CHICAGO UNDERGROUND TRIO 9/19, LOUNGE AX The Chicago Underground Duo is a skinny cousin to cornetist Rob Mazurek’s Chicago Underground Orchestra, which mixes funky bop and soulful free jazz on a larger scale; on the duo’s forthcoming debut, 12° of Freedom (Thrill Jockey), Mazurek and drummer Chad Taylor use vibes, piano, and bamboo flute along with their primary instruments to construct subtle, spartan soundscapes that occasionally burst into flurries of notes and beats or fill out into mesmerizing grooves. Bassist Noel Kupersmith makes the outfit a trio for this show; the album also features guest work by guitarist Jeff Parker (New Horizons Ensemble, Tortoise), who may occasionally make it a quartet. Also on the bill are Tortoise bassist Doug McCombs’s solo project, Brokeback; the percussion duo Les Batteries (see Critic’s Choice); and experimental singer-songwriter Sue Garner.
ROY HARPER 9/19, ABBEY PUB Folk guitarist and songwriter Roy Harper, put out of commission intermittently by a circulatory disorder he claims to have contracted by giving mouth-to-mouth to a sheep (not true), has never quite gotten his due even from those who’ve heard his name dropped by Led Zeppelin or his ghostly lead vocal on Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar.” But over the decades he’s produced more than a dozen records of elegant, romantic, and sometimes downright visionary records, driven by a distinctly British eccentricity and a shameless, if ironic, sweetness. His latest, The Dream Society (Science Friction), borders on New Age sappiness in moments, particularly when he makes day-late-dollar-short observations like “It seems to me, admittedly from some distance, that many of the native North American people had achieved a personal level of spirituality unattained by the vast majority of those who suppressed them” in the liner notes. And yeah, his two-part paean to the erotic aspect of universal love, “Songs of Love,” is a bit of a reach. But as usual Harper’s sincerely spiritual good-humored weirdness–including the booklet, with its rambling narratives of how all the songs came to be–redeems him.
LOZENGE 9/19, BIG HORSE; 9/24, LOUNGE AX Four members of this high-energy local quintet first played together between 1992 and 1994 in Texas, before going on hiatus to attend grad schools across the country. Since moving to Chicago in 1996, several of them have been popping up in collaborations with avant-garde mainstays like the Flying Luttenbachers, Corvus, and Gene Coleman’s Ensemble Noamnesia–in fact, oboist Kyle Bruckmann will open the Thursday gig at Lounge Ax in a set with electronics wizard Jim Baker and guitarist Daniel Scanlan–but only recently has the group as a whole started getting the opportunity to show its stuff to the right audience. Early Lozenge gigs here involved loopy displays of caffeinated kitchen-sink improv, but a tape of a May acoustic gig at Xoinx Tea Room finds the band following a more restrained and subtle path, drifting closer to “straight” free jazz and placing more emphasis on craft and composition. But they still leave themselves plenty of room to trip around. Cheer-Accident headlines the Lounge Ax show.
SILKWORM 9/19, EMPTY BOTTLE On Blueblood, its sixth full-length and first for Touch and Go (after a break from Matador apparently so amicable that Matador still lists the band’s tour dates on its Web site), this Seattle trio further condenses its emotionally wrought thrash ‘n’ wail into dark, brooding pop rock full of self-effacement, guilty-pleasure sexism, and wry commentary on its own futility (“She said, ‘I like you ’cause you got some soul’ / That’s just the blues I learned from the English dudes,” from “Said It Too Late”). Guitarist Andy Cohen, who’s stepped up to the mike with increasing confidence since the group dumped Joel Phelps in 1995, still sounds strangled in spots, but he plays the control card this time, going for understated despair. The arrangements add spare piano and the occasional high-contrast backing vocal for the perfect evocation of shyness verging on psychosis.
THREE DOLLAR BILL 9/19, CASA DE JOHANN There are a lot more factors contributing to the high suicide rate of gay and lesbian teens than just a dearth of pop-music role models–believe it or not, celebrity isn’t the cure for everything. What actually does seem to help is community, engaging activity, and possibly the good will and joyful noise of the band next door. This local mixed-gender “queertet,” which features veterans of the late Heterocide, can still work up to the nail-spitting rage of the former band, but for most of the tracks on its debut CD it chooses not to, opting instead for heartfelt and amiably sloppy indie pop that vents almost gently on topics like “Self-Loathing Queer,” “Retarded Drag Queen,” and “Must See T.V.” This afternoon’s “Queercore Round-up and Bring-Your-Own BBQ” also features Loraxx, the Prescriptions, and the Traitors; proceeds benefit the Chicago Metro Area Gay Youth Coalition.
MAXIMUM PENALTY 9/21, HOUSE OF BLUES I suppose you can’t fault a band for doing the reunion shuffle if part of the reason it broke up in the first place is that the singer was in prison. Maximum Penalty made a few shock waves on the New York hardcore scene before Jim Williams was incarcerated in 1990 for dealing drugs, and this comeback stab, Superlife (Gypsy/Velvel), is stronger stuff than most younger whippersnappers can milk from the “melodic punk” cash cow these days. These guys are true believers, right down to their calls for punk unity (“Believe” and “Among Friends”), the painfully long list under “dedicated to the loving memory of…,” and the acknowledgement of Tish & Snooky’s Manic Panic empire for “hair accessories.” The venerable Agnostic Front headlines.
ANDRE WILLIAMS 9/23, LOUNGE AX Straight off some tinny AM station, spun by a DJ who knows he’s getting away with something, comes Andre Williams’s brand of train-wreck-mesmerizing garage soul, complete with really-got-me fuzz guitar, insinuating organs, and terrifying sounds that seem to be made by saxophones. Williams, an early Motown producer and the author of novelty R & B hits the Cramps taught us, succumbed to the usual music-industry vices at the start of the 80s and clambered up the comeback trail just a few years ago with a revivalist compilation coreleased by former Cramp Miriam Linna’s label, Norton. But Williams’s latest album, Silky (In the Red), with ex-Gories Dan Kroha and Mick Collins, harks back past his days as a soul man to the crackly blue “race records” recently collected on Columbia/Legacy’s Raunchy Business: Hot Nuts & Lollipops compilation, with a rough, raw sound and titles he could never have pulled off in the 60s, like “Pussy Stank” and “Let Me Put It In.” It’s a little too skanky for seduction purposes, but as party music it can’t be beat–it’s about time somebody put the “roll” back in “rock ‘n’ roll.” Williams will be backed here by the garage trio the Countdowns, also the opening act. –Monica Kendrick
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Andre Williams photo.