Critic's Choice for the week of April 5-11, 2006 

Sexily purred blues, goth alt.pop, and meditative ecstasy


Native American powwows have evolved significantly since the '60s and '70s, when they first became popular in California. These days, you'll see dancers updating traditional steps by adding an Elvis swoop or a B-boy backflip, and trading the beadwork and feathers of years past for flashier, highlighter-colored regalia. This year's 22nd Annual UC Berkeley Pow Wow should be a visual benchmark of the here-and-now: Along with the new boogie-woogie dance moves, expect to see bustles decorated with Nike swoosh logos, Hello Kitty figures, or Winnie the Pooh curios. The Pow Wow takes place Sunday at 1 p.m. in the Pauley Ballroom, and costs nothing. 510-642-2842. (Rachel Swan)


The Oakland sextet Subtle is back on the road for the first time since a devastating tour van crash early last year left keyboardist/friendly Amoeba guy Dax Pierson quadriplegic. Grieving, recovering, and moving on from the accident, the experimental hip-hop group's creative energy has been sufficiently altered, inspiring several projects for 2006. The first is wishingbone, a CD/DVD combo; celebrate its release — among other things — Friday night at Slim's in SF, with Dax in tow onstage (though he's still unable to perform live). For those who contributed to the Dax Pierson Recovery Fund, it should be a triumphant event, a major step on the road to recovery. Featuring old friends Doseone, Jel, and Fog. $15, 9 p.m. or (Berwin Song)


Maria Muldaur is an impressive song stylist who delivers her message with one of the sexiest purrs in pop music. In recent years she's gone back to music that initially inspired her: specifically, the acoustic country blues of icons like Memphis Minnie and Mississippi John Hurt. Muldaur's most recent set, Sweet Lovin' Ol' Soul, was nominated for both a Handy and a Grammy in the Traditional Blues category. At sixty years old, she's evidently just picking up steam. 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. tonight (Wednesday) at Biscuits and Blues in SF. $15 per show. 415-292-2583 or (j. poet)


When Radiohead first introduced American audiences to the Icelandic band Sigur Rós, most expected pretty orchestral flourishes la Kid A. But what they got was something as inscrutable to American audiences as the band's debut album title, çgætis Byrjun. Let's just say the Icelandic experimental chamber group Aton makes Sigur Rós sound like AC/DC. The ensemble formed in 1998 and is actually a collective of sorts, featuring as few as nine and as many as 150 performers, plus a rotating list of composers. The result routinely garners standing ovations with its experimental, sparse collection of noise — exploding balloons, fire alarms, and cell phones among them. Catch Aton in a couple of rare U.S. appearances at 21 Grand Thursday night at 8 p.m. ($6-$10 sliding scale, or Mills College Sunday night. (Kathleen Richards)


Grammy-nominated Hindu jam band Jai Uttal & the Pagan Love Orchestra returns to Ashkenaz in Berkeley Saturday night for an all-ages dance party that uses rocking world music to pursue a truly ecstatic state. Multi-instrumentalist Uttal turns his meditative vocal chanting into full-band improvisations with electric guitars, keyboards, horns, and Indian instruments like tablas and the bansuri flute. The bandleader just returned from Chicago's Looking Glass Theatre production of The Ramayana; before that he'd led chanting workshops here and in Brazil. For Saturday's concert, longtime collaborator Peter Apfelbaum serves as guest drummer and tenor saxophonist. $15 in advance, $18 at the door. 9:30 p.m. 510-525-5054 or (Larry Kelp)


San Francisco has fostered a rich lineage of artists, but none quite like Paula Frazer. Born and raised in the Deep South, she cites dark pop progenitor Nick Cave as a primary influence; since moving here in 1981, she's worked with a variety of groups to run her soprano twang over landscapes from post-punk to cabaret. In the early '90s Frazer founded Tarnation, whose two albums quickly became paragons of country-rock steeped in dream pop. Paula retired the group's name in 1998, but two solo meisterwerks later, Tarnation is back and invading the similarly eclectic Starry Plough in Berkeley Saturday night. Support comes from Last of the Blacksmiths and Two Sheds. $7, 9:30 p.m. (Nate Seltenrich)


Since the early '80s, the Prisoners Literature Project has tackled the noble task of educating America's incarcerated by providing free books to inmates. On Tuesday night, the anarchist book publishers AK Press host a benefit for the group at Oakland's AK Press Warehouse, featuring performances by Xiu Xiu frontman Jamie Stewart (fresh from his Noise Pop appearance) and local jazz bassist Devin Hoff in one of his three bands, Devin Hoff Platform. $8, $7 if you bring in a book in good condition. 8 p.m. (K.R.)


For many years the now-defunct Caribe Dance Center in downtown Oakland hosted a popular Thursday Salsa night. Now Maxwells Lounge (at 341 13 Street, intersecting with Webster) revives the Salsa Thursday concept with its Sabor series. Literally around the corner from the old Caribe, the dances are being produced by DJ Jose Ruiz and feature some of the best bands happening on the Salsa scene today, like Vission Latina, Julio Bravo, Tito Garcia, Jesus Diaz, and others. $8-$10. Dancing lessons at 8:30 p.m., music starts at 10. 510-839-6169. (Jesse "Chuy" Varela)


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