The Hellacopters -- By the Grace of God (Liquor and Poker): Those who know the Hellacopters from Supershitty to the Max (1996) or Payin' the Dues (1997) will be surprised that the Swedish hard rock band is nowhere near as relentless as it once was. Whether that's a good thing or not depends on how you feel about relentlessness. 1998's Respect the Rock America set the band on its current course with covers of Lynyrd Skynyrd, MC5 and Bob Seger, and now it sounds like a radio-friendly classic rock band. Whether that's a good thing or not depends on how you feel about classic rock, but the Hellacopters do it well. -- Alex Rawls
Various Artists -- Chronicles (Koch/Rhino): This CD feels a little late to the party, collecting some of the tracks sampled on the albums that defined gangsta rap. N.W.A., Ice Cube and Dr. Dre don't have the same currency they once did, and it seems like a re-examination of late '60s/early '70s funk and R&B that took place about five years ago. Still, there's a lot cool here, some of it obvious -- "Express Yourself" by Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band and "Mothership Connection" by Parliament -- but it's nice to see attention drawn to the Average White Band & Ben E. King's "A Star in the Ghetto" and Kay Gee's "Who's the Man? (With the Master Plan)." It also features "Brother's Gonna Work it Out" by Willie Hutch, and if any fans of blaxploitation-era soul haven't discovered Hutch's soundtracks to Foxy Brown and The Mack -- where this song's from -- they're missing a couple of classics of the period. The inclusion of the Meters' "Cardova" also reminds listeners how unique the Meters really were. The track seems as connected to Rufus Thomas' "The Breakdown" as it does to the glossier "I Want'a Do Something Freaky to You" by Leon Haywood, but isn't really a part of either musical moment. -- Rawls
Travis Morrison -- Travistan (Barsuk): As front man for the Dismemberment Plan, Morrison seemed unnaturally wide-eyed in the face of the world. On Travistan, he seems very clever, but being clever isn't as interesting as being open. The songs titled "Get Me Off This Coin" are wryly smart explorations of Abraham Lincoln's place in our culture, but they'd be more engaging with a rhythm section, and they'd be much improved by one that could groove like the one in the Dismemberment Plan. Only on "Change" and "People Die" do his lyrical and vocal gifts come together to express thoughts as directly and affectingly as he has done in the past. -- Rawls
Stockholm Syndrome, Oct. 2, at House of Blues: Widespread Panic's monolithic bassist Dave Schools is clearly having a blast road-testing his new band, Stockholm Syndrome, which he formed early this year with longtime friend and collaborator Jerry Joseph. Though the band formed in a year during which Panic took its first break from touring since 1985, Schools insists in interviews "this isn't some side project." The recent show at House of Blues affirmed Schools' attitude toward Stockholm Syndrome, a patched-together collection of all-stars hailing from rather random origins, and a group now hitting its stride and forging its identity as unique purveyors of blistering rock 'n' roll.
Joseph takes the stage as the clear frontman, sailing and screaming his way through his patented beauty-in-darkness themes, exploring both today's political climate and the yin and yang of human existence. But Joseph's ambition comes off with no whiff of pretense in this line-up, perhaps because the band's superior collective musicianship packs the real star power. Schools and Joseph first created the idea for Stockholm Syndrome, then wrote some songs, then found the band.
Yet the group and concept came together after what Joseph described Saturday night as "a late night at Snake and Jake's." The New Orleans roots come with drummer/percussionist Wally Ingram, a part-time resident. Rounding out the band is German keyboardist Danny Dziuk and Eric McFadden, whose shredding Les Paul licks were vastly underappreciated in his Parliament Funkadelic days.
The performance kicked into high gear during the second song, "Counter-Clock World," the first track on the band's only album, Holy Happy Hour. The groovy crunch of Joseph's vocals, Schools' bass and McFadden's guitar play nicely together, and formed the energy nucleus as the band breezed through three hours of music, having already mastered an impressive array of original material, much of which is not represented on the album. The group snuck a Rage Against the Machine medley in the second set-closing "American Fork," a soaring political rant loudly appreciated by the crowd, during which Schools mockingly saluted "one nation, under surveillance." Schools admitted before the song, "I'm not usually one for saying such things," when he brought up politics while pointing out a table packed with information and John Kerry campaign volunteers. Schools asked the crowd to vote, saying a no vote "means you're happy with the way things are -- like an illegal war for oil." Such commentary would be a strange fit in the abstract fusion of Widespread Panic, but Saturday's statement merely underscores how different Stockholm Syndrome is from Panic. There are no heady space sequences, no prolonged drum solos with this band, just straight-ahead, kick-ass rock. But with a rousing encore cover of John Prine's "Fish and Whistle," the vibe so precious to Schools' devoted followers remained intact, as the crowd trickled out, buzzed with ears blissfully beaten. -- Frank Etheridge