Critic's Choice for the week of August 23-29, 2006 

Effortless indie, barrier-breaking Tonight Show singers, and congos without embargos.

Easy-Looking Indie

Five-year-old San Francisco duo Tartufi makes it look easy to rock. Some drums. Some guitar. Some quiet parts. Some loud parts. And some effeminate harmonizing with your bandmates. These dudes don't overthink their energetic yet minimal indie rock, and for that we are all grateful. So We Are Alive stood atop 2005's pile of eclectic local CDs despite its familiar use of guitar, drums, bass, organ, and whatnot. October's release, Us Upon Buildings Upon Us, will be among the Bay Area's top indie albums to require a listen. Give the two a stare at Balazo Gallery in SF Saturday, August 26 with Low Red Land, and Birds & Batteries. If you like what you see, return to SF Wednesday, August 30 at the Elbo Room and see them with Loop! Station and Mon Frère. Balazo: 8 p.m., price TBA. Elbo Room: 9 p.m., $7. or (David Downs)

Reggae with Zing

Known as the "Black Cinderella," Sister Carol was an early reggae dancehall queen who espoused a message of self-improvement, strong ties to spirituality and culture, and cautioned against government arrogance (see "Lost in Space"). Her unique style of dotting her lyrics with a quick spidle-a-ding or zoom zoom zoom gives her music distinct zing. She plays with Yellow Wall Dub Squad and Ras Itawe on Friday, August 25 at Ashkenaz at 9:30 p.m. $17, $20 door. (Kathleen Richards)

Midwest Indie-Pop-Rock

Upon first listen, Milwaukee's the Championship seems to offer an appeasing yet somewhat predictable indie-pop-rock songwriting formula: strumming guitar, harmonizing vocals, spacey effects. But truly good songwriting sounds effortless, and the Championship's skills are no exception. Its 2005 debut Dance Casador! is chockfull of earnest, catchy rock songs with a twinge of country that sounds familiar in a good way. Don't miss it. With French Disco and Lovely Public on Saturday, August 26 at the Stork Club. 9 p.m., $5. (K.R.)

Cursed Death Metal

A bus accident sixteen years ago disbanded one of San Francisco's most promising thrash acts. Death Angel was touted for its members' youthfulness and musical maturity that helped spawn the catchy suburban-life ode "Bored" in 1988. An enthusiastic reunion in 2001 — featuring original members except guitarist Gus Pepa — encouraged more shows, The Art of Dying in 2004, and a box set last year. Don't miss the unique pairing with Oakland's Drunk Horse, plus Flattbush at Slim's on Saturday, August 26 at 9 p.m. $18, $20 door. (K.R.)

Barrier-Breaking Songstress

Friends and fans have been waiting for this moment for twenty years: Multitalented Vicki Randle is finally issuing a CD, Sleep City, with a concert this Sunday at the Freight. Best known as the percussionist and singer in The Tonight Show band since Jay Leno took over, Randle went from Erle's Solano Club in Albany to the women's-music scene and duets with her bandleaders, including Kenny Loggins and George Benson, before Branford Marsalis hired her for his Tonight Show band. Randle's band for Sunday includes guitarist Nina Gerber and keyboardist Bonnie Hayes, helping out with her original songs about life, love, and joy in a culturally and sexually mixed-up world. Sunday, August 27. 8 p.m., $18.50/$19.50 door. (Larry Kelp)

Congos Sin Embargos

Earlier this year, the Cuban Timba All Stars rolled into the Independent in San Francisco direct from Miami like a hurricane sweeping up dancers with their collective force. Led by the extraordinary conga drummer Tomàs Cruz, the group comprises Cubano expats whose résumés include some of the finest dance orchestras of the last ten years. Lead singer Yordamis Megret sang with Bamboleo, but most of the members were long associated with singer Manolin, "El Medico de la Salsa," as well as Celia Cruz and others. The legendary Manolin joins them for a whirlwind Bay Area tour that concludes at Cafe Cocomo in San Francisco this Sunday, August 27. 9 p.m., $25. (Jesse "Chuy" Varela)

Cattle Ranchin', Songwritin'

Canada's Corb Lund grew up on a cattle ranch, and his hard-working roots show through in his tunes, which blend hard-core honky-tonk, blues, ragtime, swing, and rock. With his all-acoustic band the Hurtin' Albertans, Lund has been knocking 'em out up North for the past five years with his sizzling live shows. His latest album, Hair in My Eyes Like a Highland Steer, features cameos by Ian Tyson and Ramblin' Jack Elliott, but Lund's gruff vocals and fine songwriting always steal the show. Sunday, August 26 at the Hotel Utah in SF. 9 p.m., $8. (j. poet)


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