Critic's Choice for the week of July 19-25, 2006 

Polka casserole, rum drinks, and sweaty hand-clapping.

Hot Afro-Latin Jazz

Nothing says "Summer's here" more than a hearty serving of Afro-Cuban jazz. Tropical flavors, smooth syncopation, endless grooves — the music just sounds hella cool. Get your jam on (rum drink optional) this week at Yoshi's, when Tiempo Libre, Miami's hottest Latin band, arrives in support of its new album Lo Que Esperabes for two shows, featuring an open dance floor. Undoubtedly, it's what you've been waiting for. Wednesday, July 19. $10-$16. 8 and 10 p.m. (Eric K. Arnold)

Baked Polka

Big Lou's Polka Casserole takes over Berkeley's all-ages dance hall Ashkenaz with fun and hot dance music. All goofy hairdos and costumes, San Francisco accordionist Big Lou (a founder of Those Darn Accordions) is the real deal, and her band Polka Casserole plays authentic dance music that would fit right in at festivals in Wisconsin and Europe. The Casserole mixes polka classics with Big Lou originals, and there's even a dance lesson with the Golden Gate Bavarian Club at 8 p.m. to make sure everyone joins in when the band gets going. Thursday, July 20. 8:30 p.m., $9. (Larry Kelp)

A Good Cry

Portland's the Prids create sweet melancholy on their recent release, Until the World Is Beautiful, with strumming bass, washes of guitar, and heartbreaking keyboards. The combo creates a complex dynamic almost as interesting as the onstage relationship between friends-turned-lovers-turned-
husband-and-wife-turned-divorcés singer and guitarist David Frederickson and bassist Mistina Keith. The Prids play with Sueco on Thursday, July 20 at the Starry Plough in Berkeley. 9:30 p.m., $5. (Kathleen Richards)

Hooky Vibraphone

Vibraphonists aren't known for being bandleaders, nor are they known for composing ornate, flowery melodies. Yet Bobby Hutcherson has managed both. Born in Los Angeles in 1941, the artist cut his teeth in New York at age twenty, collaborating with such jazz royalty as Eric Dolphy, Herbie Hancock, and Freddie Hubbard. Heavily influenced by hardbop and experimental stylings, Hutcherson's music remained accessible; his hookiest tunes have even cropped up in hip-hop songs by the Roots and Madlib. He finds favor with both the jazz and hip-hop generations, given his penchant for drifting from straight-ahead blues to fancy, flighty melodies that hover over the beat. He performs this week at Yoshi's Thursday, July 20 through Saturday 22 (8 and 10 p.m.) and Sunday 23 (2 and 8 p.m.). $5-$26. (Rachel Swan)

Sweaty Hand-Clapping, Neon Jumpsuits

The Portland trio Strength harnesses drum machines and keyboards to spit funky dance grooves. The band's debut album, Going Strong, constructs modern disco tracks with ample amounts of hip-shaking and finger-wagging flair. When Strength stops through Oakland on its West Coast tour, expect plenty of sweaty hand-clapping in neon jumpsuits. With Oakland's Post Coitus at the Stork Club on Saturday, July 22. 9 p.m., $5. (K.R.)

Crushing Beauty

With a backdrop of a steady downtempo beat, Album Leaf's Jimmy LaValle layers piano, sparse guitar, strings, and effects into a haunting atmosphere of quiet and solitude. Less groovy than his former outfit, Tristeza, the Album Leaf is nonetheless a vibrant outfit of crushing beauty. LaValle and his bandmates play with Michael Talbott & the Wolfkings and Lymbyc System at Cafe du Nord in SF on Saturday, July 22. $12. 9 p.m. (K.R.)

Spectacle! Spectacle!

The Flaming Lips are renowned for placing equal emphasis on the visual and aural aspects of their shows. When they play Berkeley's Greek Theatre this week, expect to see confetti and smoke shrouding the band as they play songs like "My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion" and "A Spoonful Weighs a Ton." Or perhaps you'll enjoy watching ringmaster Wayne Coyne, dressed in a white suit and covered with fake blood, walk above the crowd in a plastic bubble during "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots." Then, of course, there's always the giant spaceship setup onstage. No matter how it happens, the Lips seek to please. Ween opens this Saturday, July 22 at 6:30 p.m. $41.50. (Nate Seltenrich)

Mozart for Summer

Mozart would be 250 years young this week, so George Cleve (who recently did a marvelous job conducting Opera San Jose's Don Giovanni in idiomatic style) returns to conduct the 32nd Midsummer Mozart Festival. The concert in Berkeley's First Congregational Church features the popular "Posthorn Serenade" and the early Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat major, K. 271 with André Watts as soloist. Sunday, July 23. 7 p.m., $30-$60. (Jason Victor Serinus)

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