NATIONAL TRUST 1/14, EMPTY BOTTLE The first release from the new project of former Dolomite front man Neil Rosario was supposedly two years in the making and funded largely by Vegas winnings–and it’s only a seven-inch single. But it’s a damn nice single: the polite rocker “Make It Happen” is suitably infectious, and the down-tempo wist generator “Cirile at the Peak of Yarn” is the best fake T. Rex tune I’ve heard in a long time. Both tunes hark back to a mythical golden age when pop was never painful; if I have any complaint it’s that it goes down a bit too smooth, like an oyster for the second time. The lineup for this gig includes former Zoom and Bells guitarist Mark Henning, Bells drummer Kim Ambriz, and former Dolomite bassist Doug DeMers. THINKING FELLERS UNION LOCAL 282 1/14, LOUNGE AX As expected, none of Lounge Ax’s farewell shows has provided much in the way of elbow room or oxygen: even claustrophobics who’ve avoided the place for years are turning up to pay respects. The line for the Tortoise show last Thursday was around the block by 8 PM; the Wilco line on Sunday was down to the currency exchange on Fullerton by the same time. This show, with Ohio cult heroes Scrawl on the bill and Shellac headlining, promises to be one of the best yet for fans of erotic asphyxiation and frottage. But even if you like your spaces wide open, with TFUL 282 breaking their long silence–they officially retired from the road several years ago, though a new album, their first since 1996, is reportedly due this spring–it’s still worth camping out like a Star Wars geek. These inspired purveyors of rattle-bang and trash-can poetry have more potential than almost anyone to summon the ghost of indie rock’s gold-plated age: when Matador Records was a real creative force, Lounge Ax was more a cutting-edge noise buffet than a friendly family room, and wonks like me didn’t pronounce the ends of eras without a decent period of hindsight. ZELIENOPLE 1/17, EMPTY BOTTLE On their two self-released CDs, this local trio melds the gentlest space rock with trance electronica, though carefully avoiding any hint of the sinister techno or gleeful energy surges that some of the real masters of post-rock love to frighten the horses with–compared to these guys, Tortoise sounds like a Slayer tribute band. If you meet the Buddha on the couch, pass him the doobie… MIGHTY MO RODGERS 1/19, HAROLD WASHINGTON LIBRARY Center; 1/19, SCHUBAS; 1/21, BUDDY GUY’S East Chicago native Maurice Rodgers is a singer-songwriter and the author of a master’s thesis called “Blues as Metaphysical Music (Its Musicality and Ontological Underpinnings).” He hopes to build a bridge between the roadhouse and the ivory tower by founding a master’s degree program in the blues someday; his far-reaching overview draws on history, literature, and philosophy to present the music as a microcosm of the African-American experience. Sound dry? It isn’t–when Rodgers says he majored in the blues, he also means he learned it the hard way, playing piano “till there were calluses on my calluses” alongside Roy Brown, T-Bone Walker, and Bobby “Blue” Bland and producing Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee’s Sonny & Terry in 1973. While studying philosophy at a California state college, he wrote songs for Chappell and Motown, which he found unsatisfying, and about six years ago he returned to performing. There are moments on his debut, Blues Is My Wailin’ Wall (first released on his own North Star label but recently picked up by Blue Thumb), where he demonstrates some startlingly innovative songwriting while remaining firmly in the tradition–like the haunting “Took Away the Drum,” a spare, eerie tune featuring ghostly backing vocals and mesmerizing percussion that traces the origin of the blues to the fact that in North America, unlike the Caribbean and South America, African slaves were forbidden to play drums. Other cuts sound more standard, but Rodgers’s deftness as a lyricist rescues him and sustains my interest every time. On Wednesday afternoon he’ll participate in the Chicago Blues Archives’ oral-history and interview series; at Schubas that night he headlines; and next Friday he opens a sold-out show for Buddy Guy. OK GO 1/20, METRO This youthful local pop quartet has built a fan base sharing bills with Olivia Tremor Control, Sloan, Pansy Division, and the Frogs, among others; in February they’re recording their first album with engineer Dave Trumfio. The sampler they sent me reveals a kinship with Trumfio’s band the Pulsars– shimmering, new wave-tinged layer-cake pop that vibrates with restraint and then breaks out in infectious surges. If the world really has room for another band like this, OK Go could be the one to add. The Promise Ring (see Post No Bills) headlines.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jeff Dumas.