Rootsman a mere three days after police allegedly assaulted Prophet, he hasn't produced any new solo material in a good while — though he does appear on The Scientist's release Scientist Rids the Evil Curse of the Vampires. And since not all of Prophet's extensive catalogue is available to purchase, his show should include some fresh material even for fans who possess most of Prophet's work. At the height of Prophet's career, he performed with The Gladiators backing him; on this tour, he'll be joined by the Raggasouljahs, a seven-piece band with horns, The Scientist and Hawaiian Lyon; they will perform at 9 pm Sunday, May 4, at Taboo. 21+ show. $12 adv., $15 door. — Sara Brickner
Just as a kite looks innocent before it takes off without any sign of where it's headed, so does Amy Obenski. This week she flies into Eugene to promote her album Kite. You may recognize her song "Carousel" from the ever-popular Grey's Anatomy as it climbs its way up the iTunes chart. The singer-songwriter's melodies lack complexity, but the faint piano and guitar cause the listener to focus less on the music and more on the lyrics, which undoubtedly are Obenski's true talent. With her sometimes bluesy/jazzy tones, Obenski clearly has full control of her vocals and almost piercing notes. She can definitely hit the high ones.
Playing with Obenski will be Spokane's David Hannon, who takes a more upbeat approach to music. Unlike Obenski, he can't quite hit the right notes and is left with only a sweet singing voice, but its simplicity matches the simple subjects of his songs. However, Dannon's strength lies in his skill with instruments; his songs bring a lot of variation in tempos and themes. A particular favorite is "Home," featuring Kristen Marlo. Its upbeat and complicated intro brings listeners in, and Marlo's complementary vocals keep them there. Amy Obenski and David Hannon play at 8 pm Wednesday, May 7, at Cozmic Pizza. $5. — Megan Udow