THE BRONX 9/26, BOTTOM LOUNGE The hype about this LA band–that they were being “stalked by major labels” after only two shows–was already being parroted in Rolling Stone last winter, and they’re already signed to Island/Def Jam. But in August they released their previously recorded full-length, The Bronx, on their own White Drugs label (distributed by New Jersey indie Ferret Music), and though G n’ R vet Gilby Clarke did produce it, they stuck to punk’s three-takes-and-you’re-out rule. The disc has everything–speed, precision, and hyperbolic blather about how much youth sucks–that it needs to sound good in a recklessly driven car, and the band’s reputation rests in part on an active and sometimes destructive live act (they now travel with their own microphones and mike stands). Style over substance? Sure, but in punk rock the medium has been the message pretty much since 1976. BILL MILLER 9/26 & 27, OLD TOWN SCHOOL Different scales and rhythms make it hard to mix Native American music with blues-based rock and folk without sapping it of emotional impact. But singer-songwriter, guitarist, and flutist Bill Miller, a Wisconsin-born Mohican now based in Nashville, manages the challenge by acknowledging that the styles mix like oil and water–creating textures and colors that’re never fully integrated but pretty just the same. His latest album, Spirit Rain (Paras), has a relaxed, rural quality–in the quiet passages, Miller conveys the sense that he’s listening to and drawing inspiration from the wind. Friday’s performance is billed as a fall equinox celebration; the following afternoon Miller leads a Native American flute workshop. SILKWORM 9/26, SCHUBAS Silkworm has developed a knack for making over other bands’ songs in its own morose image. On 2000’s Lifestyle, for instance, the trio stripped the Faces’ “Ooh La La” of all the sweetness that made the sentiment (“I wish that I knew what I know now / When I was younger”) poignant rather than unbearably depressing. The band’s latest, the You Are Dignified EP (Touch and Go), is a collection of five such projects. Andy Cohen’s strained monotone can’t add any extra menace to Shellac’s evil “Prayer to God,” but it makes the trio’s sparse reading of Bedhead’s “Lepidoptera” sound more heartfelt than the original. And on Robbie Fulks’s “Let’s Kill Saturday Night,” where Cohen also plays plinkety mandolin, he sounds like he dug up Saturday night from its grave just to beat the corpse with a baseball bat. CONSTANTINES 9/27 & 28, BOTTOM LOUNGE On their second album, Shine a Light (Sub Pop), the Constantines merge two strains of rock ‘n’ roll romanticism–the Springsteen kind and the Fugazi kind–into one seriously powerful force, taking so many jagged turns that they eventually come back around the block to soul. The lyrics to “Young Lions” could make any rocker less emo than Meat Loaf blush (“Choose your crime / Pour your ashes out the window / Empty Mickey by the river / Shining like a broken halo / Roll out of the cradle / Climb out of the window / Make your love too wild for words”), but front man Steve Lambke rumbles through them without fear. The Weakerthans headline this two-night stand. STRATFORD 4 9/27, METRO Chris Streng, front man for this San Francisco quartet, previously played in a band called Wave with the two American guys in Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, who also introduced him to all three of his future S4 bandmates–hence this cozy slot opening for the more famous Anglophiles on their current tour. The Stratford 4’s second album, Love and Distortion (Jetset), is a vast improvement over their debut, last year’s The Revolt Against Tired Noises. Now they seem comfortable with their epic sound–as if a Crazy Horse-Spiritualized fusion were the most natural thing in the world–and if a few guitar lines escape and flutter around out in the crowd for a while, all the better. They still need to realize that a peak ceases to be a peak when it becomes a plateau, but their noises definitely sound a lot less tired. AISLERS SET 9/28, BOTTOM LOUNGE Their sparkling harmonies and delicate melodies have gotten them compared to everyone from Love to the Go-Go’s to Cibo Matto, but I guess the Aislers Set are a Rorschach blot that way: some of their third album, How I Learned to Write Backwards (Suicide Squeeze), reminds me of the way Blondie dabbled in brittle existentialism on “Shayla” and “Union City Blue,” and I hear more Bangles than Go-Go’s. BILL MALLONEE 9/28, SCHUBAS I was about to write that Bill Mallonee–a fixture on the Athens music scene and longtime leader of the cult band Vigilantes of Love–has 17 albums under his belt. But references to anywhere below the waist are sort of inappropriate for the kind of jangly head-oriented pop he plays on number 17, Perfumed Letter (Paste). Mallonee’s lived in an artsy college town forever and it shows–he shucks the trappings of alt-country as easily as he once put them on in favor of an almost English-sounding light psychedelia. It’s a good step away from Ryan Adams-style populist bullshit and toward a better-fitting vulnerable-smart-guy authenticity. Just because Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey never made any money doesn’t mean their footsteps aren’t worth following in. STARVATIONS 9/30, CAL’S Most worshipers at the temple of Jeffrey Lee Pierce tend to play up the Gun Club front man’s prescient alt-country streak, but the LA-based Starvations seem more inspired by his bare-bones sing-along punk–even when they’re using a banjo. (They also do some melancholy piano stuff a la the good Reverend Cave.) Their second album, Get Well Soon (GSL), adds accordionist Vanessa Gonzalez to the regular lineup, and she enriches the band’s wanderings with a reedy, wheezy funereal drone that can evoke anything from a bleak Mexican desert to a misty Scottish moor.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jennifer Adams.