I am told by a roving acquaintance that there is a huge party every single night of the week in Havana, and that folks go out to dance regardless of their early morning work schedules, pressed onto the last bus of the night, smiling and sweating. The people of Cuba say that dancing late into the night actually helps them at their jobs the next day. Consequently, one of the most popular work aids in Havana is the invigorating 14-piece group Bamboleo. As sophisticated as the ear of young Cuba, Bamboleo performs timba, a complex fusion of electric son, funk, and heavy jazz improvisation that encourages freestyle dancing over couple-stepping. Timba may have had its gestation in the growing numbers of tourists who awkwardly stomp on the feet of their dance partners during more traditional sons, but even with its U.S. influences, timba is unmistakably Cuban and completely irrepressible. If you wiggle a lot, you're bound to hit at least one or two beats. Bamboleo performs on Thursday, Jan. 6, at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $16-18; call (510) 849-2568.
Drawing comparisons with the lyrical stylings of Leonard Cohen, the dramatic flair of Ennio Morricone, the romantic tradition of klezmer and Romany, and the dementia of experimental rock, Pendulum members vividly describe their own sound without actually invoking the progenitor who first perfected such a collusion. But perhaps mentioning Nick Cave in this situation is lazy, and clearly Pendulum is not. Since its first demo tape, Pendulum has unfolded like crimson pimpernel, adding viola, trumpet, violin, and autoharp to its already eclectic cache of percussion, accordion, banjo, saw, guitar, and double bass. On we're too small to lose each other, Pendulum prowls through the Tenderloin, crashing into red, red rooms where walls swell and cancer eats at the soul of twisted forms. Sweetly, they soar above pomegranate trees with manicured boughs and past Chinese dresses unbearably close to the nape of the neck. They join Gypsy rumbles over cobblestones ringing in the night with funeral bells and deep-seated distrust before dissolving into a rambling border-town lullaby. Note to derivative faultfinders: Just because you've been to the wellspring, doesn't mean you won't enjoy the watering hole. Pendulum opens for Nerve Meter and Rabbit in Red at 10 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 7, at the Edinburgh Castle. Tickets are $4; call 885-4074.
Armed with a trunk full of dildos and enough high-energy, in-your-face talent to strip the goth from fetish forever, Tribe 8 frontwoman Lynn Breedlove leads a night of no-bullshit rock 'n' roll and “fierce” exhibitionism. “Fetish 2000” includes the gender-fuck glam of Blue Period, the well-cut metal of Sparrow's Point, and the bluesy histrionics of see jane run, as well as a body-piercing-and-suspension show by Body Manipulations and a multigender dildo fashion show by Good Vibrations on Friday, Jan. 7, at Slim's at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 255-0333.
Alone at 49, Johnny Dowd recorded some songs in the office of his two-rig moving company in upstate New York; he called the murderous no-fi compendium that resulted Wrong Side of Memphis and, at the urging of friends, sent it out to some random music critics with a five-line note. With his silver hair, furrowed brow, and impassive, charcoal eyes, JD looked, as he said, like a preacher seeking a church, but the stark cover photo did not suitably foretell the bloodshed folks would find on the Wrong Side. Rising in the endless dirty mile between Johnny Cash and Doo Rag, Dowd set his rusting tin-roof holler to a litany of violence, meanness, and sorrow. Unlike many contemporary murder ballads, whose outrages are grandly hued and historical, Dowd's evils are intimate and familiar somehow: a father disappointed by the birth of his son, a murderer plagued by voices on death row, an average guy with reckless eyeballs and a suicidal heart, a drifter who murders and then buys Beatles boots, a gunslinging Judas who confesses on his deathbed, interracial lovers left dead in a hotel room, a dying drunkard who meets Jesus in a swampy lean-to. The overriding message is made clear in his Oklahoma drawl: “Be content with your life because it may not get any better.”
On his second album, Pictures From Life's Other Side, Dowd turns his bloody-mindedness to the gentle shades of love: a man stalking and lusting after a young schoolgirl, a drunk driver selflessly committed to the woman he put in a coma, a woman whose love is likened to a disease, an unfortunate character who lives through his own suicide. Under these shiny stories, built on butcher shops and Vietnam, we find a full-time band folding bossa nova, New York jazz, Detroit rock, and loungy pop into Dowd's snarled, rustic floor plan, which allows us some breathing space in which to admire the dire songwriter's poetry: “If her hands were claws/ Her mouth a mighty yellow beak/ And her skin black with feathers/ She would be my wife/ If she flew/ Singing a jagged song/ To that place beyond hope/ She would be my wife.” Johnny Dowd performs at the Make-Out Room on Monday, Jan. 10, with Virginia Dare opening at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $8; call 647-2888.