- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Philadelphia-based School of Rock founder Paul Green (no, not Jack Black) promises his School of Rock All-Stars’ Washington-area debut tomorrow at the State Theatre will be “fabulous music without all the pretense and cynicism.”

At least having experimental rock guitarist Adrian Belew onstage as “guest professor” should make for an interesting class.

“It’s a very good thing for me to do,” Mr. Belew says from his Nashville, Tenn., home. “I always try to impart as much information [to musicians] as I can in a friendly way, kind of the same way I felt Frank Zappa did for me” when touring together in the mid-1970s.

“I didn’t know how to read or write music, and still don’t. But Frank gave me a college-education crash course in that one year,” Mr. Belew says, which included how to work in odd time signatures.

“I couldn’t play and write with [progressive rock veterans] King Crimson without that experience.”

In addition to his Crimson job, Mr. Belew has produced and played with everyone from Nine Inch Nails to David Bowie to William Shatner. His solo records, he says, are “what most people call eclectic, a lot of different styles put together on one record.”

“[It’s] a little like what Frank said about his work: You have to wait until the end to see the whole picture.”

Mr. Green says he pitched the guest-professor idea to Mr. Belew by telling him “you wrote our textbooks.” Mr. Belew will join the All-Stars for 16 of 22 songs over two hours.

They will do two Zappa tunes — “which is pretty cool,” Mr. Green says, “because I don’t think he’s played any Zappa in 30 years.”

Expect also to hear five solo songs of Mr. Belew’s, including the 1982 new-wave classic “Big Electric Cat” and some songs from his new Grammy-nominated album, “Side One,” plus seven Crimson songs, David Bowie’s “Heroes” and the Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus.”

The 20 All-Stars in attendance tomorrow range in age from 11 to 18 and are drawn nationwide from the school’s 13 branches. Some of them are veterans, with 100 to 150 concerts under their belts, Mr. Green says.

It’s an early show — doors open at 6 p.m. — because Green wants kids to be able to attend. It’s also an unofficial “first promotional event” for a School of Rock branch set to open in the District or Northern Virginia area in a year or two.

“We want to show kids in D.C. what kids in Philly are up to, and get them jealous,” Mr. Green says.

• • •

Not much older than the All-Stars (in years, at least) are the five members of Pilotdrift, who bring their unique, romantic pop soundscapes to the 9:30 Club on Sunday.

Vocalist and songwriter Kelly Carr, 23, speaking from his home in Texarkana, Texas, exemplifies the group’s nostalgic tinge, exuding an I-just-wasn’t-made-for-these-times vibe as he fondly reveals a yen for “old-fashioned vaudeville where you boo and hiss the villain.”

Despite its heavy use of synthesizers, Pilotdrift’s debut, “Water Sphere” on Good Records (run by Dallas symphonic popsters The Polyphonic Spree), is suffused with Victorian atmosphere and attitudes, in addition to the lush atmosphere the title suggests.

The album’s Broadway-worthy epic “Jekyll and Hyde Suite” — inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 classic — opens with some “Phantom of the Opera” organ, and over the 10 minutes you hear the glass break as Jekyll is transformed into Hyde, Hyde’s cartoonishly gleeful narration (think Bowie voicing a Tim Burton film), then a mood of regret, and finally over-the-top church bells as Hyde is defeated.

Mr. Carr calls it his take on “the battle between the spirit and the flesh, classic good and evil.”

“Late Night in a Wax Museum” (which Mr. Carr calls “sort of a childlike what-if”) starts off as ethereal, but switches to a jaunty ragtime as the statues come alive. It’s so heavily layered that a listener can hear everything slowly settle as the statues return to their places at sunup. “Rings of Symbols” is modern Britpop with a hypnotic Middle Eastern sitar riff and a pounding piano to simulate a rushing train.

Even though “Water Sphere” is definitely headphone music, Mr. Carr says the live show “is pretty much like the CD at home” although “some of the low, crunching strings” are replaced by guitar onstage.

Pilotdrift seems more influenced by film scores than bands, and in fact Mr. Carr cites Thomas Newman (“American Beauty,” “Six Feet Under”) as an influence. “And a lot of people see Danny Elfman in there.”

So has he thought about writing any film scores?

“It’s on my list of things to do before I die,” he says.

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