There’s something beguiling about a group that can rock without trying too hard–early Velvet Underground, early Fall, even Chicago’s own legendary Shrimp Boat did it. It’s got a lot to do with the drumming: however rudimentary the results, you’ve got to find your own way to make the skins speak. How can you rock convincingly when all your fills are music-store stock? USA has captured that same let’s-start-a-band gestalt, a homegrown enthusiasm much more appealing and endearing than rote professional postpunk. In fact, I put their new disc, Little Birds (Drag City), into my player last week and it’s barely stopped spinning since. Last year’s rather drab EP, Ybissai Baby, gave little indication of how fun the full-length would be, with Jim O’Rourke’s splendid production highlighting every jingle jangle jingle. Drummer Corre Dilworth deploys the perfect mix of panache and clunk–her intro to “Tsk Not (and Fade Out)” could be copped from the Shaggs–and Brian Calvin’s bass and the bifurcating guitars of Devin Johnston and Gene Booth conjure the autodidactic counterpoint of Captain Beefheart and the trebly pop of VU with equal aplomb. The members pass vocals around liberally and interpolate guitar lines with nifty keyboard parts. And not surprisingly the jointly written, often narrative lyrics are especially fab–Johnston is a poet and poetry editor of the Chicago Review. Booth does publicity for Drag City, and some of the label stable is audible in USA–a bit of Smog wafts by on “No More Superstitions” and the Red Krayola’s skeletal aesthetic can be detected in the vocal layering on “Egypt.” But those are just reference points–USA has clearly found its own disarming, charming thing. Tuesday, 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. JOHN CORBETT
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Dave Rucins.