Judging by the dearth of visible activity in the two years since the release of its debut, Shellac at Action Park (Touch and Go), it might appear that Shellac’s not much of a going concern for its members. And some less than precise performances during the trio’s few local gigs last year (most played as unnamed guests on friends’ bills) have only reinforced this notion. But when Shellac does actually announce a performance, as it has this time, it’s safe to assume that guitarist Steve Albini’s famous work ethic will ensure a tight band–if nothing else. Albini’s been busy lately eroding expectations–most notably by recording Bush’s latest collection of prefab angst–and now the band has released a split single with Mule on which both bands tackle tunes with a “soul sound.” Given Albini’s well-known stances on prominent vocals and love songs, it’s shocking to hear him crooning clearly and amorously on a new version of “The Rambler Song”–even if he’s only declaring his love for a car. When the Clavinet drifts in, you can only wonder what’s next. Albini, bassist Bob Weston, and drummer Todd Trainer reportedly trotted out some rough new songs at a surprise Empty Bottle appearance last fall; as a new album (tentatively slated for a fall release) has since been recorded, it seems reasonable to expect to hear those and more at these shows. Mule guitarist-vocalist P.W. Long, performing new solo material and backed by former Jesus Lizard drummer Mac McNeilly, opens both shows. Friday and Saturday, 10 PM, Lounge Ax, 2428 N. Lincoln; 773-525-6620. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by James Crump-RSP.