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That heavy breathing isn’t me coming on to you (is it working?), it’s because I’ve been out running all week. And by running, I mean pounding beers and watching bands. Too many, in fact, to get into it all, so let’s just stick to the four-day stretch …

The beat

Kindled by singer Ryan Costello’s experiences as a humanitarian worker in Afghanistan, local philanthropically-minded band the Oaks has attracted national attention (Paste magazine), but the nobility of their cause has buffered them from criticism. At least I assume it has, since I seem to be the only one in town with the brass to question the music carrying their message. Their debut album was an inarticulate, overly impressionistic affair, but they’ve been in the studio working on its successor for a while.

The Oaks emerged Sunday, Oct. 14, to open for Caribou at the Social and, lo and behold, it looks like someone finally found their groove. This set was 10 times better than before: more members, more dynamics and more volume. Nice to see the music begin to have as much of a point as the message. They’re not home yet but they’re in the game now. Welcome to the field, guys.

Next up was the precocious, high-tension agit-pop of Born Ruffians. These newbies from the esteemed Toronto scene had a realized sound, jerky with rhythmic layers of howls and outbursts that charmed like an oddly tuneful choir of Tourette’s patients.

Known for being muted, headliner Caribou was more vibrant live than expected – outstanding even – and sounded like a real band rather than a group gathered to perform the work of one studio guy. With two drummers, video projections and a commanding attack, the show was propulsive yet psychedelic; all their sonic details were rendered so Technicolor-bright, it was like Stereolab on steroids.

Washington State’s Wolves in the Throne Room ripped into the Social the next night. Using drums and two guitars, they achieved a massive, urgent sound: black metal with greater ambition. With a capacity for deeper emotional complexity, Throne Room could be Mono’s metal cousin. Just a touch more focus on those dramatic movements, and they could lose the screeching vocals altogether and become an even better band.

Hell, after that impressive onslaught, illustrious U.K. band Jesu was a comedown. Crestfallen groans and drones moved in a cough-syrup crawl. Heavy shit, man, and it sounded good. It was just hard to get into it after Wolves’ set.

DJ Krush, Japan’s distinguished turntable export, anchored night three at the Social. With a cerebral sound that values void as it much as it does volume, Krush is not an explosive turntablist to watch. Apart from the occasional ambient scratch, all you’re likely to see is the top of his intent, face-down head. But his grooves dug deep, way down, culminating in a jumpin’ set of hip-hop, house and roughneck breakbeats. Besides, maximum props go to anyone who builds on my own life’s work of proving that Asians are capable of things way cooler than high math scores. Word.

Uncle Lou’s is one of the city’s overlooked fringe joints (thank god there are some of those still around), but it saw some of the week’s biggest action Oct. 17 with Nebraska’s Brimstone Howl, one of the frayed white hopes from dope-ass garage rock label Alive Records. Dipped in the blues and pumping with hot red blood, they slopped their rock & roll around the room: dirty, gritty, just right. For the finale, the four players became two piggyback stacks. The playing continued as the dueling human towers wobbled about the room, knocking into the lampshades and ending up in a heap of bodies on the floor and a blistering wall of noise. Now THAT’S how you do it.

As good as that was, the Hex Tremors set that followed was even better. One of my all-time favorite local bands, they’ve been outta commission for awhile, but they’re back now, baby, and they reminded me that they are the real fucking deal. Hearing their revved-up, knives-out, blues-jacked punk rock live gave me a boner so big it split my jeans. For real.

Later, over at the Social, the B-Side Players delivered a set that pushed rays of tropical light through a dazzling prism. Eight men strong, the San Diego crew melded Latin, son and reggae without cliché. No small feat there.

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