The weather may not be there yet, but at least it's already autumn on the awakened concert calendars. Time to get fat on that live action, music heads. It kicked off this week with a parade of heavyweight imports.

The beat

Japan Night was an outstanding event (Sept. 17, the Social). Apart from the friendly formalism of each band addressing the audience with "Nice to meet you," this was anything but a stilted affair.

Disciples of Group Sounds, a rock genre popularized in 1960s Japan by beat groups, the Captains served up some old-school showmanship with matching uniforms, enthusiastic theatrics and choreographed moves. Excellently campy and infectiously upbeat, they're the overlap of the Red Elvises and the Hate Bombs.

Headlining girl-group Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re, however, really lit it up with their electrifying blend of hard rock, punk and pop. The performance was a testament to their ability to be exciting, adorable and ass-kicking all at the same time, which is why they're rumored to be doing some songs for The Powerpuff Girls cartoon. Sure, they're playful and charming in that cute Japanese-girl way, but get one thing straight: Their technique is for real.

One gander at Yayoi Tsushima, one of the most commanding bassists I've ever seen, proves it. Sticking an M-80 in the butthole of the wallflower bassist image, this chick rocked the peacock like a guitar soloist. Sweeet kicks, too!

As incandescent as the event was, there was one dark cloud, and this bad news hits deep at home. Local rap subversive Cracker Jackson, a personal favorite, is dead. No, not Josh Hettel, the actual artist behind the name, just the project itself. His final performance as Cracker Jackson closed out the night. The loss of his solid-gold combination of surgical wit, uncontained ridiculousness and gifted, rapid-fire flow that could match most of the serious MCs in these parts leaves a huge hole in the local scene. Damn.

Speaking of intelligent rap blending, bold Oakland genre chemists Why? impressed big time (Sept. 14, the Social). Frontman Yoni Wolf often delivers his raw, literate lyrics in rap form, but the band's sound is firmly rooted in indie rock. Their experimental mode, however, is far more than just an exercise in style. It's an unconventional, ambitiously curious approach that should probably come across as difficult music, but doesn't. Instead, through deft conception and execution, it's a cohesive, emotionally immersive musical vision. Few bands have been able to balance variety and virtuosity the way they do. Furthermore, this performance proved Why? to be one of those acts whose live playing retains astounding fidelity to their intricate recordings.

One of the week's "big deal" appearances most definitely has to be Silver Jews (Sept. 15, the Social), particularly since they lifted their self-imposed ban on touring only two years ago after 17 years in existence. Largely because of the strength of their excellent new album, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, the show was a memorable one that wrapped the club in exquisite, wilting country vibes. Despite frontman David Berman's famous reticence toward performing, the deep, lazy splendor of his voice was richly rendered. The singing of his wife, Cassie? Yikes, not so good live.

It is taking every fiber of will in me to not go too deeply into opener Monotonix, since I recently spilled gallons of ink on their own show at Back Booth, proclaiming them to be the world's best live band. But I will say that their incendiary set marks the first time I've seen an entire band end up playing on the bar with all their instruments, even drums. The excitement boiling over from long-waiting Silver Jews fans was a powerful thing, but they sure didn't make their job easy by playing after Monotonix.

The other similarly momentous occasion was the exclusive U.S. appearance by legendary goth heroes Clan of Xymox (Independent Bar, Sept. 20), a pretty huge deal for old-school alternative types. The house was sardine-packed with a wildly fanatical crowd that coaxed not one, not two, but three encores out of the band. Though it was a long performance, they offered only one song off their most famous album, Twist of Shadows, a sonic departure but their magnum opus nevertheless.

However, hearing the soullessness of their newer stuff next to the vintage material just reaffirms that the worst thing that ever happened to goth was techno.


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