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House of Tudor 

The Hackensaw Boys deliver the anachronic; the Graves Brothers Deluxe fire up the Fourth

Wednesday, Jul 2 2003
The Hackensaw Boys look as if they could travel two years and 2,000 miles from Virginia and never get the Blue Ridge Mountains out from under their fingernails. More meaningfully, they sound that way, too. Dusty, sweaty, and familial by way of trial and mile, the Boys and their tunes are at home wherever they land their Dirty Bird, a 1964 GMC tour bus. And their debut, The Hackensaw Boys Give It Back, affirms their devotion to road-bred kin (the eight players are not, in fact, brothers) and the mountain music to which they all returned after rock 'n' roll left them low. Individual names are not listed in the liner notes; instead, the simple words "We all sing. We all play instruments." accompany a collection of evocative sepia-hued photographs taken on the Boys' travels. The songs have also been amassed through their meandering. Recorded live by various soundmen, friends, and fans, without much worry or design, they bear the characteristics of early field recordings gathered by Harry Smith. Devoid of pretense, postense, or guile, and performing from the heart without consideration for market or posterity, the Hackensaw Boys have created something completely out of time. While the growing interest in American traditionals -- the ballads, jigs, reels, and laments passed through the South from hand to hand like the fine family china of hard-working men -- has been heralded by everyone from Nick Cave to Moby and championed by No Depression bands great and small, none of them has achieved anything like this. Loose-limbed and tumbled-down, with spidery tenors that achieve creaking harmonies over harmonica, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, dobro, spoons, and a percussive amalgamation called the charismo, the Hackensaw Boys sound adroitly authentic, perhaps because they've never had to try. Untrimmed beards and threadbare overalls are not affectations, Charlottesville is a town plenty big enough, and down-home lyrics like "Our names are unimportant/ Where we live/ What we know/ We do believe in/ Is the love of a friend" flow from them as naturally as piss from a sow. Even on stages as big as those encountered during their recent tour with Cake and the Flaming Lips, the Hackensaw Boys bring a bit of the back porch to bear, and what they lack in special effects, synthesizers, quirks, and flash, they more than make up for with raw energy and good old-fashioned whoops, hollers, and whistles. The Hackensaw Boys perform on Thursday, July 3, at the Red Devil Lounge with Japonize Elephants opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $8-10; call 921-1695.

One of my favorite San Francisco bands from the early '90s was the unfortunately named -- but more unfortunately overlooked -- Engorged With Blood, led by former Chrome drummer John Hanes. The group's music was as thick and warm as Mexican tar; Hanes' voice, a rumbling basso profundo, coiled around indecorous lyrics and made me sweat; once and future Club Foot Orchestra guitarist Steve Kirk was both droll and feverishly inspired; and bass-about-town Dave Jess provided an impassioned drummer's heartbeat. The Graves Brothers Deluxe are a lot like that -- dark and alluring, with a penchant for sex, stench, and urban excess -- but while Engorged With Blood relished its hallucinatory, post-punk languor, this trio has sought wider hunting grounds. The act's forthcoming EP, Filter Feeders, moves from the menacing post-punk proposition "Right as Rain" to the psychedelic daybed of "And Then the Conversation Turned to Sex," then takes an abrupt turn into the speed run of "Raw Stinking Beauty" and the skewed whiskey-rock-and-whispers of "Powers That Be." Now confident that we are too disoriented and overstimulated to fight back, the band drops us into a turn-of-the-century poppy parlor, with Jose Alfredo Jimenez's "Muñequita Negra," and finishes us off with a seductive interpretation of Pere Ubu's "Heart of Darkness," accented by a speak-sing purr that might make even John Hanes' blood rush. I don't think this is what our forefathers had in mind for us on the Fourth of July. Nonetheless, the Graves Brothers Deluxe support Killers Kiss on Friday, July 4, at Thee Parkside with Hiroshi Hosegawa's Poontang Wranglers opening at 10 p.m. Earlier festivities include a concrete barbecue with Deke Dickerson, Red Meat, and Chrome Johnson and a hot rod show at noon. Tickets are $5 after 9:30 p.m. and $7 before; call 503-0393. The Graves Brothers Deluxe also perform on Thursday, July 24, at the Hemlock Tavern with Continuous Peasant; call 923-0923.

I would like to know what it felt like to turn on the radio on the evening of Oct. 30, 1938, and truly believe that the United States was being invaded by aliens. What a rush that must have been: the fear, the exhilaration, the unequivocal certainty that nothing would ever be the same again. An event of that magnitude would be a tough act to follow. Surprisingly, Paramount Studios waited 15 whole years before it finally hired Byron Haskin to put The War of the Worlds on the big screen in brilliant Technicolor. It was probably worth the wait. Though the film was made during the height of the UFO craze, art director Al Nozaki managed to avoid the clichéd flying disc in favor of a uniquely fluid design topped by a really creepy laser-firing periscope arm. Even on television, the spectacular planetary imagery that opened the movie -- and the blackened remains of the Eiffel Tower that closed it -- made an impression on me. But having never seen it on the big screen, I more often recall the eerie sound effects that attended the Martian weapons of mass destruction, a relentless pulse of guitar feedback that I associate, even now, with really mean space invaders. Exactly the type of aliens that will be overrunning the Tien Megadome Theater every Friday and Saturday in July. If you've ever wondered what it would be like to look up and see a 70-foot-long spacecraft with an evil eye, you're in luck: The War of the Worlds opens on Saturday, July 5, at the Chabot Space & Science Center (10000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland) at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5; call (510) 336-7300. Mars Attacks! will be shown on weekends in August.

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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