Random acts

Front-row reviews

What: Dig Shovel Dig (opening for Los Straitjackets)

Where: The Orange Peel

When: Thursday, Feb. 26

Dig Shovel Dig shows are roughly the opposite of, say, Phish concerts. You’ll find no warm instrumental harmonies or hidden tones expressing the joy of simply being alive. Instead, there’s screaming, some startlingly good drumming, and a guy playing bass with his hands and keys with his feet.

DSD songs are about — well, I don’t know, actually. And the band doesn’t seem to, either (at least they’ve never given me a straight answer on the subject). Which is fine. I’d hate to get too literal in my enjoyment and ruin the mystery behind inexplicably catchy art-punk songs like “Wheelbarrow Lighthouse” or “I Don’t Want No Job.”

Not that either of those tunes was performed at the Orange Peel show. True to form, the duo of Mark Williams (drums) and Ted Robinson (bass, keys, vocals) boldly played their most unapproachable material, perhaps wanting to inject as much high weirdness as possible into Asheville’s biggest, most mainstream club. Had they let their music get away from them, it could easily have devolved into a cacophony of such volume as would deafen a god of the ancient world.

Instead, it was simply a wickedly good show.

DSD started their set under cover of, well, actual covers (the kind fit for the back of a careworn couch). So hidden, they began revealing their bizarre, pleasantly vitriolic, screamingly melodic music to the tiny crowd that had braved trumped-up winter-weather warnings to see them.

Williams and Robinson actually began their show with basketballs in hand instead of instruments. They executed a quick dribble drill on The Orange Peel’s gym-like floor, comically faking out — and probably getting a few fouls from — audience members.

The only other lag in their set came at the end of an intense bunch of songs that sounded like the musical version of a freak accident involving a high-school marching band, a Ferris wheel and a tanker truck filled with espresso. Believe it or not, that break ended when DSD gave in to the small crowd’s insistent howls for an encore.

What: The Gimmick

Where: 35below

When: Friday, Feb. 27

It’s impossible to fault Sharon Stokes‘ expert performance in the one-woman play The Gimmick.

Playwright Dael Orlandersmith‘s monologue follows an overweight girl with a passion for words as she grows up in (and eventually grows out of) Harlem. The Gimmick is a challenging combination of poetry, dramatic storytelling and comedic monologue, requiring Stokes to play not only narrator Alexis but also her best friend Jimmy, her drunken and defeated mother, and a handful of other characters.

Stokes’ excellent performance was also thorough: You almost forgot that a single actor was commanding the stage.

If this was a less-than-perfect show, blame the material itself, which was at first insightful and intriguing but which grew increasingly muddled and predictable.

As Alexis’ dreams of leaving Harlem to be a writer in Paris lead to heartbreak, drug use and even darker developments, the reasoning behind her actions grows rote. Certainly there’s a message about hope and a belief in oneself to be gleaned, but it ultimately feels as subtle as getting hit in the face with a paintball.

But thanks to Stokes, the script’s failings become merely disappointing and not disastrous.

The Gimmick shows at 9 p.m. at 35below (254-1320; behind Asheville Community Theatre) from Thursday, March 11 through Saturday, March 13.

Listening room (album reviews)

dancing about architecture, Marsupial (Marsupial, 2004)

First, the bad stuff: Nothing on dancing about architecture whispers “hit.” The album is a collection of jam-y roots-rock; the requisite amorphous arrangements and meandering song structures mean that very little seems distinct, or memorable.

Still, the album keys listeners into Marsupial‘s strengths as a live band. The same songs that feel too mellow here are probably highly groove-able in the right venue. These are tunes that a concert taper would love; “now,” for instance, clocks in at well over 10 minutes, capturing the essence of the band’s chill sound.

The smoky, lounge-jazz-leaning track “shining,” featuring guest vocalist Jaimee Tomas, is a standout; the rich, emotion-charging melody takes ample time to tell the lyrics’ hazy story. Live, “shining” could be entrancing; as recorded here, however, it lacks a fundamental spark.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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