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November 3, 2005

The Hum


Straight from the Liver, photo of SCOTT H. BIRAM

IT SEEMED FITTING THAT SCOTT H. BIRAM was driving his Ford van when I called him on his cell last week. The P.R. folks from Bloodshot Records assured me he'd be at his Austin home, but he wasn't. He was on his way to get an oil change, preparing for yet another road trip.

"I've been driving all over the country and trying to record a record at the same time," said Biram, who called his Bloodshot debut The Dirty Old One Man Band. "It's kind of tough. I just went back East and across the South for about four weeks, came home and did a few shows here, now I'm heading out West."

I caught Biram's show at the Alibi last time he came this way. Hiding under a trucker hat, he sat in a chair where the bar's pool table normally sits, churning out a fearsome mix of blues and country on his guitar, tunes based in tradition but with a metal edge. He growled the lyrics to old songs and new, hollering about blood, sweat and murder while beating out a wicked rhythm by stomping his foot on the floor. The indie rock crowd surrounded him transfixed. They'll be back when Biram returns to the Alibi Tuesday, Nov. 8.

"My sound is constantly evolving in relation to the music I listen to," he said. "This year I've been listening to a lot more country because I got satellite radio and there's some really good old country stations on there where they play Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams, guys like that. So my new record will have a country song with some pedal steel, but I'm still sticking with the truck driving songs and stuff like that. Even though I've been listening to all that country, I still also listen to old blues, that's my main thing really. And I've been writing some rock songs -- I was weaned on metal -- that always bleeds through.

"I'm just rolling along pushing out new songs, trying to make sense of my life. The Weary Boys have been covering one of my new ones. They live in Austin now, but they're from right there in Eureka. They've been playing this song; it's called `No Damn Fun.' Some of the lyrics sum things up, it says, `more of the same damn thing.' I told them they could record that one if I can record this song Mario from the Weary Boys wrote -- he said he wrote it for me -- it's called `Only Jesus Gonna Set You Free.' That one's in the preaching blues style that's my main directly-from-my-heart thing. Although lately I've been saying I don't sing straight from the heart, I sing straight from the liver."

Humboldt is full of dedicated fans of the David Nelson Band, the psychedelic country-rock combo from Marin with deep Dead connections. This Friday and Saturday the band plays a two-night run at the Riverwood Inn and I'm sure the place will be jumpin'. Advance tix recommended.

The Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir presents its annual Harvest Concert at the Arcata Presbyterian Church Saturday evening. Never heard of the AIGC? I'll let founding member Halimah the Dreamah explain who they are: "The weekend after the riots in Los Angeles protesting the verdict in the Rodney King trial, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir sang at HSU and the following morning the community held a prayer breakfast with OIGC as the honored guests. There were speakers, much music, good food and fellowship. The event culminated with the joining of hands around the room and singing `We Shall Overcome.' It was an emotional time and we were all moved by the experience. Afterward, a group of us approached the organizers of the event and [they] suggested that we get together to form a choir that would celebrate diversity and multiculturalism within our community." The mission: "to spread joy, love, harmony and unity in spirit through black gospel music."

Meanwhile, Saturday at the Ferndale Rep, it's Lost Coast Live No. 3, with unidentified, undiscovered songwriters playing to a sold-out house.

It's only slightly surprising that Humboldt has become a favorite tour stop for a slew of wild and crazy Japanese rock bands. Michelle Cable of Panache Magazine has been booking tours for DMBQ and other bands (DMBQ is back in town Nov. 16, Green Milk From the Planet Orange returns Nov. 26), but she's not behind the Japanese Girls Nite tour coming to Six Rivers next Wednesday, Nov. 9. The Humboldt Free Radio event features three all-girl trios with variations on rock through a Japanese filter. There's Red Bacteria Vacuum, a "loud punk rock band" from Osaka, Amppez, with "cool and emotional balladic girl rock" from Shizuoka, and Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re, who sent me their CD, Pregnant Fantasy. The band explains that their name is "an original word created by the band members. Even Japanese people don't know the meaning but it sounds very Japanese, nostalgic and a little bit scary somehow." The band draws on American rock styles from garage to rock-a-billy to ska to Zappa-esque, in intriguingly mysterious songs about salted plums, fish cakes and a lake beneath a manhole.

Six Rivers has a pretty amazing range of music this week -- from the slightly Latin funk of Austin's Hairy Apes BMX, playing Thursday, Nov. 3, to the mix of reggae and salsa by Universal Language, a band out of Santa Cruz playing Saturday, Nov 5. U.L. made a splash at Reggae on the River this summer, particularly when their friend Michael "Spearhead" Franti grabbed the mike and started jumping around the stage with them.

As I would hope you know by now, next Tuesday, Nov. 8, is Election Day. It may be just a coincidence, but Election Night, when politicos are watching the results and either celebrating victories or licking wounds, the very political Jello Biafra is at HSU for a show in the Kate Buchanan Room. Jello is best known as the acerbic lead singer of The Dead Kennedys, an infamous '70s era S.F. punk band with whom he parted ways (on less than amiable terms) many years ago. Lately his stage appearances have mostly been spoken word performances -- Jello expounding on his political views for hours at a time. Last year he returned to lead vocalist mode, joining forces with influential post-punkers The Melvins to record an album full of songs with vocals that sound a lot like DK-era Jello, set to music that sounds different. For those who skipped that section of their history of rock course, The Melvins were a seminal force in Washington's mid-'80s merger of punk and metal, very influential on grungy bands like Nirvana. The Jelvins version of the band is less sludgy but still complex, offering counterpoint for Jello's raging rants on the state of Amerika including a timely update of the DK classic, "Kalifornia Über Alles," found on their just-released second album. At Jello's request, local politi-punks Winston Smith open the show, which I'm told will include a Jello spoken word portion, a Melvins-sans-Jello set and a set by Melvins' drummer Dale Crover's band, Altamont, before the Jelvins' main event.

Earlier in the day (at noon) AS Presents is "Getting' Funky with the Vote" on the HSU Quad, encouraging students (and others) to remember to cast a ballot with a free BBQ and a band called Keyser Soze. Who is Keyser Soze? A five-piece from Reno playing a ska/punk/jazz/hip hop amalgam. Or, as Verbal explained in The Usual Suspects, "Nobody believed he was real. Nobody ever saw him or knew anybody that ever worked directly for him, but to hear Kobayashi tell it, anybody could have worked for Soze. You never knew. That was his power. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." Hmm, kinda sounds like the guys who pull the strings in modern politics. Don't forget to vote.


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