Brian Vander Ark
If one looked at it from the record industry's point of view, it could certainly be argued that the Nineties were a more successful period for Brian Vander Ark than the new millennium has been so far. Once upon a time, the Verve Pipe frontman and his band scored a crossover radio smash ("The Freshmen") and a platinum album (1996's Villains); opened for Kiss on a European trek; and rode in a well-appointed bus paid for by their major label on a headlining tour of the States. Lately, however, the thirtysomething singer has traveled the country in a weathered RV, playing acoustic sets in tiny clubs and college cafeterias, where a crowd of 50 and perhaps a dozen copies sold of his self-released 2003 solo debut, Resurrection, at the merch table makes for a fantastic night.
Yet in terms of artistry, his high-water moment is right now. Though the Verve Pipe's post-Villains output is much stronger than anyone gave it credit for (the band, by the way, is still together), Vander Ark has never displayed as much effortless gravity and grace as he does on Resurrection's sober songs of heartbreak, uncertainty, and death. Sure, he might miss the tour bus from time to time, but for anyone who has caught one of his recent performances, the past simply can't compete with the present. -- Michael Alan Goldberg
Brian Vander Ark, the Samples, and Nothing Rhymes with Orange perform at 8:00 p.m. Thursday, June 10, at Culture Room, 3045 N Federal Hwy, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $10. Call 954-564-1074.
Marco Davalos, the creator of P:M Sessions, champions Hisham Sawami as a talented up-and-coming DJ bound to go far. Who is Sawami, you ask? Well, the Swiss/Libyan New Yorker comes from the new school of electronic heads who seamlessly mix subgenres -- house, techno, trance, and breaks -- into a hard-hitting, infectious wave of sounds and beats. Some call it tech-house, but it best resembles a banging, pounding fusillade redeemed by occasional melodies and solid grooves perfect to dance to. At any rate, Sawami is pretty good at spinning it, so if you're in the mood for dancing, check him out at Privilege on Friday night, which he visits every month as one of the P:M Sessions residents. -- Mosi Reeves
Hisham Sawami spins at 11:00 p.m. Friday, June 11, at Privilege, 637 Washington Ave, Miami Beach. Call 305-695-9909.
The Livid Kittens have been around for a minute, long enough to watch fellow Fort Lauderdale spawn the Spooky Kids grow up into Marilyn Manson, to go through seven drummers, and to help lead vocalist/man-magnet Paige Alison Harvey win best female rock vocalist from New Times Broward-Palm Beach in 2002. More than ten years after bassist David Heikkinen formed the band with former vocalist Scyndie Dietz, Livid Kittens have watched their punky Goth styles à la the Cramps go out of style and come back in again, making the time ripe for ... Blondie covers? Yes, Liquordale's finest will sing "One Way or Another" for One Way or Another, Leah Modigliani's celebrity-obsessed art show homage to Deborah Harry's backing band. Life takes some strange turns, but the Livid Kittens should be all right. -- Mosi Reeves
Livid Kittens perform during One Way Or Another: A Show About Blondie at 8:00 p.m. Saturday, June 12, at Rocket Projects, 3440 N Miami Ave. Call 305-576-6082.
With all of its members at age 21 or younger, Pygmy has a lifetime of jams ahead of it, which should give it enough time to grow its NoMeansNo-style emotional rock into something great and extraordinary. Until that day comes, however, enjoy the simple pleasures of listening to "Banana Swastika" and "Juice of a Duckhunt" as Pygmy returns from a successful month-long tour of the Midwest to play during the Magic Bullet Records showcase, a Fredericksburg, Virginia-based label worth getting to know for Alternative Press-approved hardcore bands such as Forensics and Textbook Traitors. -- Mosi Reeves
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Pygmy, Textbook Traitors, Forensics, the Holy Mountain, and Denouement perform at 8:00 p.m. Sunday, June 13, at the Alley, 1758 NW 36th St. Tickets cost $7. Call 305-638-4404.
Much of Miami Beach rock star Lenny Kravitz's new album, Baptism, was recorded at Circle House Studios. But its sound will ring familiar to anyone who has heard the singer over the past decade. Opening with a handful of potential radio hits ("California," "Minister of Rock 'n Roll"), it shifts into several numbers that seem built out of classic rock chestnuts -- "Where Are We Runnin'?" incorporates a guitar lick from ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man," for example, while "Flash" opens with a volley eerily similar to the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter."
Baptism, nevertheless, is slick, unpretentious, effortless pop that entertains, even as Kravitz works overtime to develop distinctive songs that are more than the sum of his memorable hooks, tuneful voice, and sundry personal politics. He calls himself a "Minister of Rock 'n Roll," then says, "I Don't Want to Be a Star." He wants to be "Baptized": "I walked away but I was wrong," he sings on "Storm" to a nameless love before Jay-Z drops a disposable rhyme, then adds, "How will I get through this storm?" Facile as it sounds, Kravitz knows how to wring emotion from simple words and crusty old riffs; it's what keeps Baptism from melting in the summer sun. -- Mosi Reeves