For years, in a self-promoting form of cultural exchange, the New Zealand government has paid the way for the nation’s athletes to show their stuff on the world’s playing fields. This year the country is getting in on the groundswell of interest in kiwi music as well, by partially funding the Noisyland vs. North America tour, which features three of New Zealand’s better known guitar bands. Headliners Straitjacket Fits are genuine stars in their homeland; little girls swooned when lead singer-guitarist Shayne Carter took his shirt off in the band’s “Done” video. But his sights are set higher than stoking teen libidos; gripping covers of songs by Leonard Cohen (“So Long Marianne”) and the Sex Pistols (“Satellite”) give a clearer picture of the band’s chosen turf. Until now, Straitjacket Fits has been primarily a live act; the quartet’s mixture of indelible melodies, lush vocal harmonies, and harsh guitar aggression has always gotten bogged down on record by misguided production. But they remedied that problem on Blow, their latest and best CD, by recording it live in the studio. Blow’s songs are Straitjacket Fits’ leanest and toughest since the band’s NZ-only debut EP Life in One Chord, so the band should have ample fodder to work its incendiary live magic. Also appearing are the Bats, whose lyrically melancholy songs acquire a sharp bite in concert, and the Jean Paul Sartre Experience, a spacy pop band making its Chicago debut. Friday, 10 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 525-6620.

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