December 19, 2006

Sight Unsound: From Tibet to The Rud, Ben Sollee comes home after Asian tour

Ben Sollee: Ben Sollee induces lots of screaming in Tibet. That’s a good thing. Catch him at The Rudyard Kipling on Saturday.It’s one thing to tour. It’s quite another to play in a central Asian country cut off from most of the outside world for three decades.Ben Sollee has done both.Sollee, a cello player who graduated from the University of Louisville School of Music, traveled with banjo master Bela Fleck and singer Abigail Washburn to play for Tibetan students as part of the first U.S. cultural mission to Tibet since 1976. As if that wasn’t monumental enough, the audiences’ response was something akin to The Beatles’ U.S. invasion.“The students were shuffled in five minutes before the performance,” Sollee said. “We’d sing these Szechuan-Chinese songs, and they were screaming along, man, screaming, in these big gymnasiums. It was awesome.”Much like the Rolling Stones concert in Shanghai, the trio played songs off a government-edited list. Immediately after the show, concert organizers shuffled the students out just as quickly as they came.“They didn’t want too much dialogue there. They didn’t want too much contact,” Sollee said. In China, the players had handlers — “dudes in black jackets and dark pants” — everywhere they went. Sollee squeezed in sightseeing trips, hiked the Great Wall and visited the Forbidden City in Beijing.This Saturday is a homecoming show for Sollee at The Rudyard Kipling (422 W. Oak St., 636-1311). He’s playing songs from his first album, Turn on the Moon, plus new material he has yet to record. Kim Taylor (Cincinnati) and the Malcolm Palmer Band (Chicago) also play. The free show starts at 9 p.m. Donations will benefit The Rudyard Kipling.Spacehooker has been playing out nonstop for about two and a half years.But they’ve only rehearsed five or six times.Yeah, we didn’t get it either.Adam “My-ancestors-invented-the-wheel” Wheeler offers an explanation: The band lives in apartments and has no steady place to practice. “We just play show to show,” said Wheeler, who sings, plays keys, handles programming and by all accounts is an all-around jovial dude.Spacehooker began two years ago when Wheeler, who lives in Jeffersonville, found himself in singer-songwriter territory after his previous band, Valley, called it quits.Wheeler found three chums to cure him of boring-white-man-with-guitar syndrome, and, after two practices, Spacehooker hit the clubs. There are no studio recordings yet, but there are three live recordings floating around from shows at Uncle Pleasant’s, Phoenix Hill Tavern and last year’s Kentucky State Fair.“It’s rock ’n’ roll any way you look at it,” Wheeler said, describing Spacehooker’s sound. “This thing is more a labor of love and friendship and fun.”The fun continues with a free 21-and-over show this Saturday at Highlands Taproom (1279 Bardstown Road, 459-BEER). Depoyster and power techno band The Zero Element round out the bill.For Jason Embry, King Sonic’s upright bass player, his band seems like the perfect outlet for his pressure-cooker of a job as an emergency room nurse.When he’s not tending to patients and checking their vital signs, he fulfills his jump blues/rockabilly ambitions with King Sonic. King Sonic brings jump blues and rockabilly to Stevie Ray’s this weekend.“I was raised on it,” Embry says of rockabilly. “There’s nothing else I’d rather do.”What appeals to Embry, who got hooked on rockabilly the minute he heard Elvis, is the fast and loose subject matter. “You’re talking about drinking, women, fast cars, fornicating,” he said.King Sonic bounces between rockabilly and jump blues, a revved up version of traditional blues that debuted in the 1930s after big band music began to die down. Jump blues was revived in the ’80s by artists like Brian Setzer. “It’s a little more hopped up,” Embry said. “It’s not Chicago-style blues.”B.B. King, in particular his live concert album recorded at the Apollo in the 1960s, provides a key lesson in Embry’s jump blues education. “He did so much cool stuff that people never heard. He does a lot of jump blues even now.”Get your dancing shoes on this week. King Sonic is playing a two-night stand Friday and Saturday at Stevie Ray’s Blues Bar (230 E. Main St., 582-9945) followed by BF Burt and the Instigator. Sonic hits the stage at 7:30 both nights, and the cover is $5.Tribute bands don’t have much wiggle room.If you’re great, fans shower you with praise. Suck, and fans shower you with something else.Dennis Gray hasn’t had many complaints about his Metal Legends concerts. The shows feature bands that not only cover but resemble classic Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Kiss (with the makeup) and Van Halen (not Van Hagar). Now in its third year, the nationally touring show has been endorsed by the real lineup of Aerosmith and Sharon Osbourne, Ozzy’s marketing genius and better half.Gray says the mission of the tour is simple: Show the people what a real rock ’n’ roll concert is all about. “People used to try to put on a good live show. Now everything’s pre-recorded,” he said. “I like hearing mistakes. It shows you’re human.”Next year he’s adding a new act, Metal Elvis. Based out of Arizona, the group is what would the King would sound like if he were around in the ’80s. “That’s Alright Mama” is done to “Welcome to the Jungle.” The guitar player looks like Slash, the bass player is Nikki Sixx and the drummer is Peter Criss.Metal Legends arrives at the Phoenix Hill Tavern Dec. 21. The concert is a benefit to collect toys for Wayside Christian Mission. The 21-and-over show is $7 and starts at 9 p.m. Freddie J. has been DJ-ing longer than I’ve been alive. Which is to say he’s about as professional as it gets.He started spinning in Cleveland in 1977. “I got into it without knowing what I was getting into,” said Freddie J., a.k.a. Freddie Jackson.The former on-air announcer’s DJ skills have landed him jobs in Louisiana, Florida, Texas, Ohio and Georgia. But you don’t have to travel hundreds of miles to see him spin. Head over to Big Hopp’s (800 W. Market St., 589-6600) Saturday, where he and Gerald “G-Man” Harrison kick the holidays off in style with a combination of new school and old school R&B. Think Luther Vandross, Mary J. Blige and Keisha Cole. Freddie has a fee, $5, but the gig is free for women before 9 p.m. And yes, he does take requests.It’s not that Black Stone Cherry hates downtime. They just don’t want much of it.“Sometimes we’ll find a Wal-Mart or a mall and go see all kinds of movies,” guitarist Ben Wells said. “Or we’ll try to write. Too many days off in a row, you start to miss playing.”The group, which hails from Edmonton and Glasgow, Ky., is on tour until March, but is making a quick stop at Headliners (1386 Lexington Road, 584-8088), their first Louisville show since opening for Buckcherry last July. “It’s going awesome,” Wells said of the tour. “We’re having a lot of fun. The crowds have been really great.”The Dec. 22 all-ages show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10. Contact the writer at mherron@leoweekly.com