GAZA STRIPPERS, DRAGONS 10/13, DOUBLE DOOR It takes Rick Sims a little longer to work up a full head of steam these days–his old band the Didjits put out seven records in as many years–but once he’s ready to blow, look out. Laced Candy (Man’s Ruin), the 1998 debut from Sims’s current quartet, the Gaza Strippers, was a frenzied four-on-the-floor gem, full of catchy tunes driven by Sims’s trademark speed-demon guitar. On the new 1000 Watt Confessions (Lookout), the entire band has honed its shtick to a dangerous little point. It’s not genius rock–titles like “Juvenile Detention,” “My Car Is,” and “Catfight” get the album’s basic themes across pretty well–but within that context Sims is a smart lyricist, twisting cliches (“Hey baby, you shook my brain like Manchurian Candidate”) or exaggerating them surrealistically (“Heavy levee mud on my catfish shoes / Slurpee purple dilated pupil blues”). San Diego’s Dragons, who open the show, credit Michael Monroe with coining the phrase they adapted for the title of their latest disc, Rock Like Fuck (Junk), and named their publishing company L.A.M.F. Music, but musically they sound as much like other San Diego alt-rock bands formed in the 90s as they do Hanoi Rocks or the Heartbreakers–and visually they’ve got none of the glam rockers’ gender-bent sex appeal. MASON JENNINGS 10/13, SCHUBAS On his self-released second album, Birds Flying Away, Minneapolis folkie darling Mason Jennings sounds sort of like a male, midwestern Joni Mitchell: his writing and arranging are reassuringly familiar, but he’s got a love-it-or-hate-it voice, a little high and a little weird, and an instinct for quirky phrasing. Now if he could only write like Mitchell–pay attention to the words and you get backhanded love poems like “Sweetheart this is my dream come true / God bless the babies that sleep in you” and prosaic political insights like “Our United States of America has quickly become a global empire.” ANTJE 10/14, ABBEY PUB Antje Gehrken, who runs the publishing company and label Sweet Pickle Music, is a tireless promoter of inoffensive local female singer-song-writers, herself included. She recently issued a compilation, Big Fish Little Fish Volume 1: Emerging Women in Chicago Music, and organized an extremely well publicized showcase for the artists on it at Double Door last month. This concert is a CD-release party for her own second solo album, Simply Being Cleopatra, which aims to be a bit darker and meaner than her previous effort, Big Open Sky–and to that end she turns the blue-watercolored guitars all the way up to four and does a little freaky vocalizing on “Insane,” sounding something like Kate Bush doing Janis Joplin. EYESINWEASEL 10/14, EMPTY BOTTLE This four-piece band led by former Guided by Voices guitarist and songwriter Tobin Sprout includes bassist Dan Toohey and drummer John Peterson from Sprout’s mid-80s band Fig. 4. Eyesinweasel’s debut LP, Wrinkled Thoughts (Wigwam/Recordhead), is such old-school collegiate indie rock that even the CD version is organized into a side one and a side two. It’s guitar driven, optimistically melodic, and mildly rocking, and it includes a card advertising what Sprout’s been doing since his last tour, with GBV five years ago–including his photorealist paintings, which can be viewed at TOM TOM CLUB 10/15, HOUSE OF BLUES After their disastrous and embarrassing attempt to reconvene Talking Heads without David Byrne, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz retreated to the control room, producing for Shirley Manson’s band Angelfish and rock-en-español heroes Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, among others. But dance music is in good part a producer’s art anyway, and after watching so many other people try to make the next Tom Tom Club record, the couple decided that maybe the Tom Tom Club should give it a shot. The Good the Bad and the Funky (Ryko) doesn’t feature a single as instantly resonant as “Genius of Love”–the 1981 hit that’s since been worked over by everyone from Ziggy Marley to Mariah Carey to Tupac Shakur–but it’s an infectious, unpretentious melange of funk, hip-hop, African music, and art pop. Who else could cover both Donna Summer and Lee “Scratch” Perry without crippling self-consciousness? FEAR 10/19 , EMPTY BOTTLE Never the most profound or stirring of the original LA punk bands–but possibly the most effectively unpleasant. And since carny barker Lee Ving never had any pretensions to nobility or integrity in the first place, this second nostalgia-milking return to the ring shouldn’t step too hard on the grave of anyone’s youthful idealism. Ving, surrounded once again by replacement members–near Fear?–has returned to his favorite theme on the first Fear studio album in five years, American Beer (Hall of Records). To oldies but goodies like “I Believe I’ll Have Another Beer,” “Drink Some Beer,” “Beerfight,” “Free Beer,” “More Beer,” and “Have a Beer With Fear,” you can add “The Bud Club,” “Beerheads,” “Another Christmas Beer,” and “Beer:30.” But for an east-west rivalry anthem, “What If God’s Not One of Us” is certainly no “New York’s Alright If You Like Saxophones.”

–Monica Kendrick

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Chris Anderson.