COWS 3/27, EMPTY BOTTLE I live on the top floor of a turn-of-the-century house that doesn’t have a single 90-degree angle left in it. Last month somebody tore down the even more crooked house next door to build five town houses in the same space. Sometimes, when I think the vibrations from the jackhammer might shake my floor out from under me, I crank up the Cows’ ninth and newest LP, Sorry in Pig Minor (Amphetamine Reptile), and brace myself against the forces of time and decay and gentrification: ALL RIGHT YOU FUCKERS! LET IT COME DOWN! In part I’m comforted that the fiercely iconoclastic, underhyped Cows are still dishing out jagged brilliance, not going upscale like the Butthole Surfers or simply crumbling. But I’m also hoping they’ll scare off the new neighbors.
HATEWAVE 3/27, BIG HORSE Weasel Walter’s back again, this time drumming for an extremely fast death-metal trio. You know, I don’t understand why the fourth- or fifth-hardest-working man in the Chicago music scene is pigeonholed by the likes of Alternative Press as a nihilist. The adrenaline drive that fuels all his projects looks to me like evidence of a pretty indomitable life force. It’s smooth jazz and other forms of wallpaper that are nihilistic in my book.
SUSAN TEDESCHI 3/27, BUDDY GUY’S LEGENDS Comparisons of this bright-eyed Berklee-educated Bostonian to Janis Joplin don’t really hold water, as you might expect; she lacks that je ne sais quoi that younger women desperately need to sing the blues. What she does have, though, on her debut, Just Won’t Burn (Tone-Cool), is a big, roomy, elastic voice that can stretch over boogie blowouts, torchy ballads, R & B, bar blues, and rockabilly without snapping.
VICTORIA WILLIAMS & THE ORIGINAL HARMONY RIDGE CREEKDIPPERS 3/28, PARK WEST Victoria Williams is always admitting that her voice takes some getting used to, but I think this factor is overemphasized–sure, she sounds like Stevie Nicks on helium, but her flighty, breathy tones aren’t even as annoying as, say, Bob Dylan’s. And at any rate, the elegantly disturbing dream songs on her new Musings of a Creekdipper (Atlantic) wouldn’t fare as well without a strong vocal personality to complement their strangeness. The album also benefits from an interesting mix of guest musicians, including jazz drummer Brian Blade, bassist Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino of Calexico and Giant Sand, former Prince cohorts Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, and of course Williams’s husband, Mark Olson, the former Jayhawk whose self-released first solo album, The Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers, gives Williams’s backing band its name. The wonderfully adaptive Burns and Convertino are part of the touring entourage; Friday they’ll perform their own haunting dusty-road music at Lounge Ax (see Critic’s Choice).
LEAHY 3/29, HOUSE OF BLUES, borders on michigan This Ontario band originally featured all 11 Leahy siblings being fruitful and multiplying notes all over the place. Now down to a more manageable nine (including no less than three fiddlers and five dancers who also play instruments), the group focuses on brother Donnell’s fiddling, with sister Erin’s piano tinkling along underneath. There’s no denying that they’re all great players, but the cheesy stadium-rock-meets-Celtic-Twilight grandiosity of the arrangements is way too Lord of the Dance, and the addition of rock bombast to fiddle traditions from Ireland, Cape Breton, the southern U.S., and Hungary tips the scales toward the ain’t-we-hot-shit virtuosity that killed jazz fusion.
JOHN DOE THING 4/1 & 2, SCHUBAS Like his ex-partner Exene Cervenkova, ex-X songwriter and guitarist John Doe remains most comfortable in the margins. In the scrawled liner notes to his new EP, For the Rest of Us (Kill Rock Stars), he writes, “Here’s what happens when nobody’s breathing down yr neck as recording goes down.” Granted, it took him a year and a half to record the disc (perhaps because drummer Joey Waronker and guitarist Smokey Hormel were busy with Beck), but the five raw, passionate songs hark back to a time when “indie” meant never having to say you’re sorry.
BANG ON A CAN 4/2, PARK WEST The three founders of Bang on a Can have spent the last ten years trying to obliterate boundaries between the highbrow and the lowbrow–in other words, to convince audiences that avant-garde music can be fun. Their latest undertaking, a reverent remake of Brian Eno’s Music for Airports with “real” instruments, not synthesizers, is the worst of both worlds, a Boston Pops for sound geeks. The lost irony here is that Eno’s glorification of the “nonmusician” just led to a cult of a different kind of great master.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Bang on a Can photo by Klaus Schoenwiese.