The low-key charms of the Schramms owe a lot to the somber grad-student mien of front man Dave Schramm--his unadorned stage presence proves that sometimes the most charismatic pose you can strike is no pose at all. As an early member of Yo La Tengo and an effective sideman for people like Freedy Johnston, Kate Jacobs, Peter Blegvad, and most recently Richard Buckner, Schramm has improved plenty of records with his crafty guitar playing, but he's been content to make his contributions without getting much credit. He's fronted the Schramms for almost a decade, and even after four albums he still doesn't seem at all interested in taking center stage. That's not to say he's shy, or that he mumbles; he just focuses on getting the tunes exactly right, not on grandstanding. On its latest effort, Dizzy Spell (released in the U.S. by the local Checkered Past label), the group--on this recording it's Schramm, bassist Al Greller, drummer Ron Metz, and keyboardist George Usher--hews tightly to Schramm's compact country-rock originals and provides a sturdy backstop for his restrained but consistently thrilling solos. Schramm delivers his lyrics in a flat, nasal drawl that's admittedly an acquired taste, but the way he imbues one phrase with a small dip or mutters another through clenched teeth suggests how thoroughly he can inhabit his almost poetic narratives. The Schramms can't wow you with flash, but they'll entrance you with purity. This gig marks the debut of a new lineup: second guitarist Jon Grayboff replaces Usher. Howe Gelb, Giant Sand's restless leader, makes a rare solo appearance in the opening slot. Saturday, 10 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 773-525-6620. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.