Music Notes

SPOOKY PARADISE, PART 1

          I'VE HAD MY head ripped off by rock & roll many times, but few have been more potent than an old film of Curtiss A, backed by an army of Minneapolis rockers, screaming his lungs out through a thunderous version of "Land of the Free" at a 1979 new wave festival at the U of M. That was only the midpoint of the career of Curtiss A, a.k.a Curt Almstead, one that's included Minnesota bands like Wire and Spooks in the '70s, three Twin/Tone solo records in the '80s, and his current tenures in The Jerks of Fate and Mr. Midnight and His Kings of Love.

          In fact, the once-dubbed "Dean of Scream" recently figured he's hit his 30th anniversary as a Minnesota rock underdog, so he's hosting a retrospective bash tonight (October 30) at 7th Street Entry. Expect to hear something from every phase of Curtiss A: the obscure Kinks tune that was the first song he ever performed; several Curtiss A anthems; a McCartney tune (no Lennon songs this time); and a reggae version of '79's "I Don't Wanna Be President" (with nasty new lyrics for this election year). Need more? The opening band is The Hypstrz, the '70s stompers who go back just as far as Almstead.

          At 45, Almstead likes to portray himself as an acerbic old-timer, but he's actually enjoying a mid-life peak playing retro rock, classic pop, and New Orleans-to-Chicago soul with his new projects. He's also trying to score a record deal for Mr. Midnight's Spooky Paradise album without selling out, and after fighting off depression, he's taken his first job in years, as a "jerk of all trades" at Knut-Koupee music store.

          "I spent several years on social security because I saw UFOs and it bothered me," says Almstead, referring to a lyrical theme of his. "But now UFOs permeate our society so much that it doesn't really bother me anymore. I don't care what they are, if they're from outer space or the government or the middle of the earth or from Hitler or from hell, or wherever. They're here, and who cares. Earth is the only place that rocks--there's a quote for ya." (Simon Peter Groebner)

          Curtiss A's 30th Anniversary in Show Business is tonight at 8 p.m. at 7th Street Entry, 701 First Ave. N., Mpls.;. 38-8388.

NON-ODD COUPLES, ETC.

          IT MAY SEEM to some that Billy Bragg and Robyn Hitchcock--share a bill this Friday at First Avenue--are an unlikely pair. But these English singer/songwriter pals have both been embracing '60s music culture since before it became acceptably retro, and are both wrestling--adroitly--with the challenge of aging in pop's youth ghetto. Bragg's William Bloke ends a lengthy hiatus during which the political activist was retrenching--building a family, raising a kid, and producing a U.K. radio series on world history and its many mis-tellings (hello MPR?). William Bloke has taken some critical hits, but I hear a brave and lyrical record that typically treats self-examination and social diagnosis with equal rigor. So while "Upfield" may not be quite as compelling a political rave-up as "Sexuality," "Brickbat"--a tale of an aging radical turning his attention to domestic matters--is as heartrending a ballad as the man has written since "Levi Stubbs' Tears."

          Having once again ditched his band the Egyptians, Robyn Hitchcock has just released his best record in a decade, Moss Elixir. There's also the new Greatest Hits, which juices a set of hits from his spotty A&M years with some rarities (including his ethereal take on Roxy Music's "More Than This" and a sparklingly goofy acoustic "Eight Miles High"); and an upcoming concert film by Jonathan Demme (which the director has understandably described as "Stop Making Sense meets Swimming To Cambodia"). At his last show here, his bushy hair shot through with grey, Hitchcock came on like the wise, eccentric, garden-tending British folkie you always suspected him to be. Expect a collaboration or two, and a welcome antidote to election week--as Hitchcock observes on "The Devil's Radio": "The flowers of intolerance and hatred are blooming kind of early this year/Someone's been watering them." Opener TBA.( $12/$15 at the door. 6 p.m. First Avenue, 701 First Ave. N., Mpls.; 338-8388.)

          Speaking of politically engaged musicians, the men of Inti Illimani are approaching their 30th year as a group. Long beloved by Twin Cities audiences, these hard-touring veterans of the nueva canción movement spent 15 of those years as political exiles from their native Chile during Pinochet's bloody reign. They return to town Monday with songs from the lush new Arriesgaré la Piel (I Will Risk My Skin) (Xenophile), which finds them again exploring eclectic instrumentation in a chamber-music setting--including acoustic guitars, hammer dulcimer, piccolo, clarinet, and a dizzying array of percussion. They also, per usual, explore themes of love alongside those of political struggle; expect to have both your heart and conscience moved Monday night. ($15/$20. 7:30 p.m. Guthrie Theater, 725 Vineland Pl., Mpls.; 377-2224.)

          "How could one ever think anything's permanent?" begins Arise Therefore (Drag City), the latest installment in Will Oldham's ongoing Palace project (Palace Brothers, Palace Music, etc., etc.). Indeed, with a K-Mart drum machine clicking out funereal rhythms beneath the singer's wildly quavering backwoods psychodramas, it represents yet another shift in the man's already-shifty approach, and may be his most affecting set yet. The current Palace tour--which comes to town this Sunday night at 7th Street Entry with Lincoln, Nebraska's impressive Lullaby For the Working Class--promises something else again: no drums or drum machines at all, just Oldham, crony Colin Gagon on organ, and Eleventh Dream Day's Rick Rizzo on soaring second guitar (who, by the way, has a new Eleventh Dream Day record slated for an early '97 release--an alternately spacey and gritty affair with contributions from fellow Chicagoans John McIntyre and Doug McCombs of Tortoise).

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