The Inner Ear: The Week in Music

Paul Westerberg’s CD and DVD combination, Come Feel Me Tremble . Did you lose track of Mr. Westerberg somewhere between the Replacements’ last gasp, All Shook Down , and his solo-album debut, 14 Songs ? Well, this is the way to come back. Like Mr. Westerberg, who co-directed the film under the nom de cinema Otto Zithromax (he shares the title with Rick Fuller), the Come Feel Me Tremble DVD has a full-blown case of attention-deficit disorder. Nothing is ever spelled out for the viewer, including scenes about Mr. Westerberg’s father and Kate O’Brien, a local Minneapolis musician whose suicide is at the subject of the 2001 song “No Place for You.” Linear logic, as well as any device that would fix the many live performances in space and time, are also sacrificed. But suspend disbelief and Come Feel Me Tremble will reward you with just enough of a glimpse into this oddball original’s world to leave you wanting more. With his taped-up shoes, hot-cross-bun shades, plaids-and-stripes fashion sense and ever-present cigar, Mr. Westerberg comes off like the Krusty the Clown of rock. And he’s both unfathomable and riveting, whether he’s composing songs in his unheated basement studio or telling the story of how he and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain once rode up in a hotel elevator together-to the same floor and adjacent rooms-without ever exchanging a word. “He was dying to be dying, and I was dying to be somewhere else,” Mr. Westerberg says.

Relatively speaking, the music far outweighs the talking on Come Feel Me Tremble . The lion’s share of the DVD depicts Mr. Westerberg performing his solo and Replacements tunes in record stores and nightclubs. Because it’s just him alone onstage, the visuals eventually get tedious. But the songs don’t, and the directors care enough about the fans-they figure heavily in the film, too-to let the songs play out in their entirety.

The new music heard in Come Feel Me Tremble is collected on a CD of the same title (Vagrant) that ranks up there with Mr. Westerberg’s finest solo work. Whether he’s rocking out or making pop origami with the handful of chords that he knows, Mr. Westerberg sounds looser than he has in a while, and yet the record is focused by that great focuser, death. (I gather the same goes for Dead Man Shake , the album that Mr. Westerberg just released under another one of his alter egos, Grampaboy, which I have yet to hear.)

Mr. Westerberg grapples with the Big D on a number of the songs, including “Pine Box,” which sounds like a hard-knuckle tribute to his ailing World War II–veteran father. “Pine Box and a white stone,” Mr. Westerberg sings. “Toughest motherfucker that I ever known.” On”Crackle & Drag”-which is about Sylvia Plath’s suicide, Mr. Westerberg deftly pairs the last line of Ms. Plath’s poem “Edge”-“Her blacks crackle and drag”-with the image of the poet being zipped up in a body bag. And on “Meet Me Down the Alley,” Mr. Westerberg sings about embracing the unknown. “I want to see something I’ll never see again,” he sings. “Come on and meet me down the alley / We ain’t too young to die.” Mr. Westerberg ain’t too old to rock ‘n’ roll either. (Editor’s note: Until Nov. 11, the Come Feel Me Tremble DVD will be available only at Best Buy stores. On Nov. 11, the DVD will be available elsewhere and will contain two added live performances, including “Skyway.”)

The Thrills at the Bottom Line on Oct. 27. If this bunch of Dubliners are half as appealing live as they are on their California-centric debut album, So Much for the City (Virgin), then this concert should be a blast. Singer Conor Deasy sounds like a stonewashed amalgam of Mercury Rev’s Jonathon Donahue and early Neil Young, and the band’s influences seem to include everyone from the Byrds to Born to Run –era Bruce to Brian Wilson. There’s even a banjo in the mix.

Girlyman. Don’t listen for any Schwarzenegger or Hans and Franz references,justharmonies that will raise the gooseflesh on your delts and glutes. These two girls and a guy-Doris Muramatsu, Tammy Greenstein and NateBorofsky-became a group when they ended up renting a Brooklyn apartmenttogether, and-praise New York real estate!-the trio has now put out a great-sounding full-length debut, Remember Who I Am (Clever Shark Records), in which they apply those gorgeous harmonies to a number of different musical styles, including rock, calypso, country and George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord.” You probably won’t remember too much about the arrangements, though, or the lyrics, which tend to be unremarkably straightforward, but you won’t forget the glorious noise they make. See them on Nov. 10 when they perform at the Fez, which is more cramped than a Manhattan studio.

From the Bruce Springsteen extra grande stadium tour with Light of Day (Schoolhouse Records), a 37-song two-CD tribute album that benefits the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation and the Kristen Ann Carr Fund. There’s some interesting stuff here that completists will want, including Elvis Costello’s interpretation of “Brilliant Disguise,” former Dream Syndicate front man Steve Wynn’s “State Trooper,” Graham Parker’s “Pink Cadillac,” Rosie Flores’ “Lucky Town” and Joe Ely’s “Working on the Highway,” but there’s also a lot of rockabilly and countrified takes that sound like pale imitations of you-know-who. The next time someone decides to produce a Springsteen tribute album, which should be any minute now, let’s hear some heavy-metal, punk, electronic and reggae interpretations. Mr. Springsteen’s songs can take it.

For rock ‘n’ rollers railing at the Bush administration. John Mellencamp and his model wife, Elaine Irwin, just published an open letter on http://www.mellencamp.com that says it’s time to “take back” the country from “political agendas, corporate greed and overall manipulation.”

“Who is to say what is or isn’t ‘patriotic?'” the Mellencamps write. “Do the flags that wave from every minivan really offer any support? Where is the support for the thousands of service men and women who return to the states to see their benefits cut, their health problems ignored, their jobs gone and their families living in poverty? How are they repaid for their efforts; for risking or losing their lives? So far, dismally.”

Meanwhile, Billy Bragg, Tom Morello (performing as the Nightwatchman), Lester Chambers of the Chambers Brothers (they did “The Time Has Come” back in the 60’s) and, for a few shows, Steve Earle are embarking on a 13-date “Tell Us the Truth Tour” that, in addition to the entertainment, will attempt to, as the press release states, draw “connections between bad policies and bad journalism” with the help of such groups as the A.F.L.-C.I.O., Citizens Trade Campaign, Common Cause, Free Press and the Future of Music Coalition. The tour will play Webster Hall on Nov. 21 and 22.