It’s hard to avoid thinking of Shrimp Boat as a benchmark by which to measure the decline of an “alternative” rock scene that has become more and more a marketplace for boring cliches about girls, boys, sex, drugs, rebellion, and so on. In a way, though, it’s unfair to compare SB to other rock acts, because while so much rock music concerns itself with adolescent complaints and impulses, SB music is a sustained mature inquiry into the possibilities of extending the rock idiom into underexplored territory. These guys are out to discover beauty–well aware that it may turn up in the most unexpected places–and they do so with all the persistence and relentless creativity (if not necessarily the equivalent instrumental technique) of the better experimental jazz players. They’re willing to stretch song structure to the breaking point, turn bluesy guitar riff s inside out, or play in two keys at once, all to broaden the emotional and cerebral range of their music. After a year of personnel changes and instability, and frighteningly uneven shows, SB has recently returned to form: the key dynamic between singer-guitarists Sam Prekop and Ian Schneller is intact and new drummer Tom Jasek drives the ensemble harder with his innate sense of funk and swing. Capable not only of shaking a dance floor silly but of evoking genuine wonder in anyone willing to consider the existence of the universe as something fundamentally odd, SB is pointing the way to what rock and roll could be if only more bands had their courage and wry intelligence–and that’s why they’re my favorite rock act, not only in Chicago but anywhere. Saturday, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 525-6620. Next Saturday, February 27, Phyllis’ Musical Inn, 1800 W. Division; 486-9862.

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