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Krippendorf's Bauls

Prior to the show last Friday night at the Rio, there was no reason to doubt the cultural validity of PURNA DAS AND THE BAULS OF BENGAL. The evening began with a characteristically elegant introduction by UCSC Arts & Lectures director MICHELLE WITT, followed by a rather prolonged academic introduction by UCSC professor DILIP BASU, who talked about the history of the Bauls, and gave a brief biography of Purna Das' life since he was discovered by BOB DYLAN's manager. The idea of an academic primer before a show of this nature was a great one, but the execution was a bit long-winded and managed to bore both the audience, who were excited to hear music, and the Bauls themselves, who were raring to play.

The show started with five musicians onstage, featuring SWAPNA KAWSAR playing the hamonium, RABISHANKER BHATTACHARYA on the tablas and MANTU KAWSAR playing miscellaneous percussion in the rear. PURNA DAS BAUL sat in a chair at the front of the stage playing the khamak, a small drum with a string attached to the head that, when plucked quickly with a plectrum, sounds roughly like a toad. Purna's son DIBYENDU stood at the front of the stage singing and playing his dotara, a small lute on which he played the same 10 notes in various sequences the entire evening. When he talked about the Bauls' belief that the human body is all the temple they need for worship, his tone was more condescending than it was instructive, and succeeded in reducing a rich and vibrant philosophy to a platitude as compelling as late-night paid programming. So inept an ambassador of his art was he that gradually the brightly colored patchwork robes looked more and more like huge Afro wigs at disco parties--cheap, exaggerated clichés that exploit heritage for ironic purposes.

His father fared better, infusing expression into his face and voice that was sometimes powerfully affective. But overall, the performance seemed to be just that--a performance and nothing more. No ecstatic dancing, no moments of musical brilliance, no connection with the divine. The audience was only accidentally coaxed into applauding for an encore when the house lights came up. That's part of why I love this town--now matter how stoned we are, we still know a fakir when we see one.

Mike Connor

Mediocre Music for Good People

For a niche rock band, there's nothing better than owning that niche (especially if the two main members are married and thus unable to partake of groupies). On the other hand, there's nothing's worse than being your own biggest rival. It kinda came down like that for the CRAMPS at their Catalyst show Friday. Being the Cramps, by the way, is a niche in itself, if not an industry, and the Cramps do own it, despite the many bands who have tried to out-Cramp them in their 25-odd years of odd years. The earliest of those are documented on the just-released How to Make a Monster, which presents the first crude recordings the Cramps ever did. A second disc contains live stuff from the late '70s previously available only on bootleg.

The fact that that ferocious early stuff is fresh in everyone's mind made the band's performance last week somewhat of a letdown--the relative lack of intensity was especially stark since they opened with one of their first fan favorites, "Mystery Plane," and two of their early covers, JACK SCOTT's "The Way I Walk" and "Rock on the Moon," originally by JIMMY STEWART (not that Jimmy Stewart; this one was an obscure Memphis rocker who's more famous for going on to found STAX RECORDS).

The Cramps did have two things going for them. One, frontman LUX INTERIOR is only getting funnier and weirder in his middle age, and as THE LUX INTERIOR COMEDY HOUR, the show was phenomenal. From crawling on the stage on all fours and barking like a dog to licking POISON IVY's guitar to jumping down into the crowd and pretending that one audience member was overflowing with illegal drugs, he hasn't lost it. Second, the audience either didn't know or didn't care that this was an underwhelming Cramps show even by recent standards. It was a notably great audience, in fact--they came to mosh, but didn't feel the need to kick the shit out of each other while doing it. Between them, Lux's wackiness, all the cool Poison Ivy exuded, the vinyl-dress-up Betty who was up on a chair pole-dancing against one of the balcony supports and the highlight closer, the band's stand-out cover of the COUNT FIVE's "Psychotic Reaction," it was impossible not to have fun--and thanks to the dour mood the election's put me in, I was trying.

Steve Palopoli

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From the November 10-17, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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