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Scene & Herd 

Of Merry Pranksters & Mopey Panthers

Medeski Martin & Wood, those merry pranksters of white instrumental soul, played two smoke-free sets at Tremont Music Hall on Sunday night. Cigarette smoke-free, that is. Signs were posted informing the audience of the band's wish for the big room to remain smoke free, but folks were lighting up the wacky tobaccy all around me, even despite a vigilant Tremont security force. Which brings up another point. If people are shelling out 20 clams to catch your show, shouldn't they be able to do what the hell they want to? What's next? A no-drinking show? A no-talking show? Keep that sort of thing up, and you'll have a no-attending show. That said, the power of MMW's jazz/acid/rock fusion was enough to keep the audience enthralled. Keyboardist John Medeski had a series of keyboards and organs in a semi-circle around him on the left front of the stage, and drummer Billy Martin (not to be confused with the late, hard-drinking ex-Yankees manager) had a similar setup, directly across the stage to the right. Bassist Chris wood took the normal drum position in the back, and frequently led the band's improvisational forays, inspiring the inevitable twirling dancing one so often sees at such concerts. Hippie dancing, I posit, may be the only true form of dance that originated with white Americans. A bastardized mix of awkwardness, break dancing, and the waltz, it is truly unique in the annals of that art form, as far as I can tell. Of course, the Edsel was truly unique in the car world. One more thing: if this show was any indication, beards are all the rage -- and I for one am glad for it. One in every three male concert-goers sported one (and a couple of the girls), sending one's thoughts reeling to all the great Americans who've ever sported whiskers: Abraham Lincoln, Dan Fouts, Bill Walton, and the Patron Saint of cheek fuzz himself, Jerry Garcia. The Taliban and Osama bin Laden be damned, the look seems to be coming back big time. --TCD

baleen played a CD Release Party Saturday night at The Evening Muse, screening tracks and playing selected live cuts from the band's upcoming release, Soundtrack to a Normal Life. The Muse was standing room only for the show, which saw some of the band's LiquiLab label-mates in attendance, including the Houston Brothers' Matt Faircloth and First Night On Earth's Wes Grasty. Those on hand could order a specialized, metal-box version of the album, customized and personalized. An overhead projector presented the names of songs from the disc on the wall behind the stage as folks nibbled on asparagus and finger foods (a table of hors d' oeuvres was also set up, most notably featuring a basket of the explosive candy Pop Rocks, that staple of appetizers). The main course, however, was more than enough to fill one up. Playing an intelligent blend of free jazz, funk, and melodic Brit guitar rock, the band's performance established themselves as a potential force in the local music scene. Drummer Phil Disher can more than keep up with some of the group's pre-recorded, mechanized drum beats, and ex-X-periment members Derrick Hines, Steve McMillan and Tony McCollough give an exotic sprinkling of texture to guitarist Mike Vagianos' songs. Singer/saxophonist McCollough is worth the price of admission by himself. Able to shift from a Miles-like, slowly played melody to Coltrane-esque free jazz skronk at the drop of a high-hat, he may be the single best virtuoso musician in town. On any instrument. Named after a whale, this band could well be the Moby Dick of the local scene with a few more shows like this. --TCD

Thanksgiving Champs Plenty of folks (and a few fashion plates) were on hand at the Visulite Theatre last Wednesday to party it up on the eve before Thanksgiving. Among the crowd was Chris Shinn, son of George, who was in town for the holiday. The younger Shinn, who now spends his time fronting the Los Angeles based band Unified Theory, is obviously much more liked than his pop as mostly hugs and handshakes greeted him. The indulgent Alternative Champs dressed in their stretchy best (a la Olivia Newton-John "Physical" era) kicked things off with their lounge-act meets Ween funky musical odyssey. The Champs, led by Jolene's Mike Mitschele (although he could've passed for Loverboy's Mike Reno with that headband), can't be taken too seriously nor too's probably just best to watch with an open mind. Up next was the local collective known as Les Dirt Clods. In case you didn't know, that's French for The Dirt Clods, a fact that provided one older fella at the bar with a nice icebreaker as he tried to impress some of the ladies with his accent (which didn't appear to work). Finishing up the night was the flamboyant ensemble known as Snagglepuss, who kept in the holiday spirit by dressing up as Pilgrims and Indians. Lead singer Hope Nicholls' ultra-hip pilgrim garb (including pink braided pig-tails) prompted one audience member to coo, "She's the coolest pilgrim I've ever seen." -- LF

No Rain! Emotions ran the gamut on Sunday at Ericsson Stadium as the Carolina Panthers tried for a win against regional rivals, the Atlanta Falcons. The crowd, which was slightly larger than I expected since clouds and the chance of rain loomed overhead, was an even mix between family folk and party-hard tailgaters. One poor soul seated near us fell victim to the "Celebrity Look-A-Like" hijinks shown from the jumbo-tron screens during one of the quarter breaks. The guy was surprisingly pegged for Jim Nabors and the ridicule he received from his friends was harsh, but a little humorous for those of us sitting near 'em. From what I could tell, most everyone kept an optimistic attitude as toddlers chanted "Go Weinke!" -- until of course, late in the fourth quarter when it was obvious the Panthers were about to lose their 10th game in a row. (The final score was 10-7.) Coach Seifert was certainly on the receiving end of most insults as people headed for the exits in true Panther fan fashion -- before the ending buzzer -- and a few of the frustrated and intoxicated even yelled "Die Seifert" as they stumbled through the stands. But despite the team's current game record, there's still plenty of incentives to attract folks to the games: parking is easy to find and traffic is almost nonexistent; tickets are extremely cheap (and sometimes free if you hold out until right before kick-off) and a few of the street vendors are slashing prices on their Panthers' merchandise. Did I mention they lowered beer prices to $4 this season, too? -- LF

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