CHERRY POPPIN’ DADDIES 3/31, DOUBLE DOOR A goofball white party band from Eugene, Oregon, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies purvey an energetic and fairly competent blend of ska, horn-drenched funk, and old-timey R & B, but if you’re looking for anything beyond beer-hoisting kicks you’ll leave hungry. POPA CHUBBY 3/31, BUDDY GUY’S New York blues-rock guitarist Popa Chubby seems to be using his physical appearance as a marketing hook; he’s huge, dresses like a badass biker, and is bald but for a little tuft on top. His debut album, Booty and the Beast (OKeh/550 Music), finds him a rather accomplished guitarist, yet prone to excessive post-Albert King flashiness, especially in the slashing upper-register leads of songs like “Lookin’ Back.” His vocals are straight out of the overripe and overwrought white-guy soul mold immortalized in The Commitments. He opens for Fenton Robinson. BRAINIAC 3/31, LOUNGE AX, 4/1, Chicago Filmmakers This Dayton combo has grown far beyond the imitative indie pop sounds that marked its first releases. On their new album Bonsai Superstar (Grass) they rip apart rock structures, leaving them held together by only a thread, much like Memphis deconstructionists the Grifters. Yet they haven’t simply changed role models; Brainiac employ an impressive barrage of primitive electronics to spice up their intentionally discombobulated pop songs with disfigured vocals, choppy Moog synth blasts, fractured riffs, and rhythms that wander off lost only to excitedly rediscover themselves. PUNCHDRUNK 3/31, EMPTY BOTTLE State-of-the-middle indie rock. On their debut, From Dad (Zeus), these Minneapolitans spit out wheezing off-kilter pop hooks surrounded by the requisite guitar grime and stuttered rhythmic attack. Beneath the familiar mess are some fairly nice vocal harmonies and a formidable structural ingenuity. TRAGICALLY HIP, HHEAD 3/31-4/2, METRO A double bill of the worst musical strain known to humankind, Canadian rock. The Tragically Hip possess a huge following up north, but thankfully their U.S. following has remained minimal. Isolated local radio airplay has allowed them to sell out two of these three shows, which speaks unfortunate volumes about some of Chicago’s tastemakers. For their bombastic new album Day for Night (Atlantic), they pillaged stuff from the vast R.E.M. oeuvre, but without passion or verve. Jerk (I.R.S.), the debut album by hHead (go figure that silent “h”), sponges off younger sources. Apparently it doesn’t take much to provoke a flash of Canadian pride. It’s bad enough people should buy into swill like Barenaked Ladies and Moxy Fruvous; the two bands on this bill, though less offensive, are hardly more deserving. Then again I haven’t listened to WXRT in a long time. MORPHINE 4/4, METRO The combination of Mark Sandman’s two-string slide bass and Dana Colley’s baritone sax has long been begging for a guttural surliness, yet in the past they’ve proffered only after-hours coolness with no real grit. Their third album, Yes, on which they sound downright edgy, represents a significant improvement. From the frantically delivered hooks of “Honey White” to the almost obtuse blurts of noise that lace “Sharks” and “Free Love” to the more ambiguous and low-down lounge-lizard unctuousness of “Whisper,” Morphine has expanded its sound in a very good way. While Sandman’s vocals tend to retain his self-consciously sultry stabs at seduction, the more varied musical attack makes for a nice shift in balance. CLIVE GREGSON 4/5, FITZGERALD’S A ruminative collection of bittersweet love songs marked by an unusual literateness, People & Places (Compass) is Clive Gregson’s first solo album in ten years. Past stints as half of Gregson & Collister, leading British popsters Any Trouble, and singing backup in the Richard Thompson Band have provided the transplanted British tunesmith–he now resides in Nashville–with a firm grasp on elegantly melodic folk rock. The album’s a subdued, well-crafted, and quietly tuneful affair–reminiscent of former employer Thompson without the bile and bite. JEWEL 4/5, URBUS ORBIS The final night of a monthlong series of Wednesday-night solo acoustic performances by Jewel, the marketable face of the new-breed coffeehouse singer-songwriter, complete with de rigueur plastic barrettes and straining, too-short T-shirts. As her cloying debut, Pieces of You (Atlantic), demonstrates, 20-year-old Jewel–her lost last name is Kilcher–possesses a fairly strong voice, but her perpetual tendency to confuse quavery melodrama with emotional impact, compounded by sublimely naive lyrics, really makes one wonder what the gold diggers that infest the music industry are thinking. It’s just terrific that Jewel realizes her mortality (“And my breasts won’t / Always be firm,” she writes in a CD-booklet poem) and that the album’s 14 tear-welling tunes dare to confront cynical bastards and mean people in general, but your fourth-grade diary entries probably contain more insight than this record.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Jim Herrington.