ALIEN FASHION SHOW 11/20 & 21, LIQUID This aggressively generic California cocktail-rock outfit accents tired, shallow swank with tired, shallow alien imagery and makes a stab at cleverness with a Kiss cover–“Detroit Swing City”–that probably was a lot funnier in the pitch meeting.
EVERYTHING 11/20, METRO In theory 70s revivalism is just as grotesque as swing revivalism, but this Virginia-based college band and its laid-back pass-the-doobie riffing, vague let’s-get-together global lovespeak, prog ambition, and overpopulated stage act go down easier than you’d expect–probably because they seem at least partly motivated by a genuine sliver of musical impulse. Their CD Super Natural (Sire) is a catchy, if slightly busy, mesh of funk, fusion, pop, vintage album-oriented art rock, and everything else under the yellow smiley-face sun that can just as easily annoy as please. But I have to approve of anybody who can open for the Dave Matthews Band, A Tribe Called Quest and Maceo Parker just on principle.
JOHN HAMMOND & DUKE ROBILLARD 11/20, BUDDY GUY’S LEGENDS Veteran acoustic bluesman John Hammond seems to have dropped the Jr. from his name for good–perhaps figuring that at this late juncture no one’s going to confuse him with his father, the A and R man best known for discovering little Bobby Dylan. Traces of his dad’s taste color Hammond’s work, but it’s Robert Johnson who most obviously inspires him onstage–he thumps and flails on his guitar and stomps as if those hellhounds on his trail were cockroaches he could squish under his boot heels. Here he’ll appear with Roomful of Blues founder, sometime Fabulous Thunderbird, and former Robert Gordon sideman Duke Robillard.
EDITH FROST 11/21, LOUNGE AX Frost has long been summed up and drowned out as a melancholy, country-inflected club chanteuse with a tendency to drift into the ether. Part of the delight of her earlier recordings was the close listening they required, but on her latest, Telescopic (Drag City), she’s decided to pump up the volume, and in spots she can get downright psychedelic or jarring. Whether she’s more confident about turning up or just sick of being taken for a shy folkie, it’s a nice unexpected turn and makes a good case for her staying power. Also on the bill are separate sets from Sam Prekop and Archer Prewitt, both gentlemen of intellectual wealth and occasionally a little too much taste. Both Sea and Cakers have new records coming in February, so expect a stripped-down preview of next spring’s zine reviews–kind of like looking at crocus bulbs in the frozen ground, innit?
PRESCRIPTIONS 11/21, METRO This local quartet’s single “Disassembled” b/w “Give Me Anything But Surf Music” was one of last year’s small but surprisingly lasting pleasures: proof that there was life yet to be milked from the punky power-pop genre if a band was willing to go for excitement over precision and ride those hooks all the way down into the fish’s mouth. This year’s circulating cassette EP gilds the dandelion a little–the band bungles fewer notes in its three-minute rushes to glory–but manages to sustain energy convincingly over its four rather similar sounding tracks. A singles band to the death.
PATTI SMITH GROUP 11/22, RIVIERA By now everyone who cares has guessed that, unlike the abortive 1988 “comeback” Smith made with the forgettable Dream of Life, this one’s probably going to stick. Last year’s Peace and Noise (Arista) was a solid midline effort whose dramatic high points proved that she’s still got more than what it takes. Of course, this show is Chicago’s first chance in almost 20 years to gauge if she still has her legendary performance fire–don’t know how she’s managed to bypass the nation’s third largest city, not to mention her birthplace, twice in two years, but she has, so at least we know she hasn’t lost her healthy sense of perversity. It’s the last stop on a short tour prompted by the release of Complete, a sort of coffee-table book of her lyrics and journal excerpts; she’s backed by a band that includes longtime guitarist Lenny Kaye and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty. Jeff Tweedy opens.
KAFFE MATTHEWS 11/24, EMPTY BOTTLE This British improviser and DJ has taken the DIY concept to a healthy extreme. Since the release of her debut CD Ann last year, she’s run her own label, Annette Works, and her own Web site (www.annetteworks.demon.co.uk) and pieced together her own tours. Her approach to improvisation–in which she generates sounds on violin and then processes them through a computer–has been site specific; she takes care to note the place and time each piece was born. CD Ann had explanations like “made in winter in a shed in Essex” and “made up by the altar in the little church in Stoke Newington, London”; the new CD Bea is drawn from last year’s U.S. tour, and the piece I remember best from her show at the Empty Bottle, “Long Thin Room,” is presented with the note “in the middle of the night from the corner after thai soup, high stage, orange and green lamps, steamy in, freezing out, throbbing crowd.” It involves long piercing drones and sudden playful surprises, beats like low chugging machines and sounds like the scrape of metal on concrete, mixed into a soundscape that feels like a reinvigorating outsider’s poetic picture of the overly familiar. –Monica Kendrick
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Patti Smith photo by Oliver Roy.