HOUSE OF LARGE SIZES 9/19, LOUNGE AX A friend of mine who went to Grinnell used to try to convince me that Iowa was a great place to live. She never managed, and I don’t think House of Large Sizes will succeed either, because their grinding, lurching headache pop, with its exaggerated peaks and valleys, sounds too much like a desperate attempt to overcome the flatness of their native landscape. The trio’s fourth album, Glass Cockpit (What Are Records?), careens back and forth over the hard-rock line, and even though the vocals take on that dreaded AOR squeal from time to time, in small doses it’s more fun than a mediocre Butthole Surfers record. Or a good Redd Kross record. They share the bill with Pansy Division, who would never even try to live in Iowa.
TROLL FOR TROUT 9/19, HOG HEAD McDUNNA’S Fronted by a Berklee Factory of Music grad and inspired by A River Runs Through It (the Brad Pitt vehicle, not the Norman Maclean source story), these beefy Michiganders tout themselves as “a positive blend of rock, folk, and jazz…feel good music for the 90s” and invite listeners to “get sucked in!” On their third album, International Harvester (Mackinaw Harvest Music), I didn’t hear a lick of jazz, but I did hear every heartfelt midwestern rock cliche in the book. Yeah, there’s definitely some powerful sucking going on here.
JEAN-MICHEL VEILLON & YVON RIOU 9/19, ABBEY PUB; 9/20, Celtic Fest Chicago; 9/21, cafe bernard; 9/22, martyr’s Flutist Jean-Michel Veillon has devoted much of the last 20 years to bridging the gaps in Celtic music. A child prodigy on the traditional Breton bombarde (an older, shorter sort of oboe), he discovered the wooden flute through Irish music and proceeded to use it in innovative pan-Celtic folk groups like his Breton-Irish Band and Soig Siberil’s Kornog and Pennou Skolum. Since 1993 he’s been collaborating with guitarist Yvon Riou; on their 1995 CD, Pont Gwenn ha Pont Stang (Gwarz Pladenn), a mix of originals and Irish, Breton, and Manx traditionals, they use a folk vocabulary but not necessarily folk-song structures. Veillon moves fluidly through Riou’s elegant acoustic conduits, expressive but never shrill–though I must admit that in the midst of all that beautiful restraint I started to long for a cheap shrill or two.
DAVE ALVIN 9/20, OLD TOWN SCHOOL The problem with the cult of authenticity that surrounds Americana is that it’s founded on an updated Horatio Alger tale that is itself profoundly inauthentic. Much closer to the truth about the American dream is the career of Dave Alvin, a gifted guitarist, songwriter, and producer who’s had his sleeves rolled up and his callused hands wrapped around a guitar since the current crop of earnest kids was in short pants. His playing with the Blasters, the Knitters, X, the Gun Club, Candye Kane, and the Guilty Men has earned him much respect and constant invitations to sessions, but not a hell of a lot more (and his new sideline as a poet probably won’t rectify that). In this rare solo appearance he’ll probably deliver up a smart set of roots fusion that’s long on heart and short on fake transcendence.
RUN ON, GRIMBLE GRUMBLE 9/20, LOUNGE AX Much is made of the resumes of Run On’s members–where else are you going to find collaborators of Keiji Haino and Amy Rigby in the same band?–but what’s really interesting is the resulting quandary: how to reconcile the pleasure of pure pop, which depends on expectations fulfilled, with that of the avant-garde, which depends on expectations shattered? On their second full-length, No Way (Matador), the New York quartet lets its rock ‘n’ roll heart lead the way even as the threat of noisy collapse lurks; live you’re likely to be seduced into pop bliss by Sue Garner’s honeyed southern tones or Rick Brown’s sly but stable groove, then knocked sprawling by a sonic blast from violinist-organist Katie Gentile or guitarist Alan Licht. It’s akin to the effect of that gum that squirts hyperintense flavor fluid when you bite down. England’s Shadow Ring (see Critic’s Choice) opens; Chicago’s Grimble Grumble, who have just released a striking debut ten-inch on the Michigan avant-psych label Burnt Hair, provide an ethereal space-drone trance-out to fill out this bill of delicious dissonance.
DANDY WARHOLS 9/22, METRO Portland’s Dandy Warhols finally got a major label to put its money where their mouths are; Come Down (Capitol) is full of aggressive but slick, lightly psychedelic rawk ‘n’ rahl that consistently straddles the line between infectious and ingratiating. But though their pretty Brit poses are a flash of charm in the current sea of humble indie mumbling, they’re not destined to be remembered next decade–even if one of them does turn up facedown in a swimming pool.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Dave Alvin photo by Steven Smith.