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April 27, 2006


Chris Portugal is tooling down some L.A. freeway ("double-decker, five lanes on each side") on a Monday afternoon when his cellphone rings. The man better known as Thes One of the hip hop duo People Under the Stairs chats while he heads for a place that does embroidery. "I'm trying to get things together for this tour," he says. "I'm working on costume design, a long lost art in the hip hop world." He wants his name and that of his hip hop partner-in-rhyme, Double K, emblazoned on the back off their jumpsuits -- "and maybe a map of Africa for his."

He and Double K (aka Mike Turner) will leave the following morning for a long journey taking them across the U.S., including a stop in Arcata on Friday, April 28, for a show at HSU's The Depot.

The tour is in support of a new album, Stepfather, released just last week, the group's fifth full-length collection of raps set to neo-old school beats, as always handcrafted using vinyl records and classic drum machines.

While the album keeps to the old school aesthetic, he says, "It's different for us. It's progressing, at least from a production standpoint, but it's still 100 percent made out of records. That's the medium."

He says the backing tracks and beats on the new disc are derived from "a wide variety of stuff from all over the world. We spent time in India, Mexico City, South America. All of that is culminating in the music on the record."

The long-time crate digger (who met his hip hop partner at a record store), says he's always looking for new (old) records. "We have to keep fresh stuff coming in, keep interpolating it and representing it in a hip hop manner. I'm always looking for something different."

The last record he bought? "I think it was some downer folk record, some weird obscure thing I got at a thrift store in South Central. I bought it because I liked the cover and I wanted to hear what it sounded like. Pretty much anything that represents some aspect of Americana, I'm into it. Whether I end up using it for hip hop or not, I dig it."

The stepfather CD comes with a DVD that includes a segment (shot by Peter "T-G Brown" Agoston) in which Thes demonstrates how he uses a sampler to deconstruct and reconstruct a soul tune creating a backing track. "From a theory perspective I guess it's deconstruction," he says. "I'd say it's akin to collage art in the photography field or whatnot, but from a musical standpoint. We either strip something down using a variety of analog technologies, or we can let it ride as it stands, but for the most part we take elements from many different sources and put them together to make one song or one track."

How does that translate on stage? "We have the instrumentals from all the records, then we have drum machines and turntables and all sorts of stuff to do routines. We just get up there and do our thing, give `em a live show."

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In fact, PUTS' live shows are legendary. If you are into hip hop, don't miss them Friday, where they share the Depot stage with 2Mex of the Visionaries, Psalm One, Time Machine and Humboldt's own Dub Cowboy.

Dan "Dub Cowboy" Giannotta has been pretty busy of late. In addition to doing radio shows on a couple of different stations and regular DJ gigs at Sidelines (Thursdays) and Saturdays (Indigo), the newlywed is adding a Sunday night live version of his "Church of the 12" Circle," spinning house music at Indigo as DJ Receiver, "blend[ing] songs in the genres of house, techno, trance and jungle music to form a sonic soundscape that can easily take the listener on a fantastic journey." The "Church" runs from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. at the nightclub and is broadcast from 10-midnite on KSLG 94.1 FM.

Speaking of busy DJs, DJ Red has three gigs this weekend. Friday he spins '80s music at The Alibi, Saturday he's at Mazzotti's for a funk/disco costume party, then on Sunday he plays house music at Humboldt Brews with DJs Brian and Gerbe for the weekly Club Confessions LGBT party.

Also at Humboldt Brews, on Friday, another engagement by Miles Ahead, the Miles Davis tribute I've been raving about. Then on Saturday it's Melvin Seals, ace organist from the Jerry Garcia Band, playing with "Friends" including Arcata's own Ruben Diaz, a fine guitarist in many genres (including psychedelic rock) and a fine fellow to boot.

Friday night at Ramone's Old Town catch Universalia Jane and the Simple Symphony, described by Courtney of Ramone's as having "female vocals, electric keyboard and cello, slightly similar to Two Ton Boa." She also noted that they have recently relocated from Flagstaff, Ariz. Deric Mendes opens at 7 p.m.

The guys from Ponche are now spread across a few counties, but they still get together for that hot AfroCuban salsa people love to dance to. They're at the Arcata Farmers' Market Saturday morning (sure, you can dance there) and at Six Rivers that night.

Also on Saturday, at Westhaven Center for the Arts, Lila Nelson plays contemporary folk, jazz and blues accompanied by a cellist and a guitarist/mandolinist (who just might be her husband).

At HSU that night, it's Masters of the Steel Drum, an Trinidadian extravaganza featuring pan masters Ray Holman, Clifford Alexis and young Liam Teague, the "Paganini of the Pan," all of them backed by our own Humboldt Calypso Band.

Saturday night at The Alibi, Strix Vega celebrates the release of their new CD, Drunken Sky, a cool, somewhat melancholy collection of a dozen songs they pigeonhole as "post folk/alt. rock." It's an apt description for Wilco-esque music that mixes lead vocalist Colin Begell's strummed folky guitar and fuzzy electric leads with jazzy piano licks by Andy Powell. (Powell also trades off playing bass with drummer Brian Godwin.) The overall feel is of a rainy afternoon in Humboldt, staring out the window, sipping a beer or maybe a glass of whiskey, wishing the sun will come out, knowing it probably won't. Opening the show: county-tinged mando-punk rockers Que La Chinga.

For something completely different, stop by Eureka High Saturday for the Humboldt Harmonaires Barbershop Chorus show, Off Broadway... Way Off, with special guests The Perfect Gentlemen, visiting from the South Bay Chapter of SPEBSQSA. (Sorry, I don't know what SPEBSQSA stands for but I'm guessing the "Q" is for quartet.)

Another study in contrasts: Sunday morning you have the 15th Annual Interfaith Prayer Breakfast at Arcata Community Center, with the Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir and its teen and youth auxiliaries.

Then that night it's a Placebo show at Empire Squared featuring hardcore punk by Akimbo, who record for Jello Biafa's Alternative Tentacles label. They're joined by Torche from Florida, Black Cobra from L.A. and politi-punks Winston Smith from Arcata.

It's the second Placebo show this weekend. The first is the annual Punk Prom Friday, April 28, at the Eureka Teen Center with 8/01 Warning, Burnt Toast, Eureka's favorite obscure alt. rock cover band Professional Superheroes plus "special guests." (FDR and the New Deal?) According to their press release, "This year's punk prom committee is a bunch of high skool punx dedicated to the true spirit of punk rock!" who have chosen the theme Angels & Devils. "Joey Ramone and Joe Strummer went to heaven; Sid Vicious definitely went to hell for being a sellout. Why else?" They add: "We are all good when we want to be and we all have demons that we wrestle with." Their bets are on the angels to "out-mosh the devils in the pit to the heavenly choirs and hellish screams of up and coming local punk bands." As with all Placebo happenings, this is an "all ages, substance and discrimination free event."

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