He may look like a hippie, but Baby Gramps is actually a well-intentioned mountain man who's come down to the city to offer the friendly folk an earful of rudimentary aural record-keeping — while relieving them of some monetary pocket redundancies. In Seattle, Baby Gramps is considered a cultural treasure, and will remain so as long as there's a street-corner treasury. He's performed in every major folk festival of the last 25 years, toured with the Flying Karamazov Brothers, and played for Bob Dylan. He's a one-man medicine show with a snake charmer's howl, a razor's wit, and an antique steel-bodied guitar. Between songs by Charlie Patton and Frankie “Half Pint” Jackson, he will beguile the cerebral with a linguistic libretto in which palindromes reveal political pragmatism and anagrams divulge salacious serendipity. For those too word-weary to follow Gramps' twining tongue, his version of “Old Man of the Sea” or “Don't Play No Andrews Sisters” might suffice. Whatever your pleasure be, you won't leave wanting a bellyaching laugh at the Starry Plough in Berkeley on Wednesday, April 14, at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $5; call (510) 841-2082. Also at Cafe Du Nord on Friday, April 16, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5; call 861-5016.
An effeminate bisexual born in Belgium to a French-Italian father and a Scottish mother who became an American citizen in New York before settling in Luxembourg and forming a band in England, Placebo lead singer Brian Molko perfectly epitomizes the obsessive alienation that pervades most British pop music. The fact that he does it with greater melodrama and more eye makeup than Pulp's Jarvis Cocker is certainly worth note. Placebo opens for Stabbing Westward at the Maritime Hall on Thursday, April 15, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15; call 974-0634.
Being tagged a wedding band might be an indignity outside Eastern Europe, but from Bulgaria to Macedonia, the call for “wedding music” demands the zenith of a musician's skill and stamina — multiplicity of styles, virtuosic technique, literate improvisation, rapid tempos, daring key changes, and nomadic source knowledge are good first steps. Before Balada, I had never heard a single recording that so fervently captures the intricately festooned, swarmlike frenzy of the Eastern European wedding party. Led by the careening saxophone of Yuri Yunakov and broadened by the vocal elegance of Lauren Brody, the five-piece Yuri Yunakov Ensemble convinced me, once and for all, that all Roma are unequivocally mad, and that it is very difficult to deny one's blood. The Yuri Yunakov Ensemble performs at the Slavonic Cultural Center on Friday, April 16, at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $12; call (510) 649-0941.
Sixty-seven-year-old Chicago blues legend Hubert Sumlin was regarded as the world's most important guitarist by Frank Zappa, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Jimi Hendrix; among his living admirers are Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Bonnie Raitt, and, of course, Ron Wood and Keith Richards, who have often covered the Howlin' Wolf tunes Sumlin helped define. Last July, alongside other members of Howlin' Wolf's band, Sumlin performed for Mick Jagger's 55th birthday. Wood and Richards sat in with the guitar master, proclaiming that if Sumlin doesn't win a Grammy this year Richards will shoot everyone in the Academy. Since the Rolling Stones are performing in San Jose on April 19 and 20, it might be interesting to see who turns up to perform with Hubert Sumlin at Biscuits 'n' Blues on Sunday, April 18, at 8 and 10 p.m. Tickets are $17.50; call 292-2583.
Every Tuesday night, regardless of weather, a brooding tempest gathers over the roof of “Lucifer's Hammer.” It might be taken as an uncanny eschatological phenomenon, but in actuality it's a heavenly forewarning to those unprepared for the maelstrom within, and, for bestial Bay Area Bible-shredders, it is an alluring beacon. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor dead of night can stay a true metalhead from the swift extermination of his anointed cask. And so it has gone for one entire year that the unshorn, unshaven, and ungodly have gathered together to forge and protect those things they hold most dear: black and death metal. We must bow before their ferocious tenacity and protect our offspring as they venerate their holy space with the thunderous sounds of L.A.'s mythic (though rearranged) Sadistic Intent, Chicago's underground demiurge Usurper, and San Francisco's Sangre Amado at CW Saloon on Tuesday, April 20, with your hosts DJs Terrorbat and Corpse Defiler spinning at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10-12; call 974-1585.
Outcaste — a London-based collective of English-Indian DJs and musicians — distinguished itself with weekly Eastern-infused nights at Notting Hill Arts, which wove obscure Bollywood movies, sensual live dancers, and an MC together with live and sampled music. The lavish consummation resulted in two compilations and solo work from resident DJ Badmarsh (“Black Sheep”) and his partner, resident singer/tabla/bass player Shri. The deep, danceable tabla 'n' bass created by the pair (a spicy mix of sitar funk, ecstatic qawwali, Indian film music, Hindi vocals, jungle, and hip-hop beats) is as inescapable as the rich pre-dawn fragrance of chai and nearly as imperative for any lover of Talvin Singh's Asian Underground. Badmarsh & Shri perform with Astralwerks' Joi at the Justice League on Tuesday, April 20, with “Wicked Sessions” (Mannish the Twister, DJ Sep, Stephen Kent, and Peter Valsamis) opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 440-0409.
— Silke Tudor