The ad for this 20-year-old group calls them “One of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands in the country.” Speaking of their albums, that boast is absolutely ludicrous; speaking of their concerts, it’s absolutely true. The name stands for New Rhythm and Blues Quintet (or Quartet–it goes back and forth), but R & B is hardly all they play. Their consistently inconsistent LPs include bopping jazz, cloying kiddie tunes, catchy sing-alongs, and clever covers together with more-or-less straightforward roadhouse romps. The effect is fun and funny but just too haphazard and “what the hey” indifferent to be anything more than that: the records could very well have inspired some carefree postmodern style-slummers like Camper Van Beethoven, but NRBQ’s albums are nowhere near as suggestive or far-ranging as this younger band’s early output. Onstage, however, their name really comes to mean something. Here, the feel of R & B swallows up everything they play, and, in turn, the band swallow up the audience in their wild, sloppy, stomp-yer-feet-and-have-another-beer, partyin’-good-time mood. In fact, it’s such a generous good time that, in this setting, NRBQ make youngsters like Camper Van Beethoven sound like a bunch of snotty, spoiled kids. If you’ve never seen them, it’s almost worth going just because indifferent 20-year veterans simply aren’t supposed to have so much fresh energy–I guess it just goes to prove that passion and commitment don’t always go hand in hand. Saturday, Biddy Mulligan’s, 7644 N. Sheridan; 761-6532.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Mike Saporito.