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An uncommon denominator

September 14, 2003|Robert Hilburn | Time Staff Writer

Radiohead and the White Stripes are among the half-dozen most exciting bands in rock, though they have little in common except a contempt for the drab, unimaginative state of mainstream rock of the late '90s.

After the critical and commercial success of their "OK Computer" album established Radiohead as rock's latest heroes in 1997, band leader Thom Yorke worried that rock was exhausted as an art form. So he and the rest of the British quintet experimented with song structure, instrumentation and lyric patterns in three subsequent albums. The result was a haunting new musical landscape that is at once icy and profoundly optimistic. Sales suffered, but respect soared.

Rather than join Radiohead's pursuit of computers and other electronic devices, Detroit's White Stripes turned to the foundations of rock. Jack White placed almost all his faith in the electric guitar, drawing inspiration from the blues and country roots that also inspired Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan.

Both bands proved such winners in their explorations that their latest albums -- Radiohead's "Hail to the Thief" and the Stripes' "Elephant" -- will vie for top honors on many critics' year-end lists.

The explosive Stripes check into the Greek Theatre on Sept. 22 for a three-night stand, while the more cerebral Radiohead follows for shows Sept. 25 and 26 at the Hollywood Bowl.

Also essential this fall: Neil Young and Crazy Horse return with the theatrical version of "Greendale" that was a knockout this summer at the Greek Theatre. They'll be at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Wednesday and Verizon Wireless Amphitheater (with Elvis Costello) on Saturday.

Other especially promising shows include David Johansen & the Harry Smiths, tonight at Royce Hall; the Kings of Leon on Sept. 24 at the Troubadour; Television on Sept. 30 at the Henry Fonda Theatre; the Raveonettes on Oct. 2 at the El Rey Theatre; and Emmylou Harris on Oct. 7 at Royce Hall.

The fall CDs that hold the most interest are OutKast's two-disc "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below," which shapes up as one of the most enticing sonic celebrations in years, and "The Diary of Alicia Keys," the follow-up to the singer-songwriter's smashing 2000 debut. The albums are due Sept. 21 and Nov. 18, respectively. The Strokes' "Room on Fire," expected Oct. 21, will be a major test of whether there is more to the New York quintet than the Velvet Underground compulsion of its debut package.

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