Singer/guitarist/songwriter Bill Direen is a controversial figure in New Zealand's musical underground: he helped originate it, but he's also stood well apart from it. Members of key bands like Tall Dwarfs, the Bats, the Renderers, and the Terminals have passed through his group, the Builders (aka the Bilders, Bilderine, and Die Bilder). The early Builders, whose records have recently been reissued on CD by Flying Nun Records, played gritty garage punk that owed a heavy musical debt to the Velvet Underground while addressing more indigenous lyrical concerns. But the same iconoclasm that led Direen to create original music during the late 70s, when in his native land only cover bands could get a gig, eventually led him to experiment with jazz improvisation and theatrical performance elements, which alienated him from the very rock scene he helped birth. That's the scenesters' loss; while the restless eclecticism of his late-80s recordings isn't as consistently satisfying as his early material, any talent that can conceive the goofy dance tune "Do the Alligator," the graceful acoustic pop of "Serious," and the achingly poignant ballad "Trees" is by no means washed up. Direen will be playing here with just a drummer, the same stark lineup that garnered positive reviews during his last New Zealand tour, and he'll reportedly be mixing his more sophisticated stylings with some old-fashioned garage grit. This is his Chicago debut, and one of only three North American dates he'll play this year. Stamen and New Rob Robbies open. Sunday, 9 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 525-6620.