KNIFE IN THE WATER 3/29, EMPTY BOTTLE Named for a Roman Polanski film, these Austinites play atypical country-based indie soul, biding their time and getting where they mean to go with sounds that seem sweetly broken but aren’t exactly in need of fixing. Laura Krause’s organ lines and Bill McCullough’s pedal steel lift the traditional-sounding, modern-feeling songs out of the realm of the ordinary. Last year they released their second album, Red River, on the Chicago label Overcoat; on this tour they’ve got a new five-song EP for sale from Peek-a-Boo, and are working on a third full-length for release in the fall. Kindred spirits Califone headline; also on the bill are Miighty Flashlight (Rites of Spring bassist and Drag City sideman Mike Fellows on acoustic guitar and laptop) and New York’s Mendoza Line. MEZODIGM 3/29, ABBEY PUB Pity this local band is buried so deep on an overloaded bill, because their Anchor Watt & the Weekend Warriors deserves a showcase of its own. They’re bewitchingly caught between indie and art rock, and threaten to drop some metal on your head when they get frustrated. Though the periodic surges into rock-opera hubris (where front man Chris Estrada’s voice occasionally bears a resemblance to Ian Anderson’s) aren’t for every taste, the quartet justifies every power play with an eerie lower layer of calm. And if you’re trying to evoke concepts like “Lust Catalytic” or “Alert Hartford,” or pass off “Lepercore” as a love song, how exactly would you propose to get audiences to sit still? New York’s Walkmen, who just released their debut album, Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone (Startime International), headline. With three members of the late, lamented Jonathan Fire*Eater and two from New York cult mods the Recoys, they’ve rapidly attained buzz for being everything the Strokes shoulda been. DOLLY VARDEN 3/30, SCHUBAS The local band Dolly Varden could take better advantage of Chicago’s alt-country infrastructure, but they prefer to go their own way; for instance, they’ve recorded their last two albums with Nashville roots-pop producer Brad Jones. But though they’re not always included among the usual suspects, the quintet led by husband and wife Steve Dawson and Diane Christiansen is one of the best country alternatives in town. Their new Forgiven Now (Undertow) is at times hard-bitten and gritty and at others shimmery and ethereal; “1000 Men Like Cigarettes” sounds a bit like country Blondie; when Dawson sings about “moments of overwhelming grace” he doesn’t just describe them, he creates them. EELS 3/30, METRO I’m not sure Dreamworks has a clue how to market this oddball outfit–they’re not hip, photogenic, or categorizable. But they are better than ever–they this time around being the man called E., his trusty drummer Butch, bassist and keyboardist Koool G. Murder, and a couple recruits from PJ Harvey’s team, producer John Parish and guitarist Joe Gore. Their new Souljacker is a glorious record of dark, prickly, playful, and infectious garage-electronica: imagine Beck encountering his formidable record collection in the midst of a wild Fantasia dance, out of control and determined to make unholy marriages, overriding his approval, fatally staining his cuteness, and driving him to mutter incoherencies about teenage witches and bus stop boxers. RIBBON EFFECT, TINY HAIRS 3/30, EMPTY BOTTLE This is a party for the two initial releases by the Chicago label False Walls; both Tiny Hairs’s second release, Subtle Invisible Bodies, and Ribbon Effect’s EP98 (recorded before last year’s debut album, Slip) come out April 1. Both bands rely on improvisation to generate ideas; though Ribbon Effect consider themselves a song-oriented band, none of the four long tracks on the EP coalesces into a pop structure. Nonetheless they seem the more light-footed of the two, percussive and sometimes even effervescent as keyboards and drums interlace; the very analog accordion challenges the electronics to a playful duel. Tiny Hairs go into darker territory; the tracks unfold gradually and with a slow pulse; if you follow Peter Rosenbloom’s violin it behaves like a fairy light, getting a listener more and more lost in the moonlit forest of Charles King’s magical miscellany (“electronics, turntable, shortwave, electromagnetic bicycle/shelving/fan/jar of bolts”). ELENI MANDELL 3/31, HIDEOUT Charismatic, sexy, and smart, LA-based pomo chanteuse Eleni Mandell has been lauded as a sort of female Tom Waits. I wouldn’t ascribe quite that level of creative audacity to her yet, but give her time: she’s further down the road than he was at this point in his career. Her third album, Snakebite (Space Baby), mixes surreal cabaret and the occasional heartbeat-driven rocker (“Snakebite”); Mandell slides her sultry, limber alto suggestively down the bar alongside Lee Thornberg’s trumpet (“Man in the Paper Hat”), invites X veteran D.J. Bonebrake to contribute some Beefhearted marimba, and brings in Melora Creager from Rasputina to play cello. Her idiosyncratic intensity gives her a multidimensional beauty here that’s lacking in so many more reassuring-sounding songbirds. BOB MOULD 4/4 & 4/5, PARK WEST; 4/5, TOWER ON CLARK After a dramatic retreat from guitar-based indie rock circa 1998 and a seven-month stint as a consultant for World Championship Wrestling, the former Husker Du and Sugar front man has reinvented himself again. His new album, Modulate (Granary Music), is possibly the feyest piece of electronic dance music to come from a Minneapolis musician since Prince hit puberty. Not that it has any of the Artist’s lightness or sexiness–no, despite the disco percolations, Mould is still introspective as cabin fever and dour as a November sky (key line from “The Receipt”: “The basement window sheds no sunlight on your fate”). To be fair, the guy helped invent a genre and then got trapped inside as it shrank all around him; as a clean getaway, this almost works. He doesn’t hit a single anthemic chord change until track ten, and it’s postironic Depeche Mode all the way up until then. But the last few tracks, which sound decidedly more familiar, flirt with copping out; he can crank out stuff like “Comeonstrong” in his sleep, and for years he did. His live show, which he’s dubbed the Carnival of Light and Sound, will feature films that Mould directed himself; he’ll play solo with some prerecorded elements. SHANNON WRIGHT 4/4, EMPTY BOTTLE As big as her voice and her ideas are–she projects Emily Bronte emotions in an Elizabeth Wurtzel world–Shannon Wright is at her best when she’s deliberately small-time. Though her most recent LP, Dyed in the Wool (Quarterstick), was beautifully arranged, with parts played perfectly by an all-star cast including members of the Rock*a*Teens, the Shipping News, the Lofty Pillars, and the Rachel’s, she’s most compelling live, in person, and either by herself or close to it, when she strips the songs down to a core shuddering intensity.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Rocky Schenck.