With nothing but an acoustic guitar and a lyric, Loudon Wainwright III can pull off things more powerful than most Hollywood narratives. That said, his albums have occasionally veered into the overwrought; his 25-year recording career has taken him through many labels and many phases, from his best-known single “Dead Skunk” (actually one of his weaker, more gimmicky songs) and thin LPs T Shirt and Final Exam (both on Arista) to the classic gender-gap anthem “Whatever Happened to Us,” the stinging vitriol of “Revenge,” such hilarious one-liners as “I Eat Out” and “Kings and Queens,” and a few surprisingly affecting tearjerkers. But where the overproduction gremlin sometimes overtakes him in the studio, in concert Wainwright is an absolute marvel. His live recordings, A Live One (Rounder) and one brilliant side of Unrequited (Columbia), remain the indispensable part of his discography. Wainwright’s newest studio project, Grown Man (Charisma), is thoroughly enjoyable, however, and its contrivances (a song sung in the shower, a duet with one of his daughters concerning his flawed fatherhood) are more than matched by his sharp wit and linguistic ingenuity. Over the years, he’s actively cultivated a rakish, chauvinistic image, a perception he doesn’t refute with a song like “IWIWAL (I Wish I Was a Lesbian).” But he’s also played the sensitive guy, singing confessional songs about his relationships with women, his children, society, and–most often–himself. Whenever this psychoanalysis seems self-serving or indulgent, it’s undercut with a dazzling sense of humor, sincerity, and real insight. And Wainwright slyly tackles lighter topics: “Cobwebs,” for instance, is a breezy three-minute Gilberto Gil-style diatribe against the misuse of the word “like” (“Yeah it mighta started back with Jack Kerouac / Probably more than likely it was Maynard G. Krebs / It’s the four-letter word that used to mean ‘as if’ / And now the meaning’s covered in cobwebs”). If you’re lucky maybe Loudo will indulge you with one of the live specialties he’s never laid on wax–holler out for “Surfer Queen” and see what you get. Saturday, 8 and 10:30 PM, and Sunday, 7 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 525-2508. JOHN CORBETT

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Crump–RSP.