This Little Underground 

Bao Le-Huu takes on Jane's Addiction, the Duke Spirit, Heartless Bastards and more

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There are some people who just can't get down with the female voice in rock music, including some women I know. But there were a couple of ladies who just played here that few could muster a convincing case against in terms of force. These two rocked without any qualifiers or conditions, and they completely owned the week.

The beat

Perry Farrell has always been one of those cats that you absolutely have a taste for or not. And thanks to overexposure, the presence of Dave Navarro – he of the face that can never be taken seriously – hangs over everything like a rain cloud of water, vinegar and mascara. Perhaps you've already guessed that I don't exactly give a huge shit about Jane's Addiction.

That said, their recent concert (May 15, House of Blues) had some pretty mega production with some nice lights, video screens, platforms and props. And, indeed, they performed their noteworthy stuff. The material from Nothing's Shocking, for example, was predictably good. But I'm not sure anything is great enough to atone for the crime of making “Been Caught Stealing,” one of the most nerve-hammering songs of all goddamn time.

Opening band the Duke Spirit, however, are an entirely different matter. I've been waiting to see these Londoners live for a long time now, and their thick, musky swagger did not disappoint. Thanks to the virility of singer Liela Moss, their bluesy rock wallop throbs with horsepower and libido. In presence and spirit, she's definitely from the same school of rock as Alison Mosshart. And even though they were given the substandard opening-band sonic treatment, enough of their power and heat came through to make me want to see them in a headlining spot.

The week's other case of female-fronted badassness was Heartless Bastards (May 16, the Social). More than with the Duke Spirit, the voice out in front is this band's undisputed pulse, and Erika Wennerstrom's big, deep singing is just as likely to cut into your soul as it is to raise the dead. She is one of today's top rockers, period.

Rock just doesn't get any truer than the Heartless Bastards. This isn't fashion rock or product pop. No, this is the real stuff, done the right way. Earthy and electric at the same time, they personify all that's great about the American music tradition with vibrancy and relevance. Their sound is classic perhaps, but not nostalgic. And it beats with a raw pulse that'll always feel urgent and now. (It's very likely that this band will still sound every bit as essential in another 10 years.) Without any flash or glitz, they're pound-for-pound one of the most stirring rock bands today. Their outstanding opening sets for the Gaslight Anthem and Lucinda Williams in recent years were stunning enough to make me a fan, so it's particularly great to see them return as a headliner that can draw respectably on their own.

Also impressive was opener These United States. Be it steam and spirit or majesty and mood, their robust alternative country rock can handle it all nicely.

Although he's from Tennessee, Knoxville's Matt Woods (May 18, Will's Pub) fits in pretty well around here among all the alt-twangsters. Accompanied only by local drummer Larry Fulford (the Sweetkisses, the Nine Volts), the clear-throated country troubadour is the kind of artist who can fill a room with just an acoustic guitar and his huge heart. It's that particular kind of soul that mystically commands good ol' boys to wrap their arms around each other's necks. For you ladies who think men aren't demonstratively affectionate, just put on a certain kind of country music and you'll see how wrong you are. Toward the end, Woods brought up like-minded locals Scott Metts (Lonesome City Travelers) and Johnny Knuckles for a four-way beard showdown! OK, perhaps that was coincidental. But it turns out they all harmonize pretty well together.

Also playing was local country-rock band Six Time Losers, who could really be something if they simply purged themselves of the modern-rock, college-bro tendencies and just committed fully to the country. That divide isn't one worth straddling because all it does is dilute their solid songs. So less flip-flops and more boots,then they'll be taken more seriously.


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