ERIC IDLE 11/21 & 22, THE VIC It does my nerdy heart good to see one of Britain’s great funnymen booked here for two nights on his Greedy Bastard Tour, which he claims is a shameless attempt to cash in on past glories (it might also raise interest for Spamelot, his in-the-works musical-theater version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Idle and his three backup performers will run through a number of Python songs and skits; there’ll likely be reminiscences about the troupe as well, plus some Rutles numbers and stuff from his latest project, the comedy (and, arguably, music) CD The Rutland Isles, in which the “award-seeking” travel documentary maker Nigel Spasm (a mild dig at Michael Palin’s recent work?) takes the unwitting audience to locales so remote “they have not yet been visited by British men in shorts.” Sophomorically bawdy material ensues; you already know if you like this kind of thing, and he’s still quite good at it. CALIFONE 11/22, IDA NOYES HALL, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO The Chicago Music Society is a U. of C. organization formed in part to introduce students to the vital scene in their backyard. For its first event, it’s presenting Califone, who since evolving out of Red Red Meat in 1997 have established themselves as one of the city’s finest bands. Using a wide range of rock vocabulary as raw material, leader Tim Rutili and his cohorts construct neosurrealist collages that unfold with the implacable logic of the subconscious but still read as real songs. On Heron King Blues (due out this winter on Thrill Jockey)–which takes Captain Beefheart’s loose and far-ranging Mirror Man as its inspiration and Rutili’s recurring dreams about a giant bird-man as its theme–the bluesy, pulsing, resonating sounds transform the familiar without seeming remote or abstract. The search for an American magic realism ends here. Sin Ropas (another Red Red Meat offshoot) opens. HAMELL ON TRIAL 11/22, SCHUBAS Hamell on Trial is the name Ed Hamell uses for his one-man-and-some-friends show, and you won’t hear anything better from a solo artist this year than the best stuff on Tough Love (his debut for Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe label). His political attack is reminiscent of acoustic Springsteen, solo Strummer, or plain old Bragg, but Hamell’s style–loose, snarky but tender–is all his own. And he keeps the songs coming: standouts include “Don’t Kill,” in which God tries once again to clarify the simplest commandment for those who just don’t seem to get it; “Hail,” a moving conversation between Brian Deneke, Teena Brandon, and Matthew Shepard over coffee in heaven; and “Oughta Go Around,” an evocation of a bygone New York City that suggests Tom Waits and Tom Verlaine trading poetry licks at Ed Hopper’s diner. MOONSPELL 11/22, RIVIERA Mixing goth with metal seems obvious now, but it was less so when the Portuguese band Moonspell started doing it in the mid-90s. It took them a few tries to work out the proportions; their early albums went a little heavy on the sweeping goth keyboards (though even so Wolfheart is a watershed of raw conviction). They’ve got the blend pretty close to perfect on their seventh record, The Antidote (Century Media), giving their swooning swirl a vicious rhythmic undertow (heard in the sultry danceability of “From Lowering Skies”) that makes up for even their purplest lyrics. The CD includes an electronic version of a novella, also called The Antidote, created for the occasion by Portuguese writer Jose Luis Peixoto. Moonspell opens for Cradle of Filth and Type O Negative. CRIS WILLIAMSON & HOLLY NEAR 11/22, rubloff building, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY school of law It’s hard to believe that longtime troubadour of lesbian love Cris Williamson and longtime peace-activist firebrand Holly Near are joining forces on record only now, 30 years or so after they first appeared on a bill together. These two veterans were instrumental in one of the first waves of DIY/indie culture in pop music–the “womyn’s music” scene centered around Redwood, Olivia, and other artist-run, independently distributed labels starting in the early 70s. Musically the new Cris & Holly isn’t flashy: Williamson and Near’s shared notion of universally accessible folk pop was, for better or worse, born of the 60s folkie movement and inherited its distrust of innovation. The songs (old and new originals, Joni Mitchell and Jane Siberry covers) are pretty solidly middle-of-the-road, with personal passion seemingly confined to the strong, warm voices that twine around each other, take solos, and debate. But if the Clear Channels of the world have done us any good with their miserable piss-stream playlists and hysterical Dixie Chicks boycotts, it’s to make direct and heartfelt expressions of simple peacenik sentiment seem radical again. MOSQUITOS 11/24, VIRGIN MEGASTORE, GUNTHER MURPHY’S Like a lot of recent fashion-based neotropicalia, Mosquitos’ eponymously titled album sounds many, many generations of influence removed from real indie pop, much less real bossa nova; it’s kind of charmingly sheltered, like a rich kid in a gas-station shirt suddenly befuddled by the prospect of pumping his own gas. Juju Stulbach (who really is from Rio) puts the songs across nicely in her brittle but sweet voice, and the band is exquisitely tasteful–but the real redeeming feature here is that the worst of this trend passed several years ago. MOBIUS BAND 11/25, EMPTY BOTTLE This western-Mass trio’s new EP, Three (Prescription Rails), sounds like it’s compiled straight from its own Recommended If You Like list–you’ll catch bits of secondhand Yo La Tengo (without the passion), Autechre (without the spry audacity), Tortoise (without the sly grace), and David Grubbs (without the…well, whatever it is his fans like about him). It makes me think of a dour School of Post-Rock, presided over not by Jack Black but by some hoodied hipster with a huge record collection and no sense of humor.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Mike D’Ariano.