In this new reality, the Middle East is in the global spotlight like never before. Although American awareness of the region is at a zenith, our view of it continues to be slanted, narrow and impersonal. All the more reason to thank whoever it is you worship for a film like Heavy Metal in Baghdad, the provocative new Vice Films documentary.

Screened at Back Booth on June 16, the film chronicles Iraq’s only heavy metal band, Acrassicauda. It captures the high-wire dance of fear, sadness, hope and anger that a few young Iraqi men go through for a flickering rock dream amid the context of war. Their music is their only salvation, a thing for which they risk life and abandon their beloved homeland, becoming political and artistic refugees. The story teeters uncertainly on the knife edge between fleeting catharsis and crushed hope, depicting idealism at its most brittle point.

By extension, it’s a raw glimpse into the other side of a geopolitical story in which we Americans are main players. Following the lives of these aspiring musicians reveals a gritty, ground-level view of this generation’s Vietnam, one that doesn’t exactly jibe with the one we see on TV. These are young people who don’t give a shit about politics but are being shaped by it nonetheless. The closing scene is a peek at the bitterness that our indelicate foreign policy is sowing, a byproduct that we’ll be dealing with for years, possibly generations, to come. By putting a human face on the war, this daring film is in many ways more honest than today’s news media and should be considered required viewing.

If you missed the Back Booth screening, the DVD just hit.

The Beat

On that note, Mediterranean restaurant Café Annie celebrated 20 years in business with a poppin’ party on June 21. Food reviews aren’t the purview of this column (though I could rave endlessly about their mouthwatering chow), but I mention it because the popular downtown eatery is also a great musical experience on Saturday nights. Kept lively by fleet-fingered keyboardist Samer Hilmi, it’s a rousing night of intoxicating Middle Eastern music and uninhibited dancing. Take it from me, these people party hard and party right, often outlasting all the other bars. Think you know downtown? Not until you check out this weekend party.

Speaking of parties, the Social hosted the debut of Pop Off June 19, a DJ dance party that may just be positioned to go up against Firestone’s successful Saturday/Thursday if it proves to be a regular affair. In addition to other jockeys like Infinite Horns and the awesomely named Fishdicks & Hardersauce (Summerbirds in the Cellar’s Tyson Bodiford and Cracker Jackson, respectively), the lineup even featured some of S/T’s former residents like DJs Kittybat and Diddles, who made for a particularly dynamic duo that night. With music and video pumping a nostalgic and ridiculous mash of pop culture and humor, it’s a party worth watching.

Instrumental band Unwed Sailor post-rocked the Social on June 15. Musically, they’re more about elegance than climax, so they don’t match the drama of premier acts like Mono and Explosions in the Sky. They pass muster in the church of instrumental music adherents, but probably aren’t gonna convert anyone. Despite being a bit mannered, they gave a well-executed set.

Stealing the show was Chicago indie-rock band Sybris, who are more straightforward rock and less textured live than on their recordings. It’s always thrilling to see a singer attack a performance like gifted frontwoman Angela Mullenhour did, her voice blessed with both emotion and explosion. Who knows if they’ll become indie stars, but they definitely should.

Taking the same stage two nights later was gender-challenging Toronto band the Cliks. A transgendered FTM (female-to-male), singer Lucas Silveira sported a tuneful, rough-and-tumble voice. And kicking out a robust, assertive rock sound, the remaining all-female cast sure didn’t play like no girls.

Girl Talk Download

Those who are nuts about Girl Talk may wanna get a fresh pair of pants before you read on. All set? OK. The mashup pezzonovante is the latest to follow the Radiohead trend. Though it won’t see official release until September 23, his latest album, Feed the Animals, is now available for download at through a pay-what-you-want plan. Dropping $10 or more will also land you a packaged CD when it’s released.


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