My first contact with Zamora the Torture King was during his tenure with the original Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, of which he was a founding member. Zamora was the retiring Buddhist who quietly shoved skewers through his cheeks. His charming, boyish dimples are, in reality, very disarming scars, and his other mind-over-matter feats of Chi-Kung -- standing on eggs, hanging from swords, lying under cement blocks while they're shattered, forcing steel through his biceps and chest, and bending red-hot metal with his feet -- are no less authentic. Since setting out on his own, Zamora has picked up Flexx the Rubber Boy, who may well be the most flexible creature ever to walk on two legs. Rumor on the midway says he can move his ribs, allowing the trustworthy to touch his beating heart. Since such gentry are unlikely, Flexx will squeeze through toilet seats, wiggle into straitjackets, and fold himself into a container the size of a newsbox. Happily, Zamora's Touring Sideshow chooses small, intimate venues where eye contact is unavoidable, so you should get an eyeful at the Odeon on Saturday, June 26, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 and sold in advance only; call 550-6994.
The Beta Band is the Scottish answer to Ween: reclusive, overtly intelligent art-school types with flagrant senses of humor, interchangeable parts, voices in their head, musical stoves, and the ability to create unforgettable, psychedelic, futurist pop songs that draw on everything from country and western to Manchester acid house -- if they want. The Beta Band performs at Bimbo's 365 Club on Saturday, June 26, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10-12; call 474-0365.
On the cover of A Wish, Hamza El Din strides barefoot down a pale, seemingly endless beach cradling his beloved oud -- a 12-stringed Arabic precursor to the lute -- against long, white robes while silvery waves rise in the distance, spreading pale blue foam across the sand. Water is, and has always been, the driving force behind Din's music: Thirty-two years ago, the village in which he was born was swallowed by the man-made Lake Nasser. The former engineer began singing to warn his people of the eventual effects of the Aswan High Dam, but, as Nubians historically use music only for communal ceremonies, his "performances" were mostly ignored and the waters slowly engulfed Nubian farmland and history. Recently, the Egyptian government began developing land near the old site of Toshka, giving Din's people an opportunity to move back to their ancestral home along the Nile. This has been Din's greatest wish, and the songs on his album paint vivid portrayals of the life he longs for: village life skirted by fertile, green riverbanks and vast, star-filled skies, where women pause under the shade of date palms and acacia trees, and only water wheels and traditional tar drums measure the passage of time. Hamza El Din has studied music in the Middle East, Japan, and Europe, and it is his decidedly un-Nubian devotion to making music for witnesses that has preserved Nubia's distinct rhythm -- a desert sound that blends the syncopated accents of rocky, mountainous regions with the walking stroke of farmland and the ceaseless glide of the river. Contributions on A Wish from Kronos cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, Jordian percussionist Hani Naser, Western nay player Amy Cyr, and exquisite Tokyo-born vocalist Shizuru Ohtaka do nothing to insulate Din from his roots. Hamza El Din performs at the Great American Music Hall on Monday, June 28, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22.50; call 885-0750.
It must be said: I do not, did not, and will never like Chicago blues. It's too slick, too brassy, too prescribed; in short, too city. For blues, I turn my ear to Clarksdale country, to the muddy river where acoustic instruments and impulsive yarn-spinning kept the music feeling loose-limbed and spontaneous, or to the dusty hill-country of northern Mississippi, where mountainous terrain, 19th-century fife-and-drum tradition, and Afro-Cuban slave percussion inspired an even more ramshackle sound. In the hills is where you'll find R.L. Burnside. A retired sharecropper and former pupil of next-door neighbor Mississippi Fred McDowell, his approach to blues is as gritty and unreserved as his native soil. There are no straight lines and static rules; Burnside's path is long and meandering and you never know what will be around the next bend. A couple of years back, he left the cozy confines of Junior Kimbrough's juke joint to tour with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Now, at age 70, we find Burnside harnessing the kinetic energy of loops and remixing. Says Burnside to alleged purists, "Blues is already dance music." True nuff, and Come on In may be one of the most astounding blues albums I've heard in a decade. R.L. Burnside performs at the Great American Music Hall on Tuesday, June 29, with Mover opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 885-0750.
-- Silke Tudor