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It's reigning in the desert

April 24, 2003|Robert Hilburn | Times Staff Writer

1. The White Stripes. If you are looking for one moment of supreme drama this weekend, this should be it. With their new "Elephant" album debuting in the national Top 10, the Stripes have certainly captured the attention of the rock world. The question now is how Jack and Meg White respond to the pressure of the spotlight. The Detroit pair draw on Delta blues sexiness and bite, arena-rock energy and exclamation, country-music irony and wit and singer-songwriter vulnerability and insight. The result is a gloriously independent vision that is as classic as Johnny Cash and as renegade as Robert Johnson. There aren't many bands in all of rock that could wrestle the No. 1 anticipation spot away from the Stripes on a festival bill. U2 is one. Radiohead? Maybe. But who else? With all the praise of the last 18 months, audiences will be expecting a lot. The guess here is Jack White won't blink. (Robert Hilburn)

2. Iggy & the Stooges. Never mind nostalgia, here are the Stooges. It's been nearly 30 years since this influential band last lowered the boom on an audience, but when it reunites (in a slightly altered state) at Coachella, Iggy Pop's laser eyes will scan the crowd and find a familiar following: disaffected kids caught between anomie and action. That was the outsider mentality the Stooges articulated in the late '60s and early '70s during their lonely crusade to make rock safe for its most primal elements. They ultimately triumphed, as punk rock and the new garage revival attest, and there's no reason to think that Iggy, original partners Ron and Scott Asheton and fill-in bassist Mike Watt won't bring it all full circle. (Richard Cromelin)

3. Queens of the Stone Age. This is homecoming night for Queens, whose distortion-driven 2002 epic, "Songs for the Deaf," has gone gold, the first mainstream break for a band born in the late '80s out of desert "generator parties" in this very valley. A hooky, sing-along version of the Sabbath-esque maelstrom that was their first band, cult fave Kyuss, Queens now includes ex-Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan but not, sadly, drummer Dave Grohl, who was only on loan from the Foo Fighters for "Deaf." With choirboy guitarist Josh Homme and Anton LaVey-look-alike bassist Nick Oliveri now playing in a half-dozen other desert-based experi-metal side projects, there's no telling who will turn up on stage. (Dean Kuipers)

4. The Hives. Can the sensation of the Swedish Invasion live up to expectations created by its big-bucks signing by Interscope Records after a tug of war with Warner Bros.? Can the band progress beyond the retro garage-punk of its belatedly acclaimed 2001 album "Veni Vidi Vicious"? Who cares? The combination of raw explosiveness and knowing humor is a blast, and singer Howlin' Pelle Almqvist's parodic, Jaggeresque "mock"-star act seems more genuine -- and much more entertaining -- than those of most "real" rock stars. (Steve Hochman)

5. N.E.R.D. No one ever really dies; people's energies just change form. That's the metaphysical principle behind N.E.R.D., the acronym-de-rap of duo Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, a.k.a. whiz production team the Neptunes. Such numbers as the propulsively funky, mock-macho "Things Are Getting Better" and the head-banging anthem "Rock Star" at times recall the heavy-hitting yet playful vibe of Run-DMC. With help from rapper pal Shay and backed up by Minneapolis soul-pop act Spymob, the pair's concerts are more dynamic than most live hip-hop, despite some weak vocals and pedestrian stabs at twisting up rap cliches. (Natalie Nichols)

6. The Libertines. The London-based band makes pop-rock with blissfully frayed edges, finding the middle ground between T-Rex and the Smiths while creating a collision of punk-era intensity and decadent barroom boogie. Its debut album, "Up the Bracket," is tough, urgent, reckless and was produced by Mick Jones of the Clash. The result is often more Strokes than "London Calling," but the Libertines' sound is too direct and loose to be dependent on any particular pop movement. Singer-guitarists Peter Doherty and Carlos Barat stumble, slur and wail their words of excitement and defiance like they mean it, man. (Steve Appleford)

7. Beastie Boys. The innovative New York trio showed the pop world not only that white boys can rap, but also that they can be hip-hop auteurs able to create soundscapes both sophisticated and smart. But these Boys sometimes seem like part-time musicians. They went six years between albums in the '90s and have been away for five more since "Hello Nasty." That doesn't mean they are wasting their time -- they were the guiding force behind the Tibetan Freedom Concerts -- but it does put a lot of pressure on them each time to reestablish their relevance. (R.H.)

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