If you're a fan of the melodic lilt and sledge-chordage of the best 70s American power pop (Big Star, the dBs, the Raspberries) but you like your lyrics a bit more evil--youthful exuberance curdled by a persistent chafing irony--Falstaff will ring your bells. Led by guitarist, singer, and instrument builder Ian Schneller, Falstaff were formed in the wake of the 1992 breakup of Shrimp Boat, and their eponymous debut--released on Schneller's own Specimen Products label--is one of my favorite rock records of last year. It's contemptuous, wildly repetitive, and full of a weird mix of bile and supercilious cheer. But it's also loaded with exceptional singing, beguiling arrangements, rock-solid instrumentalism, and decidedly non-PC words from Schneller's pen. Consider the brilliant bent-gender notion behind his song "Christina"--"I gave my cock a woman's name / To see if it would feel the same"--or the way the saccharine love story "Happily Ever After" ends with the looping refrain "Hey, what the fuck are you doing in the bedroom all the time?" There are plenty of odd musical twists to Falstaff too--central European-esque string tunes, noisy interludes, quirky bridges. But Schneller's voice is the most immediately arresting ingredient. With a disarmingly straightforward falsetto and theatrical warble, it sometimes directly recalls snide-rock master Russell Mael of Sparks. Reports on the earliest Falstaff live shows were mixed, but recent all-acoustic performances have reputedly knocked 'em dead. Saturday, 10 PM, Lunar Cabaret & Full Moon Cafe, 2827 N. Lincoln; 327-6666. JOHN CORBETT

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Jill Jennings.

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