Chills | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Over a dozen or so years and a motley assortment of record releases, Chills leader Martin Phillipps has established himself as perhaps the most calculatedly ingenuous performer since Jonathan Richman. He's not childlike or overweening, though; he constructs a lilting, swellingly gorgeous alternative pop music in a deadly serious way. It doesn't always work: The new Soft Bomb's leadoff track, "Male Monster From the Id," is on the surface a swimmingly arranged and wholly irresistible number about, if I get it correctly, how men-have-this-scary-side-that-they-try-to-hide-but-sometimes-lose-control-of. You'd think he either (a) has been reading too much Robert Bly or (b) is trying to tweak the PC crowd, but with Phillipps you can be pretty sure he hasn't thought that much about it. His subject is a loaded one, but he doesn't seem to be aware of it; he just ends up sounding remote and detached. And the lushest music can't save lyrics this bloodless. But Phillipps's complex song subjects are the part of his work he's proudest of. Lest you miss the point, on the new album he's also included a ditty called "Song for Randy Newman Etc.," in which he inserts himself into a long list of pop visionaries like Brian Wilson and Nick Drake--artists whose "all-consuming passion" took over their lives. Lest you miss that point, he does another song wherein entertainers are compared, somewhat ruefully, to taxi drivers. This is what happens to you when you grow up in New Zealand. Last time through the band was fabulous, but Phillipps has got an entirely new lineup for this tour. Beware the crowds Sunday, when Poi Dog Pondering is rumored to be opening. Saturday and Sunday, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 525-6620.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/David Jensen.

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