Nas first burst onto the rap scene in 1994 with his debut album, Illmatic (Columbia), a smooth, literate effort that foreshadowed the gangsta rap that would soon take over hip-hop, and which has since come to be regarded as one of the finest rap releases of the '90s. From there, he embarked on a series of releases that were treated with slicker production by some of the biggest names in rap (Dr. Dre, DJ Premier, the Trackmasters, Timbaland, Eminem), and, in the process, appealed to a wider audience with crossover pop success (thanks in part to the old trick of using instantly recognizable samples). He's bounced back and forth between preachy (with his heart often in the right place) and self-obsessed (dubbing himself "God's Son" on last year's album of the same name), but through it all, his wordy flow has remained constant. Sadly, his output has been somewhat marred by an ongoing beef between he and fellow East Coaster Jay-Z.
Arrested Development, on the other hand, are so damn righteous they probably don't even eat beef. After releasing two albums in the early '90s (three, if you count 1993's live Unplugged)--the first of which, 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life of -- , spawned the hits "Tennessee," "People Everyday" and "Mr. Wendal," and earned them a Best New Artist Grammy--the group broke up. During their brief reign, they were widely regarded as a Southern extension of the highly positive Native Tongues crew, addressing the social ills of the day, such as homelessness, while making a plea for black unity and spirituality to cure them. They were groundbreaking in their embrace of down-home rural culture, unheard of at the time, but since influential on groups like the Black Eyed Peas, OutKast and Nappy Roots.
It's unclear whether Arrested Development will ever release a new album, but for now, the group has reconvened for a tour that will bring them to City Limits, 6350 E. Tanque Verde Road, on Thursday, June 19. The show kicks off at 8 p.m. with opening sets by DJ Polo from KRQ, Influence and Borialis. Tickets are $20 at the door. For more information call 733-6262.
Nas performs at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 20, at the Anselmo Valencia Tori Amphitheater at Casino del Sol, 5655 W. Valencia Road. Advance tickets are available for $35 for reserved seats, $20 for lawn, through Ticketmaster at 321-1000 or online at www.ticketmaster.com.
STANDING STILL: Everyone's favorite downtrodden guy with a big voice, singer/songwriter Richard Buckner, returns to town this week for the second time in support of last year's Impasse (Overcoat), his first album of original material in four years, and its companion EP, Impasse-ette. (His last release, 2000's The Hill, was a collaboration with Calexico, in which Buckner set the poems of Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology to music). Buckner, in the on-target words of the Village Voice, "sings like heartbreak feels."
While his first recordings were hauntingly spare, Impasse continues in the direction forged on his last couple records, incorporating ambitious arrangements that utilize strings, synths and vibes. And lest you start thinking that the musical dynamics signify a newly chipper Buckner, know that Impasse is essentially the story of his marriage falling apart. His trademark bleakness is a bit tougher to nail down through the din, but listen closely: Once again, Buckner has stripped himself naked and shaking for all the world to see.
Richard Buckner performs on Wednesday, June 24, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. The Nick Luca Trio opens the show at 9 p.m. Admission is $8. For more info call 622-8848.
NERVOUS ENERGY: While my review copy of the High Strung's debut album, These Are Good Times (2003, Tee Pee), didn't arrive in the mail in time to offer you my humble opinion, the accolades for the disc are flooding in at a mighty speedy pace. Produced by Jim Diamond (the White Stripes, the Mooney Suzuki), the band is said to possess a songwriting prowess on par with just about anyone these days, and their publicist, in an e-mail more enthusiastic than I've come to expect from her, described their sound as "The Beatles take on Motor City." See what the fuss is all about when the High Strung performs on Tuesday, June 24, at the Red Room at Grill, 100 E. Congress St. For more details call 623-7621.
DIDGE FUSION: Most people's introduction to the didgeridoo comes somewhere around college age. Following an extended hookah session, someone will inevitably pull out one of the long tubular instruments (the didge, not the bong), say something like, "Dude, look what my brah brought me back from Australia; check this out," then proceed to blow through it--and if he's lucky, produce a noise that sounds remarkably like a rather messy fart. It is an instrument not meant for novices.
But, in the right hands, the sound of the didge is quite remarkable, like a more drone-y, less cartoonish jews harp. Allen and Audrey Smith, who perform under the name Rainbow Didge, combine well-played (blown?) didgeridoo and flute music with electronic elements, seeking to "journey between worlds with the ancient and electronica," to arrive at what they call "New Tribe Trance Tech." (They say, "You've never heard anything like it," but I say it's just new age music, abetted by didgeridoo.)
The new-ageisms don't stop there: The couple's upcoming performance (scheduled, not coincidentally, on the Summer Solstice) will also feature "theatrical dancing," "poetic offerings" and "one-of-a-kind Genetic Evolutionary Computer Generated Images." (They say, "Move, groove and trance dance with us as we play our powerful sound vibrations," and I say it'll probably be worth the price of admission just to see people actually try to dance to this stuff.)
The Summer Solstice Interactive Trance Groove-Music and Dance Tranceformance (whew!) begins vibrating at 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 21, at Muse, 516 N. Fifth Ave. Advance tickets are available for $10 at Hear's Music and Antigone Books, or online at www.shamanworld.com.
GOING, GOING, GONE: Your last chance to see Eastern-Euro Gypsy ensemble Molehill Orkestrah for a couple months comes this week in the form of a combo CD release party and tour send-off performance--the former assuming the band gets 'em back from the factory in time, the latter because they're hitting the road for their third U.S. tour, landing on both coasts in the process. Get 'em while you can at Plush, 340 E Sixth St, on Thursday, June 19. The show kicks off at 9:30 p.m., and more info is available by calling 798-1298.