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Sonic Surgery

As a physician based in South Florida, I can't tell you how many referrals I've written for patients with environmental allergies. But even as the state fights to eradicate melaleuca trees, another nonnative species sends patients to my office faster than a Claritin overdose. It makes poison ivy seem like a paper cut. It's poison Bush, and it's a nuisance that has turned our whole state a rashy red.

Surprisingly, it wasn't a doctor who discovered the problem but a band from Boca Raton called Red State Riot. Led by guitarist/vocalist Pete Gross, the punkish metal trio has made eradicating the oily poison Bush its main mission.

"I think as the facts continue to come out, Bush will become less and less popular," Gross says, adding that his bile-filled songs -- a natural reaction to the symptoms -- are as purposely intense as possible.

Unlike most victims of poison Bush, Gross consciously fights the condition (his only reactions to the allergy are outrage and frustration). Strangely, those who suffer the worst aren't even aware of their situation. For them, symptoms start with a rash that causes a reddening of the neck. As it spreads, the rash enters the mouth and infects the throat, causing the mispronunciation of words (e.g., newkular, rezignate) and an eating disorder (most commonly with pretzels). Finally, as the rash makes its way to the brain, it erodes the social conscience, inflames the ego, and changes the gray matter to black and white.

While many full-blown poison Bush victims can be hostile (I've had my problems trying to treat them), Gross says the band hasn't had any confrontations... yet. "I'm sure as we start to get popular down here, it'll happen," he predicts. And with Friendly Cow Records slated to release RSR's debut CD, Gross should have plenty of opportunities to treat the afflicted. Let's hope they swallow their medicine.

Findings: Red, white, and blue? Well, there's red, at least. Diagnosis: Mental rosacea. Treatment: Join in the bush-burning Friday at Alligator Alley (1321 E. Commercial Blvd., Oakland Park) with the Mary Tyler Whores, Howitzer, Spork, and Two Story Double Wide. Show starts at 9 p.m. and costs $6. Call 954-771-2220. -- Doc Le Roc

Conn Man

It's been ten wild and crazy years since Bobby Conn's last gig at Churchill's. Since that time, the Chicago artiste (some might say visionary, others wingnut) has put together a Broadway-quality glam-funk band, traveled the world, released several albums, thought he might be the Antichrist (he isn't), and become something of a cult icon. This week, Conn returns as a reformed chronic liar and proud father of two. Outtakes caught up with him via cell phone during a chilly stroll down Western Avenue in the Windy City.

Outtakes: You've been doing your thing a long time.

Bobby Conn: I'm like ancient history now. I've been an emerging artist for like 100 years. I'm slowly getting out of my eggshell -- like a turtle, but a really, really attractive turtle, not a yucky turtle.

I like the video that comes with your new live album (Bobby Conn & the Glass Gypsies' Live Classics, Vol. 1). The visuals are sort of low-budget Ziggy Stardust. They help interpret the music.

We're all over the bargain-basement glam. Whatever's cheap and shiny, we'll wear it. Of course, next week you're just gonna get me by myself. I play guitar and have tracks I perform with. And I try to involve the audience as much as they can stand.

Would a good way of introducing you to new fans be "former Antichrist Bobby Conn"?

Well, yeah, but that's ancient history. Turns out, doesn't seem like anyone's the Antichrist. Everything's been great since the turn of the century. With the exception of the World Trade Center. And the war in Iraq. I guess a lot of things are fucked up, now that you mention it.

There's a lot of ways to interpret the millennium and the endtimes. Right now, I'm more concerned with my real estate holdings. I'm thinking about visiting some of the time shares I own in Coral Gables and Naples.

That's why I'm so excited to go to Miami. This Sunday, I'm playing in Green Bay, Wisconsin. You think they have time shares in Green Bay, Wisconsin? No, they do not. You think they have a hot condo market? No, they do not. You know what they have? Ice fishing and cheese. They're good kids, though. A little overweight, but God bless 'em.

I don't have a clear memory of Miami. I do remember we went skinny dipping at South Beach and the water was like going into a bathtub. If there's some people that feel like a little post-show skinny dip, I say let's do it. -- Jonathan Zwickel Bobby Conn, with Shuttle Lounge, Robot Swan, and Vulcan Nerve Pinch, plays at 10 p.m. Friday, June 24, at Churchill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami. Tickets cost $8. Call 305-757-1807, ext 1#.

Anti-machine Music

Abu Ghraib. What happened there? I mean, we all know what happened, but what happened next? Charles Graner Jr., the "ringleader" of the abuses, was recently sentenced to ten years in a military prison, his former girlfriend Lynndie England is in and out of court, and both are essentially low-ranking foot soldiers. Zero responsibility has been taken by the higher-ups in the Defense Department who, it has now been thoroughly documented, formulated specific strategies for humiliating Muslim captives for the sake of making them more vulnerable to interrogations. Oops.

Why do I mention these events in a music column? Blame "Abu Ghraib" -- not the prison or the scandal but the protest song by Montreal musician Deadbeat, a.k.a. Scott Monteith. When I say protest song, you probably think of acoustic guitars and Joan Baez. This is different. Deadbeat makes tense, shadowy techno. "Abu Ghraib" is a protest song for the new millennium. It's also a protest song with no lyrics. How do you make a protest song with no lyrics? Good question.

The track sets out with thumping bass -- fat, bulbous thrums that pick up speed, sending out sparks of synth chirps. Filled out with a pendulous bass line and jittery electronic warbles, the song has a shuffle to it, a mechanical one, like a bent wheel that spins with a lopsided limp. Insistently, it careens forward, a piece of factory machinery that's been cranked up beyond its limits, the whole thing about to blow.

Where you locate the political content is up to you. Maybe it's in the image of a system on the brink of collapse. Maybe in the juxtaposition of the addicting groove against the title, how that unsettling combination parallels the horrific images of Iraqi prisoners being tortured and humiliated as our political leaders tell us that everything is going just fine.

Monteith has said, "My hope is that these types of songs have the ability to create a sort of virtual space within which dialogue can happen about these topics between listeners, or as in this case, myself and a journalist."

What I like about this tune is that unlike something by, say, Country Joe & the Fish, something didactic and humorless, "Abu Ghraib" does nothing more than put the music in a particular context, namely the war. "Abu Ghraib" doesn't hit us over the head but merely asks us to ponder its thumps and beeps within the framework of these atrocities; it's not trying to fix our attention on politics, but it's not allowing us to dismiss them either. It does a commendable job of letting the sadder parts of the world seep in without letting them weigh the song -- or the listener -- down entirely. -- Garrett Kamps

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Jonathan Zwickel

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