The Pipettes doll up pop in polka dots

The ironic title of Lucinda Williams' 1980 album Happy Woman Blues sums up the contradictions of this mercurial artist. She marries melodies that draw on blues, country, and folk influences to literary lyrics that cut deep to the disconsolate heart of the human condition. Her current offering, West, is another harrowing excursion into the blasted terrain of grief, loss, and loneliness with a bristling core of anger. Live, Williams is even more intense than recorded, stretching her voice to the breaking point, embroidering melodic lines with tremulous improvisations that increase emotions on material brimming with tension. Williams performs on Thursday, June 7, at the Paramount Theater in Oakland at 8 p.m. Admission is $40; call 510-893-2300 or visit www.paramounttheatre.com for more info. — J. Poet


Mika is a curly-haired waif with a pop voice to die for. Born in Beirut and trained to perform opera by an insane Russian, Mika was singing commercial jingles before he was in high school. His debut, Life in Cartoon Motion, is a pure pop confection, bristling with '70s influences, most notably vocal gymnastics worthy of Freddie Mercury and swooning melodies that bring to mind Elton John at his toughest and Rufus Wainwright at his most sly. In person and on record, Mika's glam and disco influences are delivered with a modern rock edge that makes them sound brand-new and radio-ready. His incendiary live performances made him a star in England; his first American tour may do the same for him here. Mika performs on Saturday, June 9, at the Fillmore at 9 p.m. Admission is $25; call 346-6000 or visit www.thefillmore.com for more info. — J.P.


Brandi Carlile's basically your average girl with an acoustic six-string and a no-nonsense voice, reared in the backwoods of the great Northwest. And yet the impassioned title track from her recently released fourth album, The Story, found its way onto the mega-popular prime-time soap Grey's Anatomy. The reason is simple: The wistful, Patsy Cline pathos of this power ballad — with its sweet-sorrowful refrain, "I was made for you" — elicits an empathetic response from the deep-seated romantic in all of us. Carlile's music — a li'l bit DIY country, a li'l bit adult contemporary "alt" pop — is a tender love letter express-mailed to twentysomething women. Of course, the men (and other women) who long to be by their side are happy to come along for the ride. Carlile opens for the Indigo Girls on Monday, June 11, at the Fillmore at 9 p.m. Admission is $35; call 346-6000 or visit www.thefillmore.com for more info. Sam Prestianni


Maybe it's because of Dreamgirls' Oscar win, or the popularity of Pussycat Dolls Presents: The Search for the Next Doll, but whatever the reason, the manufactured retro retread of the Pipettes could not be more perfectly timed. As a choreographed Brits-do-Brill Building indie grrrl group —the Shangri-Las and Stacey Q with a cheeky wink — this sassy trio is winning/breaking hearts. Even if conceived merely to allow thrift store raiders to don their polka-dotted dresses, the Pipettes would be excusable for producing giddy singles "Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me" and "Pull Shapes." Admittedly, the Pipettes are rough around the conceptual edges, but if choosing between reviving Phil Spector and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls or more years of Valley Girlstyles, the obvious winner resides with the former. The Pipettes perform on Tuesday, June 12, at Rickshaw Stop at 9 p.m. Advance tickets are sold out; call 861-2011 or visit www.rickshawstop.com for more info. Tony Ware

 
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