Bottle Rockets’

New Trajectory

Local favorites the Bottle Rockets are coming to the Riviera on Thursday with Lucinda Williams, and they share more with the maverick country-rock singer than a marquee. The group, based in Festus, Missouri, hasn’t been through quite what Williams has endured, but it’s sure taken its share of shit from the record biz. As detailed in this column a couple years ago, their superb third album, 24 Hours a Day, sat in the can for a year and a half while Atlantic downsized, reorganized, and devoted untold time and resources to Jewel; not long after the record finally saw the light of day, the label gave the Bottle Rockets their walking papers.

They resurfaced last year on the Austin-based, Mercury-distributed Doolittle label, which in November released the accurately titled Leftovers, a collection of dull tracks rightly edited off 24 Hours a Day. But their first new album for Doolittle, Brand New Year–for which bassist Robert Kearns replaces Chicagoan Tom Ray, who’s busy with Devil in a Woodpile–bears little resemblance to the tried-and-true rollicking roots rock of their previous releases. The Bottle Rockets have always borrowed from ZZ Top and Neil Young, but now I hear Bad Company too, and the only twang left in the act is in Brian Henneman’s accent.

For the most part, Henneman’s lucid, unadorned lyrics save the record from sheer 70s stupidity. In fact, he’s written some of the band’s best songs ever, supplementing the hedonistic appeal of hard rock with intelligence and humor. “Helpless” is about embracing Ludditism, “Gotta Get Up” mimics the workingman’s grind by cycling through the same lyric five times in a row, and “White Boy Blues” is a pointed send-up of weekend blues-rock warriors: “Have you heard the news he got the white boy blues / Bought himself a guitar that paid its dues.” Duds like Kearns’s “The Bar’s on Fire” (“Oh my God, the bar’s on fire / Somebody save the beer”) and guitarist Tom Parr’s workmanlike “Let Me Know” nevertheless make the album the Bottle Rockets’ least consistent since their 1993 debut–but live, they’re still one of the most entertaining bands around.

Outet In

It’s been a couple years since I last saw tenor saxophonist David Boykin perform, and judging by his new two-volume debut, Evidence of Life on Other Planets–recorded live at the Velvet Lounge and HotHouse last year–it seems I’ve been missing out. His group the Outet, with flutist Nicole Mitchell (also of Samana), vocalist Glenda Baker, bassist Josh Abrams, and drummer Chad Taylor (of the Chicago Underground Duo), has developed a tight ensemble sound based on restraint and subtle interplay. His improvising, which once tended to be directionless, is much more focused, and his composed melodies are measured, elegiac, and entrancing. Baker’s mostly wordless flutters add pretty motific filigree; Abrams and Taylor maintain a rolling boil underneath. And even when the group swings harder, as on “Conundrum,” the performances are just as economically poignant. In overall feel, the album recalls the hypnotic records released by Archie Shepp, Sunny Murray, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago on the legendary French free-jazz label Actuel in the 60s (though the cover is an obvious homage to Actuel’s U.S. inspiration, ESP).

The first volume of Evidence of Life on Other Planets, which includes four compositions, was released on vinyl only in August by Thrill Jockey. The second volume, forthcoming from Boxmedia, is a CD with different versions of three of those pieces, plus one tune that doesn’t appear on the vinyl at all. The CD also includes seven brief solo interludes that Boykin recorded at the intersection of Randolph and Michigan in April. Appropriately, the Outet has scheduled two album release parties: the first is Thursday at the Empty Bottle; the second is Friday, October 15, at the South Loop coffeehouse Some Like It Black.


Due to a “miscommunication about permissible sponsorship” between club owner Bruce Finkelman and the Cook County Forest Preserve, the Empty Bottle’s first annual Charity Golf Outing–scheduled for Saturday at Edgebrook Golf Course–has been canceled. The post-golf concert, with sets by Those Bastard Souls (see Spot Check), the Vandermark 5, and a reunited Red Red Meat, is still on; admission is $10 and proceeds go to the UIC Liver Center.

Silkworm guitarist Andy Cohen, who moved to Chicago last year to attend law school at the U. of C., just finished a six-date U.S. tour with Bush, filling in for Nigel Pulsford, who was kept in England by a family emergency.

On Friday, HotHouse celebrates its tenth anniversary with performances by Gene Coleman’s Plus Minus–featuring Werner Dafeldecker, Michael Moser, and Burkhard Stangl of the Austrian quartet Polwechsel–and jazz pianist Marilyn Crispell. The club actually opened 12 years ago in the Flat Iron Building in Wicker Park, but owner Marguerite Horberg says she’s not counting the two years the organization spent homeless. In a separate event at midnight, the club presents the Chicago debut of the terrific Malian guitarist Habib Koite.

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