BLUE MURDER 5/13, VIC Guitarist John Sykes, formerly of Tygers of Pan Tang, Thin Lizzy, and Whitesnake, knows something about banging his head against the wall–in both senses of the phrase. Now a bandleader in his own right, he does it all over again in Blue Murder, playing rote hard rock completely free of the “flavor of the week” mentality that afflicts so much rock; actually, it’s free of flavor altogether. Australian goons Mantissa open. RAYMOND LISTEN 5/14, EMPTY BOTTLE It’s a fine thing that this Delaware combo eschews most rock conventions: member Kim Benner’s solo credit is finger cymbals, while David Silverman is the maestro on flute and glockenspiel. But on their debut, Licorice Root Orchestra (Shimmy Disc), Raymond Listen hole up in such a quirky netherworld–vocalist-pianist Edward Moyse sounds like a cross between Marianne Faithfull and Edith Massey and his songs sound like flat, Beatles-tempered cabaret music–that they negate themselves right out of any equation. They open for the excellent countryish combo Freakwater. LAURIE LEWIS 5/14, OLD TOWN SCHOOL Like crossover star Alison Krauss, California-based fiddler-vocalist Laurie Lewis is proof that expansionist tendencies in bluegrass can work. On last year’s fine True Stories (Rounder), with the full-bodied support of her all-acoustic band Grant Street, Lewis stretches and at times even abandons some of the genre’s conventions, bringing in a host of outside sources–pop, Tex-Mex, Cajun, straight country, and even some smoldering jazz flourishes– without losing the essential, joyful buoyancy that makes the best of bluegrass bristle with excitement. Add to the mix Lewis’s clear and soulful delivery of consistently intelligent, straightforward lyrics, and you get a swell example of how technical proficiency and honest, spirited playing and singing can mesh naturally and convincingly. ARCWELDER 5/14, LOUNGE AX Intentionally or not, the Minneapolis trio Arcwelder are keeping alive the spirit and sound of another famous Twin Cities trio, Husker Du. You won’t find a razor-sharp guitar roar like Bob Mould’s here, but melodically there’s plenty of common ground, especially in drummer/songwriter Scott McDonald’s songs; particularly uncanny is the resemblance of McDonald’s singing to Mould’s clogged-sinus warble. The songs penned and sung by guitarist Bill Graber fall farther afield of the Husker Du legacy, allowing Arcwelder’s own hard shifts in dynamics to distinguish them. The newly released Xerxes (Touch & Go) finds the band firmly ensconced in a way-catchy postpunk niche, churning out a tuneful buzz that exploits rock basics without being enslaved by them. Tar headline and Kepone open. BOB WOODRUFF 5/14, WHISKEY RIVER It’s hard to believe this New York-raised singer has infiltrated stodgy Nashville so skillfully and quickly. The 33-year-old’s recent debut album, the terrific Dreams & Saturday Nights (Asylum), shows a thorough understanding of a broad range of country basics, but Woodruff applies his clear, ringing, soulful voice to songs that are fully his own. His clever turns of phrase, for example, are both dark and sharp-edged (“Put me out of your misery,” “You never knocked me down / I’m still around / I’m standing here with both knees / On the ground”), and musically Woodruff achieves a breezy, infectious, rock-touched country that skirts both schoolbook traditionalism and hit-machine schlock. XSCAPE 5/15 & 16, UIC PAVILION Like many before them–TLC, SWV, Mary J. Blige–these four Atlanta singers combine hip-hop beats and samples with sweet crooning. Their simpy teenybop love songs “Just Kickin’ It” and “Understanding” have hit it big, but when the rhythms hit harder they get a little shy. They open for R. Kelly and Salt-n-Pepa (see Critic’s Choice). CUB 5/18, LOUNGE AX This Vancouver trio joins the packed ranks of inept but spirited popsters encouraged by the punk-rock explosion in Olympia, Washington, that began with Beat Happening in the mid-80s–though the three women in Cub are young enough that they probably lump Beat Happening in with the Beatles. Decidedly silly song topics (cats, frogs, picnics) and less-than-rudimentary instrumental skills are compensated for–well, sorta–by memorable, sunny melodies and an attitude-free if not utterly naive delivery. Lots of smiles and even more mistakes–bring your forgiveness. BODHISAtTVA 5/18, AVALON I suppose this band could be Chicago’s answer to early Soundgarden, but I don’t think anyone actually asked the question. They open for former Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Llewellyn.