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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Carbon/Silicon passes the still-can-rock test

December 06, 2007|Natalie Nichols | Special to The Times

You actually can teach an old punk new tricks, just don't be surprised if the fresh gimmick feels vaguely familiar. That was perfectly fine, however, for ex-Clash guitarist Mick Jones' latest project, Carbon/Silicon.

"This is a test to see can if we cut it anymore or not," Jones joked near the end of the 90-minute set Monday at the Troubadour, the group's first in the U.S.

The jest had a note of truth, as the English singer-guitarist hadn't performed in the States in 12 years, and the sold-out show was one of only two U.S. dates for Jones and co-leader and guitarist Tony James. The longtime pals launched Carbon/Silicon in 2002, offering tracks and whole albums free on their website. (Take that, Radiohead!) At first they used samples and loops as the basis of their songs and even wrote a pro-downloading tune called "MP Free," but now they have a live rhythm section, and in October they released a conventional album, "The Last Post."

The pair first came together in the short-lived but historically significant mid-'70s band London SS (which also included future Clash bassist Paul Simonon) before Jones went on to the Clash, where his broad musical knowledge informed the band's sound as much as Joe Strummer's anti-authoritarian philosophies informed its lyrics. James, meanwhile, played bass in punk act Generation X and founded the high-concept New Wave group Sigue Sigue Sputnik.

Despite this history of musical adventurousness, Carbon/Silicon was a surprisingly straight-ahead rock band, sometimes recalling the Who and even the Beatles. There was more than a whiff of the Clash in such numbers as the anthem-like "The Network's Going Down" and in several songs bearing the mid-tempo dub-flavored lurch and sprawl of that pioneering group.

Nimbly abetted by bassist Leo "E-Zee-Kill" Williams (who'd been in Jones' post-Clash dance outfit Big Audio Dynamite) and drummer Dominic Greensmith, the two guitarists reveled in trading licks and playful dueling. Jones has always had a giddy charm, and on Monday he positively floated, smiling and swinging his hips happily.

"The News" and "War on Culture" incorporated social and political criticism, but Carbon/Silicon wasn't so much about fighting the status quo as staying positive in a world gone mad. After all, even old punks need to dream of better things.

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