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JIM CARROLL 12/4, LOUNGE AX Poet Jim Carroll earned his rocker badge mostly on the strength of his 1980 debut album, Catholic Boy, a solidly fierce piece of art punk that included the accidental standard “People Who Died”–the Impotent Sea Snakes have covered it, for chrissake. But his teenage-junkie memoir, The Basketball Diaries, and the persistent rumor that it’s him demanding Pernod in the background on the Velvets’ Live at Max’s Kansas City don’t hurt either. None of his subsequent musical efforts have quite lived up to the first, but he’s never completely embarrassed himself either–for the most part poetry has kept him honest, though there is a segment of his cult following that loves to watch him skirt self-parody. Carroll has recently released Pools of Mercury (Mercury), his first rock album in 14 years, and a new collection, Void of Course: Poems 1994-1997 (Penguin); at this appearance the only living poet to be played by Leonardo DiCaprio will read rather than sing. He shares the bill with Chicago’s Handsome Family, whose poetics of midwestern despair should present a competitive contrast to his Noo Yawk hustle.

DEE CARSTENSEN 12/4, UNITARIAN CHURCH OF HINSDALE The bio on this singer-songwriter emphasizes that she plays the electric harp and the piano. But they’re a twinkle in the distance on her overwhelmingly pink album The Map (Blue Thumb/Universal), where 12 insubstantial songs (including Elton John’s “Come Down in Time”) are dolled up in winsome fluff with a delivery sorta like Suzanne Vega without the urban grit. But live, forced to fall back on the aforementioned instrumental skills, maybe Carstensen can prove she’s more than another pretty face, all evidence to the contrary.

CITIZEN KING 12/4, double door; 12/10, MAD BAR This Wisconsin outfit has been a popular live act for a couple years now, and when the major-label dogs finally came a-sniffin’ up its butt, they apparently liked what they found: Citizen King’s Warner debut, Mobile Estates, is due in February. It’s a fine demonstration of why the fusion of hip-hop and light psychedelia can be problematic: hip-hop is best when it’s too intense and restless to be caught contemplating the palm of its hand. Citizen King takes the short-attention-span-theater approach to mixing and snipping–even the beats are light as air, which means they’ll sound fine on the tinniest of car radios. Fun Lovin’ Criminals, who are neither these days, headline at Double Door.

RuPAUL 12/4, HOUSE OF BLUES Last year’s Ho Ho Ho (Rhino) was one of the very few Christmas albums that brought me anything like a flash of holiday cheer: the number-one drag queen’s good-natured trashiness reminded me that holidays are in fact for human beings–who like to make crude sex jokes–rather than for the revolting soft-focus moppets and angels who beckon from every shop counter with their promises of assuaged guilt in exchange for a flash of plastic. Plus–eat your heart out, Martha Stewart–it gives me great ideas for all that excess tinsel.

SPLITSVILLE 12/6, SCHUBAS The title of this trio’s third album, Repeater (Big Deal), says it all. The I-wanna-be-British-when-I-grow-up school of power pop is reassuring in its familiarity but ultimately a mind-numbing genre exercise. Nice suits though.

P.J. OLSSON 12/10, SCHUBAS Olsson is yet another acoustic troubadour who’s discovered the joy of the beat box (in this case after being shipped off to Germany by his dad, an A and R man for Motown). His very up-to-the-minute, gloriously poppy debut on Sony’s Red Ink imprint goes down easier than Beck–easier, in fact, than mayonnaise dumplings. He opens for fellow showbiz kid Rufus Wainwright, who this summer at Double Door revealed himself to have much more personality than show horse Sean Lennon.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Jim Carroll photo by Marty Perez.