Clem Snide | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Over the course of four albums, Clem Snide singer-guitarist Eef Barzelay has perfected the flirtation technique of the soulful nerd like no one since Arto Lindsay. His lyrics on the band's latest, Soft Spot (Spinart), indicate that he's more self-conscious about his persona than ever: "All Green" riffs obviously on the soul man's name; "Close the Door" could be a nod to the Teddy Pendergrass bodice ripper of the same title. Instead of prowling coffee shops and rock clubs for fresh flesh, though, Barzelay coos from deep within the cocoon of a long-term relationship--on the former tune he talks his lover out of seasonal depression, on the latter he lures her away from "doubting [herself] in the mirror"--and from this cozy perspective reinvents seduction as loving reassurance. The nasal grain of his voice suggests a gawkiness that's belied by his sure-footed line readings (on "Forever, Now and Then," he sings "Let's take off," then pauses before adding "our shoes"); the stripped-down, vaguely rootsy music--mostly acoustic guitar and bass with the barest suggestion of drums, decorated with glockenspiel, harmonica, and that old alt-rock signifier of moodiness, the cello--is an ideal setting for this sort of hushed consolation. In fact, the new disc is the band's subtlest and quietest yet, packing few jokes (nothing here like the spot-on Jewel parody "Moment in the Sun" from 2001's The Ghost of Fashion) and only two rave-ups: "Action" ("You're everything I want"--again with the pause--"to do") and the horn-driven envoi to a newborn, "Happy Birthday" ("I hope that...your girlfriends are sweet and wear tight pants"). Live, the band has always rocked harder than their discs would suggest--they regularly stomp through a double-time version of the Buzzcocks' "Why Can't I Touch It?" though I prefer a softer, more recently added cover, a yearning take on Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" that's neither corny nor ironic. They're playing outside as part of Summer on Southport; Bobby Bare Jr., Catfish Haven, the Pages, and Aberdeen City share the bill. Sunday, August 3, 3:30 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.

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