The Ben Folds Five: The piano-bass-drums trio from Chapel Hill, North Carolina--so named because "it sounds better than the Ben Folds Three," says baby-grand man Folds--plows a deep furrow about midway between roots and alt. In fact, the BFF sounds a bit like a Gen X version of the Band with its wonderfully mangy, occasionally transcendent stuff. Be sure to request the Five's twangy, tongue-in-cheek take on Oasis' "Champagne Supernova." Still touring behind the disc Whatever and Ever Amen, Folds and company play a free show on Thanksgiving night--Thursday, November 27--at Gibson's, 410 South Mill in Tempe. Marci Playground, and the Zack Phillips Band open. 967-1234.
Sarah McLachlan: Those pondering suicide would be well-advised to avoid the blackly beautiful strains of this bitterly ethereal songbird. On the other hand--music being one of life's elixirs and McLachlan one of pop's enchantresses--perhaps Sarah's stuff should be required listening for lost souls teetering on the brink of purgatory. We know those who believe the Canadian songwriter can cure cancer, and it's clear that her vocation/avocation is the sword with which she slays her own dragons of Eden. But the brainy, unconventionally sexy artist is not for the weak of heart or the slack of spirit--her misleadingly brittle, surfacely chilly music is too challenging, its numerous rewards too difficult to spade out of the frozen tundra that is her aesthetic turf. In a perfect world, Sarah would be bigger than those plastically sexy Spice Girls; as things stand on this imperfect planet, we count our blessings that this deeply scarred and all-too-human songsmith's been able to succeed--even flourish--on her own unyielding terms. Tyro chanteuse Madeleine Peyroux opens at 6 p.m. Friday, November 28, at Mesa Amphitheatre, Center and University. If tickets are available, they're at Mesa Community Center and Dillard's box offices (644-2560, 503-5555).
Fred Stonehouse/Steve Gompf: Stonehouse is a Milwaukee-born painter who operates in his own fever-pitched realm of imagination; says Fred of the startlingly original pieces in his exhibit "Thirteen Devils & El Libro de los Suenos": "I break the rules of symbolism internationally. . . . I don't have any qualms about it." Sounds good to us. Valley-based Gompf is a multimedia junkie who transforms his passion for old junk--and faded visuals--into glorious pseudohistory via sometimes disturbing, nickelodeon-style loops "broadcast" on lovingly rehabilitated, oddly threatening machines named televisors. His installation is titled "Steve Gompf & Eadweard Muybridge: Persistent Visions: Televisors and Early Motion-Picture Technologies." The dual exhibits are displayed through Saturday, January 3, 1998, at the Lisa Sette Gallery, 4142 North Marshall Way in Scottsdale. Viewing is free. The gallery's closed Thanksgiving; regular hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. 990-7342.
Valley Song: The drama by Athol Fugard (Master Harold . . . and the boys; The Blood Knot) is, like most of Fugard's works, South Africacentric but universal. The playwright's first work since the fall of apartheid, Valley Song relates simultaneous tales of upheaval centering on the cultural (growing pains on the karoo created by the advent of modernity and democracy) and the personal (the straining of the bond between traditionalist Abraam "Buks" Jonkers--portrayed by Jerome Kilty--and Buks' big-city-on-the-brain granddaughter, Tamilla Woodard's Veronica); see the review on page 59. The Arizona Theatre Company production concludes with performances at 8 p.m. Friday, November 28; and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, November 29, in Center Stage at Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe. Tickets range from $25.50 to $32.50, available via ATC, the Herberger or Dillard's (256-6995, 252-8497, 503-5555).
Stereolab: You know the world's balanced delicately on one lobe when a band like, say, Stereolab incorporates Muzak and easy listening into its oeuvre and is lionized for it (well, in some circles). The Brit trance-popsters are infamous for their extended, hypno/hallucinogenic jams--Tortoise meets the Dead at Birdland, kinda--but they've switched gears slightly with their latest release, Dots and Loops. Produced by Tortoise's John McEntire, Dots teems with melody and accessibility--relative, at least, to previous aural eccentricities like Switched On and Peng. The similarly head-expanding High Llamas share the stage on Friday, November 28, at Gibson's, 410 South Mill in Tempe. The all-ages show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10, available at Ticketmaster. 967-1234, 784-4444.
"Physical Fiction: Electronic Installations by Sara Roberts": Northern California teacher/artist/technologist Roberts is a master of integrated, viewer-responsive electronic installations that create "portraits of common relationships." In her piece "Elective Affinities" (named after the Goethe novella), Roberts tracks the complex interplay between four occupants of a moving car. Explains the exhibit's curator, Heather Sealy Lineberry, "Depending upon [his or her] location, the visitor triggers a soundtrack of thoughts. . . . The story will be different each time you visit, depending on which soundtracks are activated as you move around the space." The show continues through Saturday, January 31, 1998, in the Experimental Gallery at the Arizona State University Art Museum at Matthews Center, located at the intersection of Cady and Tyler malls on the ASU campus in Tempe. Viewing is free. The facility's closed Thanksgiving; regular hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. 965-2787.
Desert Sturm und Drang: Arizona versus Arizona State: The perennial UofA/ASU struggle for pigskin supremacy's always big, because the squad having the off year historically takes out all of its pent-up frustration on the team with everything to lose. This year, it's Tucson's lowly Wildcats looking to knock the post-Thanksgiving stuffing out of the high-riding Sun Devils and their bowl hopes. Kickoff's at 4:30 p.m. Friday, November 28, at Sun Devil Stadium, College Avenue and Stadium Drive in Tempe. If tix are available, they're at the Sun Devil Sports Box Office and Dillard's (965-2381, 503-5555).