Monolake, The Handsome Family, Bette Midler

MONOLAKE

Washington Hall, 153 14th Ave. (at First Avenue), www.brownpapertickets.com/event/216, at 7 p.m. (laptop clinic) and 10 p.m. (event)

Sat., Jan. 31. $12 adv./$15.

"The long pulse of Zion dub," William Gibson called it in 1984's Neuromancer, template for so much of the sci-fi lit (and sci-fi culture) that followed. Dub was the perfect metaphor for Gibson's cobbled techtopia, its traces of roots culture poking messily through new technology. "Neuromanticism" is a pun coined by writer Tim Finney to describe fey, icy acts like Luomo . . . who actually couldn't be further from Gibson's grotty syncretism. Not so Germany's Monolake, whose early work, like 1997's Hong Kong, rode that long pulse down the autobahn, mixing glacier-scale synth washes and field recordings from market stalls and rain forestsmusic for the nightclubs of Gibson's Chiba City. Momentum (Imbalance), their fifth album in seven years, seems to be merely another point on an established line, but then, like their spiritual forefathers Neu!, Monolake were always on a road to nowhere in particular. Still, opener "Cern" is a bit of shock, its gratingly metallic ping-pong beats and disintegrating sample tones calling up an anorexic Autechre or a more schizoid take on the house minimalism of Cologne dance label Perlon. (It also carries the faint aftertaste of another Jamaican music: dancehall.) By "Atomium," Momentum's third cut, we're on more familiar turfslow, spacious tribal pounding buffeted by insect chatter and those gaseous synth swirlsthat sets the album's twin coordinates: manic rhythmic triplets-quintuplets-bliptuplets contrasted against endless dub space. Which makes Momentum merely the next installment in a series of ongoing variations, but, really, what well-established electronic act isn't these days? JESS HARVELL

THE HANDSOME FAMILY

Tractor Tavern at 9 p.m., with the Buttless Chaps and Scott McCaughey

Fri., Jan. 30. $10.

It's a shame that Johnny Cash and the Handsome Family never had an opportunity to collaborate during his lifetime. On Singing Bones (Carrot Top), their sixth and latest album, the Albuquerque-based duo radiate Rick Rubin's most distinguished meal ticket's aesthetic paternity to an extent that his biological progeny would never dream of. But Cash's fiery hoop is just one of the forms of flame that tempers vocalist/instrumentalist Brett Sparks' supple baritone, an instrument informed by honky-tonk hierophants and singing cowboys ranging from Marty Robbins to early 20th-century Appalachian minstrel Bascom Lamar Lunsford. Lyricist and occasional backup singer Rennie Sparks casts her narrative net just as widely and at least as well, marrying Flannery O'Connor and H.P. Lovecraft with so much homespun eloquence that her partner comes out macking like a surrealist Tom T. Hall. Or, in the case of "The Bottomless Hole" (an on-site report from a man who's been plummeting down the song's titular pit in an untethered bathtub for quite some time and shows no sign of stoppingever), truck-stop troubador Red Sovine. The way Sparks half croons, half keens, "My name I don't remember/Though I hail from Ohio/I had a wife and children/Good tires on my car," over a simple, loping banjo-and-brushed-snare accompaniment without so much as a trace of irony is just one of Singing Bones' countless finesse indicators. (Naturally, the hole is behind the guy's barn.) As with the other tracks on the album, the song's simple, beautiful music (recorded in the duo's garage) and otherworldly lyrics mesh perfectly as angels fucking in an abandoned wheelbarrow. ROD SMITH

BETTE MIDLER

KeyArena at 8 p.m.

Tues., Feb. 3. $39.50-$150.

Publicity for the Kiss My Brass Tour promises "an over the top two and a half hour extravaganza nothing short of fabulous." Can we have that signed and notarized, please? Even a casual listen will tell you that Midler's voice is still ready to rumble, yet she's spent an awful lot of recording time in the last decade being frou-frou and fluttery and "From a Distance"-ing herself from the fact that she used to have a bit more bite. It's not fair to expect an artist to ignore maturation and motherhood, but is it too much to pine just a little for the bawdy, rowdy Midler who dug her heels into Dylan's "I Shall Be Released"? Give Bette this: She usually goes balls-out livefrom Divine Madness to the uncontained affection of her Johnny Carson sayonara to her cheeky irony as a Best Song presenter on the 1997 Oscars after Madonna's wobbly vocal performance (Midler tossed off something about the nominees receiving "full-throated, fully committed" live renditions). Here's wagering that this big concert settingseven-piece band, brass section, and "the hits that made her famous"will bring out the best in Bette. She's up for a Grammy for her bighearted Rosemary Clooney tribute CD, but we will happily kiss her brass if she comes out swinging with a healthy dose of the Divine Miss M. STEVE WIECKING

 
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