The last time the Continental Drifters rolled into town, they found themselves playing a yuppie barbecue joint where the soundman spent the first set teaching himself how to use a mixing board and the patrons were less interested in the music than the meat. But the sextet Rolling Stone had called one of the best unsigned bands in the nation laughed it off, delivering two hours of silken, southern-fried pop that called to mind the Byrds, the Band, Big Star, and Fairport Convention. The Drifters have been around the block–Vicki Peterson in the Bangles, Mark Walton in Dream Syndicate, Peter Holsapple in the dB’s, and Susan Cowsill in the Cowsills–and having navigated the ups and downs of the entertainment industry they take obvious pleasure in what matters most: making music. On their only album to date, 1994’s Continental Drifters (Monkey Hill), they cover songs by Gram Parsons, Michael Nesmith, and Goffin and King, but Peterson’s “Mixed Messages” equals anything she wrote for the Bangles’ All Over the Place, and Walton’s rocking “Get Over It” is a perfect vehicle for Cowsill’s powerhouse voice. Onstage the two women’s gorgeous harmonies are an obvious focal point (they sometimes perform as the Psycho Sisters), but this is a group of friends, not stars. At the end of their barbecue gig the Drifters set down their instruments and rewarded the small but by then enraptured crowd with a good-night kiss: a transcendent a cappella cover of the Shirelles’ “Dedicated to the One I Love” in six-part harmony. You could easily imagine them in their van the next day, singing all the way home. Walton’s former band mate Steve Wynn opens (see Spot Check). Saturday, 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. J.R. JONES

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Robby Dupleix.