CARDIGANS 11/6, DOUBLE DOOR I admit I have a low tolerance for sweetness, a taste-bud deficiency that’s a handicap with sugary phenomena like Sweden’s Cardigans. They always reminded me of a kid I knew at college who wore a teddy-bear sweatshirt proclaiming “Hugs Not Drugs” with no sense of irony, capped with a smiley, vacant Christian-youth-group stare that always made me want to slip him some acid. Something like that might have happened to the Cardigans: their new Gran Turismo (Mercury) has a hint of the trip-hop gothic about it, like they tried on some of Bjork’s self-conscious strangeness or one of Portishead’s dark moods for size and found it fit well enough to carry them through at least one record. Maybe they saw the nasty handwriting on the wall about Chris Holmes, maybe someone had a psychic experience, or maybe they just started to make themselves ill. Fuzzy and filtered effects, guitar bursts, snaky beats, and lyrics about insanity notwithstanding, vocalist Nina Persson still has the grotesque, affected girliness of a bogus teenage virgin in a phone-sex ad.
EDDY “THE CHIEF” CLEARWATER 11/6 & 11/7, KINGSTON MINES On any weekend night, Chicago blues clubs are full of tourists and office drones desperate to work out their shoulder tension. Although the blues is no respecter of steady employment, 63-year-old Mississippi-born west-side bluesman Eddy “the Chief” Clearwater will probably still be playing when carpal-tunnel syndrome has taken most professional north-siders out of circulation. He explains in an interview with the Jimi Hendrix fan magazine Experience Hendrix (not actually an inappropriate venue) that his song “Very Good Condition” was written for his doctors, who turned out to be fans–they played one of his records during an operation that saved his life. There’s good luck in the blues after all–between those fluid leads and the Chuck Berry duckwalks it’s easy to see how Clearwater keeps in shape.
JOHN FOURNIER 11/6, FITZGERALD’S As a songwriter in the theatrical-narrative tradition, singer and sax player Fournier seems not to mind being likened to Randy Newman, Elvis Costello, and Tom Waits, and as far as the sound goes, if you’re hearing his nearly flawless jazz-pop compositions in the background, the comparison doesn’t seem too off base (vocally he resembles the first two a good deal more). But then, Newman, Costello, and Waits at least give the impression of having learned their cynical romanticism or romantic cynicism from something other than old movies–after all, authenticity is the thing, and if you can fake that, you’ve got it made. Fournier isn’t quite there yet with his latest, Breakfast at Epiphany’s. A song cycle about “people at the edge of nowhere,” it sounds like he’s heard a lot of songs about that cliff but is far too careful and well dressed to go slumming there himself. It’s the musical equivalent of the difference between the real 50s cocktail lounges that are falling apart way out on North Lincoln and the trendy, overcrowded faux ones in Wicker Park and River North.
DEVIL IN A WOODPILE 11/8, Merle’s #1 BArbecue; 11/10, HIDEOUT In this age of marketing research, where everything you buy is tested by focus groups who have your number right down to your zip code and age within five years, it makes sense that so many people are in love with music from a less scrutinized era. Devil in a Woodpile goes all the way back to before anyone had social security numbers, playing the sort of roots music you can find on Yazoo’s Before the Blues compilations, where black and white rural musicians borrowed freely from each other with no nods to brand loyalty. Is it country? Is it blues? Is it R & B? Is it swing? Yes. This sort-of supergroup (vocalist Rick “Cookin'” Sherry, who also does harmonica, washboard, and jug duty, and guitarist Paul K sometimes play backup to blues legend Honeyboy Edwards; upright bassist Tom Ray has clocked time with the Bottle Rockets, Pine Valley Cosmonauts, and the Waco Brothers) will play Tuesday at the release party for its debut CD on Bloodshot–which also features the tuba talents of Gary “Elvis” Schepers, the local hero of a soundman revered by everyone from Son Volt to Merzbow for his ability to get deep, rich volume out of a broken transistor and some duct tape.
LYDIA LUNCH 11/10, SMART BAR For a long time I had a love/hate relationship with Lydia Lunch: relentlessly over-the-top in her smirking violence, carnality, and vitriol, she’s easy to parody, and plenty of performance artists and poets did, intentionally or not. But thanks to Chicago’s Atavistic label, which began reissuing her complete works last year as part of their ongoing commitment to unearthing lost treasures of the New York no-wave scene of the late 70s and early 80s (Lunch’s early bands Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and 8 Eyed Spy joined Mars and DNA among the happily rediscovered), we’ve got the whole portrait of an artist who’s spent the last 20 years using wit, passion, adrenaline addiction, and sheer overloading noise against the restraining walls of emotional security and good taste. So if her new Matrikamantra (a spoken-word performance with music by Joseph Budenholzer, an associate of Lydia’s old friend Jim Thirlwell) sounds relatively reflective and gentle for all its bodily fluids and dread, then perhaps she feels she’s at last succeeded in being heard and no longer has to screech so loud. She’s earned it.
REMY ZERO 11/10, METRO You can take the boys out of the south, but you can’t take the south out of the boys. Oh yes, these Alabama natives have got the finest studio and producers Geffen can buy (one guy worked with Peter Gabriel and Tool) to move forward with their pursuit of ever deeper means of expression and all that (as per the press release, which also misspells “intelligentsia”). All the overdubbing and layering and cover photographs of some faded luxury hotel in LA perfectly wrap this loving, arm-waving, Paradise Theater-type tribute to the glory days of lush, “expressive” arena rock a la Journey and Asia.
SALARYMAN 11/10, EMPTY BOTTLE This alter ego of the Poster Children (Rick and Jim Valentin, Rose Marshack, and Howie Kantoff), which takes its name from a Japanese term for a stone-faced routine-bound office stooge, reflects the current cachet of all things Japanese and experimental among those who can actually use the term “postrock” with a straight face. But the droney routine Salaryman belongs to is sheer midwestern flatness, and in its guitar-and-electronic scrape and squiggle one can almost pick out specific stretches of dead-steel-mill-studded Indiana highway or certain flight patterns at O’Hare. They open for Solex, aka Dutch DJ Elizabeth Esselink. –Monica Kendrick
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Remy Zero photo by Karen A. Peters.