Bif Naked
Project Simon
Falling Blind
Grog Shop
August 19

As the story goes, Bif the Canadian punker has fronted punk bands, drugged it up with punks, dated punks, married punks, divorced punks (quickly thereafter), and even quit a pair of punk bands that apparently weren't quite punk enough for her. That's hardcore, dude. But for all her ostensible punk credibility, Bif brought little in punk sound or ethos to her latest Atlantic release, I Bificus.

There are elements of pop punk — 1-2-3 chords under middle-school-breakup lyrics — but the album finds more in common with '80s hard rock than it does punk. Most of the uninspiring songs flow over with clean-sounding, mellowed guitars, string swells, and subtle echo and wah-wah effects. And to clinch the connection, Bif's vocals emulate the big rock swagger and power balladeering of Pat Benatar and Joan Jett more than anything spiked — So Cal, Brit, or NYC. It's hardly anarchy. Well, maybe for Canada.

Consider it a total surprise then, when Ms. Naked put on an absolutely riveting, hard-assed show at the Grog Thursday night. Glowering through eyeliner thick as all-weather paint and an unruly Prince Valiant haircut, and free with her quirky, random sense of humor, Bif absolutely tore through her songbook, substituting the studio gloss for aggressive, lithe bubblegum punk. Onstage, Bif was a heady mix of adrenaline, aggression, and comedy — the love child of PJ Harvey and Pee-Wee Herman, and her show was nothing if not entertaining. These days, not too many singers can tackle subjects like their eighth-grade boyfriends and breakups over french fries and pull it off.

Project Simon turned in a respectable performance. A little bit glam and a little bit Goth, with a touch of electronics, the Nashville quintet gets points for tasteful theatricality (mostly due to a lead singer with Bono disease) and sheer earnestness. The high point: a glittery, arena rock cover of "Lady in Red."

Falling Blind's time on stage was lackluster. Specializing in competent pop rock with occasional hints of reggae, the band just didn't have much going on. — Aaron Steinberg

Black Sabbath
August 20

As far as crass, monolithic rock and roll is concerned, no one has done it better or longer — this year marks a thirtieth anniversary — than Black Sabbath. Some may argue, with good reason, the band became a parody of itself after Ozzy Osbourne left, but that doesn't diminish the fact that, while Led Zeppelin is credited as the forefather of heavy metal, Black Sabbath laid the foundation for the majority of the shredders who followed.

This tour was touted as the last Black Sabbath reunion ever, yet it wasn't a career retrospective/greatest hits tour as much as a celebration of the body of music dated from 1970 to 1972. From "Black Sabbath" to "Snowblind," the hour-and-forty-minute show was a barrage of thundering beats, morose lyrics, and wailing guitar licks.

Metalheads — varying in age from fifteen to fifty — began salivating from the opening chords of "War Pigs." While "Paranoid" and "Iron Man" were enjoyable, the obscure tunes were what everyone came to hear. This included the foreboding "Electric Funeral," the throbbing, bass-heavy "N.I.B.," and the timeless "After Forever." All were simplistic — a few chords, heavy bass, and a barrage of drum shots — but they were belted out by the originators.

For the most part, the band looked its age: Drummer Bill Ward was a round mound of thundering sound; bassist Geezer Butler could have won a Joe Walsh look-alike contest; Ozzy looked ragged. Then there was sharp-looking guitarist Tony Iommi, wearing a long leather coat and looking as if he hadn't aged at all.

At one point, Ozzy picked up an elementary-school-aged girl and hoisted her onto his shoulders. He later returned the girl with her head still attached. Ozzy also showed his age after someone threw up a "sweetleaf" cigarette. He jokingly held it to his lips and then said, "I'm afraid those days are over."

Godsmack, often criticized as sounding too much like Alice in Chains and Metallica, added Led Zeppelin to the detractor's list. — John Benson

Ike Stubblefield & Is Not Was
Joe Deninzon
Wilbert's Bar & Grille
August 21

With any luck, music fans will soon be calling owner Mike Miller's now-extinct Southwestern-style outpost the "original" Wilbert's. (After a brief stop at the Symposium, Wilbert's reopens in the upstairs of the Diamondback Brewery on Friday.) For the record, this misshapen, bathroom-blocking, bar-bellowing burrito bunker has brought in such memorable acts as Junior Wells, Otis Rush, Keb' Mo', Peter Green, Marcia Ball, Maceo Parker, Joe Ely, Mick Taylor, the Subdudes, Beausoleil, and Liquid Soul.

The sentimental send-off came on the previous evening, and any flames of nostalgia for Miller were quickly doused by a tub of salsa, as he pulled double duty in his shorthanded kitchen. Out in the main room, the pictures were off the wall, and the beer coolers were nearly empty. Even with the feel of a zero-to-sixty pullout in the air, the last lineup typified the slow evolution of the Wilbert's sound from straight barroom blues to an alt-world buffet of zydeco, Tex-country, fusion funk, and blues of all species.

Clevelander Joe Deninzon and his "Stratospheerius" band opened the night with a "psychejazz" sound built around Deninzon's talents on his electric violin. Squeezing improbable Hendrix/Jean Luc Ponty-like riffs from his equipment, he led high-energy jams through everything from lounge classics to Santana.

It was fitting that the closing band would roll back to the roots of the original Wilbert's sound: Ike Stubblefield & Is Not Was played a clean, Booker T.-ish mix of blues and jazz. The fifteen-minute version of George Benson's "On Broadway" to start the show was all you needed to know about this Toledo unit: an occasional wedding song, but always a crack sound. Stubblefield was rock-solid on the keyboards, and Tony Ben made the All-Wilbert's team by playing the bongos with more soulful passion than most bands can generate.

As the band wrapped up with Herbie Mann's "Coming Home," the irony was that the no-frills atmosphere of the half-empty bar generated a purer sense of nostalgia than any celebration could. As it was in the beginning, there was a Hammond B-3 in the air, Miller digging out black beans in his kitchen, and a handful of music fans wishing him good luck. — Tim Piai

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