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Jay-Z
Agora
December 19

Jay-Z (Sean Carter -- but you can call him "Jigga") has got some nerve. Apparently unfazed by his recent arrest on charges of stabbing record exec Lance "Un" Rivera, whom he suspected of leaking his forthcoming record to radio, he has posted $50,000 bail and continued to promote his new album, Vol. 3 . . . The Life and Times of S. Carter, as if nothing has happened. First, he shows up at the Billboard Music Awards a few days after the incident and last week appeared on The Chris Rock Show. Then he's got the gall to charge 20 bucks (25 for a reserved seat) for his sold-out show at the Agora, at which he only played a measly six songs in an abrupt 25-minute set that left more than one patron screaming, "We waited two hours for that?"

Carter, who mentioned the recent controversy that has plagued him by saying simply, "I've been through some bullshit" as he took the stage, opened with "So Ghetto" and "It's Hot (Some Like It Hot)," two songs from Vol. 3, before introducing his hit "Can I Get a . . ." by asking, "Where all the ladies at in this motherfucker tonight?" Carter didn't even need to encourage the audience, which was on its feet from the moment he took the stage, to sing along. The crowd filled in the lyrics in unison and responded equally well to "Money Ain't a Thang," a track that Carter introduced with hip-hop's greatest cliché: "C'mon my niggas and my bitches -- wave your hands in the air like you just don't care." Carter's new songs sounded a bit rough (they came to awkward conclusions), and by sharing vocal duties with two other rappers, he didn't even expend much energy. Indeed, by the time he finished things up with "Do It Again," another new song that wasn't nearly as catchy as his other material, he hadn't exactly established much rapport, but you can bet he was laughing all the way to the bank (or, jail cell, as the case might be). -- Jeff Niesel

The Pilfers
Showoff
Euclid Tavern
December 15

Showoff bassist Dave Envy constituted a party in and of himself, dousing the crowd with his spittin'/spinnin'/screamin'/disrobin' antics. He also bore a striking resemblance to Ahmet Zappa. As for the band, it played standard-issue pop-punk -- four chords, a few harmonies, a few inane lyrics. Good energy, though. It's amazing to watch five sizable guys jump around a stage in unison without accidentally stomping on each other. The Chicago band's set was better choreographed than, say, Ricky Martin's. But Ricky Martin didn't spit water at me, discuss the hard-on he had that morning, or cover Poison's "Nothin' but a Good Time." And no offense, but he's much better looking.

By contrast, Pilfers bassist Anna Milat-Meyer just stood there, half-gaping, half-smirking at the chaos all around her. Despite her confusion/apathy, the Pilfers pummeled the crowd with a bit of ska groove and a bit of reggae soul, though every song inevitably returned to the metal-edged fist-pumpin' anthem chorus. A formula, yes, but one that didn't quite wear out in an hour and a half. With their bass player seemingly tranquilized behind them, lead singer Coolie Ranx and vocalist/trombone player Vinny Nobile shouldered the task of engaging the Euc crowd; Ranx meandered through the audience and barreled through a few Jamaican freestyle raps, while Nobile blew everyone's socks off with a bevy of bombastic trombone solos.

Wallflower bass players and trombone histrionics aside, the crowd itself proved a much more intriguing entity to watch in action. The front row enthusiastically shouted every word to songs such as "Mr. Exploita" and "Legal Shot Pam Pam," while those not screaming went about the business of beating the hell out of each other. Elsewhere, some dude who wandered onstage in a cow suit supplied the most poignant statement of the evening ("Moooooo!!!!!"), while the award for the show's best individual artistic performance went to the young couple swing dancing all the way through "What's New (Here We Go Again)." Just as the show ended, one particularly unlucky young gentleman caught an elbow to the face and emerged with a vicious, crimson-tinged black eye. At this point, even the band seemed distracted; at song's end, Ranx immediately hopped offstage and caught the victim at the door to see if he was OK. As it turns out, he was. -- Rob Harvilla

Blanks 77
L.E.S. Stitches
Total Chaos
The Booked
Agora
December 13

Near the end of the Blanks 77's set, a rather hyper skinhead stormed the stage and dove off with guitarist Renee Wasted's microphone in tow. It took several minutes before the entangled mic was returned -- your average rock star would have been livid. Wasted, however, found the whole situation amusing and laughed it up with the rest of the crowd. But then, Blanks 77 has built its rep on playing punk rock without the attitude, and its set was appropriately irreverent. The rhythm team of bassist Timm "T.J." Blank and drummer Kid Blank kept the compositions rolling, as Wasted played some well-placed Chuck Berry-inspired licks. Mike Blank's spastic vocals on songs such as "Girl Can't Rock & Roll" were pure geek punk in the vein of bands like the Twerps and Archie & the Pukes.

The Lower East Side Stitches (not to be confused with the Stitches from California) put on a highly charged performance. Given his flippant attitude toward the early L.A. scene, drummer Mike Baggs would probably cringe at the comparison, but the L.E.S. Stitches (who do actually hail from New York's Lower East Side) sounded more akin to the Germs or the Adolescents and less like an East Coast punk band. Songs such as the anti-Giuliani "NYC Is Dead" and "Naked A" sound flat on the band's new album, Staja 98 L.E.S., but were incendiary when performed live, mainly because singer Mike Brown chose to scream rather than sing. By being a little more brazen, Brown kept the band from sounding too much like a Rancid rip-off.

Total Chaos succeeded when it played both its earlier, GBH-inspired songs such as "Domino" and its poppier new material like "Running With the Youth." It failed, however, when it tried to sound like the Exploited, and its whining about the lack of audience participation didn't work in its favor either. Billed as an oi! act, the Booked, a band from Texas, sounded more like an '80s hardcore band -- not a bad thing when you consider the other bands on the bill. -- Matt Trahan

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