Critic's Choice for the week of July 9-15, 2003 

Melodic pop tarts, the Mexican Elvis, hellish coffeehouse jazz, and the best absolutely horrible band you'll ever see, among others.


We love Spoon . For one, the name reminds us of the catch phrase on that old genius cartoon series, The Tick. For another, frontman Britt Daniel has more guile and invention than anyone in the indie rock game right now -- he crafts lithe, melodic pop tarts that remind you of Elvis Costello without getting all music-critic-geeky on your ass. Plus, he beatboxes. Maybe. Try and talk him into that one at the Fillmore Tuesday night. 415-346-6000. (Rob Harvilla)


The reigning kings of Mexican regional music -- Vicente Fernandez and la Banda del Recodo -- pull into Network Associates Coliseum in Oakland this Saturday. Fernandez, the Elvis Presley of mariachi ranchera music, propelled to fame in 1974 with his hit "Volver, Volver." Banda del Recodo is the granddaddy of the Mexican brass bands called bandas, and pioneered the now-established Mex pop sound in the late 1940s. 510-569-2121. (Jesse "Chuy" Varela)


Philadelphia-born MC Grand Agent may be the first American rapper to record an album while living in Germany. His second album, the aptly-titled Fish Outta Water, may have been mostly recorded in Cologne, but it's filled with authentic b-boy flavor, with a back-to-the-basics style that places emphasis firmly on microphone s-k-i-l-l-s, B. No music industry-sanctioned mega-guest stars, no Timbaland or Neptunes beats -- just hip-hop from the heart, designed for those who like to groove, no matter what nationality they claim. Wear your old-school kicks, tilt your Kangol to the side, and represent when he headlines True Skool on Saturday at Milk, along with Spaztik and DJ King One and DJ Ren the Vinyl Archaeologist . (Eric K. Arnold)


Tenor saxophonist Dave Ellis has come a long way from his Berkeley High School/Cazadero Music Camp roots. He was a founding member of the Charlie Hunter Trio, and has also played with Grateful Dead spin-offs Ratdog and the Other Ones. But he's still not too big to do a local gig for Berkeley's Jazzschool. He'll be previewing selections from his new CD State of Mind on Sunday, accompanied by his band: drummer Eddie Marshall, bassists Troy Lampkins and Peter Barshay, and keyboardist Peter Horvath. 510-845-5373. (E.A.)


Behold the glorious Electric Six , the best absolutely horrible band you'll ever love to hate or hate to love, depending on your blood-alcohol level. The Six plays disastrous disco-rock with bad riffs and stupid lyrics, but somehow it comes out absolute genius: "I wanna take you to the gay bar" is suddenly more poignant than anything Dylan ever coughed up, and "Improper Dancing" is the hedonistic disco demolition anthem of the year. You will never in your life feel so elated, or so absolutely ashamed. At the Great American Music Hall Monday night. 415-478-2277. (R.H.)


Festival Opera 's sole summer offering, Verdi's Aïda, opens this Saturday in Walnut Creek's Dean Lesher Center. The production, intentionally more intimate than those of larger houses, focuses on conflicts between the characters. Three debuts await us: Kathleen Halm's Aida, Todd Geer's Radames, and Lyutsina Kazachenko's Amneris. (The recent Russian émigré performed major roles at Kirov Opera). Five performances are scheduled through July 20. 925-943-7469. (Jason Victor Serinus)


Singer/guitarist Carol Elizabeth Jones is one of the most powerful traditional singers on today's folk scene, a gifted songwriter and performer who can write compelling tunes that sound a hundred years old. On her recent album, Girl from Jericho, she was joined by Laurel Bliss, another fine singer and master dobro player. Expect lots of close harmonies and great pickin' Sunday at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley. 510-548-1761. (j.p.)


Pianist Geoffrey Keezer is a dynamic talent whose résumé reads like a who's-who list. Renowned for his early work with Art Blakey, he's now a leader in the jazz piano world. His latest album, Sublime: Honoring the Music of Hank Jones, features him in duet with Kenny Barron, Chick Corea, and others. Friday at the Jazzschool in Berkeley, he presents a rare solo piano performance. 510-845-5373. (J.V.)


Goodness gracious, Kristin Hersh is freakin' terrifying. Not in an I-communicate-with-fairies Tori Amos sort of way, but you gotta admit, the stark guitar and piano workouts on her new solo platter, The Grotto, unfold like acoustic folk for the coffeehouses in hell. The lauded former Throwing Muses frontwoman actually rolled through town as part of the band's reunion tour a mere month or so ago, but she's back now with something quieter, more ominous, more unnerving. Get ready for the bitterest iced mocha you ever tasted. Tuesday night at SF's Great American Music Hall. 415-478-2277. (R.H.)


Revolutionary Chilean folksinger Rafael Manriquez matches his soaring voice with intricate, classically informed guitar work. A founder of Grupo Raiz, he has also recorded his musical versions of poems by Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poets Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral. On Friday at La Peña, Manriquez celebrates the release of his new CD, Mi Sol de Ayer, in a concert backed by fellow Latin Americans Lichi Fuentes, Donna Viscuso, and Hector Salgado. 510-849-2568. (Larry Kelp)


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