Roots-rock bands invariably strive to project an aura of authenticity, but it’s often bogus: the Band wrote about Dixie, but they were Canadian; the Blasters sing about the “Common Man,” but lead singer Phil Alvin is an academic mathematician. Honky-tonk crooner and accordionist Rico Bell, aka British painter Eric Bellis, is a worthy addition to this synthetic tradition. He adopts the persona of a hapless barfly crying into his beer, pining for the woman who is no longer by his side. But the calamity in his songs is so hyperbolic that it morphs into black comedy; undercurrents of surreal imagery and socialist politics–much like those in his paintings–give clues to Bell’s real identity. Bell is also a longstanding member of the Mekons; his squeezebox adorns most of the records they’ve made since 1986, and on two of them he performed melodramatic renditions of the country-and-western standards “Sleepless Nights” and “Sweet Dreams.” His performances are suffused with an unfeigned enthusiasm and affection for his material that belie its air of alcoholic tragedy. Bell will be backed by members of the Waco Brothers, the Chicago country-punk ensemble led by fellow Mekon Jon Langford. He headlines Friday; the Volebeats and Red Star Belgrade open. On Saturday he opens for the Wacos, who will be celebrating the release of their second album, Cowboy in Flames. Friday, 10 PM, Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont; 773-281-4444. Saturday, 10 PM, FitzGerald’s, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118. BILL MEYER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Frank Swinder.