Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire 5/23, Lunar Cabaret It can’t be easy to be a singer-songwriter-fiddler–try belting out your soul while your vocal cords are stretched sideways and your jaw’s clamping a piece of wood to your shoulder–but Andrew Bird (a Chicago-based touring member of the Squirrel Nut Zippers) makes a fine mess of a bad situation. On his CD Music of Hair, Bird borrows freely from Irish, Gypsy, and Appalachian styles, and nods to everything from Ravel to Haitian dance songs, western swing to the Mad Shak Dance Company, in both his recastings of traditional tunes and his own not-too-seriously titled compositions (“Ambivalence Waltz,” “Oblivious Reel”). This is the debut performance of his full old-timey band Bowl of Fire.
Wharton Tiers, Lake of Dracula 5/23, Empty Bottle Wharton Tiers is known best as a producer–he’s worked with Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Glenn Branca, and Helmet, so we know he knows guitar sounds and how to get them. Yet the shimmering, pulsing textures of the “eight mega gtr instrumentals” on his recent Brighter Than Life (Atavistic) never quite push over any sound barriers; only on “Fooled Again” (“This is my Who tribute,” he writes in the liner notes, “though I’m sure it sounds like nothing they’ve ever done”) does he break far enough free of rock constraints to make the cyclical return to them rewarding. Of course Lake of Dracula–with ex-Scissor Girl Heather Melowic and rodent-about-town Weasel Walter–can be counted on to bulldoze them all.
Two Dollar Guitar 5/23, Lounge Ax On the aptly titled Let Me Bring You Down (Smells Like), former Chicagoan Tim Foljahn offers up a sort of guitar-based, codeine-flavored Gregorian chant about lost hope, dead babies, and necrophilia, backed by a trio that includes Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley at his most funereal. This rare tour is occasioned by Foljahn and Shelley’s role as two thirds of the–relatively–effervescent Cat Power, also on the bill.
Falling Wallendas 5/24, Martyrs’ Never before has anyone proclaimed “You’re my hero / Captain Beefheart” over such utterly cliched power chords. And I don’t believe for a second that anyone in this never-say-die Chicago band ever really hitchhiked to the Mojave to find him, like the song claims–in fact, I smell a distinct lack of transformative experience.
Pinetop Seven 5/24, Schubas For all the corny gunfighterisms on their album cover, Pinetop Seven redeem their mournful Byrdsiness with eerie atonalities and off-kilter intervals that add up to a genuinely haunting whole, wringing all the available pathos from songs saddled with titles like “Out On the Broad American Night” and “Flushed With Sun & Passion.” Another reason country radio don’t want ’em: the heartbreak songs are too wordy to sing along with when you’re drunk. Edith Frost & Chris Mills open; the Volebeats headline.
Saw Doctors 5/24, Chicago Gaelic Park, Oak Forest Whether they’re playing it close to the ground with bittersweet true-life tales or high in the air with lots of swelling sing-along anthems, this kind of straightforward “people’s rock” is always easier to take from Celts than Americans. Maybe it’s because they’re drawing on the sort of rich tradition we as a people lack; maybe it’s because they don’t act like the working class is something exotic–or maybe it’s just because they don’t sound like that stuff they pipe at you out of the Hard Rock Cafe. The Saw Doctors play as part of Chicago’s Irish Festival.
Rosie Polenzani, Ellen Rosner, Ripley Caine 5/26, Empty Bottle The program leans a little closer to the “womyn’s music” end of the spectrum than to the Team Dresch/Tribe 8 dykecore end, so this benefit for the Lesbian Avengers’ second annual Dyke March (on June 28) probably won’t be as much of a riot as the Avengers’ high-spirited and always symbolically resonant political actions. But if you’re sympathetic, you could do a lot worse with five clams on a Monday night.
John Fogerty 5/27 & 28, House of Blues Lots of rock legends have been accused of plagiarizing themselves, but John Fogerty may be the only one who actually had to go to court for it. No wonder it’s taken him ten years to finish his new Blue Moon Swamp–including the time it took him to learn to play the dobro. He’s yet to prove radical reinvention to a jury, but he can still do that bayou-hoodoo jive better than any other white boy from San Francisco–and elemental grit rock better than any of his gajillion imitators. –Monica Kendrick
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Two Dollar Guitar by B.C. Kagan.