Eugene Weekly : Music : 2.14.08

Let’s Make It “Fat Sunday”

This year, the city of Eugene should seriously entertain the notion of celebrating Mardi Gras on Sunday … or perhaps consider calling the real Fat Tuesday a practice run. Brazilian band Bat Makumba — a unique combination of traditional Brazilian music and standards from punk to ska — is coming to town for your belated Carnival pleasure, and if there was ever an excuse to go dancing on a Sunday night, this is it.

The band gets its name from a classic tropicalia song by Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, who were musicians and political leaders at the forefront of the Brazilian political and artistic movement. Loosely translated, Bat Makumba stands for the integration of Brazilian traditions with international pop culture. The result of all this mixing is a veritable cocktail of popular Brazilian dance styles like samba and forró infused with hints of punk rock, funk and ska. Each infectious, rump-shakin’ track retains its own personality, with psychedelic guitar riffs and wailing saxophone complemented by accordion (one of the three traditional instruments in forró music) and Brazilian drums like zabumba and alfaia.

Native Brazilians Alex Koberle and Emiliano Benevides and American Carl Remde started the San Francisco-based band in 2000, though the menagerie of instruments they use necessitates a star cast of accomplished international musicians for live performances. In 2006, the San Francisco Chronicle bestowed their Best World Band award on Bat Makumba for their hip, upbeat Brazilian style. And with a second album in the works for release this spring, it would be wise to check out Bat Makumba now — you know, before their shows get too crowded to dance with the enthusiasm the music deserves. Bat Makumba performs at 9 pm Sunday, Feb. 17, at Cozmic Pizza. $8. — Sara Brickner


Turn It Up to 12

Black Sabbath is often credited for unleashing the beast that became metal. But in 1968, two years before Ozzy and company released their first proper album, a power trio from San Francisco was hammering out monolithic, in-the-red riffs and putting blues through the hard rock blender. Blue Cheer wallowed in drug-dazed distortion and dragged folks through the fuzzed-out muck and mire with gigantic, galumphing chops. If Sabbath was the band that slowed down blues to the speed of sludge, then Blue Cheer was the band that turned up blues to the decibel to blow eardrums. On their underappreciated debut, Vincebus Eruptum, guitarist Leigh Stephens, bassist/singer Dickie Peterson and drummer Paul Whaley pound and pulverize their way through six songs, including their Top 40 cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues.” The album is a beautifully distorted mess with feedback and thud that sounds as fresh today as it did 40 years ago.

Unfortunately, Blue Cheer didn’t hang up the fuzz while they were ahead. They switched up band members after their lukewarm second album and soon thereafter jumped the shark. Kicking out four uninspired albums in the next three years, Blue Cheer never regained the blissed-out, speaker-blowing magic that they conjured up on their debut. Now, with the original rhythm section and a new guitarist, the trio is taking another stab at turning it up to 11. And of course, in that great irony of ironies, their new album, What Doesn’t Kill You…, sounds as derivative as all the worst metal bands they inspired. With lumbering, generic riffs and ridiculously over-the-hill lyrics, the band stumbles between butt rock idiocy and hair metal excess. Most of the time it just sounds like parody, like the filler on a Spinal Tap album. Maybe live, though, the music will be so loud you won’t notice how bad it is. Hopefully, Blue Cheer’s amps go to 12. Blue Cheer plays with The SootheSayers and The Brainwashers at 9 pm Saturday, Feb. 16, at John Henry’s. 21+ show. $8 adv., $10 door. — Jeremy Ohmes


Cure for What Ails You

When you’re sick, you go to the doctor. The doctor writes a prescription and then you go to the pharmacy. But Seattle’s The Pharmacy, with their punk rocking dance party, will surely cure what ails you. Stronger than any upper or downer a doctor might prescribe, The Pharmacy makes you feel better, and the higher the dosage, the better you’ll feel.

The Pharmacy’s toe tapping, booty shakin’ tunes are just what the doctor ordered to chase away the winter blues and make you put on dancing shoes. “I do, I do bid you adieu,” sings lead vocalist Scottie Yoder, telling our winter ailments to hit the road.

The Pharmacy’s roots go back to when vocalist/guitarist Scottie Yoder and drummer/vocalist Brendhan Bowers met in high school. The two remain a solid base for the band, though various other members have passed through. The Pharmacy gained a dollop of national recognition as Spin magazine’s Band of the Day in August 2007.

Songs like “Adieu Adieu” and “Little Toys on a Shelf,” from the upcoming (Feb. 29) Choose Your Own Adventure, have a whimsical vibe and lyrics guaranteed to encourage many singalongs. When the synthy “Tropical Yeti Song” starts, butts will be on the dance floor before you can say “abominable.”

The Pharmacy is like a giant sigh of relief that might drag you out of the winter concert lull, breathing life into the music scene so we’ll all make it through to spring. Pick up this prescription with The Pharmacy at 8 pm Wednesday, Feb. 20, at Shady Pines, 552 W. Broadway. — Anne Pick


Before the Blues Were Born

Like that shipwreck slowly emerging from entombment in the sands at the Oregon coast, musicians are rediscovering lost sounds of America’s past — blues, Celtic, bluegrass, Appalachian music. But one vital wellspring has remained neglected. Now, a trio of young black musicians in North Carolina — Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemons and Justin Robinson — is resuscitating the nearly lost sounds of the African American string band, reviving faded traditional music without preserving it in amber. The Carolina Chocolate Drops employ fiddles, jugs (used as percussion instruments), guitar, harmonica and, most prominently of all, that icon of African American music … the banjo.

The banjo — a black instrument? Slaves actually brought it over from Africa, and it was played exclusively by blacks until the early 19th century. Gradually, other forms of folk music that descended from the string band tradition — blues, bluegrass, country and more — eclipsed the sound that had given them birth. By the end of the last century, hardly anyone remained who had firsthand experience of old time string band. Fortunately, the Drops found one of them, Joe Thompson, a nearly 90 year old Carolina fiddler who’s been passing on his knowledge as they reassert the African American role in this proto-American music. Fans of folk, blues, and old time country music should seize the chance to hear the seeds of their favorites, and when something sounds familiar, they should remember which is the source and which the echo.

Carolina Chocolate Drops play at 7:30 pm Wednesday, Feb. 20, at The Shedd. $20-$28. — Brett Campbell



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