LIZ CARROLL 4/28, IRISH AMERICAN HERITAGE CENTER It’s been said that the Chicago Irish are more Irish than the Irish, which might partly explain how it is that the woman recognized by some as the world’s greatest Irish fiddle player lives in Evanston. Born into a musical family, Carroll wrote her first reel at nine, and in the liner notes to her Lost in the Loop (Green Linnet), she writes about how different that felt from playing traditional material–which by that point she’d been doing for years already. The new album, her first solo recording since 1988, is a collection of mostly original tunes informed by a lifetime of immersion in tradition, but as always what truly sets Carroll apart is her technique: never shrill or precious, never losing expressiveness even when it picks up speed. FAT MAMA 4/28, SCHUBAS Fat Mama claims that its music “contains elements of bebop, ambient, postbop, free jazz, fusion, jungle, soul jazz, world jazz, funk, klezmer, trance, trip-hop, teen pop, rock, reggae, dub, soul, R & B, Latin, African, and both country and western.” That’s sort of true, and on their new self-released Mamatus the ten musicians have the chops to pull it off–but whether the blend intoxicates you or just gives you a hangover will depend on your personal tolerance for hyperbusy, self-conscious festival funk. For me, the know-where-we’re-comin’-from-maaaan stance gets to be a bit much (the booklet includes a photo of a pile of papers and notebooks in which a Terence McKenna paperback is conspicuous), and there’s just no justification for ten white guys from Boulder calling a song “Pimp Slap.” Songwriting credit of the month: “‘Alpha Zulu’ (Goldberger).” 12 RODS 4/28, METRO I liked this Minneapolis synth-pop band’s 1998 debut, the Gay? EP, for its playful emotional audacity and energetic electronic warp. The forthcoming Separation Anxieties (V2), their second full-length, stretches the sound without losing personality–though the Radiohead comparisons aren’t going away anytime soon. There’s something about such casual ease with studio gloss that makes the record sound almost timeless; no doubt producer Todd Rundgren had a hand in that. He’ll sit in with the band for this gig. HIM 4/29, EMPTY BOTTLE Drummer Doug Scharin’s project Him takes a less boisterous, more humble approach to the spot where jazz meets funk and dub than Fat Mama. Tonight, with a new solidified sextet lineup whose family tree includes the Sorts, June of 44, Smart Went Crazy, Sonora Pine, and Golden, the band kicks off a road test of material from its forthcoming Our Point of Departure, due in late August on Perishable. In the sample track the label sent me, a roughly eight-minute-long piece called “Persistent Life,” rhythms and even moods turn on a dime, but the layered groove never quite breaks down completely. QUASAR WUT-WUT 4/29, BEAT KITCHEN The too-much-coffee rock on Quasar Wut-Wut’s self-released CD, Jalopy, can’t be as funny to outsiders as it must have seemed in the Ann Arbor basement where it was recorded using guitars, piano, keyboards, drums, bongos, cello, turntables, and not one but two glockenspiels. But I appreciate its sheer manic energy, and also the way it uses instrumental virtuosity to spit on the relevance of instrumental virtuosity. And, like it or not, Sea-Monkeys are still hilarious. BINARY SYSTEM 5/2, EMPTY BOTTLE Roger Miller is still probably best remembered as the versatile, ardent guitarist of Mission of Burma, but since that band split, circa 1983, his primary instrument has been prepared piano. His latest project, Binary System, is a duo with percussionist Larry Dersch, and though you wouldn’t describe their new From the Epicenter (Atavistic) as rock, it comes closer than either Miller’s restless, wired work with Birdsongs of the Mesozoic or his solo recordings, on which he sounds happily lost in the piano’s resonating chamber. Dersch is a sensitive but aggressive player who keeps a big, thick, Branca-esque love of the brutal groove stowed in his bag of tricks–not always on top, but always within reach. TANGER 5/3, FIRESIDE BOWL; 5/4, DOUBLE DOOR This Fort Collins postpunk trio is supporting Tanger, its third full-length on All’s Owned & Operated label. The album was recorded in Chicago last winter by Steve Albini, who, not surprisingly, did a great job capturing their rusty-sounding guitars and snarling, masculine, monotone vocals. On Wednesday, Tanger shares the bill with Minneapolis concept rockers Lifter Puller; on Thursday the group opens for the Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs, who don’t seem to understand that Iggy Pop’s macho act was sexy primarily because he looked like a girl. For reasons known only to him, in recent years the MC5’s Wayne Kramer has repeatedly chosen to use these LA meatheads as his backing band. THE THE 5/4 & 5, METRO It was awfully nice of Trent Reznor to sign Matt Johnson–who for all intents and purposes has been The The since the early 80s–to his Nothing label, considering that Johnson is the man from whom Reznor stole nearly everything he knows. He’s a living artifact of postpunk history, having touched down on the once-essential labels 4AD and Some Bizzarre and traded licks with Marc Almond, Jim Thirlwell, Jools Holland, Sinead O’Connor, and David Johansen, among others. He’s also had the obligatory major-label nightmare: Gun Sluts, a reportedly experimental album recorded in 1997 for Epic (his home for 17 years), was shelved for its lack of commercial singles and remains unreleased. Yet even after all that, the new Naked Self puts Johnson’s imitators in their place. His form of angst isn’t as outwardly aggressive as Reznor’s, but it’s richer–he seems more aware of the world outside himself–and in its nuances and variations it’s a lot more pervasive. That isn’t to say it’s subtle: “Fi fi fo fum / I smell the blood of a gullible bum.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.