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Pete Yorn with Remy Zero and JJ72 Wednesday, Nov. 21
The Lincoln Theatre, Raleigh

Once upon a time there was a C&W bar on Cabarrus Street in Raleigh named Gilley's, and as you walked in you were greeted by--in place of barstools--a row of adult-sized swings running down either side. It had to be one of the more interesting features of any bar in the Triangle, if not exactly practical, drinking and swinging being mutually exclusive recreations.Now the bar has been renamed The Lincoln Theatre and the swings are gone. But the Lincoln, which will celebrate its first anniversary early next year, has a compensating feature: one of the best sound systems of any club in the Triangle. (You know it's good when you're in the bathroom and you can distinguish a song by its lyrics as much as its bassline.)

On the night before Thanksgiving, Alabama (now Los Angeles-based) five-piece Remy Zero opened at the Lincoln with a set heavily favoring cuts from The Golden Hum, their first album in three years. If your back were to the stage, you'd swear that Bono and pals had paid an unannounced visit to the Triangle: With lead singer Cinjun Tate's near-exact replication of Bono's voice and bombast (he had the gestures down, pointing to the ceiling while balancing on one foot, preparing for liftoff) and backed by his bandmates' chiming, Eno-esque guitars, all that was missing to complete the effect was a pair of black wraparound shades plastered to Tate's mug ("U 2 can be a band," quipped a friend).

"This song is called 'Save Me,' Tate announced, clutching a bottle of beer like a lifeline while the band began to recreate the first hit single off their new album. "Save Me" is an unfortunate title for anything but a self-consciously ironic tune ("That's like doing a painting call 'Reflections'" piped in my friend again). Some sample lyrics: "I feel my wings have broken in your hands....Somebody save me, I don't care how you do it." With songs like this, and a lot less talent and charisma, these guys could achieve Creed-like popularity.

Which is the point: The otherwise personable Remy Zero deserves better songs ("Glorious #1" and "Bitter" were two nice cuts from the new album) and once Tate got past his Bono impersonation, the band took on fun inflections of The Cult and Deftones. I'd check them out again on their next visit--if the fact that "Save Me" is being used as the theme song for the WB's new Superboy drama Smallville doesn't turn me off first.

After Remy Zero, a shaggy Pete Yorn took the stage with his bandmates, his now-famous head of black hair (he lists his favorite movie as Shampoo) hanging in long, loose ringlets about his tired-looking face. But once he began singing in his just-woke-up growl, his face tightened and his eyes rolled to the ceiling in a pained expression while he cracked open his set with a Springsteen cover (it's a signature of Yorn's to open with a Springsteen tune--Yorn is also from Jersey, and his new Live at the Roxy EP begins with, may God forgive him, "Dancin' in the Dark"). Yorn then segued into "Murray" (the "uh uh uh uh uh uh" song), from his freshman album, Musicforthemorningafter. (The album title explains the voice.) Yorn is known for combining American and Euro influences, but, despite doing a Smiths and a Bowie cover, this set was more Born in the U.S.A. than Anarchy in the U.K. The gigantic, wall-sized American flag draped across the back of the stage took on more significance the longer it went unremarked upon.

After faithfully recreating many of the super-melodic pop-rock gems off his new album, Yorn encored with a great, roaring encore solo cover of Bowie's "China Girl. " This was followed by a slight kerfluffle as a fan was detained for allegedly trying to make off with the band's harmonica, which has achieved mythic status by being featured in Yorn's MTV-friendly hit "Life on a Chain." The accused, by way of demonstrating his innocence, indignantly offered to "go to Kmart" to replace the missing harmonica--a clear indication of guilt, if not for stealing the harmonica, then for something. If you couldn't tell from witnessing this scuffle that Yorn is about to become huge, then asking his handlers for five minutes of the singer-songwriter's time after the show would clarify things:

"You have to clear that with Sony Records first," came the reply.

--Mark W. Hornburg

Los Fakires Monday, Nov. 19
Nelson Music Room, Duke University, Durham

Everybody knows the formula for Cuban son by now--just take a handful of wizened, cigar-smoking seniors playing percussion, guitars, maybe even a slow-moving game of dominos, and ... a saxophone? With nary a conga or bass player in sight, it's as if the five-man Cuban ensemble, Los Fakires, put the sounds of bongos, maracas, güiro, tres and a lone saxophone into a cigar box and shook it, creating a version of son that's considered original even inside Cuba. Monday night's concert in Durham was the group's second appearance ever in the United States; they arrived here directly from Santa Clara (via Miami) as part of Duke University's Living Traditions Series.Top billing was shared between founder Jose Bringues, whose saxophone gives the band their trademark sound, and Martin Chaves, aka "Cascarita," the small, hardy lead singer whose heart-shaped face is crowned by a distinctive straw hat. True to form, the musicians were precise, charming and fun loving, insisting that the crowd clap at times in 4/4, even though it goes against the grain of son's off-beat clave rhythm. Cuban musicians seem to enjoy a good party more than purism, which may be why they make such great cultural ambassadors. Despite the chamber music setting of Duke's Nelson Music Room, a few audience members danced around the margins of the respectful capacity crowd of students, subscribers, Cuba buffs and members of the local Latin music scene.

Following a Q&A session with the ensemble's English-speaking handler, the show kicked off with "Cualquiera Resbala y Cae" ("anyone can slip and fall"), an upbeat descarga from La Sonora Matancera's catalog. Cascarita's voice was unadorned but sweet, and all five men harmonized on coros that were crisp yet warm. Percussion popped, bubbled and burned, enhanced by the live acoustics of the wooden hall, with cries of "Azucar!" going up during the saxophone's rolling arpeggios.

Gilberto Abreu's long fingers nimbly tapped the bongos, Rafael Valdes wielded the maracas like drumsticks and Cascarita flicked the long, scored surface of the gourd known as a güiro, or provided the band's heartbeat by striking clave sticks.

The set included some tracks from Los Fakires' one and only album to date (released this year, after 40 years of performing), and others presumably intended for a second album to be recorded next year in Germany. Highlights included "Tabaco y Ron," "Dulce Desangaño" (Cascarita's bolero), "Fuerza de Voluntad" (a duet with Bringues) and Ignacio Piñeiro's "Suavecito."

Valdes seemed sullen at first (he told people at the reception afterward that his new shoes pinched), but he really came to life when he took center stage for the vocal lead on "Mata Siguaraya." In a successful homage to the sensual, full-bodied vocals of Beny Moré, for whom this was a signature tune, the robust 72-year-old did a traditional interpretation of the melody, all the while hamming it to the hilt with his body language: gesticulating to the crowd with his maracas and getting into mock arguments with band members.

The inevitable "Chan Chan," the beautiful Compay Segundo tune that's become ubiquitous since the Buena Vista explosion, topped off the set. Some spontaneous line dancing busted loose in the aisles as Durhamites mingled with members of the band's entourage. The crowd-pleasing "Guantanamera" followed, turning into an all-out singalong. As a final encore, they did "Decidete," a son montuno by "Filin" composer Jose Antonio Mendes. Band members hung around afterward to autograph CDs and chat with the curious.

If recent concerts are any indication (i.e. Ibrahim Ferrer & Rubén González in June), internationally touring Cuban bands may slowly be finding their way to the Triangle. We can only hope there will be more azucar where Los Fakires came from.

--Sylvia Pfeiffenberger

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