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Jim Walsh Pop Music Critic

Published: Wednesday, December 1, 1999

Best of November

Concerts by Idlewild, Joe Strummer and Robbie Fulks, and records by Love-Cars, R.E.M., Mint Condition

and Korn made for a November to remember.

The past four weeks brought to the table a feast of good live shows, from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Ruben Gonzalez and Ibrahim Ferrer, Blink 182 and Bette Midler, the merits of which have already been duly noted in these pages. The best of the rest:

Idlewild (Nov. 23, 400 Bar): This ridiculously energetic Scottish foursome has been all the rage in the U.K., where they regularly incite pogo hysteria. In this, their Twin Cities debut (opening for Verbena), they proved just what all the buzz is about. They played a bushelful of maniacally melodic songs from their great new album, ``Hope Is Important,'' a battle cry for 1999 if ever there was one, including ``When I Argue I See Shapes'' and ``A Film for the Future.'' If Liam Gallagher is ``the voice of the '90s,'' as Q magazine recently dubbed him, then let Idlewild singer Roddy Woomble's hopelessly romantic burr be the voice of right now. Verbena? We split four songs in, realizing we'd already caught the best band of the night.

R.E.M., ``The Great Beyond'' (single from the Warner Bros. release, ``Music From the Motion Picture `Man on the Moon' '').: This heartfelt, searching song from the forthcoming Andy Kaufman biopic isn't just the prettiest R.E.M. single since ``Everybody Hurts.'' It's also a welcome antidote to the state of knucklehead Top 40 rock and boy blandmania in general.

Love-Cars, ``I'm Friends With All Stars'' (No Alternative): A stunning sophomore outing from this local hard-pop outfit, who make matters of the heart feel raw, real and immediately majestic with dramatic, heartbroken-but-getting-over-it love songs. All tunes are penned by singer/guitarist James Diers, who comes off like Edward Norton in ``Fight Club'' -- a guy who wrestles with his maleness through the prism of a mad bard.

Robbie Fulks (Nov. 20, Lee's Liquor Lounge): Club dance party of the month, with swingers, pogo-ers, polka-ers and hacks all filling the floor to the smartest hootenanny around, embodied by this chorus: ``It's a vile world/But that's OK/That's where the smart money is today.'' Which brings us to . . .

Korn, ``Issues'' (Epic/Immortal): Columbine is old news, the goose is getting fat, so nobody's worried about THE KIDS anymore. How was soccer practice, honey? What do you mean you didn't go? Fix yourself some dinner, I've got book club tonight. Gotta run. Kiss, kiss. Silence. Microwave. Internet. Headphones. Korn singer Jonathan Davis yowling, ``I can't always say, `It's gonna be better tomorrow' '' with this creepy mock chirpy-parent voice, backed by guitars that sound like they're plugged into an abyss.To anyone under 25, it is aural Chinese water torture. But for a generation hovered over by an entertainment industry awaiting any new morsel of anarchy to feed on (and any fresh aspect of the anti-hero with corporate sponsorship potential), ``Issues'' is the closest thing there is to soul balm.

Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros (Nov. 11, The Quest): When the original punk movement was at its zenith, Strummer said he was like the captain of the ship and that when punk went down, he'd go down with it. Which is what happened for a good while. But, lucky for us, he didn't totally hit bottom. Seeing him this night, with a band of Brits -- decidedly not hired guns -- and hearing such Clash classics as ``London Calling,'' ``I Fought the Law,'' ``Tommy Gun'' and ``Rock the Casbah,'' it was easy to see the damage behind Strummer's wounded eyes, and also the fire.

Liz Mandville Greeson, ``Ready to Cheat'' (Earwig): Nasty as a Bonnie Raitt gone bad, sexy as a cigarette-and-Scotch soul kiss, and the only record of the year that could make an entire dance floor blush. A veteran of the Chicago scene, Greeson is a cool belter whose jump-blues band offers a swaggering sensuality to such anti-puritan personality profiles as ``Reefer Woman'' and ``Jim Beam,'' while ``Great Big Man'' and ``Belly Rubbin' '' are bawdy fantasies fulfilled. What's more, ``Those Kisses'' is, in the pantheon of female self-pleasure songs, right up there with Lucinda Williams' ``Right in Time.''

Trailer Trash, ``Nearer My Bar to Thee'' (Lee's Liquor Records): To call Trailer Trash a ``bar band'' would be the ultimate insult, conjuring visions of uninspired outfits sleepwalking their way through sets in suburban bowling alleys and VFW halls. But somehow, the Trash is forever linked to that time-honored tradition, as anyone who has caught their regular Wednesday gig at Lee's over the past six years can attest. These songs, penned by singers/guitarists Nate Dungan and Dan Gaardner, reflect as much, as do the adult lovers and fighters behind them.

Mint Condition, ``Life's Aquarium'' (Elektra): St. Paul's premier R&B band returns on a new label and the same sophisticated blend of liquified harmonies and vintage soul that made them one of the most endearing, enduring outfits around.

Bill Tuomala, ``Exiled on Main Street #21: Can't Get Enough of That Wonderful Duff!'': Someone recently accused my favorite rock critic of writing ``about what you like too much.'' Like that was a bad thing. Me, I wish there were more loonies out there gushing about what makes them get out of bed in the morning instead of merely covering their ``beats'' (butts). Which is why this was the best piece of music journalism I've read in quite some time -- a fan's notes on how one kid from North Dakota came to know, love and run into Guns 'N Roses at the Uptown Bar. (Go to or send $1 to 3554 Emerson Ave. S., No. 9, Minneapolis, MN 55408).

The Sir Douglas Quintet, ``She's About a Mover'': The last time I saw Sir Doug Sahm was the Monday after Kurt Cobain's suicide. I sat with him for an hour at the Viking Bar over on the West Bank of Minneapolis, interviewing him for a story. He was devastated and talked at length about living life to its fullest. He died Nov. 19 at 58 years young, and the memory of him waxing philosophic in a sunny bar -- and this song, the Quintet's biggest hit -- is what I'll remember most.

``Swingin' Party: A Tribute to Bob Stinson'' (Nov. 20, Turf Club): The first surprise was that the vibe at this benefit to raise money for a proposed park bench at Lake of the Isles was extremely festive, not funereal. The second was that, by the end of the night, the $5,000 needed was raised in its entirety, which means a bench will be in place by the summer. Suggested inscription: ``In memory of Bob Stinson, 1959-1995. Don't forget to tip your bartenders and waitresses.''

Rob Zombie presents ``The Words & the Music of Frankenstein'' (Zombie A Go-Go): Soundtracks come and go, but this labor of love from the one and only White Zombie leader is one for the ages. Beautiful packaging that includes behind-the-scenes photos and a CD that mixes those haunting scores with only the most unforgettable Colin Clive-Boris Karloff-Elsa Lanchester-Bela Lugosi lines that launched a generation of ``Famous Monsters of Filmland'' subscribers.

Also: Beck, ``Midnite Vultures'' (DGC); Fiona Apple, ``When the Pawn . . .'' (Clean Slate/Epic); Pet Shop Boys, ``Nightlife'' (Sire/London); Montell Jordan, ``Get It on Tonight'' (Def Soul); Rahsaan Patterson, ``Love in Stereo'' (MCA); Iffy.Net (demo CD); Buddy Miller, ``Cruel Moon'' (HighTone).

Best Bets for December: El Vez (Friday, First Avenue); Stereolab (Saturday, First Avenue); Curtiss A's 20th Annual tribute to John Lennon (Dec. 8, First Avenue); Punk for Xmas with Dillinger 4, the Strike and MK Ultra (Dec. 10, Weisman Art Museum); the Silos/Tea & Sympathy/Red Star Belgrade (Dec. 11, 7th St. Entry); Indigenous/Corey Stevens (Dec. 31, Radisson St. Paul); Martin Zellar & the Hardways (Dec. 31, O'Gara's Garage).

Pop music critic Jim Walsh can be reached at (651) 228-5553.

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