Program Notes

Zombie Birdhouse, Three Penny Opera, Mari Serpas and the Instigators. The winning band would get $1000, a cool guitar by a famous-name manufacturer, et cetera, courtesy of the booze company Tanqueray. As one of three extinguished judges, I probably shouldn't do this, but I'll tell you that I gave the most points to Zombie Birdhouse, not just because I was already a fan, but because they blew me away with their 30-minute set, immaculate and deep-reaching rock bliss that it was. I had them way ahead of Three Penny Opera (minus a few rhythmic glitches and cliche stage antics, their Seattle-ish hard rock was excellent) and even further ahead of Mari Serpas, a talented but not very inventive country band from New Orleans. The final tally: Mari Serpas wins, Three Penny Opera a close second, Zombie Birdhouse a distant third. Shows you what I know.

After the contest, Birdhouse keeper Bruce Barkwill was pissed, guitarist Michael Weisberg curious and philosophical as always, bassist Chris Carter completely distracted already, guitarist-vocalist Matthew Cloutier silently staring out the eleventh-floor window of the Holiday Inn and giving some indication he might jump, singer Jon Preston munching pasta and cracking joke after joke, drummer David Whitehouse being as nice as possible under the losing circumstances. No bitching though the Tally band would soon be piling into a battered old van filled with their equipment for a long ride home on a little gas money. At least they can savor the more prominent recognition bestowed by Musician: the Birdhouse came in second in the magazine's Fourth Annual Best Unsigned Band Competition. That's second out of some 2000 entries. Maybe Musician and its judges -- Chrissie Hynde, John Hiatt, Don Was, and Sun Ra -- heard something we on the Tanqueray panel missed. Ahem. The Zombies will appear on a CD compilation with David Snow of Maryland, who won the thing, Men from Earth from St. Pete, and other winners. You can read all about it in the October ish of Musician.

Luke Records' Effect label has released the first solo album by former 2 Live Crew member Fresh Kid Ice, The Chinaman. If pointy-pointy critics can drop their Crew hang-ups and listen to the damn thing, they'll be forced to admit that it kicks. The major breaker is "Splak It Like You Like It" with its Sir Mix-a-Lot style inflection, followed closely by the Jamoker "Bad Boys Move in Silence," thick groovin' with a touch of Ice man's native Trinidad putting Inner Circle on the spot. All dance hall styleys and hard-edge raggy men are hereby challenged to top this sucker for island resonance and full-impact breakdowns. The Kid goes homey with "Roll Call," guesting Shake G and Fat Daddy like in the neighb, and works wonders with a Rolling Stones sample in "Demon." And while the Chinaman turns out plenty of hard-core nigga-ho chatter, he matches that with the super-sweet romance of "I'll Be Here," a beauty based on the Spinners' "I'll Be Around." He dropped it, you cop it.

Jorma Kaukonen jammed through two sets with Natural Causes at Stephen Talkhouse. The red-hot band is finishing up an album and rehearsing an acoustic set, which they'll debut on October 16 (with the Whistling Tin Heads) at Cactus Cantina.

The blues capital of the world update: Blue Tornados are off to the Handy Awards in Memphis this week. The band has signed management and such, and is, management reports, close to a label deal.

It's not much help to us lazy "journalists," but I kinda dig the press release for Failure and their album Comfort. This is what it says, all it says: "Failure was formed in Los Angeles in June of 1990. They are still together. They play music."

Get in line for those Bruce Springsteen tickets. Some other time. But two good signs for the sheep: Ticketmaster has given up the rip-off scam of keeping your service charge even when a concert is cancelled. (A small victory, but not much when you consider that, according to this clipping from who-knows-what-publication sent anonymously to me, Ticketbastard controls 80 percent of the computer-ticket biz in America, handling a billion bucks worth of ducats each annum.) And now there's another lawsuit pending against the monopoly, alleging that the company gets kickbacks from promoters in exchange for exclusive rights to sell their tickets, and complaining that the company's outrageous service charges are unfair.

Butthorn of the week: It was a simple mistake. Miami Country Day School was asking its students to report their HIV status, which is against the law. The school retreated when, a spokesman says, a trustee noticed the request in the new student handbook and mentioned that it might be illegal.

The media circus: Miami Herald photographer Andrew Innerarity has changed his credit to "A. Brennan Innerarity"? Now, we're not going to suggest he did so because of a hurricane. We have a grip.

Greg Brown lyric of the week: Reliable word has it that Brown will perform live in Miami as soon as March.

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Greg Baker