Triple Door at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Thurs., Dec. 4-Sat., Dec. 6. $28.
The multimillion selling Buena Vista Social Club put Cuban music back on the map after decades of being passé. In addition to being a savior, though, it also proved to be a powerful curse, bringing a flood of Cuban CDs, with the indifferent and bad vastly outweighing the good. Barbarito Torres (Pimienta) happens to be one of the very good ones, but you should expect that from someone who was part of those Buena Vista sessions. He runs the gamut of Cuban styles, with the emphasis on son, leading a talented ensemble in a self-effacing way. Torres' intricate lines on the mandolinlike laud weave in and out of the melodies and dance around the rhythms, but he leaves center stage to the singers or trumpet. But remove his contribution, and you'd just have a skeleton; the leader's delicate, incisive work fleshes out the music's bones. While most of the material hews close to the Cuban tradition, the arrangements (mostly by Torres) crackle with imagination, as on the sparkling "El Ruiseñor del Guatque," which features three vocalists. He does step outside the box for a take on the canción "Perla Marina" that strips down the lushness of the Buena Vista version to sinews of emotion, letting Omara Portunondo's voice caress the lyrics. And on the surprising "La Comparsa," Torres and legendary Cuban jazz pianist Chucho Valdes simply pull apart and reconstruct the fibers of the piece in stunning, virtuosic fashion. This is Cuba past and present, splendid but self-examining, looking toward the future. CHRIS NICKSON
THE PERNICE BROTHERS
Showbox at 9 p.m.
Sat., Dec. 6. $13 adv./$15.
Joe Pernice's comic musings, ruffled attire and sleep-filled lids conjure up recollections of an old college professor, and there are internal resemblances as wellhe's literate, passionate, academic. Which makes sense: The prolific leader of Massachusetts' Pernice Brothers crafts pop songs with the proficiency of a poet, then sings the hell out of them. Pernice has a riveting voicehe can breed optimism and melancholy all within the same three minutesand a flair for hard-faced, browbeaten lyrics about a world spinning out of control, as on the ballad "Baby in Two," in which Pernice pleads, "Hey kid/Rock and Roll/A bulls-eye's hung on your soul . . . Cut the baby in two." The former head of the Scud Mountain Boys, Pernice holds an MFA in creative writing and recently issued Meat Is Murder, his first novel and second book (the first, Two Blind Pigeons, collects his poetry). The newest in Continuum Books' "33 1/3" series, which provides unique perspectives of classic records, it follows a Boston teenager (Pernice?) through 1985, the year the Smiths' album was released. Pernice's affection for the Smiths is obvious on his band's latest release, Yours Mine and Ours (Ashmont), chiefly on the infectious "One Foot in the Grave," in which guitarist Peyton Pinkerton, who energizes the band's live performance, plays the role of Johnny Marr. Onstage, Pernice can follow a joyous cover of the Pretenders' "Talk of the Town" with "Number Two," a most spiteful breakup song: "I hope this letter finds you crying," he sings. "It would feel so good to see you cry." SCOTT HOLTER
Graceland at 9 p.m.
Sat., Dec. 6. $12 adv.
There's something innately cartoonish about rock and roll double-frontman teams. Consider the players: ZZ Top, They Might Be Giants, Ween, the BoDeans, Barenaked Ladiesall caricatures to a man-jack. The Top's Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill excepted, they're also all shining models of unalloyed fecklessness. With peers like that, it's no wonder Queens of the Stone Age's Nick Oliveri and Josh Homme seem like gunslingers at a pillow fight every time they take a breath. It doesn't hurt that they're smart enough to cut the cartoon factor in half by hearkening to a model established long before the advent of neuter goof-rock: the crooner/comic combo, à la Bing Crosby and Bob Hope or Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. The suave Homme holds down QOTSA's melodic moments, while Oliveri, a screech owl known as much for the extraordinary length of his goatee as he is for playing naked, goes for laffs and outrageousness. A Drug Problem That Never Existed (Ipecac), his second semi-solo release under the Mondo Generator aegis, offers plenty of the latter; opening track "Meth, I Hear You Callin'" packs enough white heat into its minute and a half to justify the album's existence and Mondo's place on the Ipecac roster. But in the absence of Homme's melodious impetus, Oliveri's penchant for off-the-rack riffage and transgressive lyrical cliché rages unabated, making A Drug Problem seem less Desert Sessions-style crucible and more like something the Revolting Cocks or My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult might have farted out a decade ago on a feature-length episode of Beavis and Butthead. Maybe Oliveri's just feathering his nest, though. Should QOTSA ever call it quits, his place in Pigface is assured. ROD SMITH