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When bassist Erik Sanko formed the low-tech, rattletrap band Skeleton Key in 1994 he'd already made a name for himself as a sideman, working with Yoko Ono, John Cale, and the Lounge Lizards, among others. While that resume should've guaranteed the group a hearing in just the right circles from day one, it wasn't until the early aughts--after a brief interlude with Capitol and a series of personnel changes that nearly undid everything--that Skeleton Key found a niche. Since stabilizing in 2002 the group has managed three splendid releases: 2002's Obtanium (Ipecac), a download-only live album recorded at the Metro in 2004, and the jangly, rousing 2005 EP The Lyons Quintette (Do Tell). Half of another full-length is reportedly in the can; the band's looking for a new label.

If all the bands that have attempted to fuse rock 'n' roll and surrealist theater have proven anything, it's that there's a fine line between a brilliant synthesis and a total train wreck. New York's The Billy Nayer Show has spent the past dozen years walking that line like a circus high wire, with conceptual conceits that nearly approach Residents territory (though TBNS radiates positive charisma rather than negative space). The 1999 album Return to Brigadoon destroyed the romantic song cycle, and 2003's almost unbearably lush double CD Goodbye Straplight Sarentino, I Will Miss You left virtually no stylistic stone unturned. What little ground the band's records don't cover its films are designed to reach: the 2001 feature The American Astronaut (released on DVD last year) is a very odd and eminently watchable noir-cum-space western starring front man Cory McAbee, who's certainly well aware that he should be acting more often.

Cheer-Accident headlines, Skeleton Key plays second, and the Billy Nayer Show opens. a 9 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-478-4408 or 866-468-3401, $12, $10 in advance.

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